Blues legend Gil Merrick.

Blues legend Gil Merrick was involved with the club for 25 years as player and then manager.

The England international keeper clocked up a total of 551 league appearances as well as appearing in over 170 matches during the Second World War.

After finally hanging up his playing boots in 1959, he went on to manage the club for four years, during which time they secured their only major honour to date - League Cup winners in 1963.

However, 12 months later, Merrick walked out of St. Andrew's for the last time after Blues had narrowly avoided relegation to the Second Divison.

"We'd had a bad season and the board decided that a change was needed - it was one of those things but I was very bitter about it at the time," recalls Merrick.

Merrick punches clear under pressure from the Spurs attack.
"I had always wanted to go into management after I finished my playing career and it was even more special to do that at the club that I had actually played for for so many years

"I really enjoyed it and what gave me the most satisfaction was to watch young apprentices like Terry Hennessy, Malcolm Beard, Malcolm Page and Johnny Vincent come through into the first team.

"We had a few players like that come through the junior system and I took pride in that."

"We won the League Cup and reached the final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup - we were the pioneers for English football in Europe," Merrick adds proudly.

But it was for his contributions on the pitch that Merrick is most fondly remembered by the Blues fans.

Self-confessed Villa fan, Merrick was spotted by Blues whilst playing a trial game at Solihull Town.

"I was playing for Shirley Town who were the nursery side for Birmingham City," he explains.

"I was then asked to attend a trial for Solihull Town and Blues scout Walter Taylor was at the match.

"After the game he followed me up the road and asked me to sign for Birmingham - that was in 1939.

"After signing I continued to work part-time and I was paid £10 a week by the club."

After the war, Merrick resumed his professional career with Blues as first choice goalkeeper, a position that he retained for the following 14 years.

"We had a great side in those days with the likes of Dennis Jennings, Billy Hughes, Don Dearson, Arthur Turner, Fred Harris, Ambrose Mulraney, Neil Dougall, Cyril Trigg and Harold Bodle," he remembers.

"We won the First Division South as well as reaching the FA Cup semi-finals but lost out to Derby County."

Merrick has better semi-final memories when he was part of the last Blues side
Merrick runs out for Blues behind Len Boyd.
to reach a major Wembley final.

"We played against Sunderland at Hillsborough and it is one of the games that always stick in my mind.

"It was a great match and we played really well."

Merrick was involved in one of the more bizarre incidents to occur during a game at St. Andrew's when Charlton goalkeeper Sam Bartram missed a penalty.

"It was a vital game because we were both vying at the top of the table.

"I saw Sam come running up from the other end of the pitch and it was only when he didn't stop that I realised that he was going to take the kick!

"His shot fired against the crossbar and straight up into the air and came down onto the top of the net.

"It would have been funny if I had been able to catch the ball because Sam would never have been able to get back."

Merrick won 23 caps for England including two never-to-be-forgotten games against Hungary in which he had to pick the ball out of his own net on 13 occasions.

England captain Billy Wright leads his team out, followed by goalkeeper Gil Merrick, as Hungary captain Ferenc Puskas walks alongside.
"It was a privilege to play against that Hungary side," he recalls.

"When we had the team talk before the match, the manager Walter Winterbottom didn't say anything about how exceptional their side was.

"The England game was all about hard tackling and long ball but our defenders couldn't get a tackle in.

"As we walked off 4-2 down at half-time in the first game at Wembley, our centre half Harry Johnson turned to me and said: "Gil, I haven't had a kick! I don't know who to mark!

"Hungary had two fast wingers and, in my opinion, that is what is missing in the game today."

Six months later England travelled to Budapest looking for revenge but got
Merrick stretches to make a fingertip save against Chelsea.
more of the same as the hosts rattled in another seven goals.

"Syd Owen went off injured and in those days we didn't have substitutes and it was like the Alamo in the second half!"

After leaving St. Andrew's, Merrick enjoyed further managerial stints at
Bromsgrove Rovers and Atherstone United before finally ending his full-time involvement in football.

He admits that his interest in the game has waned somewhat in recent years.

"I can't really get into today's football because it is so different to when I played," says Gil.

The remainder of Merrick's working career was spent with Solihull firm S&U and he is now lives in retirement at his Shirley home.

By: Peter Lewis
Pictures by: Roy Smiljanic
*This article first appeared in last season's matchday programme.