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Tony Carr MBE

Filed: Friday, 30th April 2010

By: Staff Writer


Tony Carr is having a hectic day at Chadwell Heath, the home of the world-famous West Ham United Academy.

With less than a week to go before his much-deserved - and much delayed - testimonial at the Boleyn Ground the club's Youth Academy Director is busy organising interviews (like this one), TV slots and undergoing various other tasks like arranging insurance for those players due to feature on Wednesday night. No mean feat when you're expecting players worth in the hundreds of millions to appear.

Despite all this, the man dubbed 'Mr. West Ham' still managed to squeeze KUMB.com in for what proved to me one of the most open, revealing and complete interviews that Tony has ever given. The interview, split into three parts will be published over the course of the next few days; firing the questions on behalf of KUMB.com and its readers were Gordon Thrower and Graeme Howlett.

© Knees up Mother Brown. Please note that this article is not to be reproduced in full elsewhere without prior permission from KUMB.com.

KUMB.com: Tony - who were your idols as a boy?

Tony Carr: When I first started supporting West Ham - because that was always my team - my family lived on a big council estate where everybody was West Ham. Well, a couple of Arsenal but mostly West Ham. The first team I can ever remember supporting was like John Dick, Mike Bryce, Muzzy (Malcolm Musgrove] that era...

KUMB: So we're talking late 50s?

TC: Yeah, when I was a youngster. On a Saturday you used to get the old football paper and my granddad was one of the sellers outside the ground, he used to sell the football papers. So on a Saturday night, he always used to bring the football paper home. I didn't go to games when I was very young but when I started going they were the players when I was there.

KUMB: Who did you go with back then?

TC: I used to go with my brother; my dad followed football but never used to go to the games. So I used to go with friends and when I was 11-years-old I started to go regularly myself; this was around the start of the 1960s. Then there was young Bobby [Moore] coming through, I can remember him making his debut, I believe - Wolves I think? Your usual idols, Johnny Dick, David Dunmore, Mike Grice - they were the first team I knew.

KUMB: So when did you start playing yourself?

TC: Well we always played together as kids in the street and in our playground - we used to have a little playground on our estate where we played football, or we used to go over Viccy [Victoria] Park on a Sunday and play, just put coats down and have a little match - get a dozen kids and go and have a match. You taught yourself the game really.

There was a little green where we always used to play football and the old caretaker always used to kick us off, so we used to wait for him to go around the corner and then go back on the green again! Typical kids. But that's how I learnt the game really, I didn't start playing in a team until I went to secondary school which was St Paul's Way school in Bow. Then I started playing for Senrab, I got picked up by them.

KUMB: This must have been when they just started?

TC: Yeah, they'd just started. Then West Ham asked me to go training, I was 13. I'd also started playing for East London schools under 14s and they said 'come down training'. I played up front and scored a few goals for East London and got invited to Tuesday and Thursday evening training over at Upton Park in the winter and over here [Chadwell Heath] in the summer for a couple of months.

KUMB: Who was running the kids then, Tony?

TC: Well the guy who was doing it part time in the evenings was John Lyall, I think he was part-time then but he'd already started. I don't remember anyone else; Bill Landsdown did the seniors but I don't seem to remember too many others. Jimmy Barrett used to do a little bit as well.

KUMB: So this was pretty much right after John had given up playing?

TC: Yeah, just after - that was 63/64 when he hurt his knee; I remember the date because of the FA Cup win. I started training around the same time and used to do a little bit of coaching so it was obviously just after he packed up playing. I didn't realise that at the time, I didn't know the history.

KUMB: So this is when the bond between you and John formed?

TC: Yeah, John had known me from a schoolboy. Then I had a very good year in my last year at school, we won the English schools trophy for East London and West Ham wanted to sign me as an apprentice. Obviously it was a no-brainer, so I signed.

KUMB: Can you remember what they were paying you at the time?

TC: Yeah, it was £6 a week. I can remember being a little bit disappointed because I thought 'footballers earn more than that a week, don't they?' - forgetting that I'd got to do an apprenticeship first! So that's how it started, I had my time there, signed professional in 68/69 and then had a couple of years playing in the youth team and reserves and then not really being able to get any better. Looking back now I probably wasn't good enough to go much further.

KUMB: You've been quite honest about that in the past, in previous interviews you've said that you weren't quite up to standard?

TC: No, I didn't think I was. There was Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters and you thought... And then they brought Clyde Best in and Clyde went more or less straight into the team. And I thought 'well, I'm not going to get in, I'm not ever going to get a chance'.

KUMB: Do you think it was a genuine case of you weren't actually good enough - or was it a case of you might be good enough but didn't think you were in that company?

TC: Yeah, I think it might have been a little bit of that. And when you're that age - certainly myself, not sure of yourself, not with the brash confidence you might need to push your way into the team, I didn't really have that at that time. So I went to Barnet and played for Barnet for a year and then got a job coaching in the schools. The beauty of that was while we were here [West Ham] as apprentices Ron Greenwood encouraged us to do our coaching badges which I did. I quite enjoyed it and I took to it, I felt quite comfortable in that role.

I used to do a little bit in the schools in the afternoon so when I got a free transfer I got a couple of offers from abroad - one from South Africa, one from Australia - I had a chance to go to the North East with Hartlepool but again, being a bit of a homely kid I didn't have the confidence to go up there - especially in those days when you didn't have the transport links you have today, you didn't travel the country to that great length whereas now you travel the world. So I chose to go part time with Barnet which looking back, was the wrong thing I did.

They’d just sold a centre forward called Billy Meadows, he'd played for Hereford against Mooro and roughed Mooro up. He was like rough and tumble, all action, smash people around - and I wasn't physically built for that, I was quite quick, I liked the ball in behind. I was more a runner-off-the-ball really. I didn't really settle there and it didn't work out well for me.

KUMB: How did that come about? Did you know someone at Barnet?

TC: No, not really - it was just the fact that there weren't a great many offers coming in and Barnet came in and said 'we've seen you playing in the reserves and we need a centre forward, we've lost Billy Meadows and we think you could fill the role'. They made me feel wanted and I thought 'well I've got nothing to lose, let’s go for it'. I then got a job working in schools, coaching football.

Barnet gave me part time what I was earning at West Ham anyway - when I left West Ham I was earning £14 a week and they gave me £14 a week plus £5 appearance money if I was in the first team. Then I got the job in the schools so I was earning twice the amount of money I would have done if I'd stayed at West Ham. I can remember coming back and talking to some of the lads, they asked how much I was earning and they said 'you're earning more than us!' - and they're still playing for West Ham! Barnet was part time and the schools full time.

Anyway, it didn't work out very well and I spent the summer again trying to get a club. I went for trials at a couple of clubs that didn't work out, then a mate of mine who ran Leyton said to me 'do you fancy a game for us?' so I had a couple of games for him - and I broke my leg. That was the last thing [I needed] - I was non-contract so had no fallback, no insurance or anything. I still had the job in the schools fortunately so I had an income, but I didn't know what to do.

The leg took a long time to heal, it was a quite straightforward broken tibia but it just wouldn't knit. They kept putting it back in plaster and it took the best part of all the next season [to heal] really, so I was without a club. Then I got a phone call out of the blue from John Lyall and he said 'I've heard you've been injured and you're struggling, we've got a vacancy for a part time coach as Johnny Dick's just left', who was a legend at West Ham.

The part time position was with the schoolboys that came in on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. He said 'the role's Tuesday and Thursday nights and take a team on Saturday. The only proviso is that we're going to run a team on Sunday under the guise of Poplar Boys Club because we've got two young players that we really fancy and we want them to play in a team'. He said 'that's Alan Curbishley and Paul Brush. Could you run that team as well?'

So I said 'yeah, I'll do that'. He said 'if you don't take to it or want to go back into the game at least you'll get fit and we'll try and help you'. Well that was in 1973, and I've been here ever since.

KUMB: You were only 23 at the time...

TC: I started young, but fortunately I'd done all my coaching badges and was an A Licensed coach, or Full Badge as they called it. I was one of the youngest guys to get it at that point. So that set me in good stead and I had a season or two here and thought 'I like this', I really enjoyed it - so I just stuck with it. I missed playing but I kept saying to myself 'Tony, you'd never have been good enough to play at the top so try and make a career out of this'. I had one voice saying 'you should be playing' and another voice saying 'well look, you've got a gift for coaching - do it. That's a career.'

KUMB: It must have been tough because you had talent, whether you say you were good enough or not?

TC: Well lots of kids fall by the wayside, we know only the best 2-5% go all the way and make a good career out of it so I've got no complaints, it was a fantastic experience at a golden era for the club. Training out here with the likes of Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst and sort of saying that you knew them is something quite magical, I must admit. I feel quite proud to be able to say it today that I was in their company.

To be fair, in the long term it's worked out ok for me. I've had a career 37 years long in the professional game working for a club I love and as you know as diehard West Ham fans we've definitely had our ups and downs, it's not been an easy ride has it! Least of all this season.

KUMB: Is it nine managers you've worked under from Ron downwards?

TC: We've had 12 in our existence and I think I've worked for nine of them, which is quite unique really!

KUMB: At what point did you start to get involved with the administration, the selection of players? Presumably you came in just coaching.

TC: Yes, obviously I wasn't in charge at that point and the system we had when I was first here [differed]. Wally St Pier was still here because he didn't have his testimonial until 1975 after the Fulham FA Cup win. The system was quite antiquated at that time. Ronnie wasn't involved in players coming in, Wally St Pier and Wilf Chitty, they did that. To be fair we were getting trumped a little bit by a lot of the bigger clubs because they'd developed their system. They were becoming a bit more organised than we were, and I have to say that, at this point.

Wally? He couldn't drive a car, went everywhere on the bus or train, he would rely on people giving him a lift - so how's he going to get to matches? 'You've got to get over to so and so' ... 'How am I going to get there mate?' - that was his favourite! So Wally retired and I think the club... I was only part time; I was coming in, doing my bit then going home. Then Eddie Bailey came in as Chief Representative - that was his official title as it was Wally St Pier's title - Chief Representative. But that meant he was scouting for the first team, senior players and youth.

When I got the job full time in 1980 after Wally had been retired a few years and Eddie had been in charge I had a good first year and we won the FA Youth Cup. You know, when Paul Allen won an FA Cup medal before winning an FA Youth Cup medal which is quite unique and I don't think has ever happened since! So I started to have more of a voice, because I was here every day and I was full time I could start to have an opinion and give an opinion.

I said to John [Lyall] one day 'I think we need a scout purely for youth because Eddie's working for you, he's working for us and there's a compromise there. The game's developing and we need to get our scouts out in the field and be more aggressive'. Well Eddie and John took a little bit of umbrage to that, that I'd spoken out, so Eddie said, 'right, we better have a meeting' in Eddie's poshest Cockney! So we sat in the meeting in John's old office in the pavilion, there [points to the main building]. 'What's this Youth Development Officer business then?'

So I said, 'well Eddie, you're doing too much. You're scouting for John, trying to find players for John then you're trying to filter players into the system at 13, 14'. I said, 'your brief's too wide, I think we need to be more specific. You do the seniors and we'll bring someone in who does the youth. Someone responsible for developing and scouting, a system finding the best kids'. So I won the day and we brought in a guy that used to work for the gas board, a guy named Len Hurford who had been a part time scout for us. We worked with Len for two or three years but Len didn't enjoy it, he had a lot of ideas and wasn't getting a lot of support from above.

Then they changed the Tuesday and Thursday nights and called it the Centre of Excellence as you could open an FA Centre of Excellence if you had certain criteria, certain coaches. You didn't get any funding, but what they were trying to do is raise standards throughout the game. That's when they gave me the title of Director of the Centre of Excellence, as everyone had to have one. So I then started getting all hands on and to develop the role.

After Len Hurford we had a little interim period where we were not doing particularly well, a barren time. That was in the mid 80s, after Incey and [Stuart] Slater. There were probably four or five years when the youth system recruitment side wasn’t very good, we were still being dragged into the modern era. So we appointed Jimmy Hampson. Harry [Redknapp] had come in and said, 'your youth system is a shambles, you haven't produced anyone for five years and you should do, because there's players out there and it's just because you haven't got people out there doing the job'.

So Jimmy came in with a brief: be more aggressive, get scouts in, get out amongst the local kids and let's get our fair share. Myself and Jimmy have been working together ever since and I think we've made a decent job of it since that point. We're still working basically to the same format.

KUMB: So you would credit Harry for that?

TC: I think we were aware of it but Harry helped to kick the decision makers to say 'come on, we've got to improve our budget, we need someone full time'. Not give him 15 grand a year, a couple of tickets and he's alright or whatever the going rate was at the time. You've got to give them a decent wage, a decent budget and let them go and get some scouts - and I think Harry pushed that. Because Harry said it - and said it quite publically - the Board went, 'oh well, go ahead and do it then', as they'd got dragged into it.

So Harry was the catalyst behind it I think, but we were aware of it. The wheels were in motion but obviously I wasn't a decision maker and I could only say my little bit. I think the single factor in our favour was that we got more aggressive, we weren't afraid to upset people. In the past with Wally St Pier and Ron Greenwood you did it properly, nice and polite and if they're in there first you just walk away...

KUMB: Which brings to mind the Bobby Ferguson/Gordon Banks story...

TC: Exactly. Ron wouldn't want to upset anybody. So we said don't worry about upsetting anybody, they've been upsetting us for years! You know; as long as you're not running old ladies over, don't worry about it! So we started to get a little bit more aggressive in that department - and we started to get our fair share of players.

* Tickets for Tony Carr's testimonial are available now from the West Ham United box office or by contacting the club during office hours on 0871 222 2700.

... continue to part two