The three managers who have won major trophies with Everton – Messrs Catterick, Kendall and Royle – all displayed a ruthless streak in their respective quests for glory. One of the Everton managers who never won anything – except for many friends – was Johnny Carey, a softly spoken Dubliner whose sides played nice football but were never quite able to stamp down the authority necessary for major honours.

CAREY, an accomplished Gaelic footballer in his youth, had been captain of Manchester United’s post-war side in the pre-Busby Babes era, helping them to League runners-up position for three consecutive seasons and to the FA Cup Final, which they won in 1948. He played with distinction, picking up 29 caps for the Republic of Ireland (and 7 for Northern Ireland) and also captained the Rest of the World against Great Britain in 1947 in a match to raise money for FIFA. He was the Footballer Writers’ Association Player of the Year in 1949, only the second player to win the award, and made nearly 350 appearances for United before his retirement as a player in 1953. He declined an Old Trafford coaching position to take up the Blackburn Rovers manager’s job in August that year.

Carey was a footballing purist, a man whose motto was purportedly, ‘Only the keeper stops the ball.’ He was not without success at Ewood Park and in 1957/58 led Blackburn to the top flight as Second Division runners-up. Everton, who were in a dire state, may have been set to replace them. They lost the first six games of the 1958/59 season and head coach Ian Buchan was sacked. In searching for a replacement Everton went to Ewood Park and Carey accepted the challenge of restoring glory to Goodison.

In signing a five-year contract to become Everton manager, Carey became one of the best-paid figures in English football. He earned £3000 per year at a time when most of his players earned one-sixth of that amount, and was given a house for a peppercorn rent. The task facing him was onerous. A fortnight before first formally managing Everton the club fell to its record defeat, a 4-10 hammering at Tottenham. Everton were deep in relegation trouble. Carey nevertheless eased these concerns, elevating Everton to 16th place by the season’s end.

At this time John Moores’ millions were starting to make an impression on the club and big signings were beginning to arrive at Goodison. Bobby Collins joined from Celtic a month before Carey’s arrival and Alex Parker from Falkirk a month after. Carey took a year to start to make a big impression at Goodison and when he did it was not for a signing but a departure. On Friday 6 November 1959 a £10,000 offer from Liverpool for the club idol, Dave Hickson, was accepted.

FOR EVERTONIANS the news was deeply traumatic. ‘I protest at the abominable treatment afforded Dave Hickson. Everton supporters know that Hickson is not the best centre forward in football, but of the centre forwards on Everton’s books he is by far the best,’ wrote J.D. Pierce of L11 to the Football Echo. ‘It seems ridiculous that other players in the team can play badly and still retain their places while Hickson, who has played his heart out (and incidentally, is leading goalscorer) should be dropped.’ ‘Is Mr Carey using Hickson to cover mistakes by rash buying?’ pondered C. Purvis of L24.

The club were, at the time, in 19th position, and the day Hickson’s sale was revealed they lost 8-2 at Newcastle. Carey was in the market for a centre forward but had been foiled in attempts to sign Joe Baker and Denis Law. Instead, the doughty trier, Alan Shackleton, was persisted with until the end of the season. But other new signings over coming months helped ease the burden of Hickson’s loss. Wingers Tommy Ring and Micky Lill, wing half Jimmy Gabriel and, from Blackburn, the rapier-like forward Roy Vernon all arrived before the end of the season.

Yet despite the changes, Everton again finished 16th and although their football could be thrilling, they could also frustrate. They won 13 of their 19 home matches, but won none away. An autumn series of results saw a 6-1 win over Leicester, the 2-8 defeat at Newcastle and then a 4-0 win over Birmingham.

A similar sequence in spring witnessed a 4-0 win, a 2-2 draw, a 6-1 victory and a 2-6 defeat. Evertonians did not know if they were going to witness a humiliation being handed out or received.

In the dressing room Carey got a mixed response. ‘I thought his ideas on football were good, but I didn’t like him as a man,’ Derek Temple said in 2011. ‘He was a very sarcastic man. I’ve spoken to other players and they felt the same. Some liked him as well. But you always get that: some players that like managers, and others that detest them.’ Ken Rea was similarly unimpressed. ‘Carey was useless,’ he said. ‘He would come in at half-time and say, “I want you all to listen to this.” But he never told us anything! We were at Arsenal and losing 2-0 and he said, “I want you to go out there and meet the ball and play football.” But I thought that was part of the game, meeting the ball and playing football! He was a terrible manager! People might say he’s okay, but he was a terrible manager. Terrible!’

Off-the-field developments over the summer of 1960 would have a dramatic impact on the club. At the Annual General Meeting on 23 June, the chairman, Fred Micklesfield, revealed that Moores had offered £56,000 to the club free of interest ‘to enable star players to be secured’. Micklesfield offered words of confidence about the club’s future before retiring from the chair, to which Moores was elected. Over the course of the 1960/61 season Billy Bingham and Alex Young would be added to Carey’s expensive new squad.

While the away form remained indifferent, Everton were unstoppable at Goodison and by Christmas lay in third place. A 3-1 win at league champions Burnley on Boxing Day underlined Everton’s title credentials. But then it all started to go horribly wrong. Burnley visited Goodison the following day and won 3-1. It sparked a run of nine matches without a win, encompassing eight defeats and FA Cup and League Cup exits to Sheffield United and Shrewsbury Town. Carey was suddenly a man under pressure and scrutiny, and from March whisperings in the press suggested his days were numbered.

On Friday 14 April 1961, Carey and Moores travelled to London for an FA meeting. Although Everton had beaten Newcastle United 4-0 at St James’s Park the previous Saturday, speculation was more intense than ever about Carey’s future. Wanting clarification, he demanded a meeting with his chairman. Moores suggested that they reconvene and the two men took a taxi to the Grosvenor Hotel. During that journey, Carey repeated his request for clarification on his future. Moores, always a man of principle, was straight and to the point. He told Carey that he was being replaced.

The following day Everton faced Cardiff City at Goodison. Moores’ appearance in the director’s box shortly before kick-off was greeted with boos, slow handclapping and ‘We want Carey’ chants. Just before the team left the dressing room to come onto the pitch, the captain Bobby Collins made a speech thanking Carey on behalf of him and all the rest of the players and expressed their regret at his departure. Cardiff were beaten 5-1 thanks to a hat-trick by Bobby Collins and a brace by Alex Young. After the game around 30 to 40 fans waited around Carey’s car to thank him for everything he had done for the club. ‘That touched me very much,’ he said, ‘And so did the players’ little speech before a match which was for me, one of the greatest and yet one of the saddest of my career.’

BUT THERE was no stay of execution. ‘Mr Moores deserved better,’ recalled Young. ‘As did Johnny. He was a wonderful Irish gentleman of immense dignity who knew football and had played the game at the highest level. His approach had been uncomplicated. He required us to emphasise neat passing and ball skills at all times in training and in matches.’

Carey returned to football with Orient a few months later and took them to the unprecedented heights of the First Division within a year of assuming command. In 1963 he became Nottingham Forest manager and would lead them to runners-up spot in the First Division in 1966/67 as well as the FA Cup semi-final. His final job in football came back at Ewood Park, but he failed to bring success back to East Lancashire and left in 1971 after Blackburn suffered relegation to the Third Division. He subsequently worked for a textile company and in the treasurer’s office of Trafford Borough Council. He died in 1995 and at Goodison will always be remembered best in the words of John Moores:

A nice man, an honourable man and a good practitioner.