Cables Greats: Four FA Cup Finalists

Wembley from above

Billy Mercer  

Wembley Stadium, Saturday, 21 April 1928. The FA Cup Final between Blackburn Rovers and Huddersfield Town. 92,041 spectators. It gets off to a sensational start when, after just one minute, Blackburn’s centre-forward Jack Roscamp bundles the Huddersfield goalkeeper over his line and the referee allows the goal. Rovers go on to win the final 3-1 thanks to a goal from Tommy McLean and another from Roscamp. Scottish winger Alex Jackson pulls one back for Huddersfield but it is a Lancashire rather than Yorkshire town hall that hosts the winners a day or two later. Pathe News coverage of the match shows the Huddersfield goalkeeper as a lean, balding man in his late thirties. His name was William Henry (‘Billy’) Mercer and he started his career about seventeen years earlier here at Hope Street, Prescot.

Mercer was born at 3 Cyprus Street, Prescot, on 27 May 1888 (not 1892 as shown in Wikipedia) and baptised at St Mary’s Parish Church the following 11 July. His parents were William Henry Mercer, a railway shunter, and his wife Martha. He had at least one brother: Peter Mercer, who served as landlord of the Hare and Hounds pub on Warrington Road (now Tommy Hall’s) in the 1930s. His early years at Prescot are shrouded in uncertainty. According to Neville Walker’s From Slacky Brow to Hope Street, Mercer and two other players (Jack Lyon and Arthur ‘Tat’ Dagnall) were ‘welcomed back [to Prescot] after spells with St Helens Recs’ but it is unclear when they’d played for Prescot previously. Mercer was certainly in the squad for the 1913-14 season, and his imposing figure can be seen in the official team photograph (reproduced in Slacky Brow) dressed in white on the back row. On 29 August 1914 he and Prescot players Jimmy Middlehurst and Tommy Burns were transferred to Hull City. Unlike the 1939-40 football season, when the league programme was suspended for the duration of World War Two with only four matches played, the 1914-15 season went ahead as planned, and there is every chance that Mercer and the other Prescot boys made some contribution to Hull City’s fortunes. The football league programme was suspended in 1915 until the end of the war. But where were Mercer and Co. at the start of the 1918-19 season? Back at Prescot, awaiting recall to Hull.

After 193 appearances for Hull City, Mercer was signed by Huddersfield Town’s legendary manager Herbert Chapman in 1924 and was a key member of their 1924-25 championship side. It was a season in which the team never conceded more than two goals in any match. Mercer made 79 league and cup appearances for Huddersfield. The FA Cup Final in 1928, which took place just five weeks before his 40th birthday, was his last appearance for the club. By the start of the ensuing season, he’d moved to Blackpool, where he stayed for just one season and made nineteen appearances. He died in 1956 aged about 68.

Johnny Quinn

Wembley Stadium, Saturday, 14 May 1966. The FA Cup Final between Everton and Sheffield Wednesday. 100,000 spectators. Jim McCalliog puts Wednesday ahead with a goal in the fifth minute and David Ford adds a second after 57 minutes. Enter the largely unknown Mike Trebilcock. Standing in for injured striker Fred Pickering, Trebilcock scores for Everton in the 60th and 65th minutes. The match is won by a goal scored after 74 minutes by Everton’s left-winger Derek Temple. It is the first time since the ‘Matthews’ final of 1953 that a team has won the FA Cup from a 2-0 deficit, making Sheffield Wednesday one of a rare group of teams to have thrown away a 2-0 lead in a final. Temple’s opposite number is 28-year-old Johnny Quinn, who started his career eight years earlier at Prescot Cables.

Quinn was born in St Helens on 30 May 1938. After a shaky start at Burnley, he signed for Cables, aged twenty, for the 1958-59 season. I remember watching him as a dazzling young winger playing alongside the likes of Fletcher, Grisedale, Mercer and Forshaw and being extremely impressed. So too was the Sheffield Wednesday manager Harry Catterick, who signed him for £250 at the end of the season. Despite making his debut on Saturday, 26 September 1959, he got off to a slow start at Hillsborough, playing in just 22 matches in his first three seasons and only 63 in his first five. His glory days at Wednesday were seasons 1964-65 (42 matches), 1965-66 (34) and 1966-67 (34). He was essentially a utility player, appearing on the right wing at Cables but often turning out as half-back, defensive midfielder or even full-back for Sheffield. By the time Tommy Docherty signed him for Rotherham United in November 1967, Quinn had played in 186 matches and scored 25 goals for Wednesday. He played in 114 matches and scored seven goals for Rotherham before joining Halifax Town as a player-coach in July 1972. Following the resignation of George Mulhall in September 1974, Quinn took over the management of the team before replacement by Alan Ball Senior in 1976. He’d played in 92 matches for Halifax but scored only once. After a short time at Worksop Town, Quinn went into partnership with ex-Wednesday team-mate Gerry Young and opened a sports shop on Middlewood Road, Hillsborough – just 200 metres from his old ground. While his business flourished, Quinn formed an equally successful All Stars charity football team, attracting players like Emlyn Hughes, Lawrie Madden and Imre Varadi. When he bowed out of this in May 2006 team-mate Mel Sterland remarked, ‘Johnny should get an MBE for what he’s done for charities; the money raised must run into millions.’

I am indebted to my brother John Williams for discovering Billy Mercer’s correct date of birth.

Tony Hateley

Wembley Stadium, Saturday, 20 May 1967. The FA Cup Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. Dubbed the ‘cockney cup final’ because it is the first ever all-London final. 100,000 spectators. Spurs go into their dressing room at half-time 1-0 up after a 41st-minute goal by Jimmy Robertson. Frank Saul increases their lead with a second goal scored after 67 minutes. Bobby Tambling pulls a goal back for Chelsea in the 86th minute but it is too little, too late. The trophy goes to White Hart Lane. Chelsea’s big-money centre-forward Tony Hateley does not have the impact that manager Tommy Docherty has hoped for, despite a winning header in the semi-final against Leeds United at Villa Park. Eight years and seven other clubs after his Wembley appearance, Hateley signs for Prescot Cables.

Tony was a nice fella and a good player in the right team (Tommy Smith).

Tony Hateley was born in Derby on Friday, 13 June 1941. He was a born athlete, winning the Derbyshire county high-jump championship as a schoolboy and signing forms with Notts County in June 1958 aged seventeen. His mentor at Meadow Lane was the great England centre-forward Tommy Lawton, who fashioned Hateley’s aerial ability after his own image. The young Hateley was tall, lean and as good a jumper in a football penalty area as he was on the athletics’ field. He spent five seasons at Notts County, appearing in 131 matches and scoring an astonishing 77 goals. Three seasons at Aston Villa (he’d gone there for £25,000 in 1963) saw his reputation and goal-scoring prowess grow: 68 goals in 127 games. By 1966 he was a much sought-after commodity and the subject of competitive bids from Chelsea’s Tommy Docherty and Liverpool’s Bill Shankly. Much to Shankly’s disgust, Hateley signed for the London team for a club record of £100,000. ‘Have I told you, Hateley, that I love you?’ David Frost quipped on one of his late-night TV shows soon after. Shankly got his man a year later for a Liverpool club record fee of £96,000, but the tall, dark and handsome striker from Derby ultimately failed at both clubs. Docherty admired Hateley’s ability in the air but was scathing about his skills at ground level. ‘This boy can trap a ball further than I could kick it!’ he once remarked and suggested that a typical Hateley pass should be labelled ‘to whom it may concern’. He scored just six league goals in 27 appearances for Chelsea. His fourteen months at Anfield saw him net 28 goals and there was much hope of him linking up with Roger Hunt to form what was called in some circles the Liverpool ‘H-bombers’. Despite his respectable form at Anfield, he was transferred to Coventry City for £80,000 soon after his last game on 31 October 1968. His apparent shortcomings at Chelsea and Liverpool were not entirely his own fault. Both teams were accustomed to a quick passing style rather than the constant supply of long balls and crosses to a target man. Hateley had lean times at Coventry (four goals in just 17 games) and Birmingham (six goals in 28 Matches), but his return to Notts County in 1970, by then languishing in the old fourth division, witnessed a return to form and fortune. Two seasons: 32 goals in 57 matches and promotion for his team. After a few games at Oldham, three appearances for the Boston Minutemen and short spells at Bromsgrove and Barrow, Hateley signed for Prescot Cables in June 1975, lured by the charismatic ex-player, nightclub tycoon and new manager George Glover. His appearance for the club certainly worked its spell on attendances, notably for a cup match at home against Stalybridge Celtic that attracted 1,000 spectators. Coping with the unfamiliar challenges of the Mid-Cheshire League, the team had good runs in both the FA Cup and FA Vase, and Hateley scored in the region of 30 goals. Perhaps homesick for the midlands, he moved to his last club, Keyworth United near Nottingham, in the summer of 1978.

Life after football proved problematic. Having failed to remain in the game (‘it was a case of who you know rather than what you know’), he worked as a sales rep for a Lancashire brewery for fourteen years and, like many other former players, made his presence felt on the celebrity golf circuit. His legacies to football are twofold. First, his remarkable scoring record. Not counting non-league performances, he scored 211 goals in 437 matches. Counting only his twelve best seasons (two spells at Notts County and tours of duty at Villa and Liverpool) he netted 194 goals in 357 appearances. He also attracted total transfer fees of about £400,000. His second legacy takes the form of his son Mark, who distinguished himself as a striker in Britain and Europe and, unlike his father, became an England international; and Motherwell’s Tom Hateley – Tony’s grandson.

Derek Hennin: a Cables player-manager who won an FA Cup Final medal

Wembley Stadium, Saturday, 3 May 1958. The FA Cup Final between Bolton Wanderers and Manchester United. 99,756 spectators. It is barely three months since the Munich Air Disaster. Many of the players who started United’s FA Cup campaign against Workington on 4 January are dead. Four remain to play: goalkeeper Harry Gregg, right-full-back Bill Foulkes and forwards Bobby Charlton and Dennis Violet. The drama opens with a third-minute goal from Bolton’s England star Nat Lofthouse. Wanderers increase their lead with a controversial goal after 50 minutes. Lofthouse and Gregg both pounce on a loose ball near United’s right post. Lofthouse bundles Gregg and the ball into the net. Referee Mr Sherlock allows the goal and Bolton emerge victorious. The match features two boys who had started their playing careers with Prescot Celtic: Manchester’s captain Bill Foulkes and Bolton’s right-wing-half Derek Hennin. Hennin returns to Prescot five years later as manager of Cables.

Derek Hennin was born in Prescot on 28 December 1931, the son of Cables player Harry Hennin. After whetting his appetite at Prescot Celtic, where he appeared not only with Bill Foulkes but also with Harry Boydell. (Harry Grisedale and Liverpool’s Alan A’Court were also Celtic youth stars.) 1949 was a memorable year. Derek played for England Youth and, in June, signed for Bolton Wanderers, though he was to wait for almost five years before making his first-team debut in 1954 and another three years before scoring his first goal for Bolton (January 1957). The 1958 FA Cup Final was the high-point of his career. After playing 164 league games for Bolton and scoring eight goals, he moved to Chester in January 1961 (four goals in 54 appearances) and then into the Lancashire Combination with Wigan Athletic the following year. He was player-manager of Prescot Cables during the 1963-64 season. He died at the age of 57 in January 1989.

Glyn Williams