‘I was on the right wing and inside me was local hero Raich Carter, who I felt was the ideal partner for me... Carter was a supreme entertainer who dodged, dribbled, twisted and turned, sending bewildered left-halves madly along false trails. Inside the penalty box with the ball at his feet and two or three defenders snapping at his ankles, he'd find the space to get a shot in at goal... Bewilderingly clever, constructive, lethal in front of goal, yet unselfish. Time and again he'd play the ball out wide to me and with such service I was in my element.’
– Sir Stanley Matthews.
Horatio Stratton Carter’s rise to footballing prominence gave hope to Sunderland’s working men in times of economic hardship. At the time of Raich Carter’s earliest days at Sunderland AFC the local economy was struggling. In the five years of 1930-1935 Sunderland’s shipyards built the same number of ships as were built in just six months in 1914. Wearside could stake a claim to being one of the hardest hit areas of the country post World War One in terms of economics - with 11,800 ship builders unemployed and only 2,800 in work, 75% of the workforce was idle. 1934 was by far the worst year for the town, unemployment peaked at 29,000, roughly half of the working population. Lady Astor, MP visited the town and reported to Parliament that it was ‘the most derelict and depressing spot I have ever seen in my life’.
By the time Carter made his debut for the club - on October 15th 1932 - the town’s social and economic situate was deteriorating at an alarming rate. The police had to make two baton charges in Ryhope as the escort of a non-striking miner was attacked. A screaming woman was reported to be encouraging the riotous gatherings, much to the shock of the local press. The deepening depression in the town was souring industrial relations.
One factor that made Carter such a key and popular figure around Sunderland was the fact that he was a local. He was born in Hendon, and regularly visited Roker Park where he would pay homage to his footballing heroes. His father, Robert Carter, ran a public house named the Ocean Queen. Carter knew what the club meant to the people of the town in which he lived.
Sunderland AFC’s famous chant and saying to gee up their team in times of need has historically been ‘Ha’way the Lads’, roughly translating to ‘come on the boys’. For the supporters of Sunderland, Raich Carter was special because he was a Sunderland lad - he was one of them.
Argus in the Sunderland Echo explains the link between Sunderland AFC and the town stating that for a ‘Hendon lad, one which will make his name in the old colours, playing for the club which to any Sunderland boy should be regarded as the greatest of all’.
Due to his understanding of the town for which he played, Carter was accepted by the Sunderland faithful with open arms, and immediately built what would become a lasting rapport. His father’s pub was essentially a dockers pub, meaning that Raich would have been brought up around working-class people. In an obituary of Carter, John Roberts describes how the former Sunderland captain in his later years could not contain his emotions at the mention of the idolisation of Carter by the working man in Sunderland.
Carter recalled how supporters scraped together the money to follow their team home and away, despite the economic hardship of the 1930’s. ‘Football meant so much to them you, you see’ Carter explains, ‘It was all they had’. Roberts reports that tears ran down Carter's cheeks following this recollection.
Raich clearly recognised Sunderland AFC as a release for the working classes in hard financial times. Football became an important part of North-Eastern culture, becoming more than a past time for the working man of Sunderland.
Sunderland AFC’s FA Cup run of the 1932/1933 season illuminates the strong relationship between its working-class and football. Reaching the last eight in the FA Cup is likely to have been a real tonic to Sunderland supporters especially those hit hardest by depression. When Derby came to town on the on Wednesday the 8th March 1933 a huge crowd of 75,118 managed to squeeze themselves in to Roker Park, which today is still Sunderland’s biggest ever recorded attendance.
So great was the pre-match hype, the Ryhope and District Wednesday League cancelled its programme and Sunderland Council deferred a meeting. Masses of unemployed men invaded the unemployment exchange to sign on in the morning rather than the afternoon. The crush was massive inside of Roker Park that day, with the Sunderland Echo reporting the death of a spectator on its front page. Following the game and despite a Sunderland loss; the Sunderland Echo ran with the cup tie as its main headline, signalling its importance.
Commenting fifteen years later Carter wondered if the game should have been allowed to start, describing the conditions as pandemonium. He also recognised that anticipation for the match was so high that the postponement would have caused a riot amongst the crowd. The very first arrivals at Roker Park for the match that day were half a dozen Trimdon miners, illuminating the working-class identity of the clubs support in the 1930’s. It is safe to say that those Trimdon miners would have taken great heart in knowing that a local, working-class lad named Raich Carter was representing them on the wing in a midweek day off from the bleak mines. Even when unemployment was high, the surrounding mines helped to define the region, coal gave the area shape and character, that broad contribution can often be forgotten.
The study of Raich Carter sporting exploits helps to highlight the enthusiasm of the working-class in Sunderland and its surrounding areas for football. There is a link between football and industry in the North-East, and It is not by accident but design that Sunderland AFC chose to build the Stadium of Light on the grounds of the former Wearmouth Colliery.
As Sunderland legend Stan Anderson recalls, ‘there were three industries in Sunderland - coal, shipbuilding and football. Football has survived. Coal and the shipyards have gone’. The three are bound together in history. Through the lens of football one is able to view Sunderland’s industrial past, and the link between its people and their adored club.
To win the Division One Championship in the 1935/36 season following the triumph with the clubs first FA Cup win in 1936/37 was a monumental achievement, especially for Carter, who was captain for the 1936/37 season and lifted the Cup at Wembley. He was the linchpin of the side; goal scorer, assister and leader. He was the outstanding local boy playing inside forward.
Such was the talent and attractive playing style of the Sunderland team in this period that playing up at Roker Park was described as ‘a frightening experience’ during the 1930’s ‘because Sunderland were such a terrific outfit’ by Bill Shankly, who played in the 1937 FA Cup Final against Sunderland for Preston North End. More high praise followed from Shankly, who boldly stated that ‘in many ways the Sunderland team of 1937 played the same brand of Total Football as the great Holland team on the 1970’s.’
Even in Carter's playing style there lies a correlation between the North-East’s geo-political situation in times past. Carter’s style of play usually lead to him sacrificing himself on the international footballing stage for England. Carter, despite his own extensive talents would sacrifice himself to provide the platform for players like Stanley Matthews to shine.
There is an increased sense within the North-East that it exists to service London, which has become a state within a state. Historically, the role of North-East coal-mining was to fuel the country’s growing capital and has given rise to what academic’s call ‘carboniferous capitalism’. Once London began to grow, better transport links were needed. It is not coincidence that the first railways in the world were designed and used in the North-East of England; they were created to move coal.
The desire to transport coal by sea also lead to Sunderland’s extensive shipbuilding industry which along with coal-mining has virtually disappeared. Without coal to fuel the industrial revolution, the revolution could not have been possible. It is mostly forgotten, under-appreciated and overlooked that the North-East was a frontier economy for two centuries. Carter’s role in helping to service Stanley Matthews’ early international career has also been mostly forgotten, under-appreciated and overlooked by the mainstream media.
Carter himself commenting that sometimes Matthews was so much the ‘star individualist’ that it had an adverse effect on the team, meaning they were no longer a good ‘single team unit’. Carter made Matthews, and without Carter’s sacrifice Matthews may have never achieved the praise he did; an intriguing reflection of the manner in which industrial areas - like Sunderland - were enabling a London-centric Britain to grow.
The Second World War interrupted Carter’s love affair with Sunderland AFC and robbed him of his best footballing years. He continued to guest for RAF and England XI’s, Derby County and Huddersfield Town as well as appearing for Sunderland. After the war the directors of Sunderland in their infinite wisdom, and against the fans wishes, decided to sell Carter to Derby.
Sunderland have not won the League Championship since Carter was the key figure in the 1935/36 season and have only managed to win the FA Cup once, in 1973, since Carter captained his boyhood club to the trophy in the 1936/37 season. His time at Sunderland illuminates that football is less of a sport in the North-East but more of a religion for the working-class such was the fervor and fanaticism surrounding the fans and their club.
In the 1930’s Carter and his team provided escapism from economic hardship, in some senses it may have even replaced religion in becoming the opium of the people and detracting from a true working class empowerment. His importance to the area as a local hero lives on, in the multi-million-pound sports centre named after him. Carter's playing style of flair represented something that locals in Sunderland could fantasise about - he could do something they couldn’t. It was possible for a local working-class lad to excel and to gain national recognition - Carter gave the working man hope.
Indeed, had it not been for Sunderland’s 1973 FA Cup win it is likely that It would have been a statue of Raich Carter constructed outside Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, much like Fred Keenor’s in Cardiff. Both were local and both captained their sides to FA Cup glory; the only difference being that Sunderland have won the Cup since, meaning the 1937 triumph is not as fondly remembered as Sunderland’s win from the Second Division in ‘73.
Carter felt a sense of duty to his supporters in his native Sunderland and that endured them to him - through his Sunderland career it is possible view the industries of shipbuilding and coal-mining that ran parallel to football during the 1930’s in the town.
The bond between the working-class and Sunderland AFC in the 1930’s was extremely strong, and Raich Carter shines as an eternal example of the way in which the two will be forever intrinsically linked.