In the summer of 1967, the Rovers installed former Coventry City boss George Raynor as manager. Raynor lasted little over a year as his team, which though never short of goals, struggled for wins away from Belle Vue and never achieved their potential. His swift departure meant Raynor was consigned to history as just another name on a long list of other Doncaster Rovers managers who fell short at the club. However the story of his career and his journey prior to his return South Yorkshire is nothing short of remarkable and offers clear evidence that the club may have had one of the game’s best ever coaches at the helm, though his legacy has never received the recognition he deserved.
A Barnsley born lad, he made a career from football as something of a journeyman in the lower leagues (brief and unremarkable spells at Sheffield Utd, Mansfield, Rotherham, Bury and Aldershot were as good as things got) until the Second World War when he was working as a training instructor in Baghdad. It was here he constructed the basis of an Iraq national Football team, turning a few heads in the process, before returning to England.
The impact he had on those around him whilst overseas had not gone unnoticed and he was recommended to the Swedish FA as they searched for a national coach in 1946 and looked to begin in a new post war era.
George Raynor led his new Sweden side back to Britain for the 1948 Olympic Games, where quite amazingly and against all the odds, they won the gold medal by beating a strong Yugoslavia in the final, (in front of 60,000 people at Wembley) and in the process eclipsing the Matt Busby led British side who could only finish third.
Raynor combined the national team duties with a management career in the Swedes domestic league before masterminding an incredible performance in the 1950 World Cup Finals. His side topped their group (notably beating Italy in their opening game) before falling to eventual champions Uruguay and finishing the tournament in third place.
He took Sweden to Olympic success once more in 1952 as his team secured a bronze medal, following which his burgeoning reputation throughout Europe saw him handed spells at Juventus and Lazio before returning home for an albeit brief (and rather less glamorous) spell at Coventry City.
He once again returned to take charge of Sweden and took his new side to the 1958 World Cup finals with the incredible achievements eight years earlier still fresh in the mind. Amazingly, Raynor’s side were once again the tournaments surprise package and again they began the competition in fine form, comfortably winning their group before brushing defending champions West Germany aside 3-1 in a fiercely contested semi final. Raynor’s side were ultimately forced to finish as runners up behind a Pele inspired Brazil, eventually losing the final despite taking an early lead.
Following his glorious achievements with Sweden he returned home to England. Given his glittering cv on the international stage it is staggering to consider that Raynor left the World Cup runners up and could only manage the position of manager at non league Skegness Town, such was the disparity of recognition he received at home as compared to the continent.
It is during this spell however that he undertook the work which would ultimately play a hugely significant part in the history of Doncaster Rovers. It was during these two years at Skegness that a player, once one of the games brightest prospects arrived at Skegness in the faint hope of reviving something resembling a career.
Understandably heart broken and trying to rebuild a life following a career ending injury,Alick Jeffrey, once so famously courted by Manchester United, went to non-league Skegness Town depressed and depleted but determined to make a recovery. Not long down an already almost impossibly long road, Jeffrey fell victim to another set back by breaking his other leg. This would surely have proved too much for most people but Jeffrey, guided by the progressive and forward thinking Raynor fought back for a second time and after months of further hard work he was ready to re-join Doncaster Rovers and try to resurrect his career.
Raynor had another brief spell in Sweden before having a lengthy spell away from football management before heading to Belle Vue and an (on the face of things) un characteristically underwhelming spell with Doncaster Rovers.
George Raynor left the club following those travails away from home which meant the side only finished 10. Lawrie McMenemy succeeded Raynor and building on his foundations, was able to reap those rewards which had been originally sown by George Raynor and lead the side to the Fourth Division title.
In spite of his vast achievements Raynor never received the recognition he deserved in England and when he took over at Belle Vue it was following several years away from the game. Though the statistics record just another manager with an average record in charge at Doncaster Rovers, history shows that George Raynor may in fact have been the most talented name on the list.