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There are few men in the game of Football who gain universal respect from all as both a player and a manager. However one of these few was the former Manchester City Manager and life long Tranmere fan Joe Mercer who for a short time took the helm at Prenton Park.

Joe Mercer was born in Ellesmere Port in 1914 to Joe Mercer Senior who was a player at Tranmere. Mercer Senior’s position at Tranmere made Joe Mercer junior an instant fan; however he never played for Rovers but Ellesmere Port Town instead.

In 1932 Mercer was bought by Everton at the age of the 18. He made 186 appearances for Everton and even won a league championship medal in the 1938-39 season. Mercer at this time also achieved five caps for England. However like many great players of that generation the outbreak of the Second World War robbed the players of some of their best years.

After the War Mercer moved to Arsenal but continued to live in Wallasey and commuted to London for the games.

At Arsenal he soon became Captain and made 275 appearances for the club. In that time Mercer led the team to First Division champions in 1947-48 and again in 1952-53 and picked up an FA Cup winners medal in 1950.

After breaking his leg in 1954 Mercer finally called it a day and began working again at his grocers in Wallasey. With more free time Mercer attended Tranmere games regularly again and in 1955 the club appointed Mercer as an Honorary Adviser in an unpaid position.

In April 1955 Mercer wrote an article in the Birkenhead News about Tranmere and its future as he saw it. He believed Tranmere were a Second Division team and hadn’t met their potential. Mercer believed that Tranmere’s problems couldn’t be fixed with money.

Mercer believed success was possible through the twin pillars of method and procedure. He wanted the first team, the reserves and the youth teams to play the same style of football believing progress through the team would be easier.

Mercer was realistic however ‘I do not expect Tranmere to play like Arsenal or Manchester City and I do not expect to be able to turn out a Mathews or a Revie, but I reckon, if the players will play naturally we ought to get good results.’

The team however was not the only area that needed work as Mercer believed Tranmere success would only be secured if the ‘missing thousands’ i.e. the fans came back to Prenton Park.

He said Tranmere had excellent fans but some were far too critical in their barracking ‘A player knows when he is having a bad game; he does not need someone on the terraces to tell him, and it certainly does not help him to play better when he is subject to a barrage of vituperation.’

Mercer believed ‘Anybody can support a winning team. But it is the loyal supporters who make a winning team.’

During the summer Mercer began several training camps believing Tranmere’s team problems could be solved by recruiting good local players. His training techniques were visible in the pre season friendly. The work Mercer did at Prenton Park did not go unnoticed and by the end of the Summer Mercer was offered the paid Manager’s position at Sheffield United.

From here Mercer went on to manage Aston Villa where he won the Second Division Title and the League Cup. Mercer eventually moved to Manchester City where he had the most success winning two league titles, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Mercer’s career reached its peak in 1974 when he became caretaker manager of England when Alf Ramsey stepped down.

In his later years Mercer was still attending Tranmere games and was given ‘the freedom of the club.’ During the 80s Mercer’s face was common around Prenton Park and he even travelled down to Wembley with the team.

Joe Mercer past away in 1990 and Football lost one of its greats. Mercer was not only an excellent player and manager but also a gentleman who is greatly missed.

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