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Gary James blog #4: #Mercer100

  • 30 July 2014 11:21
  • Posted by @GaryJamesWriter
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Gary James has been writing about the Blues for over 25 years. Here’s the fourth in our series of blogs by the Manchester football historian.

Two weeks ago I talked about the centenary of Hearts’ Main Stand and today my focus is on another centenary. One which is of direct interest to City fans and one which will coincide with the upcoming Community Shield game between the Blues and Arsenal.

So what’s this major landmark? On Saturday 9 August, it will be the 100th anniversary of former manager Joe Mercer’s birth and, as he was such an important figure in City’s – and England’s! – football history, it’s a centenary we should all remember.

Joe is currently, though hopefully not for much longer, City’s most successful manager of all time after winning a major European trophy, the League, the FA Cup, the League Cup, the Second Division title and the Charity Shield between 1965 and 1970. He often quipped: "We won everything but the Grand National!"

He was, of course, supported by his assistant Malcolm Allison, who Joe had brought to the club shortly after his own arrival in July 1965. Allison worked hard with the players on the pitch, while Mercer was responsible for the overall direction.


It was a partnership that worked like a dream with Joe often pointing out that the two of them were part of a wonderful backroom staff that included fifties heroes Ken Barnes, Dave Ewing and Johnny Hart, as well as chief scout Harry Godwin. This was typical Joe - always sharing the praise.

At City, Joe used his experience gained at Sheffield United and Aston Villa, where he won the Second Division title and the League Cup, to help return the Blues to a position of strength.

Sometimes he would sign a player, such as Mike Summerbee, and at other times he’d back Allison’s judgement, as he did when Allison wanted Tony Book. Together they worked perfectly with Allison making the boasts and challenging authority in a way fans loved, while Mercer gave the club authority and respect. 

Sadly, a takeover battle, which saw Mercer back the existing directors while Allison supported those aiming to takeover the club, disrupted the Blues’ successes and caused Joe to leave City in 1972 feeling unwanted by those who had been successful at taking over the club.

In an interview on the day he left Maine Road, Joe made it perfectly clear that he did not blame Malcolm for the problems and stressed that he hoped that Malcolm was successful at ‘this wonderful club’. He moved to Coventry, where he won a Manager of the Month award, and then became England’s caretaker boss after the dismissal of Alf Ramsey.

Years later, I was told by Joe and Norah, his wife, that Joe had been asked if he and Allison would take over as England’s management team once Ramsey moved on. That approach, apparently, came while Joe was still at City but the two men never joined forces for England due to the break-up at Maine Road.

On his own, Joe won the British Home International Tournament (shared with Scotland) in 1974 with England and, again according to interviews I performed while researching his biography, Joe was asked to stay on in the role but turned it down due to health issues.


A few years earlier he’d have loved having the job. In fact many journalists had tipped him to become England manager in preference to Alf Ramsey in the early sixties while he was Villa boss!

After England, Joe became a director of Coventry City before finally retiring about 1980. His later years saw him suffer with Alzheimer’s, but he remained passionate about his former clubs, especially Everton, City and Arsenal, where he had captained the Gunners to great success.

In fact in the 1980s he was voted Arsenal’s greatest captain of all time. This is why it is fitting that the two clubs he had most success with are meeting in the Community Shield on the weekend marking the 100th anniversary of his birth. Let’s hope it’s a great game and let’s ensure that we all pause to remember Joe’s wonderful life and career.  

Often in football when past successes are eclipsed the significance of men like Mercer appears to be forgotten at some clubs, so let’s take the centenary of Joe’s birth as our opportunity to show the football world that Manchester City fans recognise those that helped to make this club a force. The Community Shield gives us that opportunity. A few renditions of "To See Joe Mercer’s Aces" would be nice to hear at Wembley.

Gary wrote the only authorised biography of City’s former manager – "Joe Mercer, OBE: Football With A Smile" (published by James Ward, £19.95 and available as a kindle book at £7.47) – and is a member of the Sports & Leisure History Group at MMU. He is a ‘must-follow’ for City fans: Twitter: @garyjameswriter and 

His recent research into the birth of football in Manchester is free to download:

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