Congratulations Manchester City!

Every time City win a trophy in dramatic fashion I always think ’ah, well we’ll never experience anything like that again. Next time it’ll feel different’ but then they go and do something like today. As time goes by we’ll start to think of this as an incredible way to win the title. For now its more of a ’phew!’

Congratulations City. Great achievement and it’s been an incredible season. To win the Premier League you have to be the best, most consistent team that season. Cup competitions are important and it’s great winning them but ultimately winning the League – especially one that we are often told is the greatest in the League – is the mark of a truly great team. Brilliant work City.

Let’s not forget it’s 4 titles in 5 seasons too!

Years ago the great City coach Malcolm Allison told me that ‘it’s important to celebrate each success as if it’s your first because it could be your last.’ Let’s keep celebrating Blues. Never take anything for granted.

Numbered Shirts

On this day (April 29) in 1933 Manchester City and Everton became the first teams to wear numbered shirts in the FA Cup final. To mark this occasion here is an article on the history of numbered shirts…

This 1700 word article is available to subscribers to my website.

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Where Were You?

On this day (January 20) in 1900 the attendance stats (see image) seen here were published in various newspapers. Of course, as a historian who researches these sorts of things it does not surprise me at all that Manchester City were the best supported club at this stage. However, I can understand why some may have been surprised back then. City had only just been promoted for the first time the previous season.

In the end Manchester’s Blues ended the season as the third best supported club with an average of 16,000 (League champions Aston Villa attracted 19,825 and 5th placed Newcastle 16,725). City ended the season 7th in the top division.

For those wondering Newton Heath (Manchester United) averaged 6,225 and were the 16th best supported club. Liverpool averaged 11,325 and were 5th best supported club.

On This Day: Christmas at Manchester City

Had your Christmas dinner yet? If not then spare a thought for those days when professional football in England would take place on Christmas Day. In the modern era the thought of playing League football on Christmas Day is totally unacceptable, but in years gone by games were played on consecutive days over Christmas, including Christmas Day, and these were often the best attended matches of the winter.  

The last Christmas Day game featuring Manchester City took place in 1957 when the Blues were defeated 2-1 at Burnley.  The City team for that landmark game was:  Trautmann, Leivers, Little, Barnes, Ewing, Warhurst, Barlow, Kirkman, Johnstone, Hayes, and Fagan.  Fionan Fagan was the last City player to score on Christmas Day

The following day City defeated Burnley 4-1 at Maine Road in front of a crowd of 47,285.  The only change to the line up was Ron Phoenix, who replaced Bobby Johnstone. 

The First Noel

The first League game ever played by City on Christmas Day was at Christmas 1896 against Newton Heath (present day Manchester United).  The game was played at Bank Street, Clayton (roughly across the road from the Etihad, the site of the BMX centre behind the present Velodrome) and was attended by 18,000 – a figure described by the Athletic News as being huge for Newton Heath:  “The crowd was an enormous one and I never saw so many lads at a football match.  They were really the cause of the encroaching in the first half, for they were continually creeping under the rails, and as a natural consequence their elders were bound to follow if they were to get a glimpse of the game.”  

Fans streamed on to the pitch on several occasions and the game was almost abandoned at half time:  “Mr. J. Parlby, one of the League Management Committee, told the crowd point blank that if they did not keep beyond the touchline, the game could not proceed, and the Newton Heath Club would have to suffer the consequences.”

Parlby, was actually a City director, and his words may have been influenced by the fact Newton Heath were the better side that day!  The game ended 2-1 to the Heathens.

The two sides met on two further occasions on Christmas Day, the last (1902) ended 1-1 at Clayton before 40,000 with Billy Meredith scoring for the Blues.

Highest Christmas Crowd

City tended to be away from home on Christmas Day, but the best Maine Road crowd on the 25th was 56,750 in 1930 when City faced Arsenal.  The following day a mere 17,624 attended the return game at Highbury.

The previous year a crowd reported as 70,000 watched Aston Villa beat City 2-1 on Boxing Day at Maine Road.  This is the highest Christmas crowd at a City League game.

Christmas Thriller

Perhaps the most entertaining – if disappointing – game ever played by the Blues on Christmas Day was the 6-5 defeat by Bury at Gigg Lane in 1925.  

Debuts

The following players made their Manchester City League debuts on Christmas Day:

1946 – Peter Robinson (V. Plymouth Argyle)

1933 – Frank Swift (V. Derby County)

1902 – Johnny Mahon (V. Manchester United)

1909 – George Wynn (V. Bradford Park Avenue)

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.

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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.

Historic Name That Ground – Week 14 Answer

On Monday I asked: ‘Can you name the ground featured in the image above? I know it’s a poor quality image but that stand was quite a distinctive feature of the ground into the 1960s. This photo is from the early 1900s.’ The answer is:

Aston Villa’s Villa Park, photographed in 1904.

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I had planned to run ‘Historic Name That Ground’ only during the close season as in previous years, but it’s proving of interest so I’ll keep it going for a little while yet. If you have an old image of a ground that you think it’d be worth including in this weekly quiz then please get in touch. They don’t have to be from the 1900s to 1960s – even ground images from the 70s and 80s may prove a challenge to identify these days. You can email me at gary@GJFootballArchive.com Thanks.

Bidding War Between MCFC And Villa!

On this day (25 August) in 1981 Manchester City and Aston Villa were in a bidding war to sign Trevor Francis.

I know recently City have been criticised by some in the media for both high spending and for not spending more than they deem a player is worth (what a crazy world it is when a potential purchasing team is criticised for not wanting to spend what a selling club want when there are no other clubs interested in buying that player at that price!) but in 1981 the desire to sign Francis meant they were prepared to spend big if necessary.

A bidding war is always in the best interests of the selling club and occasionally a friendly word with a journalist or another club can create a bidding war even if there really isn’t much interest from a club. Thinking back I can’t remember Villa seriously going after Francis but this Daily Mirror report suggests they were interested.

It wasn’t long of course before City got their man.

Notice the brief mention of Peter Barnes at the bottom of that cutting? If you want to know more then obviously I recommend The Peter Barnes Authorised Biography (use tabs/menu to find out more).