The League Cup: The First Major Trophy

Today (March 5 2022) Manchester City’s women’s team takes on Chelsea in the 11th final of the FA Women’s League Cup. This is a hugely important trophy to Manchester’s Blues and to commemorate today’s final, here’s a piece looking at the history of the competition from Manchester City’s view point. The League Cup, sponsored by Continental during the seasons Manchester City have won the competition and therefore known as the Continental Cup, was the first national competition won after the relaunch. As such it became highly significant.

City supporter David Sheel explains how the first final was viewed: “The club put on some coaches for us. It was night match – that doesn’t help. It was played at Adams Park, Wycombe Wanderers’ ground. There were two coaches. The first was full of parents and young academy girls and a few supporters with the second just supporters. All free. We went – sadly a lot couldn’t go because it was a week night – and we played against Arsenal. A team full of established top players who had beat us 4-0 at City in the League. But, like semi final win over Chelsea at Hyde, there was just something about that night. Arsenal were all over us at times and did everything but score. Our defence was outstanding but we also had a few chances at the other end. Got to half-time nil-nil and you’re thinking ‘just one chance, please.’ I can remember the goal… Joey Johnston went down the line, whipped the ball in and Izzy Christiansen, the smallest player on the pitch, headed it in. There were four of us sat together – the coaches had arrived just before kick off so we’d had to leg it in and grab the first spaces you could find. The four of us jumped up but we were surrounded by Arsenal fans. They started giving us some abuse. The goal was in the 73rd minute and we hung on. 

“When the final whistle went I was as proud of that achievement as I was in 2011 when the men won the FA Cup. To me personally it was the same. I never ever felt I’d see the men win anything in my life and then the same was true with the women. I was so proud of the club. After that they did the trophy presentation and I picked up some of the tinsel that got fired out of the cannons when they did the presentation. All the players came over to the side afterwards. Jill Scott was showing me her medal. They shared it with the fans. They even let me put my hands on the trophy. We were all there together. A bit like the men and their success in 2011 I think this told the outside world that City were here to do business. Inside the club the ambition was there but until you win a major trophy the other clubs may not take you seriously.”

When I interviewed her in 2018-19 player Abbie McManus remembered: “That feeling of beating Arsenal, who have dominated women’s football for years and years. At the time we were perceived to be a bunch of nobodies that have just thrown a team together and everyone was saying you’re just throwing money at it. I didn’t actually play that game. I got sent off the game before so I missed it! But watching the game and the feeling of that win. Being the underdog. I don’t think that feeling will ever come back.”

Izzy Christiansen scored in the final and told me how she felt: “An amazing feeling to score in that game. There’s no other words to describe it. It was just probably one of the best days of my life, the fact that the ball hit the back of the net. The fact that it meant that we, as a team, and a club, got our first trophy. That kind of set us off on our journey really.  We had a taste of success at the start and that’s where we’ve stayed, wanting success.”

The Blues went on to win the Continental Cup in 2014, 2016 and 2019. City’s finals:

2014 City 1 Arsenal 0

Goalscorer: Christiansen (73)

Attendance: 3,697 (Adams Park, High Wycombe).

Referee Nigel Lugg (Surrey)

2016 City 1 Birmingham City 0 (aet)

Goalscorer: Bronze (105)

Attendance: 4,214  (Academy Stadium, Manchester). 

Referee Rebecca Welch (Durham)

2019 Arsenal 0 City 0 (City won 4-2 on penalties)

Attendance: 2,424  (Bramall Lane, Sheffield). 

Referee Lucy Oliver (Newcastle)

Let’s hope the Blues can add another piece of silverware today. Thanks to Dave Coop for the photo at the top of this page.

You can find out more about the history of City Women in my book Manchester City Women: An Oral History. Follow the link for details of how to buy:

Historic Name That Ground – Week 32 Answer

Did you recognise this ground? This is a 1950s photo of this ground which I think is a relatively easy one to get although the players may have put people off the scent a little (bonus point for anyone who knows what this game was). The ground is no longer a major sporting venue today.

The answer is of course Highbury/Arsenal Stadium (whichever you prefer!). The game is Middlesex CCC v Arsenal FC. It was a 13 a side game played on August 11 1952 at the stadium. According to reports at the time this was the first floodlit cricket match to be played in England (though I’m sure there were earlier ones!).

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The Smart Set – Club Colours 90 Years Ago

On this day (28th November) in 1931 the Liverpool Echo published this George Green cartoon of the kits worn by several leading clubs of the period. I thought I’d post it here to show how these things were often portrayed in the newspapers of the day. Thanks.

While you’re here I’d like to thank you for taking the time and trouble to visit my website. I have been researching and writing about Manchester football for a long time (no wonder I’m going grey!) with my first book published in 1989. I am not employed by anyone and I do not have sponsorship either and so I’ve set up this website to help share my 32 years plus writing and research. The intention is to develop the archive and to provide access to as much of my material as possible over the coming weeks, months & years. Subscribers can already access hundreds of articles/posts including the entire Manchester A Football History book and various audio interviews (including John Bond, Malcolm Allison & George Graham). 

It costs £20 a year (it works out £1.67 a month) or £3 if you’d like to sign up a month at a time to get full access for as long as you subscribe. Thanks for the support, Gary.

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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.

Who Decides the Big Six?

Today I’m taking a look at the so-called current Premier League Big Six and the significance of football history. It frustrates me when people assume that any group of clubs have been the biggest throughout football history and so I’ve decided to post this article.

It considers the claims of the so-called Big Six and has some findings that may surprise fans of some of those Big Six clubs. This article is available to subscribers to my site. Subscribing costs £20 a year and subscribers have full access to everything posted on the site, including audio interviews with John Bond, Malcolm Allison, George Graham and others, plus the entire text of Manchester A Football History and a PDF of my first book From Maine Men to Banana Citizens. You can always try it out by subscribing £3 per month and cancel at any time. No matter whether you sign up for a year or a month at a time you get full access to everything for as long as you are a subscriber.

Anyway, here’s the article…

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A Title Decider? MCFC v Arsenal

On this day (April 10) in 1937 Arsenal were top and Manchester City were second when the two sides met. This was viewed as a potential title decider.

Here for subscribers is the story of that game…

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George Graham Interview – March 1993

On this day (30th March) in 1993 I travelled to Arsenal’s old stadium, Highbury, to interview the Arsenal manager George Graham, not about the Gunners’ form that season but about his former boss – and Arsenal legend – Joe Mercer.

Joe was the Aston Villa manager who brought George to England many, many years before George had found fame as a footballer and Joe had taken Manchester City to their first European honour. Joe did win the League Cup as Aston Villa boss, but these were not great days for the former Everton and Arsenal playing legend, but he did always feel responsible for bringing George to England (and loved the success he brought Arsenal).

My interview with George had been arranged for Tuesday 30th March 1993 some time in advance but then Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final with Tottenham was scheduled for the following Sunday at Wembley (a highly unusual occurrence at the time!). I expected to get a call cancelling the interview but instead George decided to go ahead with it.

On the day I parked up outside Highbury quite early but as I pulled up I saw George leave the stadium and jump into a car. I was early, so wasn’t too worried. Then I remembered the FA Cup semi-final and assumed that George would be busy with plans. I expected to be told when I entered the marble hall at Highbury that the meeting would be off.

When I spoke with the reception staff they told me to take a seat. They said that George had been called away and so could be a few minutes late (which he was). I was relieved because I’d been convinced he would cancel (it’s happened often with other busy managers).

I sat in reception thinking about the chat and then, a few minutes after we were due to meet, George walked in. He spoke with the receptionist and then came towards me, hand out, saying ‘I’m George Graham’ (I remember thinking ‘I know’ but I did love the fact that he introduced himself). He took me up to his impressive office at Highbury – no other offices at any ground I had been to at that time could match the quality and status of that room.

We then did the interview. It’s not my best – I think I was overawed by the situation – but I was appreciative of George’s time. During the interview Stewart Houston, his assistant, popped in to check something with George (I turned off my recorder) and George ushered him away, telling him that he was busy. Again, I loved this – other managers have sometimes disappeared and not come back but for George he’d set this time aside to see me and chat about Joe Mercer and that’s what he was doing.

Arsenal beat Spurs that weekend so, I suppose, George knew what he was doing but I do remember watching that game on TV thinking that if Arsenal lose I’d never be able to tell anyone that George had spent time being pestered about Joe Mercer when he should’ve been preparing for Tottenham!

If you subscribe to this site you can hear the interview below. I have been researching and writing for a long time and my Joe Mercer book was my third (first published in 1993). I am not employed by anyone and I do not have sponsorship either and so I’ve set up this website to help share my 32 years plus writing and research. The intention is to develop the archive and to provide access to as much of my material as possible over the coming weeks, months & years. Subscribers can already access over 280 articles/posts including the entire Manchester A Football History book and audio interviews with Malcolm Allison and John Bond.

It costs £20 a year (it works out £1.67 a month) or £3 if you’d like to sign up a month at a time to get full access for as long as you subscribe.

Anyway, here’s the George Graham interview:

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Manchester City’s Record League Crowd

On this day in 1935 Manchester City established a new Football League record crowd. For subscribers to http://www.GJFootballArchive.com here’s the story and cuttings of that day:

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An Interview About Joe Mercer

I was interviewed on 17th February 2021 about the great Joe Mercer for the ‘esk podcast’ – an Everton podcast. I talk about meeting Joe; about writing his biography; about Joe’s time at Everton, Arsenal, Manchester City and so on. I also tell the story of Norah Mercer insisting that Bobby Charlton phones me to apologize (it was somewhat of a shock at the time)! We also discussed Everton and City in preparation for their game that night (17th February 2021). No matter who you support it’s well worth listening to.

The podcast can be accessed here:

While you’re here why not see what else has been posted on City and Everton: https://gjfootballarchive.com/tag/everton/

You can access other esk podcasts here: https://shows.acast.com/the-esk-podcasts

You can also check out the new guest blog by Noel Bayley on ticket collecting here:

https://gjfootballarchive.com/category/guest-blog/

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