Tony Carr MBE: Part Two
Filed: Sunday, 2nd May 2010
By: Staff Writer
© 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: So we're in the early 90s which leads to a period of unprecedented success in terms of what was achieved here - and possibly unprecedented anywhere else, bar perhaps at Manchester United. Would that be fair to say?
Tony Carr: Yes, with Giggs and the golden era. Yes, I think that's fair, that period of time looking back now was... You don't realise it at the time. You know, we had golden nuggets, everywhere. I remember Frank Lampard Snr saying to me 'you won't do this again, you know'. That success with the FA Youth Cup, the 1999 squad - he said 'enjoy it because this doesn't come around very often' - and he wasn't far wrong, we've had our [successes] but not in those numbers.
KUMB: To have players of such quality all at once, you would perhaps expect that over a period of years...
TC: Exactly, over a period of time to unearth one or two like that.
KUMB: This was a result of the more aggressive policy?
TC: Yeah, I think it was - and everybody was pulling together. Frank and Harry, if we needed help, if Harry needed to go to Ireland or Harry had to go and see a parent he'd go and see them. So everybody felt that all the club were behind this push to find the talent. Without Frank Snr, it must be said that Rio [Ferdinand] probably wouldn't have walked through the gates.
Rio became friends with young Frank; the guy that used to run his Blackheath team, his mentor was a guy named Dave Goodwin - he was at the game last Saturday, the Wigan game. I just bumped into him. We worked hard on Dave to persuade Rio to come and look at our club and once Rio was here he decided this is what he liked, he liked the people and the way we did things and fortunately he signed for us and stayed.
KUMB: On the face of it that relationship between Rio and Frank would have seemed unlikely, Frank being publicly schooled and Rio coming from the wrong side of the tracks?
TC: Exactly, but they were very close. They were alike in terms of they loved the game and loved to train, you couldn't get them off the pitch! [points to an imaginary young Lampard and Ferdinand] 'In, it's getting dark - in! Not even the training staff are about now!' They were always together and because Frank lived local Rio would always end up round Frank's house in the afternoon for a cup of tea and a chat, maybe stay there at weekends and so on. So they built up a bond and a friendship and they developed together as players. They were good for each other.
KUMB: Tell us about Rio becoming a defender?
TC: Yeah, he was a centre forward when he first came and then a midfield player when he signed as a scholar, signed as an apprentice. I went on a coaching seminar that was run by Andy Roxburgh who was at UEFA, the former Scotland manager. He did this European study and he based it on the Germans who were very successful at the time. It was the 1998 team and [Matthias] Sammer was playing in midfield and he [Roxburgh] said he used to break out from the back into midfield. Midfield players would split and he could spray the ball all over the place. He said the German philosophy was that you should have your most talented midfield player playing at the back of three defenders, ready to break out.
So I sat there and went - Rio!
KUMB: A light bulb moment?
TC: Yeah! Seriously, that was what happened. I thought about it and come back and started to say 'right, we're going to play three at the back'. That year we got to the [FA Youth Cup] final against Liverpool we played three at the back. So I said to Rio, 'I want you to play at the back with a three' - and he said 'no, no, I don't want to play there'. So I said 'why?' and he said 'oh, I want to play in midfield, I like having the ball, I like to run with the ball'. I said, 'look, play at the back, play as a midfield player but at the back - and what we want you to try and do is to break into midfield, because you're good with the ball, and you can break from there and make things happen from an attacking point of view'. 'Hmm ... oh alright, I'll give it a try'. And he gave it a try and obviously it worked, it worked very well.
KUMB: So you're playing a 5-3-2, with wingbacks?
TC: Yeah, 5-3-2 or 3-5-2.
KUMB: Which is what Harry implemented - was that as a result of that [experiment]?
TC: I'm not sure if it was because Harry had seen the youth team do it or I'd seen Harry do it, I'm not sure. I think the game was developing that way as people were experimenting. The 4-4-2 for everybody was starting to dismantle, where a centre half gets it and just hoofs it down the middle for the centre forward who flicks it on and there's a goal or whatever, and all the centre halfs are big and cumbersome... We were trying to develop more stylish players and to be successful you should have players that are comfortable with the ball - and I saw Rio as this player, or one of these players. It was a consequence of that and I think it was just coincidence that Harry was implementing that same sort of system as well. It worked very well.
KUMB: At that period you had, theoretically, a first team playing a certain way because that was the sort of players we had - rather than a club-wide 'this is the way we play the game at this club' policy?
TC: Harry never dictated to me that I should play in any particular way. Alan Pardew was a little bit into that, I think they should play the same as us - but he wasn't dogmatic about it. Gianfranco [Zola] is a bit similar, I think you should try to emulate what we do because I want players that can fit into the system, I want them to play in that system. So there was a little bit of that about it. But we've got license to say look, we haven't really got those players this week so we want to play a 4-4-2, or we're going to play a 3-5-2. Or play a diamond rather than a three in midfield. So we've got license and I think you should be able to do that with young players because you don't know where they might be best at, so you should experiment with systems with the younger players.
The reserves are slightly different because they're one step away from being in the first team. But no, I've had reasonable freedom to develop it as I saw it really. No manager's been very dogmatic about it and said 'you must do this'.
KUMB: How do you think you would find working with someone like that? If perhaps someone was to come in in the future and they were like that?
TC: I suppose if it's the club's policy I've got to go with it. Like anyone else, I'm only an employee. I might say 'look, there might not occasions where I'm able to play that way, is it okay if I change it if needs must?' But as long as you get that sort of [freedom] I guess you've just got to go with it. You know, you want to be together, I donít want to alienate any particular manager.
KUMB: Of the nine you've worked with are there any you've got on better with than others - or vice-versa?
TC: I suppose John Lyall was the most influential, it has to be said. Ron [Greenwood] I was always a little bit frightened of.
KUMB: In awe a little bit?
TC: Yeah, I think everybody sensed that in Ron. He kept his distance from people. It wasn't until I was nearly 40 that I had the guts to call him Ron, and not Mr. Greenwood! After he left West Ham he was the England manager; he used to come back and I'd say 'hello Mr. Greenwood'. He come up to me one day and said, 'just call me Ron!' It was just the respect you had for him because I was a young player under his management and nobody was very close to him other than John Lyall.
So John was more close, as John was my youth team coach when I was an apprentice. He knew me as a young player, he employed me as a part-time coach then a full-time coach - so he must have seen something in me, in that respect, to appoint me full time. That's when he moved Ronnie [Boyce] and Mick [McGiven] up to the first team and left me in sole charge of the youth team. So I suppose John had the most influence as they were my formative years, when I first started coming here full time.
After John left I said 'right, I've got to stand on my own two feet now, I've got to impress the new manager because John's not here anymore'. John, in some respects, used to protect you because John used to run the whole club. He'd say, 'paint that brown, paint that white, don't do that, wash that ...' You know, he'd be into everything - how high to cut the grass, what fences have got to be painted - he would do everything.
Obviously after that we got relegated which didn't help him, then his contract was expiring so they got rid of him. It took a long time for the club to recover from that.
KUMB: Yes, it must have been a big shock; you'd been working with John as a coach for 16 years and on and off for nearly 30 years. It must have been a tough time?
TC: Yeah, it was a tough time. I rung him a couple of times but when I did his mood had changed, I could sense it. He was a little bit bitter; he was a bit short with everything he said. I'd say 'we'll do this this week' and he'd go 'oh yeah, alright'... he was very short. But he wrote us all a nice letter and I've still got it to this day, thanking us for our loyalty and everything. It was a really nice thing to do.
But I then lost touch with John, I didn't ring him anymore and we didn't cross paths again for a long, long time afterwards.
KUMB: And so then came Lou Macari?
TC: Lou came in, some might say controversially because of the baggage he brought with him, to be honest. I think he might say to himself the mistake he really made was that he came in on his own and he just wanted to get on with all the staff. The staff were supportive; I think Mick McGiven was frustrated with him because he was a real disciple of John - like we all were - and resigned. He'd got a little number fixed up with Chelsea so he wanted to move on and I respect him for that. Ron [Boyce] stayed.
But Lou should have perhaps brought a number two or a coach with him. Not necessarily sacked anybody, but just someone who knew Lou's ways because it was like north and south, it was like chalk and cheese because it was the absolute complete opposite [to Lyall].
KUMB: Not withstanding that John's were massive shoes to fill?
TC: Yeah, but it was absolutely chalk and cheese. He was a good guy Lou; I got on quite well with him. He supported us all, he never demanded the sack, you know - 'I want my own people get rid of that lot', not anything like that. He was terrific in that respect so I've got a lot of time for him. But the players that were here just wasn't having him - and they made it quite clear they wasn't. There was a lot of old school there.
KUMB: A little like Brian Clough going to Leeds?
KUMB: Yet some of the players he brought in were mainstays at the club for some years?
TC: I think his best role within any football club would have been chief scout because he was a terrific talent spotter. He watched games left, right and centre. He loved the game, he was teetotal, he demanded absolute fitness from everybody - and not everybody is like that, everybody is different. So he wanted to treat everybody [the same] - everybody's got to do this, everybody's got to do that - and he didn't introduce it slowly. The players just weren't having him and obviously the scandal that followed him with regards to betting on his own team to lose was just one baggage he couldn't shake off and he resigned, honourably resigned on the day we were playing Swindon away.
I went to the game and it ended up with me and Billy [Bonds] in charge of the team, I can't remember if Ronnie was there or not ... it could have been me, Billy and Ronnie in charge of the team. The chairman wouldn't tell us [why], they said 'Lou's not coming today'. 'Well why isn't he coming?' The rumours were that he'd packed it in, there was all this going on. The players were asking if he'd packed it in and we're saying 'we don't know'. Anyway, I think we got a 2-2 draw that day, we came home and that day he resigned. I think what it was, was the board didn't accept his resignation at first, they tried to talk him into staying - but obviously he didn't and the new era swept in with Bill.
KUMB: So were you in charge during the interim period?
TC: Not technically, they put Bill in charge. Ronnie became caretaker for a couple of games - or it might have been just one game, I can't remember now.
KUMB: I think it was just one game, there was the joke at the time about him being the only West Ham manager unbeaten?
TC: Yes, probably! But Ronnie sat uncomfortably in the manager's chair. He didn't want it, he couldn't handle it and he just wanted to be part of the scene - but didn't want to be the number one.
KUMB: But there was a possibility that they may have offered it to Ronnie at the time?
TC: I think if he had wanted it he'd have got an interview and they would have seriously considered him, then it would have been up to him to convince them in the interview. But straight away, from day one he said 'I don't want an interview, I don't want the job, I'm just keeping the seat warm.
KUMB: Did you not ever fancy it yourself?
TC: Well I did apply for the job at the time. I wrote to the chairman, Len Cearns, and applied for the job. At that time they made me reserve team manager because they wanted to give Bill a job. So I was still in charge of the Centre of Excellence but running the reserves and going back in the evenings coaching the under 12s. They made Bill youth team coach because they wanted to keep Bill on the staff.
So I thought to myself if a new manager comes in he's going to get rid of all the first team staff, he's going to get rid of the reserve team and bring his own man in - so I might as well apply for the job as I've got nothing to lose. I got an interview, so I must have been on a short-list of some sorts - as did Bill. I said my piece; 'what would you do here, what would you do there'. I always remember one of the questions they asked me, they said: 'If Frank McAvennie comes to you and says he wants more money, what would you do?'
KUMB: And your response was?
TC: My response was I'd say: 'you've just signed a new contract mate, we've only had you for six months - you've got to stick with what you've got'. So they said 'ah, ok'. [mimics busy taking of notes] I think that was Martin Cearns who asked that question!
KUMB: Obviously Frank had just been in asking for more money!
TC: Yeah, he'd already been in asking for an extension but... Obviously I didn't get the job - Bill got the job which I was quite pleased with in some respects, it was kept in-house.
KUMB: You were good mates with Bill at the time?
TC: Very good mates and we got on well as I used to help him with his coaching with the youth team and in the evenings when he was doing a little bit of part time and still playing. So I was quite happy. Then Bill said to me: 'I want to restructure it a little bit. I want you to go back to being in sole charge of the youth team then that's your department. I think that's what you're best at doing, that's what I want you to do. I'm going to bring a coach in'. So I said: 'who are you going to bring in?' He said: 'I'm going to bring in Harry'.
'I've spoken to Harry; he's at Bournemouth and needs a new challenge'. I thought ok, they're good mates, good buddies - it'll work. This was after about a year because the first year we just missed out, next year we got promoted when I was doing a lot of work with Bill as I had the reserves at that point with Ronnie. But we didn't invest, and got relegated again. It was at that point that they felt we need a change here, we need fresh blood - and that's when they brought Harry in. I think it was within one or two years that we went up again. Then I just went back with the youth team and carried on with the work I'd been doing ever since.
KUMB: That must have been a difficult period for you, because you had been close to both Billy and Harry and obviously they didn't see eye-to-eye...
TC: Yeah, it was tough. The only light I can shed on that story is that during that pre-season when it all happened, we were running in Epping Forest, pre-season training and I was at the back with H. He just said to me: 'I've had a fantastic offer from Bournemouth'. I said: 'What's that? and he said 'they want me to come back and be a Director of Football really, to almost run the club. You know, either be the manager or appoint the manager. It's my hometown club,' he said, 'and I'm really tempted. I don't know what to do.'
I said 'have you told Bill?' So he said 'yeah, yeah I've told Bill.' I said 'what has Bill said?' and Harry said, 'Bill said well Harry, that's your decision mate - I can't make that for you.' And that's as far as the conversation went. Then they went on pre-season to Scotland and it all blew up, didn't it. I still don't know to this day - Billy's never let on, Harry's always said it was out of his hands and I believe him, I really do believe him.
KUMB: You can't imagine Bill ever going to the press with anything really. He's a very private person.
TC: He's never said a word. The only thing I do know is that he's never spoken to Harry [since].
KUMB: Which suggests that Bill perhaps felt that Harry had been less than straightforward?
TC: I don't know. I can't... I don't want to guess it. They're the facts as I know them.
KUMB: There's one thing for sure - if you and Harry were at the back of the group running Bill would have been at the front!
TC: Yeah! When they did offer Harry the job - I was here [Chadwell Heath] - he said 'I've got to go back to Upton Park and do a press conference as they want me to take the job'. He said 'I don't want it, I'm not having it'. And Frank Lampard said to him 'are you serious? What's the point? If you don't have it someone else will if you don't want the job. You've got to take it'.
'No I don't want it. People keep saying I've done this and that - I haven't done nothing'. So I said 'well if your conscience is clear just go and take the job'. So he did - not from my advice but I did say that and then he took the job and was successful, very successful.
KUMB: And that leads on to the golden period of the next three or four years, with that youth team coming through and the [FA Youth Cup final] win over Coventry?
TC: 3-0 away and 6-0 at home.
KUMB: And to see people still being turned away at the Boleyn that night? You've never seen that since?
TC: I hope it's the same next week!
KUMB: A few general questions, Tony. Being as successful as you have over the last 40 years or so, have you ever been approached by other clubs to take positions there?
KUMB: And can you tell us who that might have been?
TC: No. [laughs]
KUMB: What if we switch everything off?
TC: No! Not in the last [few years]. I have been approached; some tentatively, some through third parties, some through companies that head-hunt. I've had enquiries, I had a couple of offers from abroad - would I be interested, what's the job, that sort of thing.
KUMB: Have you ever been tempted?
TC: I've thought about a couple. One of them was quite lucrative - but I turned it down.
KUMB: I remember talking to Frank [Lampard Snr] about an offer he got from Norwich. He said he was halfway up the A12 when he thought 'I don't want to go here, this isn't home'. Would that apply to you?
TC: You consider it... 'oh, that sounds very good' - but deep down you think 'I'm happy, I've got a contract and the club value me,' so... I didn't really want to move abroad because my family were a little bit younger then. I didn't want to do that.
KUMB: After 37 years at the club [in your current role], how long do you see yourself carrying on for?
TC: I've got one more year to run on my contract and like everybody else I'm only an employee. But if the club want me to stay I'd like to stay. I'd like to go on for another three or four years, if I'm honest. I'm quite healthy, I still enjoy it, I still think there's work to be done. We've got good kids in the system and I want to see them develop. I hope there's going to be some good players coming through in the next three or four years and I want to be part of that.
Obviously there comes a time when you go 'look Tone, as much as we love you you've got to pack it in'. And I understand that. But whilst I'm still quite fit and healthy... the day I stop enjoying it is the day I go 'thanks, but I've done my bit'.
KUMB: Have the two Davids said anything to you about your future?
TC: No; not really, they've not said anything. Obviously their main concern has been survival and having a year to go on my contract they're probably not even aware of it. They've probably not even looked at where I am or what my contract says. But when we get to Christmas and they've not said anything I'll sort of drop a subtle hint and see what they say!
KUMB: We'll get a petition up... With that in mind Tony are there any plans in place for a successor? For when that day comes, which inevitably it must.
TC: It must come; whether it's next year, three years...
KUMB: Ten years...
TC: ...or whatever. Like I said to you, the bottom line is I'm only an employee, I've not got the brief to go and recruit a shadow for the next couple of years to take over or to look at the possibilities out there that could take over. So until I'm given that brief it's not my role to do that. I wouldn't be so presumptuous to say I've got to find a successor to me. If they ask me to do that then I'll gladly do it because to work for this club - and I'm not saying anybody could do it - you'd want someone who understands how this club works. I think that's important.
They may not have necessarily been here for very long - or may not have been here at all - but understand the ethos of this football club, what the club means to the people of the East End. I can't describe it and that's why this club is so special. I know everyone says 'our fans are the best' and 'our club is special' but there is an affinity to the fans and the club. We love to moan, we love to celebrate, in equal measures.
KUMB: It would be nice if we could celebrate in equal measures!
TC: Yeah it would be nice to balance it out a bit, a bit more celebrating!
KUMB: But that's one of the things that makes West Ham special because those days don't come around too often. Even the Wigan game?
TC: Well it was such a massive game, wasn't it? The game could map the future of the football club over the next five, ten years, if we'd lost it. But fortunately enough Scottie dug it out of the fire for us. Because it wasn't a great game, we've played better but in that situation we got what mattered - which was the result.
KUMB: In those games it isn't about the quality of football?
TC: You've got to hang in there; you've got to block, you've got to chase, you've got to work. It just had to be done and the lads did respond. I thought Mark Noble in the last two or three games has been terrific.
KUMB: Fantastic, and that must be good from your point of view?
TC: Yeah, I'm really pleased for Mark because whatever fans think, he does care. He does care.
But the successor bit, I have thought about it, I must admit. We've got Paul Heffer who's worked here with me as my assistant for a long, long time - many, many years. He's a little bit older than me now so there may be an occasion - which I don't think any club would want - where there are two or three people going out the door at the same time. Because you want to try and keep some continuity so the people learn from the people that are there. But we'll cross that bridge and it's something the club have got to think about. For the future, not just yet!
KUMB: Well I was once asked by one of those lads mags what I would do if I were in charge at West Ham and I said 'clone Tony Carr'.
TC: Well I've got a son who's the spitting image of me, but he lives abroad so he won't be doing it!
* Tickets for Tony's testimonial are available now from the West Ham United box office or by contacting the club during office hours on 0871 222 2700.