Manchester City Win The League

On this day (May 11) in 1968 Manchester City defeated Newcastle United and won the League title. Here’s the build up to that game; the story of the match itself and quotes from those involved.  Enjoy!

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‘Where do you want your statue?’

In November 2020 I was delighted to be one of the speakers at a blue plaque unveiling for former Manchester City boss Joe Mercer in his home town of Ellesmere Port. It set me off thinking about permanent tributes to footballers and so for this article I’m taking a look at the tributes already made and questioning what else could be developed.

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Norah Mercer: 11th March 1920 – 12th March 2013

On this day (11th March) in 1920 Norah Mercer was born and on 12th March 2013 she passed away. Here is an obituary I wrote for her in 2013:

A short while ago (this was written on 13 March 2013) I heard the news that Norah Mercer, the widow of former England captain and manager Joe Mercer, had died this morning.  She was 93 yesterday.  

I first met Norah in 1988 when I was researching for a book on the Manchester derby.  Joe had agreed to write an introduction to the book and I was invited to the Mercer home to talk with Joe.  Unfortunately, on the day the car my father and I were supposed to be travelling in had a few problems and we ended up using a white transit van to get to their home.

As we arrived at the end of their street we started to worry.  We were about to park a transit van outside the house of the greatest Manchester City manager of all time.  Not only that but we were about 45 minutes early.  We couldn’t pull up outside Joe Mercer’s house 45 minutes early and in a transit van!  We decided to park near the junction of the neighbouring road – where we could see the Mercer house – and wait in the van.

At the appropriate time we climbed out of the van, walked up the Mercer road and knocked on their door.  Joe came out with a big beaming smile and simply said “come in”, then Norah appeared from the kitchen wagging her finger at us and saying “you’ve been hiding in that van for 45 minutes!  No need for that you should have pulled up outside.”  From that moment on Norah made us feel welcome and in the 25 years since has been a wonderful friend.

Throughout her life Norah supported Joe wonderfully.  Today people often talk of footballers’ wives – often for the wrong reasons! – but back when Norah and Joe first became a couple it was unknown for a wife to become known by supporters.  However, Norah’s support for her husband was such they she played a marvellous part in every period of his career from the moment her father helped Joe get to Goodison Park in the early days of his career; through the highs and lows of an amazing playing career with Everton, Arsenal and England; on to managerial ups and downs at Sheffield United, Aston Villa, Manchester City, Coventry City and that great spell as England boss; and on to retirement, illness and so on.  Joe passed away on his 76th birthday in 1990 but Norah continued to show interest in football becoming a regular at Manchester City and a frequent visitor to Joe’s other clubs.

When Joe passed away in 1990 I asked Norah if I could write a biography of her husband.  Her response was typical: “Only if it’s not too much trouble for you.”  Too much trouble?  After what Joe had given football, and in particular my team Manchester City, I felt we all owed him something, but typical of Norah she wanted to make sure I wasn’t taking on too much, or doing it for the wrong reasons.

With Norah’s support – and also great assistance from her son David – I wrote the biography over the following three years but, most significantly, I also spent many days at Norah’s listening to her views on football and life, questioning her on odd snippets of information, marvelling at her photo collection, and generally enjoying every minute.  Typically my visits would include Norah insisting I had something to eat – I really didn’t want to intrude too much but soon realised that Norah was always such a welcoming figure.  She was also keen to meet my own family and my girlfriend (my wife since 1992) was as welcome as I was and became someone else looked after by Norah.  

On one occasion when I was researching Joe’s Aston Villa material Norah insisted I have a beer.  When she brought the drink in she nodded to my girlfriend and then gave me the tankard – Joe’s League Cup winning tankard from his days at Villa!  I was petrified that I was going to damage it.

Norah was born in Liverpool in 1920 and was the daughter of a popular grocer, Albert Dyson, on The Wirral.  Albert was a passionate Evertonian and had various contacts at the club.  As Albert’s business was based in Ellesmere Port inevitably he came into contact with a young Everton player called Joe Mercer.  Joe and another player were invited to the Dyson home for tea one day. The other player couldn’t come but Norah did meet Joe for the first time:  “Old cheeky face Mercer came!  At the time I was 11 and Joe was 17 and he treated me like a sister.”  Around six years later a relationship began to develop between the two of them and Norah became an intergral part of Joe’s life.

In March 1941 Joe and Norah became engaged and on 3rd September that year they married with Everton’s TG Jones the best man.  Norah explained to me fifty years later that the honeymoon was cut short by a day so that Joe could play for Everton:  “We left early Saturday and he played Saturday afternoon.  So that’s how our marriage started… with football!  And that’s how it went on.”

Norah was knowledgeable about football herself.  In fact some of Joe’s teammates teased him that Norah knew more about the game than he did!  She played her part in all the big moments of his career:  “Playing for Everton meant a great deal to us all because we were all Evertonians, but I suppose the greatest moment in his pre-war career came when he was selected to play for England.  He was at our house when it came through on the radio – no one ‘phoned you then to tell you you’d been selected.  

“He was delighted.  We all were.  It was such a honour to play for England.  It made us all so proud.  When he played at Hampden in one of his first internationals Joe’s mum came with me and my father to watch him.  That meant everything and Joe was named the Man of the Match (England won 2-1).” 

The couple were, of course, separated for significant periods during the war years.  It was a difficult time for all, but once the war was over it also looked as if Joe’s footballing career had come to an end.  Joe became a grocer like his father-in-law, but he often admitted it was a poor substitute for playing football.  Then a chance came to join Arsenal and arrangements were made for Joe to train on the Wirral and travel to Highbury for games.  Whenever possible Norah would travel, together with their young son David, to London for games.  She was, of course, present at all the landmark moments of Joe’s career with the Gunners:  “I went as often as possible, and of course we had David by then.  If I didn’t go to games I’d be waiting for him up here after the game.  He used to catch the 5.30pm from Euston and arrive back to The Wirral around 10.30.  We lived near the line then and I used to look out for the train.  Of course, Joe often fell asleep and would end up at the end of the line!  Once he said to a guard ‘why didn’t you wake me?’ and the guard said ‘because of what you did to my team today!’  Arsenal must have beaten his team.” 

Once Joe’s playing career ended he moved into management with Sheffield United, Aston Villa and then Manchester City.  As football management required a much closer presence the family moved whenever Joe’s career took a different course.  Norah, for her part, tried to ensure everything ran smoothly for Joe and David.  She also played her part as a welcoming aspect at each of the clubs.  In 2003 she told me: “I used to come to all the games of course, and both before and after the match would be with the wives of the directors, visiting officials, and even the referee’s wife in the Ladies Room.  We were all told who the referee’s wife was and we tried to make her feel welcome, although for some ladies it all depended on how well her husband had refereed the match!”

Norah supported Joe fully throughout his managerial career, especially during some difficult periods at Aston Villa and the final days at Manchester City. Norah, talking to me in 2003:  “He didn’t want to leave City but felt he had no choice.  He obviously wanted Malcolm to succeed and he did not blame him, but the new directors could have sorted it out properly.  Once the takeover had happened and the new directors came on board (1970-72) the club had changed.  It wasn’t really until Franny returned to the club (1993/4 season) that efforts were made to invite me and others back.  Of course Joe had passed away by then, but I was delighted to be asked to games.  That invite has carried on ever since and it is great to feel part of the club again.” 

Joe passed away in 1990 after suffering with Alzheimer’s.  Norah did all she could during that period to ensure Joe was comfortable and she insisted on looking after him, even during some very difficult days.

Norah continued to attend games at City from 1994 through to the present day.  She also came to the ground for other activities and functions over the years, including the unveiling of the Mercer mosaics in 2005.  That day she was accompanied by her son David, but sadly, a little over two years later he passed away after a struggle with cancer. Life must have been difficult once more for Norah.  

Away from football Norah tried to play a part in her local community.  For many, many years she worked in charity shops on The Wirral.  In fact, when I went to see her once when she was in her late 70s she told me that earlier that week a man had stolen a handbag from someone inside the shop and that Norah had chased after him.  Only losing him when he jumped on a waiting train at the railway station:  “if that train hadn’t been there I’d have caught him!”

On another occasion when she was approaching ninety she told me of her upset at being “made redundant!”  The charity had decided to stop using volunteers and had employed younger permanent staff instead.  I’m pretty certain that few permanent staff would have had the same level of dedication and determination that Norah had.

I once asked her about her family’s interest in football:  “It’s changed so much since Joe and I first met.  Throughout his career I supported him all the way.  To Joe football was the most important thing.  The people… the money… the grounds even change, but Joe used to say that the game itself doesn’t need to change.  Football is a great game and that’s what mattered to Joe.  I often joke that football was everything to Joe.    When he met me it was football then me.  When our son David was born it was football, David, then me.  When our granddaughter Susan was born it was football, Susan, David, then me!  Football was always number one and we all knew that.  Football was Joe’s life.

By 2009-10 I had become a little frustrated that the Mercer name was not often remembered outside of the clubs Joe had been involved with and so I decided to update and revise my biography of Joe, but first I asked Norah’s permission.  Just like twenty years earlier she said “Are you sure?  Will anybody be interested?  Don’t do it unless you feel it’s worthwhile.”  “Joe Mercer: Football With A Smile” came out in April 2010 and I made sure that the book explained Norah’s continued presence and interest in football – to me it’s a shared story.  It was the least she deserved.

In September 2009 I included an interview with Norah in the Manchester City match programme.  In that piece I asked her about present day City and ended the piece with a simple question: Looking to the future, who would you like to win the League?

Her response:  “After City you mean?  Well, the top four would have to be City, Everton, Arsenal and Liverpool, but apart from City as champions I’d best not say which order.”  In 2012 she got her wish and, most significantly, she was there when City defeated QPR to lift the title for the first time since Joe’s side had in 1968.

My thoughts are with her granddaughter Susan and the rest of her family.

Gary James

12th March 2013

On This Day – The Story And Film of A Maine Road Manchester Derby

On this day (21st January) in 1967 the Blues played the Reds in the first Maine Road derby following City’s promotion in 1966. City had lost the Old Trafford derby 1-0 in September 1966 but had high hopes they could get something out of the return match.

The following article provides the background story to the Maine Road derby, a report, and film of the scenes around Maine Road that day (Mercer, Allison & Busby all appear; plus there’s film of fans outside the ground and then trying to climb into the Main Stand from the area behind the then still open Main Stand/Scoreboard End corner).

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“Ballet on Ice” – December 9 1967

It’s not often Manchester United supporters turn their backs on the Reds to support neighbours City, but that’s exactly what occurred in December 1967 following a thrilling Blue performance against Tottenham.  United supporter Bobby Greenroyd watched the game on Match of the Day and wrote to Maine Road afterwards:  “I am a regular Manchester United fan, but after Saturday’s game your next home gate will be increased by one.”  High praise, particularly as United themselves were on the verge of European Cup glory.

Why and how did this happen and which leading MCFC figure sneaked out to buy a bag of chips while the club celebrated its 1968 League title success? Here for subscribers is an article that explains all….

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Joe Mercer Book Launch Video 1993

Back in 1993 my biography of Joe Mercer was published for the first time. We staged a book launch in the centre of Manchester attended by various footballers and friends of the Mercers. Myself, Norah Mercer, Malcolm Allison, Mike Summerbee and Francis Lee all spoke at the launch which was ably compered by broadcaster James H Reeve. Here’s a trailer the speeches for subscribers to the si

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Flashback to 1993: Radio Interview About Joe Mercer

Back in 1993 Jimmy Wagg interviewed me on GMR about my new book on Joe Mercer. While going through some material the other day I found the recording. The quality is not great (neither are my answers at times!) but here for the next few days you can hear the recording. From Friday 19th November this will only be available to subscribers to my site (so if you want to hear why I did the book and the answers I gave back then have a listen now). Here goes (again apologies for the quality of the recording):

While you’re here why not have a look at all the other articles, interviews, videos and material on this site. Subscribers get access to everything and this included the entire Manchester A Football History book & From Maine Men To Banana Citizens (my first book). There are also audio recordings of my interviews with John Bond, Malcolm Allison, George Graham etc. It costs £3 per month or £20 per year.

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Joe Mercer OBE

On Thursday a PFA plaque will be unveiled to honour a footballing legend. Joe Mercer was a hugely successful player with Everton, Arsenal and England and a trophy winning manager with Aston Villa and Manchester City. He also managed Sheffield United and Coventry City. He was acclaimed as a man who had put the fun back into English football during a spell as the England boss. He fully deserves this tribute and, if you can make it, please come along to the plaque unveiling. Back in 2004 I wrote the following piece for the Manchester City match programme which, for those Blues wondering why Joe was significant, may help to explain his importance to the club. Enjoy… it starts with the original introduction (and all references to Joe’s family etc, are from 2004 of course).

***

In Search of The Blues considers the life and career of a former City great who sadly is no longer with us, Joe Mercer OBE.  The reason we have decided to reflect on Joe’s life today is that last Monday (9th August 2004) marked the 90th anniversary of the birth of the former City & England manager.  Sadly Joe passed away on the same date in 1990 – his 76th birthday. Joe was City’s manager during the Club’s most successful period, and Gary James, author of “Football With A Smile: The Authorised Biography of Joe Mercer, OBE”, provides a commentary on Joe’s lifetime of achievements.

Why is Joe Mercer so important to this Club?

Joe breathed new life into a club that was struggling to survive.  During the early sixties City had reached a critical level – one director actually suggested the Blues should merge with United! – and Joe’s appointment was one which had to succeed.  Joe brought in a highly enthusiastic Malcolm Allison as his number two and between them they transformed City from a struggling sleeping giant into League Champions, FA Cup winners, League Cup victors and European Cup Winners’ Cup winners. 

The Blues became renowned for their positive approach and swashbuckling style and Joe encouraged everyone to enjoy life at Maine Road.

Without Joe’s arrival in July 1965 it’s very difficult to see how City’s fortunes could be resurrected.

How did his partnership with Malcolm Allison work?

There have been many theories over the years of how the two men worked together.  Many people focus on their contrasting styles – Malcolm the flamboyant one; Joe the fatherly figure – but during the 1990s Malcolm answered a similar question by stating:  “we made it work because we told each other the truth, and we never really fell out.  We had a great relationship.  I enjoyed it all and I think, like Joe, those first five years were the best ever for me.  I think that fortune favours the brave, and I think that sometimes you have to be fortunate where you work and who you work with.  I was very lucky when Joe got the City job, and took me there.  And we started right from the grass roots, right from the bottom and took them to the top.  That is real achievement!”

How does Joe compare to football’s other great managers?

In 1990 Bobby Charlton said he was one of football’s most important figures and added:  “Joe was a great, great person and we don’t say that about many people.  They don’t produce people like him very often.  He was a true great, along with the likes of Bill Shankly.”

Joe’s period as City manager coincided with a number of famous managerial careers – Shankly (Liverpool), Busby (United), Revie (Leeds), Nicholson (Spurs), Stein (Celtic) – and so comparisons should be easy, however each Club was at a different phase in development and it would be foolish to directly compare.  However, it is clear however that during 1967-8 City swept aside the great sides created by his contemporaries and that the Mercer-Allison side won many admirers across the Country because of the style of play and positive attitude.  

In addition to Joe’s time at City he did have some success away from Maine Road and, of course, he managed England for a brief but entertaining spell.

Why did Joe Leave?

Initially, because of Joe’s health problems at Villa, he had anticipated being at City for only a few years.  Naturally, Malcolm was keen to manage the Club in his own right but that didn’t seem possible while Joe was still at the Club.  In 1971 Malcolm was given the role of Team Manager but Joe’s position was less clear.  Power struggles in the Boardroom and various other issues placed Joe and Malcolm in different camps and, when an offer from Coventry came in 1972, Joe felt it was time to move on.  

What was Joe’s managerial record away from Maine Road like?

His first League management role was at Sheffield United.  The Blades were struggling when he arrived mid season and were relegated (1956), however during the course of the next couple of seasons he developed a good cup-fighting side and was offered the Arsenal manager’s job at one point. 

In December 1958 he became the Aston Villa manager and again created a good cup fighting side and brought the Villa Park club the Second Division Championship in 1960.  He also guided them to success in the 1961 League Cup and took them to the final again in 1963.

Sadly, problems at Villa during 1964 caused Joe health problems.  He went to see a doctor and according to Joe some years later:  “He told me ‘It’s either polio or a stroke.’ And as I was leaving the room he called me back and said ‘What about the fee?’  I turned and said ‘well, I must be a bloody bad risk then!”

At the time Joe was also managing the England under-23s and had even been tipped as England manager (August 1962) – that proves how highly Joe was thought of as a manager prior to his phenomenal success at City.

After City, Joe won a manager of the month award at Coventry and took on the role as England caretaker manager during 1974 for 7 games.  His first game in charge saw Kevin Keegan and Stan Bowles – a former player under Mercer at City – both score in a victory over Wales.  Joe was offered the job on a permanent basis but turned it down for health reasons:  “I had the most terrible sciatica.  I was almost a cripple with it.  I was offered the job but I didn’t feel fit enough.  It was as simple as that.”

Why did he join City in the first place?

After his health problems at Villa Joe missed the daily involvement with the game.  He started to report on games for newspapers but reporting was a poor substitute for management.  In 1965 when the City approach came it was a major gamble for all concerned.  Joe was not really fit enough to take on the role immediately and the Club had to think carefully about the appointment.  Joe didn’t think about it for long.  He was desperate to get back into the game and was determined to take on the job.  He recognised the potential at the Club – a year earlier he had stressed he wanted only to take on a job at a progressive, positive club.

His family was not as enthusiastic at first but his wife Norah knew he had to take it on:  “I married a footballer.  I realised he had to go back – it would have killed him hot to.”

Who was his first signing at City?

Ralph Brand, a Scottish international who had scored 128 goals in 207 games for Rangers, was the first signing but it was not a success.  Joe’s second signing was considerably more successful however, that was Mike Summerbee.

What did Joe achieve as a player?

As a player he had enormous success.  With his first club Everton he won the League Championship in 1939 – who knows what else Everton and Joe would have won had war not intervened – while his time at Arsenal saw him win two further Championships (one as captain) and the FA Cup.  He also captained the Gunners to the 1952 final where they were reduced to ten men for a significant part of their defeat by a strong Newcastle side. 

In 1986 when Arsenal celebrated their centenary they introduced many significant and famous players from their history on to the pitch.  According to Arsenal author Keith Fisher Joe Mercer received the biggest ovation of them all.

Joe also had a great England career, and captained the international side during crucial wartime morale boosting internationals.

His popularity was so high he even appeared on magazine covers.  

How is Joe remembered outside of Manchester?

Joe is remembered as a truly great player at both Everton and Arsenal.  Both sides recognise that his contribution to their history is immense while at a national level Joe is remembered as one of the Football League’s 100 legends.  

As a manager, Joe’s record at Aston Villa is not perhaps viewed as positively as it should be, however his time at Coventry (1972-1974) is remembered fondly.  As is his period as England manager.

In 1976 he was awarded the OBE for services to football.

Which team did he support as a boy?

As a boy growing up in Ellesmere Port, Joe was an Evertonian.  However he also had a soft spot for Nottingham Forest and, in particular, Tranmere Rovers as his father, Joe Mercer Snr, had played League football for both sides.  Sadly, he passed away while Joe was still a young boy, but Joe always retained a strong feeling for Tranmere.  In later life he became a regular attendee at Prenton Park.

Did he achieve any notable milestones during his playing and managerial career?

At the age of 35 in 1950 he was presented with the Football Writers’ Player of the Year trophy and continued to play top class football until injury forced him to retire at 39.  Naturally, there were all his trophy successes as a player.

By managing City to the FA Cup in 1969 he became the first man to win both the FA Cup and the League as a player and as a manager.  The first man to surpass this achievement was Arsenal’s George Graham who had actually been brought to England by Joe when he was Aston Villa manager.

In 1970, Joe managed City to the League Cup and ECWC double – this is recognised as the first major English/European trophy double although Leeds did win the Fairs Cup and League Cup (but some leading sides still boycotted this competition at the time) in 1968.

Since Joe passed away have his family retained their love of the Blues?

Definitely, Joe’s 84 year old widow Norah is a regular attendee – she came to the Lazio game last week and is determined to be here today.  She loves the Club and is a very popular presence on match day.  She has also been to the stadium for various other activities including last season’s Hall of Fame dinner and the official opening of the Manchester City Experience in April.

Norah has been part of City life since her husband first accepted the City job.  She is also a keen member of the Merseyside CSA.

Finally, how did Joe view the game during his later life?  Did he still love it with the passion he had as a boy?

Joe tried to keep focus on the game rather than activity off it.  During the 1980s, towards the end of his life, he was asked his views on the problems of the ‘modern game’ and gave a comment which is as relevant today as it was then:

“Football is a great game.  It is all about goals, goalmouth incidents, and end-to-end attacking football.  There is nothing wrong with the game; plenty wrong with managers, players, directors, legislators, and the media.  Football has been very kind to me and I really mustn’t complain so can I leave you with this thought – The object of playing any game is for enjoyment.  If you have enjoyed it and done your best you have won no matter what the result!”

Joe Mercer Plaque Unveiling – 18 November 1.30pm

Great news for those who, like me, like to see Joe Mercer recognised for his enormous contribution. There will be a blue plaque unveiled for Joe at Ellesmere Port (a town that meant so much to him throughout his life). I’ll be talking as will Susan Lea (Joe’s granddaughter), Graeme Sharp, Mike Summerbee and others. Peter Reid will do the formal unveiling. Further details below…

The unveiling will take place at 1.30pm on Thursday 18th November at Ellesmere Port Civic Centre, Civic Way, Ellesmere Port, CH65 0AZ. It will be great to see as many people there as possible. Please come along and help celebrate this wonderful player and manager.

Ellesmere Port was such an important place for Joe. He was born there; went to school there and continued to live there for years, even when he was a professional footballer and England international. He spent most of his life living on The Wirral and continued to visit the schools, clubs, and people of Ellesmere Port throughout. He even took the FA Cup back there when he won it at Arsenal and at Manchester City AND the European Cup Winners’ Cup when he managed to City to that success in 1970.

This unveiling deserves to be well attended because Joe achieved so much for the teams he was involved with. Ellesmere Port mattered to him and he mattered to us, so let’s celebrate his life.

Foreword to my first book. Thanks Joe for all you’ve done.

Allison for England

As it had still been possible for either Manchester City or Manchester United to win the League on the final day of the 1967-68 season, the Championship trophy was left at the home of the reigning champions United.

City won the League at Newcastle while United lost 2-1 to struggling Sunderland.

You can read about that final day of the season here:

https://gjfootballarchive.com/2021/05/11/manchester-city-win-the-league/

At United the Championship trophy vanished at some point during that day.  The Daily Express reporter Alan Thompson set off on a mission to track it down.  He started questioning the Old Trafford staff:  “Secretary Les Olive was under the impression that a League official had taken it earlier in the week, Matt Busby was not at all sure what had happened to it, and for a minute or two it was lost until a member of the female staff admitted that it had been locked up ‘in the vault’.  You are at liberty to allow full rein to your imaginations in concluding exactly where the ‘vault’ is at Old Trafford.  But the centre of the boardroom table, where the League Championship Cup has stood proudly for the last 12 months was occupied by five shillings worth of flowers.  Sit down the City fan who says symbolic.”

City still needed the trophy to be presented (Joe Mercer had offered to walk all the way from the Newcastle game to Old Trafford to collect it if he had to!) and so a friendly against Bury was hastily arranged for the Tuesday (May 14 1968) following the Newcastle game to enable the Championship trophy to be presented. 

If the destination of the title was not obvious during the season, the trophy would be presented at the League’s annual dinner but as City would be on tour in America, the League agreed to present it at Maine Road.  The presentation took place before the Bury game with Tony Book and the rest of the players going on a lap of honour before Mercer was handed the trophy to lift above his head.  The crowd roared with delight and then witnessed a 4-2 victory.

Bury’s two goals were scored by Bobby Owen who, two months later signed for the Blues.

The game was noteworthy for it also included an appearance by Malcolm Allison.  For much of the game he’d sat, wearing his familiar red tracksuit then, with about ten minutes left he substituted George Heslop and entered the field himself wearing the number 8 shirt.  This caused a little confusion as Colin Bell remained on the pitch with the same number but nobody complained, after all it was a night to enjoy especially when Allison threw himself into the game.  He forced a great save from Neil Ramsbottom, the Bury ‘keeper, and had a goal disallowed.  The City supporters chanted ‘Allison for England’, and even called for Mercer to take to the field.