Carey, John Joseph ('Johnny', 'Jackie') (1919–95), footballer, was born 23 February 1919 at 4 Adelaide Place, Lower Baggot Street, Dublin, the son of John Carey, a van driver, and Sarah Carey (née Byrne). Educated at Westland Row CBS, he played soccer for Home Farm. Keen on all sports, he was a strong swimmer and often acted as a ball boy at tennis matches at the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club. He also played Gaelic football, and aged 16 was selected for the Dublin Gaelic football junior team, but the invitation was withdrawn when it was discovered he played soccer. After joining St James's Gate in Dublin in August 1936, he was spotted by a Manchester United scout, and two months later joined United (then in the second division of the Football League) for a fee of £250. He made his first-team debut against Southampton in September 1937 at inside-left, and performed well despite his side losing 2–1. United were promoted in his first season with the club, and in his first season in Division One (1938/9) Carey consolidated his position, making 34 league appearances and scoring 6 goals.
With the Football League suspended after the outbreak of war in September 1939, Carey continued to play for United in wartime regional leagues and guested for other teams such as Liverpool, Manchester City and Middlesbrough until 1943. On 17 May 1941 he scored the winner for United in a 1–0 victory over Burnley to win the Lancashire Cup. He also guested occasionally in League of Ireland games with Shamrock Rovers, and played in a 3–2 defeat for a League of Ireland XI against a Scottish League XI at Dalymount Park on 28 April 1940. After joining the Queen's Royal Hussars, Carey served in the Middle East and Italy from 1943, coaching army football teams and playing part-time for some Italian clubs. Known as 'Cario', he became a great favourite with local fans and was offered professional terms to stay in Italy, but after the war he returned to England and was made captain of Manchester United in October 1945 by their new manager, Matt Busby.
Under Busby's tutelage, he helped transform United into one of England's top clubs, leading them in a thrilling 4–2 FA Cup final victory over Blackpool in 1948 and to their first league championship in forty-one years in 1952 (the team had been runners-up in four of the previous five seasons). He was the first Irishman to captain his club to wins in both the league championship and FA Cup. After the war he usually played at right full-back and brought his inside-forward's footballing skills to the position. Although strongly built and a good tackler, he used brain rather than brawn to frustrate opposition attacks: he was a master of the well-timed interception, and regularly set up counter-attacks with his superb passing skills. Busby regarded him as one of the greatest United players of all time, on a par with Bobby Charlton or George Best (qv). Like Busby, Carey was a thoughtful, quiet-spoken man and a pipe smoker, with a passion for skilful football, but despite his quiet demeanour he had great presence on the pitch and was a natural leader. Sporting and dignified, he was popularly known as 'Gentleman Johnny'. Despite spending all his adult life in England, he never lost his love of the Irish language, and always prefaced any speeches in Ireland with a few words in Irish.
Carey first played for Ireland (FAI) in a 3–3 draw against Norway in a World Cup qualifier (7 November 1937), was capped 29 times (1937–53), 19 as captain, and scored 3 international goals. He also played 9 times for Northern Ireland (1946–9), and was one of seven southerners on the team that finished runners-up in the British home championship of 1947. During the 1948/9 season he captained both Irish international teams. On 10 May 1947 he captained a Rest of Europe team to a 6–1 defeat against Great Britain in front of 135,000 spectators at Hampden Park, Glasgow, in a game dubbed the 'match of the century'. Within the space of three days (28, 30 September 1946), he played for the two Irish national teams against England. In the latter game (the first ever between England and an FAI team) Ireland were beaten 1–0 in Dublin despite Carey's best efforts. The English goalkeeper Frank Swift recalled that 'Johnny Carey was, for all of us English players, the man of the match. He almost started the game at centre-forward, played at right-half in the first half and then went to right-back when Bill Hayes was injured. But no matter where he played, he just seemed to get better and better' (Byrne, 47). Ireland failed to qualify for either the 1938 or 1950 World Cup tournaments, but Carey was instrumental in their greatest footballing triumph in this period, captaining the team in a 2–0 win over England at Goodison Park, Liverpool (21 September 1949), when he effectively marked England's star player Tom Finney out of the game. This was the first time a team from outside the UK had beaten England at home. In 1949 Carey became the first Irish player to win the English football writers' footballer of the year award, and in 1950 he was voted Britain's sportsman of the year. Until his retirement from international football in 1953 he was Ireland's most influential player, using his experience and tactical ability to organise and inspire his teammates; at times he was effectively the team coach.
Although primarily a right full-back, Carey was a great all-round footballer: he played in every outfield position for United except outside-left, and once even played in goal against Sunderland in February 1953 when the regular goalkeeper had fallen ill; he also played in seven different positions for Ireland. When some of the 'Busby babes' began to break through into the United first team, he decided to give youth its chance and retired from playing in May 1953. Despite the disruption of the war years, he had played 344 games and scored 18 goals for Manchester United, and his long and successful career at Old Trafford did much to make United a favourite club with Irish supporters. United's directors took the unusual step of inviting him to a board meeting to thank him for his outstanding contribution to the club.
Although offered a coaching position at Old Trafford, he decided to become manager of second-division Blackburn Rovers (1953–8) and guided them to the first division in 1958. He brought the same relaxed, courteous manner to managing that he had to playing, and, like his mentor Busby, dispensed much fatherly advice to young players and encouraged his teams to play constructive, attacking football. He managed Everton (1958–61) and, despite reaching fifth place in 1961 (their best post-war position to that date), he was infamously sacked in the back of a taxi. As manager of Leyton Orient (1961–3) Carey gained the club promotion to Division One for the first time in 1962, but it was relegated the following season. He moved to Nottingham Forest (1963–8) and put together an impressive team. In 1967 Forest were runners-up to Manchester United in Division One, and also reached the semi-final of the FA Cup, going down 2–1 to Tottenham Hotspur, the eventual winners.
Carey also coached Ireland (FAI) (1955–67), becoming the team's first recognised manager. (He had already taken charge of the Ireland team at the 1948 Olympic games in England, when they lost 3–1 to Holland in a first-round match at Fratton Park, Portsmouth.) On 27 November 1955 he began his reign with a 2–2 draw at home to Spain, and then won his next three games, including a 3–0 victory over world champions Germany in a home friendly (25 November 1956). Other notable results were a 2–0 win against a highly fancied Czechoslovakia team in a European Nations' Cup qualifier (5 April 1959), and a 3–2 victory over Austria (13 October 1963) to take Ireland to the quarter-finals of the same competition. Carey managed Ireland for 45 games, winning 17, drawing 7, and losing 21. Among his greatest disappointments were elimination from a World Cup qualifying group when Ireland conceded a last-minute goal to draw 1–1 with England at Dalymount (19 May 1957), a 7–1 defeat against Czechoslovakia in a World Cup qualifier in Prague (29 October 1961), and going down 1–0 to Spain in Paris (10 November 1965) in a play-off for a place in the 1966 World Cup (the nearest Ireland came to qualifying for the finals of a major tournament under Carey). His job was not an easy one: the team was chosen by a five-man FAI committee, known for its inconsistent and occasionally bizarre selections, and players often arrived for international games on the day of the match. With little time for preparation, the manager gave the team only the simplest tactical instructions. Carey was a popular and respected figure among Irish players, many of whom had idolised him in their youth, but some believed that he should have done more to challenge the FAI's amateurish ways and improve the international set-up. Towards the end of his reign senior players such as Noel Cantwell (qv) and Charlie Hurley increasingly took on the managerial role, giving team talks and deciding on tactics. Carey stepped down as Ireland manager in February 1967.
He returned to Blackburn as general manager (1969–71), but was dismissed when the club was relegated to Division Three. By then he had had enough of football management, and took up a job in the treasurer's office of Trafford Borough Council until his retirement in 1984. He continued to visit Old Trafford regularly, and during the 1970s acted as a scout for Manchester United. He died 23 August 1995 at Macclesfield District General Hospital, Cheshire; he was survived by his wife Margaret.