In an age where the word ‘legend’ is used all too readily in football, there can be no doubt it was a perfect fit for Gilbert Harold Merrick.
For the Blues goalkeeper turned manager was an icon of his club, one of the best players of his era and also a gentleman.
It was fitting that, just weeks before his death, Merrick was the first inductee to Birmingham City’s Hall of Fame at St Andrew’s.
Merrick served Blues for 25 years, making a club record 551 league appearances as an imposing, fearless and agile goalkeeper. He then became manager, adding further stamps of achievement to his reputation.
In 1963 he guided Blues to what is still their only major trophy success, a League Cup final defeat of rivals Aston Villa.
Merrick also led Blues as pioneers in European competition. They reached the final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup against Roma, helping to blaze a trail for others to follow as the competition evolved into the UEFA Cup.
Incredibly, his relationship with the club soured after he felt the board of directors began to interfere. He left in 1964 and did not set foot in St Andrew’s for 36 years.
Eventually there was a softening of his stance and he really began to enjoy his visits for reunions and special events as the Former Players’ Association began to evolve and the club started to care more about its history and heritage.
Last April, Blues announced that the Railway End of the ground would be renamed the Gil Merrick Stand, a welcome and overdue mark of respect.
Sparkhill-born, Merrick was signed by Blues in 1939 after a trial match, for £10, as he continued to work part-time.
After the war, he become Blues’ undisputed first choice for 14 years. His giant hands – likened to Wedgwood dinner plates – thwarted opposition forwards.
Back then, goalkeepers were considered fair game for rough stuff but Merrick, at 6ft 2in, was never bullied.
He kept goal at Wembley in 1956 when Blues lost the FA Cup Final to Manchester City, won 23 England caps and appeared at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.
After retiring from playing, he took over as Blues manager in 1960 and three years later tasted victory over Villa in the League Cup final.
In his later life, Merrick underwent a triple heart bypass and also suffered a stroke.
But he soldiered on and even when he was at his most frail on recent appearances at the club, he always commanded huge respect and his aura was undimmed – the aura of a genuine legend.