Cullis: My Friend Joe
Stark Similarities Between Late Greats
It is well known that Stan Cullis and Graham Turner are both from Ellesmere Port – the Merseyside town at which several coach-loads of Wolves fans stopped off for ‘refuelling’ on the way to this season’s epic FA Cup victory at Liverpool.
Less familiar to some perhaps is the fact that another highly prominent managerial figure, Joe Mercer, had roots there as well. So, too, give or take a couple of miles, did the former Aston Villa chairman, Doug Ellis.
Stan and Joe had much else in common, not least the fact the First World War was under-way when they both took their first breath outside the womb. And they also each went on to captain England.
“There was a unique similarity about the life of Joe and myself, which almost seemed the work of a script writer,” said Cullis in The Authorised Biography Of Joe Mercer by Gary James.
“We played in the same team for Ellesmere Port schoolboys and the Second World War saw us both playing for England – the half-back line of Britton, Cullis, Mercer was a regular part of the team.”
It has been recorded previously that the two men and Matt Busby spent time abroad together during the hostilities, their ideas on the game being exchanged and discussed. Oh to have been a fly on the wall!
And they were also to follow brilliant playing careers with magnificent achievements on the other side of the touchline in later life.
“The difference in our managerial outlook was that Joe had a truly remarkable sense of humour whereas I was living in a complete state of tension,” added Wolves’ most famous all-time boss.
“He had a quite remarkable rapport with others and it is no exaggeration to say he was one of the most popular characters in the game. He was a formidable opponent, either on the field or as a manager, but he was also a person of impeccable honesty and someone whose friendship you treasured.
“In the summer break, when I went home to my parents at Ellesmere Port, I sometimes played golf with him at Hooton Golf Club (Hooton being the village Doug Ellis is from). He played in the same fashion that he played soccer and I very rarely finished on the winning side.”
Mercer endeared himself greatly to the Molineux fraternity when casting aside the disappointment of relegation for his Aston Villa team in 1959 by rushing to keep a dinner engagement in honour of Billy Wright in Wolverhampton later the same night.
As a sort of match-up to his lifelong friend’s feat of winning, with Wolves, three League Championships and two FA Cups, he lifted the inaugural League Cup with Villa and then the League title, League Cup, FA Cup and European Cup Winners Cup with Manchester City.
It was in 1990 that Mercer died at the age of 76. His father, also Joe, was a professional with Nottingham Forest and Tranmere, but passed away in the mid-1920s as a result of problems caused by a gas attack in the war.