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. 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played Gaelic football, and aged 16 was selected for the Dublin Gaelic football junior team, but the invitation was withdrawn when it was discovered he played soccer.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 within two months was bought by United for a fee of £250. He made his first team debut for United against Southampton in September 1937 as an inside-left, and established a regular place on the team. During the second world war he joined the Queen's Royal Hussars and saw service in the Middle East and Italy. He also coached army teams and played part-time for some Italian clubs. Known as ‘Cario’ to local fans, he was offered professional terms to stay in Italy, but he returned to England and was made captain of Manchester United in October 1945 by their new manager Matt Busby. 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 (the first Irishman to captain an FA cup-winning team), and to their first League championship in forty-one years in 1952 (the team were also runners-up in four of the previous five seasons). After the war he usually played at full back and brought his inside-forward's footballing skills to the position. Although strongly built and a good tackler, he used brain more 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. 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 was a natural leader and had immense presence on the pitch. He first played for Ireland against Norway (7 November 1937), was capped twenty-nine times (1937–53), nineteen of them as captain, and scored three international goals. He also played nine times for Northern Ireland (1946–9) and captained a Rest of Europe team against Great Britain in 1947. Within the space of two days (28, 30 September 1946), he played for the two different Irish national teams against England. In the latter game in which Ireland were beaten 0–1 in Dublin, the English goal-scorer, the legendary Tom Finney, 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). He captained Ireland in their famous 2–0 win over England at Goodison Park, Liverpool (21 September 1949), when he effectively marked Tom Finney out of the game. In 1949 he became the first Irish player to win the English football writer's ‘Footballer of the year’ award, and in 1950 he was voted Britain's ‘Sportsman of the year’.
As sporting on the pitch as he was dignified off it, he was popularly known as ‘Gentleman Johnny’. Although primarily a right full-back, he was a great all-round player: 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. With some of the ‘Busby babes’ beginning to break through into the United first team, he retired from playing in May 1953. Despite the disruption of the war years, he had played 344 games and scored 18 goals for the club. United's directors took the unusual step of inviting him to a board meeting to thank him for his outstanding contribution to the club. He was offered a coaching position at Old Trafford but decided to become manager of second division Blackburn Rovers (1953–8) and guided them to the first division in 1958. He also managed Everton (1958–61), and was sacked despite the club's reaching fifth place in Division 1 in 1961. As manager of Leyton Orient (1961–3) he gained the club promotion to Division 1 for the first time in its history in 1962, but it was relegated the following season. He moved to Nottingham Forest (1963–8), and took them to second place in Division 1 in 1967. As a manager, he retained the same relaxed, courteous manner he had as a player. He also coached the Republic of Ireland from 1953 to the mid 1960s, becoming the team's first recognised manager. 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. He returned to Blackburn as general manager (1969–71), but was sacked when the club was relegated to Division 3. Disillusioned with management, he retired from the game, and worked 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, Chesire; he was survived by his wife Margaret.