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.
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To mark this week’s Premier League meeting between Manchester City and Everton (17th February 2021) here are a few historical facts, memories and video highlights of games between the clubs.
The December 1989 meeting between the two sides was memorable because of events off the field rather than on it. The match ended goalless but the attention the game received from the national media was incredible, and it was all because 20th placed City had appointed the former Evertonian Howard Kendall as manager.
Earlier that season Peter Swales had dismissed the rather quiet, unassuming Mel Machin despite him guiding City to promotion and a memorable 5-1 victory over United. He publicly approached Joe Royle, who turned the club down, and then turned to Kendall.
Almost immediately the ex-Evertonian stamped his authority on the side and quickly brought in Peter Reid and Alan Harper to make their debuts at Goodison. Disappointingly, the highly popular Ian Bishop was named as a substitute. Kendall: “It was not a popular move. I walked out at 2.55pm to hear my supporters chanting, ‘There’s only one Ian Bishop’. Nice welcome that was. The Bishop situation developed into a saga, the like of which I have never experienced in football before.”
It wasn’t long before the long-haired Bishop was sold to West Ham. Earlier in his career Kendall had transferred him out of Everton.
Kendall’s new look City managed to keep ninth placed Everton at bay in a rather dour televised match to earn only their second point in six games. City ended the season in 14th place while Everton finished 6th.
The first League game between the two sides was a 2-1 Everton win on 23rd December 1899 in Division One. The match was played at Hyde Road with Billy Meredith scoring for the newly promoted City, while Jimmy Settle and R Gray netted for the Toffees. City ended their first season in the top division in 7th place while Everton finished 11th.
The first meeting of the two clubs to be televised on BBC’s Match Of The Day was the 1-1 draw on 23rd August 1969. Film here:
The first ‘live’ televised meeting was the famous Howard Kendall match played on 17th December 1989 (see above). The game was shown on ITV.
When Everton appeared in their first FA Cup final it was played at Fallowfield, Manchester. The 1893 final against Wolves was the first, other than the 1886 replay, to be played outside London. Wolves won the match 1-0 and a row of houses in Wolverhampton were given the name Fallowfield Terrace in celebration.
The Fallowfield site now forms part of Manchester University’s student campus.
Well I Never!
City fans demonstrated against the transfer of their hero, Tommy Johnson, to Everton in March 1930 for £6,000. At City Johnson entered the record books by scoring most goals in a season – he netted an incredible 38 in 39 League games during the 1928-9 season. He was a popular player and lived amongst the fans in Gorton. He was often seen drinking draught Bass at The Plough on Hyde Road, and was something of a trend-setter in the area. As soon as he was spotted wearing a wide brimmed trilby hat it quickly became the fashion all young men wanted to follow!
His greatest individual game for City must have been the 6-2 defeat of reigning champions Everton in September 1928, when he scored five goals. Eric Brook scored the other while Dunn and Weldon netted for the Toffees.
In the 1960s Tommy was a regular attender at Maine Road where he and Billy ‘Dixie’ Dean would watch Joe Mercer’s City side. On 28thJanuary 1973 Tommy died at Monsall hospital aged 71.
Everton beat City 9-1 on 3rd September 1906 to record their record victory and City’s record defeat. This was only City’s second match following the findings of the FA investigation into illegal payments which resulted in the suspension of 17 players, the manager Tom Maley, the chairman, and two other directors. The entire summer had been spent finding a new manager and new players – any would do – to fill the void. City’s consolation goal was scored by debutant A.Fisher. The great Sandy Young had netted 4 of Everton’s 9 that day.
Two days before this game, the Blues had been defeated 4-1 by Arsenal in an incredible match that saw City leave the field with only six men. The rest were mainly suffering from heat exhaustion – it was 90 degrees in the shade!
The Young Royle
When Joe Royle made his debut in January 1966 against Blackpool he became the youngest player to appear for Everton in the League. He was 16 years and 282 days. His first game against City was the on 29th April the following year – only his 6th League appearance.
Obviously I’m biased but I’d urge everyone reading this article to also read:
The first Premier League meeting between these sides ends in a comfortable City win before 20,242 at Goodison Park. Two goals from Sheron and one from David White gave the Blues a 3-0 lead before an own goal from Brightwell made it 3-1 on Halloween.
1993 – Last Day
On the last day of the season Everton win 5-2 in a frustrating match for City fans. Goalscorers for Everton included future Blues Beagrie (2 goals) and Beardsley. White and Curle (penalty) scored for the home side.
1993 – Rideout Goal
The first away match of the season ends in a 1-0 City defeat. Rideout scored for the Toffeemen on 17th August before 26,025.
1994 – Double Double
Two goals each from Rosler and Walsh give City a 4-0 home win on 27th August. The Maine Road sell out crowd of 19,867 is City’s 3rdlowest crowd in the Premiership. The Kippax Stand was in construction and the capacity was severely restricted as a result.
1996 – Former Blue Scores
Former City hero Andy Hinchcliffe scores a 47th minute penalty to ensure a 2-0 Everton win in February 1996.
2000 – Five Stars
Wanchope (14), Howey (23), Goater (42), Dickov (54), and Naysmith (own goal in 67th minute) give City a thrilling 5-0 victory over Everton at Maine Road in December.
2002 – Anelka hat-trick?
City fans celebrate an Anelka hat-trick but his 14th minute opener is later ruled an own goal, scored by Everton’s Radzinski. In addition, Wright-Phillips is controversially sent off in the 28th minute but this is later downgraded to a yellow card. Despite the controversy and confusion City win the match 3-1 on 31st August.
2003 – New Year’s Day
Over 300 million fans watch this 2-2 draw on Chinese television. Everton took the lead in the 6th minute, City made it 2-1 in the 82ndbefore Everton equalised 2 minutes into injury time on January 1st.
2004 – Keegan’s Disappointment
On the season’s final day, City beat Everton 5-1 with goals from Wanchope (16 & 30), Anelka (41), Sibierski (89) & Wright-Phillips (90). The victory caused the two sides to swap League places. The Blues ended the campaign on 41 points, eight more than relegated Leicester, Leeds and Wolves. A decent enough margin in the end, but that did not change the way most felt about the season.
Prior to that final match Keegan explained truthfully how he felt: “We are just about at the end of the most disappointing season of my managerial career. I haven’t enjoyed it and I am sure the same goes for everyone connected with Manchester City.”
2005 – Early Morning Blues
Everton, so often a bogey team during the previous decade or so, were defeated 2-0 on 2nd October. This was the first Sunday morning kick off in the Premier League and the match commenced at 11.15 with some fans making a point of the early start by wearing pyjamas. It was also Stephen Ireland’s first full Premiership game. Before the match he admitted to being “very nervous” and post-match he commented that the rest of the team had supported him: “That helped me ease my nerves and settle in as one of them.”
2006 – Richards the Hero
One player, who would help City win the FA Cup and Premier League a few years later, was beginning to be seen as one of the club’s most positive assets this season – Micah Richards. He performed to a consistent standard and, on 30th September, he actually netted an equaliser for the club in the dying seconds against Everton to ensure an away point. The 18 year old Richards made his first full international appearance a few weeks later when he played for England against Holland on 15th November. Henry Winter, writing for the Telegraph, claimed: “England may well have discovered Gary Neville’s long term successor.” By this stage in his career Richards had only made 23 Premier League starts.
At Everton Richards’ goal was very important but City’s dominance during the final minutes of the match should have seen the Blues snatch a winner according to goalkeeper Nicky Weaver: “The last five minutes we absolutely battered them and every time the ball went in the box we looked as though we were going to score. Then when [Samaras] hit the post, you’re thinking ‘is it not going to be our day?’ But we kept going and deep, deep into injury time, we got something out of the game.”
Everton’s captain Phil Neville admitted: “It feels like a defeat… we should have got the second goal and killed off the game.”
2011 – Super Mario
In September City defeated Everton 2-0 with goals from substitute Mario Balotelli and James Milner. It was an important victory over a team that continued to be a bit of a bogey side in recent seasons, and ensured the Blues were now back on equal points with Ferguson’s Manchester United, who had drawn 1-1 at Stoke despite leading at half time.
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With City playing Everton this week (17th February 2021) here for subscribers is an in-depth piece on the time the Blues chose to wear scarlet in a crucial match with the Toffees.
Here is the story of the game:
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If you would like to read this in-depth article and all the others on this site (including the entire Manchester A Football History book) then please subscribe. It works out about £1.67 a month if you take out an annual subscription (£20 per year) or £3 a month if you’d like to sign up for a month at a time. Each subscriber gets full access to the 230+ articles posted so far and the hundreds scheduled to be posted in the coming weeks.
Today marks the latest in the series of games between one of the Manchester clubs and a Liverpool team. Yesterday (6 February 2021) we saw Everton score an equaliser deep in extra time in their 3-3 draw with United). Much will be made of the Manchester-Liverpool rivalry today and it is true that the two cities have been rivals for over 150 years (it certainly predates the building of the Ship Canal!) BUT the football clubs have not always been rivals.
The footballing rivalries came during the late 1960s but intensified in the late 70s. Prior to this one-off seasons may have seen grudge matches or significant games between clubs from the cities but nothing more than that. In fact for many, many years Manchester United and Liverpool, for example, were extremely close. They once put forward a suggestion to the Football League that all home teams should wear red and away teams white – the rest of football soon got wise to the plan!
The rivalry between the footballing clubs developed in the 60s and there were many significant games between all the clubs in the two cities with several prominent matches (there were significant grudge matches between Everton and City for example in the 60s and at one point Liverpool’s Bill Shankly told the media that City were Liverpool’s biggest rival!).
I’ve posted 199 separate articles to this website so far and so, for my 200th post, I felt it was about time I paid tribute to the former Manchester City and England manager Joe Mercer for his influence on my writing.
Joe, as most reading this will be aware, was the most successful City manager of all time prior to the recent successes of Pep Guardiola. He remains the only City manager to bring a major European trophy to the club (though hopefully that will change soon!).
When I began writing my first book in 1987 my co-author told me he had been helped during his research into Nottingham Forest by Joe (Joe’s father played for Forest) and he felt that, if the book progressed as planned, Joe would possibly agree to write the foreword to our book. Sadly my co-author Keith Mellor died during the research phase of the book and the entire project looked in jeopardy.
After a while, Keith’s wife contacted me to urge me to continue with the book and she also gave me Joe Mercer’s address, suggesting I should write to him about the book.
I wrote to Joe and told him about the book Keith and I had been compiling (it was a pictorial history of City) and asked if Joe would be interested. I received a phone call from Norah, Joe’s wife, and she invited me over to meet Joe.
At that time I was about 19 and did not have a car and so I asked Norah if I could bring my dad – a passionate City fan. She of course said yes and we made arrangements.
Unfortunately, on the day of our visit, my dad’s car broke down and, knowing we could not let the Mercers down, we quickly arranged to borrow the only vehicle available to us – a white battered and bruised transit-style van. We drove to the Wirral and arrived at the Mercers’ street about 45 minutes early, so we parked up around the corner about 100 yards from their home. We had decided that we could not pull up outside a former England manager’s house in a white works van, and we believed we were hidden.
When we were due to arrive, we climbed out of the van, walked the 100 yards or so and knocked on the door. Immediately Joe, with that huge great grin of his, was in front of us. His Cheshire smile welcomed us in. He did not ask our names, he just asked us in. Within seconds Norah popped out of the kitchen and said: ‘You’ve been very naughty, haven’t you? You’ve been hiding in that van for the last 45 minutes!’ We all laughed and, as we were guided into their house, my dad and I explained about the breakdown and so on. Joe, being Joe, asked if he could do anything. Could he arrange a lift for us, or help get the car repaired. It was immediately clear to me that Joe Mercer was a wonderful man and his wife Norah was a terrific woman.
Can you imagine if we’d have said yes to Joe helping us? What would our neighbours back in Manchester say if we’d have turned up with Joe Mercer in the hope the footballing legend could get dad’s car fixed?
We spent a good couple of hours with Joe and Norah that day and Joe even offered to let us stay to watch the football on television. We had to return to Manchester, but it had been a wonderful afternoon.
The highlight in many ways was Joe taking us in to a room where he kept his scrapbooks and memorabilia. The ball from the 1950 FAC final was there and he brought it over to show us. It was an incredible experience and Joe was so interested in my book plans. He agreed to write the foreword – an incredible gesture – and his words in my first ever book remain by far the best part of that publication.
I saw Joe several times after that, with perhaps my fondest meeting coming the day after Arsenal had defeated Liverpool in 1989 to win the League title. The former Arsenal man was particularly lively that day and spent some time talking about the Gunners, George Graham, and even his own time training at Anfield. It was superb and I remember Norah telling us: ‘George has been on the ‘phone.’ It felt like we were part of something special and when Norah talked of George she just assumed we’d know straight away it was the Arsenal manager and not another George from down the road.
It’s worth pointing out here that George Graham had been brought to England by Joe when he was the Aston Villa manager and so that 1989 Arsenal title success meant a great deal to Joe. A success for his former club and by a former pupil of his. Of course, the fact Joe was a proud Evertonian helped too! I was delighted for Joe and, while at this time in my football supporting life I would ordinarily have preferred Liverpool to have beaten Arsenal that all changed that weekend. The joy and excitement the Mercers demonstrated for Arsenal was clear and I realised just how much the Gunners meant to Joe.
After the delays and various other issues, my first book came out in April 1989 (why we didn’t wait until June I don’t know!) and the trip in May to the Mercers had been to give Joe a couple of copies. They offered to pay – I couldn’t believe it.
By that time I had already started work on my second book and I also knew that I wanted to write something specifically about Joe. I reasoned with myself that Joe’s book would wait until after my second book The Pride of Manchester was complete. The Pride of Manchester was a history of the Manchester derby co-written with Steve Cawley. Steve & I were quite fortunate in that, thanks to the connection with Joe, we also managed to ask Matt Busby to write a foreword too. To have the two men who were, by some way, at that time the two most successful managers of the Manchester clubs write our foreword and introduction was incredible. We were eternally grateful.
The Pride of Manchester was due out in August 1990 and then I planned to get working on a book on Joe Mercer’s years at Manchester City. Unfortunately, technical issues meant that the Pride of Manchester was to be delayed by a few months and, as the new football season would mean at least one derby match would be played before the book came out, we decided to delay it a full year and include the 1990-91 season. That would also mean my Joe Mercer idea would have to wait.
Sadly, the last time I last saw Joe was on 31 May 1990 when I went through the wording of his contribution to The Pride Of Manchester. Joe had been suffering with Alzheimer’s for sometime and by this stage it had clearly developed significantly. I realised that day that Norah must have been under tremendous pressure, yet somehow she got on with looking after Joe. It must have been extremely difficult for her but, as she had proved throughout her life with Joe, Joe’s happiness was vitally important to her.
On Thursday 9 August 1990 the suffering ended. Joe was celebrating his seventy-sixth birthday with his family. He relaxed in his armchair after an enjoyable day and then passed away peacefully.
Over the months and years that followed I continued to visit Norah as often as I could. My idea of writing a book on his time at City still floated around in my head but I was disappointed that I hadn’t managed to publish it before his death. The delay to The Pride Of Manchester really upset me but I knew that it couldn’t have been helped.
When the time was right I visited Norah and mentioned the book idea. Norah, being as wonderful as ever, said: ‘Only do it if you want to. Don’t do it for me or for Joe. Don’t go to all that trouble unless you want to for you.’ She was pleased that I wanted to do it but genuinely did not want me to go to any trouble. I told her it would be a honour and she told me she would help however she could.
Over the next couple of years I spent a lot of time at Norah’s. Often Joe & Norah’s son David would arrive – another wonderful member of the family – and he used to laugh about ‘the old fella’ while Norah would tell me wonderful stories of how she met ‘Cheeky face Mercer!’
It was a wonderful period and Norah used to always bring out the sandwiches or a bowl of Scouse for me and my girlfriend. One day I arrived at her house and she insisted on pouring me a beer. As she brought it in she whispered to my girlfriend ‘watch his reaction’ and then she handed me a silver tankard. I looked at it and it was the 1961 League Cup Final tankard Joe had been given for guiding Villa to success. Inside was my beer! I tried to persuade her to put the beer into a regular glass but she insisted. It was the first (and so far only) time I have drunk from a major footballing award.
Early into my research for the book I realised that a book simply on Joe’s time at City wouldn’t do him justice. No matter how significant that period was for City or in my life as a fan, it was still only a small fraction of what he had achieved in his life. I soon decided that if I was to write a book on Joe it had to be his full biography. My publisher Julian Baskcomb – always keen on creating quality books – encouraged me to write the full story no matter how many words.
In the end the book was published in December 1993 and contained approximately 110,000 words (almost double the standard biography size at that time) and hundred of photographs from every stage of Joe’s life. A few weeks before it was published I gave David Mercer a full copy of the text to read. I’d agreed with him and Norah that they’d see the text shortly before it was published and, if there was anything significant, I’d change it.
David phoned me within 24 hours of receiving the text and had read every word. He phoned me and told me that I had captured his father perfectly. He became somewhat emotional when we discussed the book and, for the first time ever, I felt my writing mattered. I knew that I’d been fortunate in being able to write about a truly wonderful and marvellous man, and that the support of Norah & David had made this a great experience for me.
All these years on Joe Mercer, OBE: Football With A Smile remains the book I am most proud of; the book I enjoyed writing the most; and the book that I always want to aspire to with my new material. I remain ever grateful to Joe, Norah, David and the family for allowing me the opportunity to first meet Joe and then to write the book. I updated it in 2010, adding material from various parts of his life.
I continued to meet Norah over the years. David would usually pop in while I was there and we’d chat about ordinary things. Occasionally, Norah would say things like: ‘I told Jimmy about the book last week’ and I’d be thinking ‘Jimmy?’ then she’d say something else and it’d be obvious it was Jimmy Hill. Once during my research I arrived at her house and she told me ‘I phoned George and told him he must talk to you about Joe. Here’s his number.’ I was handed a piece of paper with Norah’s writing on reading: ‘George Graham’ and then his direct office number at Highbury. I contacted George and he set up an interview for me in his office.
The week before we launched Joe’s biography I was sat at home one evening when my telephone rang. I answered it. The voice on the other end said: ‘Hello Gary? It’s Bobby Charlton here. I’m sorry I can’t come to the launch. I’ll be in Kuala Lumpur then. I called Norah to tell her but she told me I must call you to apologise, so I’m really sorry I can’t make it. Is that okay?’
Me: ‘Er, yes. Thanks for letting me know.’
I came off the ‘phone and couldn’t get it out of my head that Norah had ‘told’ Bobby Charlton to call me and apologise. Even more impressive is the fact that he did! Norah was brilliant but if she told you to do something you did it, no matter who you were!
Around the time of City’s move to their current stadium I became involved in a few projects at the club on a freelance basis. One was setting up the initial museum and another was the erection of the Mercer mosaics on Joe Mercer Way. I won’t go into all the discussions and stories connected with that here, but one of the areas that I contributed to was the selection of the images for mosaic artist Mark Kennedy to recreate as mosaics. I spoke with Norah about the options and showed her a few I’d shortlisted that I’d used in the book.
We agreed that one had to show Joe lifting a trophy at City – the League Championship was chosen – and the other ended up a view of Joe from the back looking out towards the Kippax from the Maine Road tunnel. Although I loved that photo (it came from Norah’s collection and became a major image in my book) I wasn’t certain Norah would like a back view of Joe. I was wrong. As soon as she saw it she said ‘That’s it! That’s Joe! Look at his bandy legs! There’s no mistaking those legs.’
When we did the reveal Norah and David came of course and Norah thanked Mark Kennedy for capturing Joe so superbly, although she did say to him ‘That one with the trophy is okay; but this one with his bandy legs… that’s Joe!’
Sadly, in the years that followed first David and then Norah have died. Both were wonderful people who supported my work and trusted me to tell Joe’s story. They demonstrated what a wonderful family they were and – to me this is extremely significant – their warmth matched Joe’s. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that throughout Joe’s time at City and for the following decades City were often described as ‘the friendliest club’. Joe set the tone and direction for the club. He was a great ambassador for Manchester City (and the other clubs he was involved with).
Joe helped establish the Manchester City that many City fans fell in love with.
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