Across the world some of the greatest rivalries in football have been between neighbouring clubs, Everton and Liverpool, Rangers and Celtic, Inter and AC Milan. These great rivalries have produced some of the most memorable football moments in the history of the sport.

For the last hundred years Tranmere fans have enjoyed some ‘derbies’ against the likes of New Brighton and Cammell Lairds but the games didn’t have the fire and passion of the other derbies across the world.

However nearly 113 years ago if I asked a Tranmere fan who their local rival was they would say ‘…the reds down the road.’ In 1899 Tranmere Rovers saw the rise of a new club which would come to dominate football in the local area in the early 20th Century.

Like all great footballing rivalries this one was born out of dissatisfaction and debate about the true Birkenhead team. In the summer of 1899 Tranmere Rovers were still playing at Steele Fields just outside Birkenhead in an almost rural setting. Many fans in Birkenhead struggled to see Tranmere as the Birkenhead team as they didn’t even play their football in the town.

After another local club disbanded only a few miles away from Steele Fields, BedfordPark became available for a new ground for Tranmere. A party of players representing the rest of the Tranmere team approached Rover’s President McGaul asking to move Tranmere to BedfordPark. The players were dissatisfied with the facilities and pitch at Steele Field. McGaul declined the players request fearing the move may alienate their followers.

The players were not pleased with his decision and all but one player (Billy Davidson) left Tranmere Rovers and established Birkenhead Football Club at BedfordPark. Tranmere were now in a dire position with the start of the season approaching and not having any players the club opted out of the Combination League that season. This crisis left Tranmere at the brink of extinction.

Bizarrely Birkenhead FC were not a true Birkenhead team either as Bedford Park was in Rock Ferry just down road from the station and was once the home of the Rock Ferry team.

Birkenhead’s first game in August 1899 was billed as an ‘Exhibition’ game as the first team took on the reserves in front of what the Birkenhead News described as a sizeable crowd.

The teams were made up of local footballing stars as the Birkenhead News said ‘Most of the men are so well-known in the district that further comment is needless…’ Birkenhead FC were the new up and coming team who appeared to attract the local stars way from other clubs. These stars obviously impressed as the Birkenhead News reported the team received ‘…very favourable criticism on the part of the spectators…’

Birkenhead FC’s first test of the season was against Chorley a local power house team at the time. On the 1st September Birkenhead FC ran out at BedfordPark in their red shirts to make a little bit of history. The game finished 2-2 with the Birkenhead News reporting ‘If the Birkenhead Club expect a fair measure of support I am convinced that all they have to do is keep up Saturday’s form and the season will be watched and admired.’

In Birkenhead’s first few games of the season they notched up several wins but struggled against New BrightonTower who hammered them 5-0.

With Tranmere opting out of the Combination League and joining the smaller Lancashire Alliance this gave the club time to build without the pressures of a large and competitive league. However Tranmere would still have to meet their new rivals whether they were at full strength or not before the end of the season.

To be continued…..

(Image provided by Birkenhead Reference Library)

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