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Football With a Smile

By Paul Traill :  25/09/2010 :  Comments (9) :
This evening, I was lucky enough to attend a talk to highlight the playing and managerial career of a certain Mr Joe Mercer.

The night was organized by the Everton FC Heritage Society. Roughly one year ago I was privileged to be invited to a dinner organized by the great Dr David France, where I was introduced to a few of the guys whom devote so much of their time researching into the background? the history? the DNA of our club.

Chairman of the society is Paul Wharton. He does a great deal of unseen work which goes into the organization of nights like tonight?s and banging the drum about the heritage of our great club. The Everton FC vs CD Everton game in the summer?Paul had a big hand in that.

The main emphasis for this evening was a talk by football historian-writer Gary James who has just re-edited his book detailing the interesting history of Joe Mercer. The book was actually first written in 1993 and quickly sold out its couple of thousand copies. It has now been re-published and, from what I?ve heard this evening, would certainly be a worthwhile purchase for any supporter of Everton, Arsenal or Manchester City interested in the history of one of their greatest ever assets.

The evening was (fittingly) held in the Joe Mercer lounge at Goodison Park. It?s the first time I?ve been to the lounge and it's nice walking through the corridors and seeing team photos of our club over the years. I walked past the Boardroom also, which sends shivers down your spine a little bit? think how many big decisions have been made in that room over the years. It was a delight to see Mrs Mercer in attendance looking so well.

Gary James is a Manchester City fan and is very open in his appraisal of Joe Mercer that Everton was his biggest love. Gary explained how Mercer played his first game for Everton in an FA Cup fixture at the age of 20 I think though then he didn?t get the chance to play for Everton for the rest of that season. Regardless he was delighted to have done so, stating ?no matter what happens, I?ve now played for Everton and nobody can take that away from me? or something to that effect. He did however get into the team and it really was an Everton team on the up (winning the League Championship in the 1938-39 season), at a good age when WWII sadly intervened, hence disrupting the football league for much more serious matters.

Mercer made his mark in the forces (even ensuring Sir Tom Finney was able to get home to see his girlfriend after three years in service when the forces forbid him from doing so for whatever reason) and returned to play for Everton following the war. His right knee was not in great shape however and he could not play to his potential. The rumour is that Everton did not do their utmost to look after Mercer over this period and he was possibly getting a difficult time from then manager Theo Kelly for not applying himself enough in games even though his knee was the cause of his downfall. During this time the terrace support towards Joe Mercer never waivered.

As things transpired Mercer got his knee looked at by the then Arsenal physio and ultimately received an offer to play at Highbury. He was held in such high regard by the Gunners that they let him continue to live in Ellesmere Port, Wirral so he could continue with his grocer business also, so long as he was training at a club on Merseyside (as it turned out, he ended up training with Liverpool!). He just had to commute down to London for the games.

During the questions session I was tempted to ask how long it would have taken him to travel to London in those days without the benefit of the modern day two-hour Virgin trains from Lime Street, though I bottled the question as I anticipated more than a few funny looks. The number of goals he scored for Everton is open to debate though it seems it is either one or two?though he did also score one own goal.

As a younger player it was Mercer?s dream to lift the FA Cup. He did fulfill that dream eventually in 1950, defeating Liverpool with Arsenal amidst his nine year career at the Gunners. He also won two league titles in this time, eventually retiring following an injury? co-incidentally sustained playing against Liverpool.

His managerial career is also one of great interest with his time at Manchester City undoubtedly his most successful period. He also oversaw a seven game stint as caretaker manager of England, touring countries such as Yugoslavia in that period. He never got the opportunity to manage for Everton. Joe Mercer passed away in ill health on his 76th birthday in 1990.

For a man to be so revered by three clubs as large in stature as Everton, Arsenal and Manchester City is no mean feat. To still have a lounge at Goodison Park, murals at the old Maine Road site and a mosaic at the new Emirates Stadium all in tribute to Joe Mercer speaks volumes really.

All the above is just a slice of what I was educated this evening. I can?t wait to read the book.

Gary James, Football With a Smile

Official price: £19.95

Reader Comments

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Gary James
1   Posted 25/09/2010 at 08:32:24

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Paul, Thanks for the comments. I enjoyed the talk. The train question would have been a good one and I do have an answer.

I tell a story of Joe's journey on page 69 of the book - after a Saturday game at Highbury he'd catch the 5.30pm train from Euston, arriving on The Wirral about 10.30pm. Sometimes Joe fell asleep and ended up at the end of the line though!

Thanks to all the Everton fans who made me so welcome last night. More info on the book can be found at:!/pages/James-Ward-Publishing/266700661882 There are sample pages, reviews and photos on there.
Mike McLean
2   Posted 25/09/2010 at 09:32:30

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Theo Kelly, he who publicly called Dixie a drunk. What a guy!

As to Mercer, I believe he had to pay for his knee surgery himself as the Everton management didn't believe he had a problem.

It's difficult to believe that any Club had had such a run of tossers in charge of it.
Dick Fearon
3   Posted 25/09/2010 at 09:54:02

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One amusing Joe Mercer story that I remember from newspapers of the day.

Joe had managed newly promoted City, Stan Cullis had managed Wolves the other newly promoted club. In the opening game of the following season both clubs had played each other.
Over after match drinks Joe said to his old friend, "It's true what they say about this first division, Stan, the game is definitely a lot faster".
Phil Bellis
4   Posted 25/09/2010 at 12:57:58

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Getting off the "ordinary" from Lime St at Euston for an away game in the late 60s, we saw a big commotion back down the platform
Joe Mercer appeared, surrounded by a Pretorain Guard of Everton fans (one carrying Joe's' greatcoat, another his briefcase) ..."look out lads, it's Mr Mercer - clear the way for Uncle Joe!"
The great man, extremely bandy-legged and blushing with embarrassment, was escorted like a Roman emperor through the station, cheered and clapped all the way to his transport
As a youngster, it really hit me, then, how special Everton supporters are in their appreciation of and affection for deserving ex-players
Dennis Stevens
5   Posted 25/09/2010 at 16:06:59

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My own memories of "GenialJoe" relate to that marvellous period when he had the England team playing with a smile - & a bit of style too!
As for Gary James' biography of the great man, I have the excellent original & have recently finished reading the latest edition. Remarkably, it is an improvement - not easy when the original was such a fine publication. I heartily recommend the latest edition - put it on your Christmas list!
Paul McGinty
6   Posted 25/09/2010 at 23:03:06

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I remember in the late 50s early 60s he had a greengrocers shop in wallasey.later as a tv pundit he always raised a smile with his pronunciation of pele as perky. A man who loved the game and knew it inside out .
Paul McGinty
7   Posted 25/09/2010 at 23:03:06

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I remember in the late 50s early 60s he had a greengrocers shop in wallasey.later as a tv pundit he always raised a smile with his pronunciation of pele as perky. A man who loved the game and knew it inside out .
Gary James
8   Posted 27/09/2010 at 08:34:43

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Thanks to Dennis Stevens for his positive comments - my aim is always to improve, so I didn't simply want to reprint this book. There's more about his early life/dad's life and Everton's title winning season (plus other material), and of course the photos are different and some are in colour.

On Friday night there was discussion about Joe's goals for Everton and I said he'd scored one League goal. What I should have done was check my text further - he scored 1 league and 1 FAC goal (details on page 28 & 300). The League goal was V Blackburn & the FAC against Preston in 1946. Hope this is clear now.

Copies of the book are available from Waterstones on Merseyside (and elsewhere), Amazon (the cheapest I can find) and


Gary James
9   Posted 30/09/2010 at 08:34:45

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Anyone who missed the Joe Mercer talk can hear me talking with John Keith on City Talk 105.9FM on Saturday 2nd October at 6pm.

"Strictly John Keith" is on for an hour and includes John interviewing me in the studio and also John having a chat with Harry Catterick's son about Harry's addition into the NFM Hall Of Fame.

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