Future Everton and England footballer Joe Mercer was only 12 when his father, also called Joe, died from health problems caused by a gas attack in the First World War.
The year was 1926 and Mercer Senior had been a promising footballer for both Tranmere Rovers and Nottingham Forest. His son was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps.
He more than achieved his ambition, playing for Everton, Arsenal and England and then managing Manchester City to domestic league and cup glory as well as European honours.
Mercer even became England caretaker manager for seven matches in 1974, stepping into the shoes of 1966 World Cup winner Sir Alf Ramsey before losing out on the permanent job to Don Revie.
Born in Ellesmere Port in August 1914, Mercer played youth football for local club Ellesmere Port Town before joining Everton at the age of 18 in September 1932.
Over the next three years, he built a reputation as a strong tackling left-half who could read the game well – becoming a first team regular in the 1935-6 season.
Mercer joined a squad including Ted Sagar in goal, Cliff Britton and Jock Thomson in midfield and Jimmy Cunliffe and club legend Dixie Dean up front.
The depth of talent in the Toffees’ team, reinforced by the arrival of centre-forward Tommy Lawton from Burnley in 1937, helped them win the First Division title in the 1938-9 season.
Although league matches were then suspended due to World War II, Mercer managed to play 26 wartime internationals while serving as a sergeant-major.
A poignant image from February 1941 shows Mercer, front second right, lining up with uniformed England colleagues and officials before the 3-2 defeat against Scotland at St James Park, Newcastle.
In the front row holding a newspaper is inside-left Eric Stephenson of Leeds United. He died on active service with the Gurkha Rifles in Burma in September 1944.
Back at Liverpool, trouble was brewing for Mercer when Everton manager Theo Kelly accused him of not trying in an international, not realising that the player was suffering from a cartilage injury.
It got worse when the Everton management refused to believe Mercer or his orthopaedic specialist and forced him to pay for his own operation!
To add insult to injury, Kelly turned up with Mercer’s boots when he negotiated his transfer to Arsenal in 1946 – because he didn’t want to give him an excuse to return to the club!
Mercer duly transferred to the Gunners for £9,000, making his debut against Bolton Wanderers in November 1946. For a time he commuted to London from Liverpool.
In all, Mercer made 186 league appearances for Everton, scoring two goals. He also won five England caps during the 1938-9 season.
As captain of Arsenal, Mercer steered the London team to the League Championship in 1948 and 1953 and FA Cup success against Liverpool in 1950. The Reds were beaten 2-0.
Mercer’s playing career ended in 1954 when he broke his leg in two places in a collision with team-mate Joe Wade in a match against Liverpool.
Mercer then focused his attention on the grocery business on Brighton Street, Wallasey, that he’d run as a sideline during his playing days at Everton and Arsenal.
His spell away from football lasted a year before he moved into coaching as manager of Sheffield United in August 1955.
His first season with the Blades ended in relegation and he stayed in the Second Division before becoming Aston Villa manager in 1958.
After winning the first ever League Cup with Villa in 1961, Mercer suffered a stroke three years later and was dismissed by the club’s board after recovering.
His glory days came at Manchester City where he was manager from 1965 to 1971. The Blues won the First Division Championship in 1968 and the FA Cup in 1969.
City added the 1970 League Cup and the 1970 European Cup Winners’ Cup by beating Polish side Gornik Zabrze 2-1at the Prater Stadium in Vienna.
After an internal power struggle, Mercer left Manchester to become manager of Coventry City from 1972 to 1974.
He was awarded the OBE for services to football in 1976. Joe Mercer Way is named after him at the City of Manchester Stadium.
Mercer’s image stands proud on another stadium too – he is part of the mural that surrounds Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
*Fascinating wartime images of Merseyside feature in Clive Hardy’s latest hardback book, The Home Front – Britain 1939-45.
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