Joe Mercer: so harshly treated elsewhere, but with style at Arsenal

Joe Mercer, OBE  was born 9 August 1914 and died on his birthday 9 August 1990.  He played 247 games for Arsenal in a nine year stretch post war during the Whittaker era.

His father played for Tranmere and Nottingham Forest, but he died in 1928 from injuries sustained during a gas attack in the first world war.   Joe first played for Ellesmere Port Town before going to Everton in 1932 where he won the League in 1938/9, a rare blip on Arsenal’s long term dominance in the decade.
During the second world war he served his country as a sergeant-major and played in wartime internationals, but in one incident, he received a cartilage injury.  Everton refused to pay for the operation and Joe had to pay for the surgery himself – an event that must have been enough to ensure his post-war departure.

Years Team Apps (Gls)
1932–1946 Everton 170 (1)
1946–1955 Arsenal 247 (2)

After the war Mercer transferred to Arsenal for £9,000 and Everton did all they could to stop him going back to say goodbye to friends at the club, even though the player continued to live in the north west and just go to Arsenal for games!

He played his first Arsenal game against Bolton on 30 November 1946 – a 2-2 draw in front of 47,000 people during George Allison’s final season.   He was one of 20 players who played their first (and sometimes last) Arsenal game that season, but unlike so many who fell by the wayside that year Joe went on to become club captain, recognising quickly the different way in which things were done at Highbury.  Joe played almost all his games at number 6 (left half) taking up a defensive role in the midfield.

He won a championship medal in 1947/8 and the FA Cup in 1950, as well as a Cup runners-up medal in 1952, followed by another League Championship in 1953.

On 10 April 1954 he broke his leg in a game against Liverpool and he called it a day.

Games Goals
1946/7 25 0
1947/8 40 0
1948/9 33 0
1949/50 35 0
1950/1 31 0
1951/2 36 0
1952/3 28 2
1953/4 19 0
Total 247 2

Joe then moved into management after a year working as a greengrocer and an occasional journalist.

1955–1958 Sheffield United
1958–1964 Aston Villa
1965–1971 Manchester City
1972–1974 Coventry City
1974 England (caretaker)

He was not a huge success as a manager at first being relegated with Sheffield Utd and Aston Villa although he did win the first ever League Cup with Villa.  He suffered a stroke in 1964 and was duly sacked by Aston Villa.

But then he won the second division and the first division with Manchester City, plus the FA Cup, League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup.

During a board upheaval he was then sacked by Manchester City (I recall a story about him turning up at work and finding his desk had been put in the stair well (no health and safety rules then) and his car park reserved space was painted out.)

His final managerial post was with Coventry City and as a stand in manager for England.  There was talk of him becoming England manager but England chose Don Revie instead.  Enough said.He became an OBE in 1976, and sadly suffered from Alzheimer’s in later life.  There is (or at least was before the latest rebuilding in the area) a Joe Mercer Way at Manchester City’s ground.  The one thought I have of Joe Mercer, of whom my father spoke many times, was how badly he was treated by so many clubs.  By Everton refusing to pay for his operation, by Villa, by Manchester City after bringing them such unheard of triumphs, and by England.  Only Arsenal it seems, offered him any sense of class and stability – even to the extent of allowing him to live away from London.


The books…

3 Replies to “Joe Mercer: so harshly treated elsewhere, but with style at Arsenal”

  1. I remember Joe as one of the
    inspired signings immediately following WW2,
    Ronnie Rooke being another.
    His experienced leadership of Arsenal,at33, led to the 1st Division championship in 1947/8.

  2. I thoroughly recommend reading the book ‘Football with a smile’ about ‘Uncle’ Joe – a great read about a true Arsenal Legend, and a gent

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