Horatio Stratton Carter was born in Hendon in 1913. Growing up he was a firm lads fan, but despite being born in the year the club won its fifth league title, he did not see the club lift any more trophies during his years on the terraces.
Although he attracted the attention of scouts as a young player, his lack of height deterred Sunderland from signing him onto their books and he nearly joined Leicester instead. Thankfully for Sunderland, he did not impress on a trial for the Midlands club and it was his hometown side that decided to take a gamble, signing him on amateur forms in 1931.
It wasn't long before he made his debut in an away game at Sheffield Wednesday, scoring his first Sunderland goal in a 7-4 home win over Bolton a couple of games later, and over the next couple of seasons he began to establish himself in the first team as an inside-forward who could turn, dribble, hit a fierce shot but also had an eye for a pass too.
In his early years in the first team, Sunderland reached the last eight of the FA Cup in 1932/33, a run that culminated in a replay at Roker Park against Derby County on 8th March which attracted a crowd of 75,118 – still the club record attendance.
Carter himself later described it as ‘pandemonium’ as one spectator died in the crush. Although the game was lost, the taste for a run in the cup, and for the success that had eluded him so far as a player and a fan, made Carter and his team mates hungry for more.
Under the astute managership of Johnny Cochrane, Sunderland and Raich Carter rapidly improved over the following seasons. A sixth place finish in 1934, was followed by a runners-up spot in 1935, only four points behind winners Arsenal. Raich himself was evolving into a leader on the pitch too, noted for his vocal ‘encouragement’ of his team mates.
And his team mates were a cut above too. Bobby Gurney hit an incredible 228 goals in his Sunderland career, and they had men like Charlie Thomson, Eddie Burbanks and Jimmy Connor alongside them. This was the 1930s, the era of the great depression and high unemployment and the people of Sunderland were hit hard, but the Sunderland team of the era was among the best – with Raich Carter one of the best players in the country.
The 1935-36 season saw Sunderland run away with the league title, finishing eight points ahead of our nearest rivals to take our sixth and – to date – last championship. Raich had to look on as team mate Jimmy Thorpe suffered what turned out to be a fatal head injury in the game against Chelsea at Roker Park. But, despite a small wobble in form for a few weeks, Sunderland held their nerve through to the end of a season in which Carter scored 31 goals.
The following year, Sunderland lifted the FA Cup for the first time in their history, with Raich captain for a famous 3-1 win at Wembley over Preston in which he scored the second goal.
Towards the end of the 38-39 season, long standing manager Johnny Cochrane retired and on 2 September 1939, the day after Germany invaded Poland to start the Second World War, Raich played his last competitive game for Sunderland in a 5-2 defeat at Highbury.
Incredibly, he was only 25 years old when the war interrupted his career. We can only imagine what a player he would have been in his peak years in that team.
After hostilities ended and football resumed, Raich who was then into his 30s, asked for a ten year contract from Sunderland. Not surprisingly this was turned down and he left to star in a Derby side that lifted the FA Cup in 1946.
He later said that he should never have left Sunderland, and he would certainly have shone again as he did for Derby in the years after the war.
The passage of time makes our memories of some of the best players to have played for Sunderland fade. Who still talks about just how great Shaun Elliott was in a tackle? Or that Nicky Summerbee could put in a cross just as lethally effective as his contemporary in the England side, David Beckham? Or how nobody was better than Dave Watson was in the air. We could go on.
The point is that there is hardly any of us still around that saw Raich Carter play. But every Sunderland fan knows who he is and what he did. Ask any fan who our greatest player of all time was if they saw him or not, and a large amount will give his name.
He is a man never to be forgotten, his mural on a wall in Hendon reminding us of a time when he and Sunderland were ‘kings’. To this day, he and his side are the only Sunderland team to have won both the league and the FA Cup.
The word ‘legend’ is bandied around so much in regard to football players it often loses its meaning. However, Raich Carter is, and always will be, a genuine Sunderland legend.