Scan the walls of Tony Carr’s impressive home in rural Essex, and you would be forgiven for thinking you had wandered into football’s equivalent of the National Gallery. On one wall, you can find Carr pictured with an immaculate Bobby Moore; nearby, there he is smiling alongside Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard.
They are testament not just to a life spent immersed in football, but the esteem in which he is held. And not simply at West Ham United, the club he served for more than 40 years: the English game as a whole owes him a debt, as the man who helped shape the stellar careers of Lampard, Ferdinand, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Glen Johnson and Jermain Defoe – a golden generation whose CVs bear comparison with any English players since 1966.
Carr is 68 – three years younger than Roy Hodgson, the evergreen manager of Crystal Palace – and hardly looks it. So why is arguably the best developer of young talent English football has seen in the past three decades now in semi-retirement, limited to occasional work helping develop young coaches for the Premier League?
The answer lies partly in Carr’s departure from West Ham after 43 years of service in 2016. He had been moved into an ambassadorial role in 2014, making way for Terry Westley to take over the club’s famed academy, and relations with board members Karren Brady, David Gold and David Sullivan had broken down. He left shortly after, and labelled his treatment “disrespectful” in a newspaper interview.
Despite continued friendships with current captain Mark Noble and club legend Sir Trevor Brooking, in the absence of an official link to the club Carr now attends matches only with friends and family who have spare tickets.