By 1934 Tranmere were a leading team of the Third Division North with promotion just slipping their grasp season after season. Even against bigger teams Tranmere Rovers had shown their quality by holding off the top names in English football at Prenton Park.
The FA Cup gave Tranmere the chance to explore their possible future of playing in the higher divisions and in the 1934 Rovers were given another chance to test their skills.
After securing comfortable wins against Newark Town, Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic and finally Southend United Tranmere found themselves in the draw for the 4th Round of the FA Cup with the possibility of yet again meeting a First Division team.
Following the draw papers on both side of the River Mersey were reporting with much excitement the possibility of a Merseyside Derby in the FA Cup. If Liverpool were to beat Fulham in the 3rd Round replay they would travel across the river to Prenton Park to face Tranmere in the 4th Round.
This was by no means the first meeting of the two clubs as their first match was in 1902 when Tranmere faced Liverpool in the Final of the Liverpool Senior Cup at Anfield. However this would be the first competitive game in a major national competition between the two clubs.
This meeting of the two sides of the River Mersey had the potential of being one of the biggest games of the 1930s in Merseyside. Fans from both sides of the river looked upon Prenton Park’s modest stands which would somehow how have to host such a great occasion.
Prenton Park however quickly became an issue in the build up to the game as some questioned its capacity to hold such a big game. In 1902 1,500 people turned out for the clubs’ first meeting but the number of spectators had greatly increased over the decades and with such a local rivalry could Prenton Park handle the tens of thousands of fans expected on the day?
Liverpool however still had to beat Fulham before Prenton Park’s capacity could be called into question, a Fulham win would probably only see a small number of fans travel up to Birkenhead compared to the possible thousands from Liverpool.
Prenton Park at the time could hold a maximum of 25,000 spectators and Liverpool’s average home attendance was 30,000. Add to this that Everton were not playing on the day the Birkenhead News suggested a crowd of 50,000 could descend on the Birkenhead ground.
Before the replay between Liverpool and Fulham took place the management of the two clubs met and agreed that in the event of Liverpool beating Fulham the game against Tranmere would be moved to Anfield.
Although some in the local press debated the move from Prenton Park the talk slowly changed to the game in hand and Tranmere’s chances against their larger yet younger neighbour.
The likes of Chelsea and Leeds had gone into their games against Tranmere brimming with confidence but left Prenton Park with bruised egos as the Birkenhead men held the two teams to draws.
Liverpool perhaps having taken note of the previous season’s results did not go into the game with such confidence. The match day programme was full of praise for Roves discussing their success against Chelsea and Leeds in previous seasons ‘… Bradshaw’s (Liverpool Captain) men are not likely to underestimate their task.’
The programmes notes also discussed the great quality players Tranmere had produced and the affect they had had on Liverpool. In Liverpool’s previous home game the Aston Villa captain, a Tranmere old boy, Thomas Pongo Waring had scored two goals one of which the programme stated was the finest ever to be scored at Anfield.
But even with the likes of Waring no longer playing for Tranmere other players were not to be underestimated. The programme notes highlighted Bunny Bell as the Tranmere player to watch pointing out he had already scored 50 goals in all competitions that season for Tranmere.
Liverpool had much to consider before the game as Tranmere had gone eight games with only one lose during December and January. By contrast Liverpool had lost seven of their previous ten games including a humiliating 9-2 defeat to Newcastle.
On the 27th January fans from Birkenhead poured down to the ferry terminals and train stations making their way to the familiar ground of Anfield, being joined by hoards of Liverpool and Everton supporters wanting to see the sceptical.
As the teams prepared in their respective dressing rooms the noise must have been awe-inspiring as the fans from the three clubs packed the ground. In 1902 only 1,500 had attended the first meeting between the clubs however thirty two years later 61,000 fans crammed themselves into Anfield far exceeding initial expectations. This would be the record attendance at Anfield until the 1950s.
The Birkenhead News reported the Kop as being a ‘… a swaying mass of humanity…’ and the game was delayed by half an hour as the stands failed to contain the masses and fans ended up on the pitch. The foresight to move the games from Prenton Park was perhaps a welcome one on the day.
To the Tranmere players such sights must have been unlike anything they had seen before with crowds at Prenton Park generally being at around the five thousand mark. Could Tranmere hold there nerve in front of the pulsating Merseyside masses whose combined noise must have been deafening.
For the first quarter of the game Tranmere were out of sorts and shaken by the spectacle before them. However Rovers held the reds back until the seventeenth minute when English opened the scoring for Liverpool.
Tranmere bounced back though levelling the scoring again after only five minutes after Urmson hit the back of the net giving Rovers a fighting chance. However the fight back became even harder as Liverpool took the lead again just before half time.
Into the second half Tranmere came out a more open team according to the Birkenhead News however they failed to capitalise on this improvement of tactics and five minutes before the end of play Liverpool scored again leaving the final score at 3-1 to Liverpool.
The move to Anfield had given Liverpool the home advantage which many teams fall foul of and for Tranmere not playing at Prenton Park really took its toll. The 61,000 strong crowd was well over double anything Tranmere had faced and this audience had stunted their usual style of play as their nerves got the better of them according to the Birkenhead News.
Yet the game had still been entertaining with the Liverpool Echo writing ‘First let us give the hand of congratulations to Barton and his Tranmere men for one of the best shows Anfield has ever seen.’ The article did however go on to spell out Liverpool’s superiority and somewhat condescendingly referred to Tranmere as the Merseyside Mites.
Although the game was lost and on the big stage Tranmere faltered at the magnitude of First Division crowds they showed they could at least reach this level. With another game against a big side under their belt and top half finishes in the Third Division North at the end of the season Tranmere’s progression up the leagues looked certain.