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Joe Mercer OBE: Football With A Smile

Joe Mercer OBE: Football With A Smile

Every now and then I'm contacted by someone connected to Arsenal Football Club, in one way or another, under the delusion that because my name is above the door, as it were, on an Arsenal site that I'm in some way in the know about stuff, and that I could possibly have some influence on my fellow Arsenal fans, some people even go as far as to ask me to pass a message on to Arsene Wenger the next time I see him .... seriously.

It's a delusion that couldn't be further from the truth, and if I'm honest I'm lucky if anyone listens to me at all. However from time to time the people that contact me bring with them great benefits and opportunities.

A recent contactee (is that a word?) was a man, nae, an author by the name of Gary James. Gary's was an email that almost passed me by, not only because it was directly under another item in my inbox titled 'Megan Fox Topless' (I seriously don't know how that got there ..... honest dear), but also because his email address bore reference to Manchester City.

My ability to inadvertently ignore emails is stuff of legend amongst those that know me (just ask the Vital Network owner), yet I (and hopefully everyone reading this) was fortunate enough to be curious enough to click the link that brought me this latest opportunity.

Once my virtual letter was opened, I found a man with a great passion for the game we all love asking me to help promote his new book amongst Arsenal fans, a book, that quite honestly should need no promotion as it's contents are fascinating enough to sell themselves. However the world in which we live is never that simple, and sometimes people need pointing in the right direction.

The subject matter of Gary's book is a player, and then manager, from years gone by, by the name of Joe Mercer. Like me, you probably know the name, yet have little to no knowledge of the life and playing career of Joe Mercer, indeed even Arsenal community favorite Goonerholic isn't old enough to recall his playing days, and he's really old.

An early passage in the book reads "Unfortunately, with the development of the game and the natural progression of time, the footballing world has started to forget what Joe achieved both at club level and on the international stage. Inevitably, the supporters of his sides remember. However, in general, Joe's achievements are not as well known as they should be."

That's where Gary's book comes into play. It reminds those starting to forget what Mercer brought to the beautiful game just how much of a legend he is, not just to Arsenal, but to football in general, and teaches those of us that never knew, what Joe means to the sport, and to those that do remember.

The book, titled 'Joe Mercer OBE - Football With a Smile', covers everything from Joe's humble beginnings as a small boy in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, to how the seeds for his legendary career were sewn by the simple act of having a football thrown to him by his father upon returning home from war in 1918. A professional footballer himself, his father was ruined by the horrors of war and of being an occupant of a prisoner of war camp for 18 months.

Gary goes on to write about such important moments in Joe's life, and by the time we hear of Mercer's decision to join the first recognisable top flight team in his career, Everton, we've already learned of time spent playing well respected teams at the time, Elton Green, Ellesmere Port and the Shell Oil Company side, the first of which he played for at the age of 14 after following his father's advice of always stepping up in class when he had the opportunity.

Like many players at that time, careers were interrupted by the eruption of the second world war, and Gary James describes in great detail how this affected, or should I say the way Mercer didn't let the outbreak of world wide violence affect his footballing passions. Becoming a physical instructor in the army and playing moral boosting matches around the world for both Everton and England.

For all football fans, stories and the history of their own club is what interests us the most, and Joe's career, and in turn this book has it in abundance.

As any current Arsenal fan will be painfully aware, injuries are the bane of most Gunners sides these days, most of us wondering how many pieces of silverware we've missed out on in the 21st century thanks to a whole host of debilitating injuries at key moments. Well it's one such injury that actually brought Mercer to Arsenal Football Club after Joe's Everton career was effectively ended by an innocuous incident whilst playing against Scotland for England in 1946 at the tender age of 31.

The book carefully looks at the emotional decisions made by Mercer to move away from the club he loved after failing to re-discover his form following his injury which in turn caused relationships to become strained between Joe and the Everton hierarchy. After taking time out from the game and trying his hand at grocery, the England captain finally joined Arsenal in 1946 at an age that most people these days would consider to be approaching the end of their careers.

Mercer's transfer to Arsenal for a modest £9000 was facilitated by the Arsenal trainer Tom Whittaker (who knew Joe through the England set up) and approved by the then Gunners gaffer George Allison.

It is of course this period in the book which is of the most interest to Arsenal fans as Joe helped the Gunners claim two league titles, an FA cup, two Charity shields and earned the personal accolade of Football Writers Player of the year award in 1950, all in 247 appearances for the North London team.

The history, nor entertainment does not end there however, as great detail is supplied to teach us about the managerial career of a man who's footballing philosophies wouldn't be too out of place in the Wenger era as he coached teams at Sheffield United, Aston Villa, Manchester City (where he had considerable success), Coventry City and a brief spell as England manager.

The great thing that struck me about the information supplied to me about Joe Mercer via the pen of Gary James, was not only the outstanding player, and then manager, that Joe was but how he carried himself with great humility coupled with massive enthusiasm for the sport which would put a lot of the current players around the world to shame. Joe proved that it is possible to get to the top of your profession, and to do so with a smile.


Gary James undertook a massive amount of research in the writing of this book over a great many years. He spoke to Joe himself before he sadly passed away, as well Joe's wife and other influential family members and team mates. During my correspondence with Gary he told me of the great enjoyment he got from researching and writing his book, particularly Mercer's time at Arsenal, so much so he developed a soft spot for our club ...... though Manchester City is his first, and one true love.

'Joe Mercer OBE - Football With a Smile' can be purchased from for £18.95

You can also check the Joe Mercer 'photo album at the James Ward Publishing FaceBook page by clicking here.

Keep an eye out at Vital Arsenal for an upcoming competition where a couple of copies of Gary James' book will be up for grabs.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Date:Thursday March 10 2011
Time: 12:57PM


Sounds an interesting read. History teachers will always tell you that to know where you're going you have to know where you've been. These stories of the past are a good part of what has shaped the club.
10/03/2011 13:13:00
Some of the quotes from Mercer in the book are excellent, and really Wenger-esque. Modern day philosophies from way back when. It was said that he never played with the ball more than five inches off the floor. Sounds like he'd fit right in :)
10/03/2011 13:16:00
"I thought the biggest honour in football was to captain England, but I was wrong. It was to captain Arsenal today." One of many famous quotes from him after the 1950 Cup Final. I've also read tales about how he won the Arsenal lads round (he was in his mid 30s when we signed him) by giving them boiled sweets from his grocery shop in Liverpool. Fascinating character that bears reading about. I shall certainly be purchasing this book.
Little Dutch
10/03/2011 13:22:00
He was a pretty funny guy too. He got a lot of banter for being bow-legged, he said "My father was 6'4, I would have been too if my legs were straight" ... lol ... Interestingly enough, wasn't it Garrincha who also "couldn't stop a pig in a ginnel"? Maybe the awkward shape to the legs enables better ball control in someway :)
10/03/2011 13:35:00
There's a nice anecdote about him wanting to take a penalty in front of the North Bank when we were 7-0 up against Walsall but the players not letting him because he scored so seldomly.
Little Dutch
10/03/2011 13:41:00
Thats an interesting theory about ball control and being bow legged Rocky, reminds me about Muthiah Muralidharan and his naturally bent arm enabling him to bowl with extreme spin even on flat cricket pitches! About the Megan Fox snaps, dont be modest and admit it that she sent them to you.
10/03/2011 13:45:00
That bow leggedness finished Mac's career too, it literally destroyed his knees.
Little Dutch
10/03/2011 13:49:00
Malcolm MacDonald was another with a distinctly bow legged gait. Not sure whether his ball control benefited from it but he scored a few ( and claimed a few he didn't).
10/03/2011 13:49:00
Thanks for the great review and wonderful comments. I really did enjoy researching and writing the Arsenal sections of this book the most. Joe was a wonderful character and is often remembered for his managerial record at City, but it was abundantly clear that his days as Arsenal captain were the best of his life. He loved the club and I was fortunate to see him a few times before he died in 1990. One of my favourite was in 1989 - the day after the title decider at Anfield. Joe absolutely loved talking about that game and what it meant to him - he also brought George Graham to England (Joe signed him for Villa) so there's a lot in here that Arsenal fans should enjoy. The facebook page shows a few photos and sample pages: Hopefully from that you'll get a feel for what the book's about. Good luck in the FAC - hope you make it to the semis (at least)! Gary
Gary James
10/03/2011 14:11:00
Very interesting and good review, will get a copy! :)
10/03/2011 15:36:00
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