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5.0 out of 5 stars The football biography by which all others are measured, 30 Jun 2010
This review is from: Joe Mercer, OBE: Football with a Smile - The Authorised Biography of an Everton, Arsenal and England Legend and a Highly Successful Manager with ... Manchester City, Coventry C and England (Hardcover)
First of all and for the record, let me begin by saying that I've known the author, Gary James, for nigh on 20 years. He first came to my attention when we were all much younger: in 1990 when he was promoting the book he co-wrote with Steve Cawley, The Pride of Manchester: History of the Manchester Derby Matches.

Later James wrote a book about Joe Mercer: Football with a Smile: The Authorised Biography of Joe Mercer OBE. I readily recall that it was the most comprehensively researched and detailed football biography I'd read at the time. Come to think of it, it still is. Reviewing it in January 1994 for Bert Trautmann's Helmet, I wrote that he: "had left no stone unturned in the quest for accurate information and the result is a comprehensive and entertaining record of the life of a truly great football man."

Unlike many of his contemporaries (if, indeed, he has any) James leaves no stone unturned in order to chronicle the ups and downs in the career of the legendary player and manager; days spent researching in Manchester's Central Library and hours whiled away at the homes of Mercer's former clubs, Arsenal and Everton amongst others, poring through the archives have guaranteed that. His research is forensic and, yet, never dull. In fact, it is the opposite and unsurprisingly the book is illustrated with photographs throughout - some of them, I suspect, previously unseen and many of them quite superb.

In recent years the flow of football and, indeed, Manchester City books has changed from a modest trickle to a veritable flow; from fans, players and journalists alike. We've seen everything from hasty hagiographies to cut and paste jobs and even the odd cut and run. Yes, some have been passable, but most have been awful.

The same could not be said about any of James' books. The author was indeed fortunate in the early days in so much as he found a publisher (ACL & Polar Publishing) with whom he appeared to work in perfect sync - a partnership that produced Manchester - The Greatest City which was, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest book ever written about City and Farewell to Maine Road - the definitive eulogy to the old and much-loved ground.

James has tried his hand at other genres too (a novel: Mike Atkinson For England, a statistical analysis: Manchester City - The Complete Record and a compendium: The Big Book Of City), but here he returns to the man for whom he made his name and for whom his affection has never dulled with what he describes honestly as a "fully reviewed and revised" book: Joe Mercer, OBE: Football with a Smile.
From early years of Ellesmere Port through the war years and eventually into professional football, Mercer's charming character is brought to life while, later in his career, his ever-irrepressible City sidekick, Malcolm Allison is naturally never far away from the action - often literally! City's successes are documented in a fresh and articulate way; new life is breathed into old stories while new stories about old lives are told, often for the first time (my favourite being how Manchester United mysteriously couldn't find the keys to their trophy cabinet in 1968).

Of course, after the rags-to-riches story of how Mercer took City from Second Division oblivion to being the Champions of England and European success the champagne finally went flat, and the legendary managerial partnership finally broke up.

But the story doesn't end there, of course, as Mercer went to Coventry City before going on to become one of that rarest of breeds: a popular England manager - albeit briefly - before taking his well-earned retirement as one of the grand old men of English football, alongside his lifelong friend, Sir Matt Busby.

While there has always been the begrudging feeling in Manchester (and, no doubt, in parts of Liverpool and North London as well) that Joe Mercer didn't perhaps get the recognition he deserved, Gary James - in serendipitous tandem with a new and little known, but crucially sympathetic imprint: James Ward Publishing - has provided this most genuine of football legends with the kind of epitaph his efforts for club(s) and country surely warranted.

This should be the football biography by which all others are measured; it is for this reader.
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