WWII British Army PTI & Sweden coach George Raynor
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Absolute Legends: The Man Who Went From Army PTI To Managing In A World Cup Final

How one of the most successful ever international football managers went from British Army PTI to coaching Sweden in a World Cup final

WWII British Army PTI & Sweden coach George Raynor

Ashley Hyne is the author of a definitive biography of George Raynor, who he describes as 'the greatest coach England never had'.

He tells us how one of the most successful ever international football managers went from British Army physical training instructor to coaching Sweden in a World Cup final...

George Raynor is the most successful English-born football coach bar none.

The Guinness Book of Records once named him the most successful international manager ever. 

Between 1948 and 1959 Sweden, under his guidance, won an Olympic gold, were runners-up in their home World Cup in 1958, took home two bronze medals - in the 1950 World Cup and 1952 Olympics - and became only the second team after Hungary to beat England at Wembley. 

In other words, every time Raynor's side appeared in a tournament they medalled. 

In that regard, he is twice as successful as Sir Alf Ramsey - but still remains stubbornly ignored by historians.

Raynor's rise to the ranks of the elite started not on a UEFA-badge coaching course but in Basra, Iraq. 

During his own footballing career he played as a speedy right winger, finding employment in that famous old Army town of Aldershot in the late 1930s, partnering the Scottish inside-right, Willie Chambers.

Upon the commencement of the Second World War, Raynor (and a lot of professional footballers) signed up for military service, with the Football Association keen to promote the enlistment of athletes. 

In 1939, there was not the appetite for footballers to form another '16th Battalion' (the so-called 'Footballers' Battalion') that had served so heroically on the Western Front in the First World War. In that instance, many famous footballers of the day had perished. 

The Football Association of 1939, under the Secretaryship of Stanley Rous, came to what could be termed an amicable compromise - players should be encouraged to join the armed services but in the capacity of physical training instructors (PTIs).    

And this is how Raynor came to represent his country overseas for the first time.

WWII British Army PTI & Sweden coach George Raynor
Raynor during his playing days. Picture: Barratts/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport/PA

After a period of training in Kent, he was posted to the Middle East and Iraq - at that time still a British protectorate. 

At the time, despite the high regard the locals had for the British, there were stirrings of independence; the cover of War unwinding the coiled springs of self-determination amongst certain elements within the country.

A rebellion was at hand and Raynor was sent out to assist in maintaining morale and upholding that great British tradition of running about without your shirt on in the blazing heat whilst chasing a football around with your mates.

As matters transpired, the 8th Army was not called on to quash a rebellion, for it never materialised.

Raynor, however, found himself travelling between colleges in Baghdad and bases in Basra and building a network of friendships with ranking officers who were commandeering fitness training for the troops. 

It was at the Physical Training Institute ('Mahad Al-Tarbiya Al-Badaniya') in Baghdad that Raynor came across another English trainer, Arthur Sidebottom. 

The college was full of local middle-class students with no particular sporting drive, so a plan was devised to convert the lassitude before Raynor into sporting success, through developing a team to tour adjoining countries. 

This team, formed exclusively of local students from Baghdad, could hardly be said to be representative of Iraq and there is little evidence that it was the first tour undertaken under a representative banner of that name - but it is likely it was.

There they were in Damascus on their tour; where the locals had a dislike of French soldiers to compare with anything the British had of the Nazis. 

WWII British Army PTI & Sweden coach George Raynor
Raynor took Sweden to the final of their home World Cup in 1958. Picture: SCANPIX/TT News Agency/PA Images

While the game between 'Iraq' and 'Syria' was taking place, either a French or a Syrian soldier decided to make good their mutual dislike by firing a shot in anger. 

That started a three-day stand-off, which began with a rigorous fire-fight. Raynor, for his part, used his Army training to commandeer his cowering lads in the direction of the river.

Raynor's work had come to the attention of the Iraqi royal family and while one would have thought recommendations would have remained within the folds of the Army, his found its way to the desk of Stanley Rous.

Rous, so it has been written, was very much one for the higher echelons. There was nothing wrong with that as far as Raynor was concerned, for it firmly established him in Rous' plans. 

Raynor returned to England convinced that he had discovered an opportunity to remain in the game. 

But English football following the War remained largely circumspect as to coaching.

There are several reasons for this: Firstly, the boom in attendances upon cessation of the fighting rendered change for change's sake largely pointless.

Secondly, on a national level, at least, England's team was perhaps the strongest in its history. Self-taught Gods are wont to view teachers in a dim light - and so it was with the likes of Lawton and Matthews. 

WWII British Army PTI & Sweden coach George Raynor
Picture: Tore Falk/EXPRESSEN/TT News Agency/PA Images

It is not to say that coaching was not gathering traction within the game in England at that time. The war had opened many to the ideas of foreigners and this had led to some changes.

Teams such as Brentford and Celtic were quite happy to employ the services of the remarkable coach, Jimmy Hogan, in the late 1940s and early 1950s. 

In Manchester Busby, now demobbed, was being ushered into a bombed-out Old Trafford to begin a resurrection of that giant of a club that reached its crescendo on a May night at Wembley in 1968. 

It is just that in the main the game in the late 1940s was still structured of a manager and a trainer, whose roles were generally ones of older professionals who knew what the role requested of them, regardless of the club.

In 1946, Rous received a message from the Swedish Football Association asking for a coach.  

Armed with the knowledge that Raynor had done a remarkable job in Iraq, Rous offered him as a possible candidate. 

He arrived in Stockholm harbour that May. 'What a quiet, little man' said Rudolf Kock, who had gone there to greet the diminutive Yorkshireman at the quayside. 

Yes, quiet and little - but Raynor would go on to become a giant in the history of the game and impact it to such a degree that even today the likes of Barcelona and Lionel Messi owe him a debt of gratitude. 

If you'd like to find out more about Raynor, Ashley Hyne's "George Raynor" is available on Amazon or through this link: https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/publication/george-raynor/9780750959674/

Cover image courtesy of Folke Hellberg/DN/SCANPIX/TT News Agency/PA Images.

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