The 1899-1900 season was a time of crisis for Tranmere Rovers were their very survival was in question. In August 1899 Tranmere players left the club en masse to form Birkenhead FC at BedfordPark in Rock Ferry. With no players Tranmere had no chance of competing in the Combination League that season and so opted to play in the Lancashire Alliance a far smaller league with less challenging teams.

Whilst Birkenhead FC had some early success in the Combination with their ex Tranmere Rovers players, Tranmere themselves scramble to put a competitive team on the pitch. For much of the end of 1899 Tranmere borrowed and in some cases stole players to ensure the survival of the club. They also brought in promising teenagers and reserve players in the hope of still being a competitive side.

By the early stages of 1900 Tranmere was finally getting themselves back on track and winning games. The club appeared to have pulled themselves away from the brink and were eager to re-establish themselves as the dominate Birkenhead club.

Birkenhead FC had some success and were progressing well in Liverpool and Wirral Senior Cups as well as the league. In the Cheshire Senior Cup however a far greater test was drawn in the Third Round as Birkenhead were pitted against their local rival Tranmere Rovers.

A year previous to that day the Birkenhead team ran out onto the pitch at Steele Fields in the blue of Tranmere and hammered Middlewich 6-0, but on the 3rd March 1900 the same players pulled on their new red shirts of Birkenhead FC to take the club who had taken them to third in the league the previous season.

The game was originally meant to take place in February but the game was snowed off. However the game was quickly rearranged for early March at BedfordPark. The game built a serious amount of hype with the Birkenhead News reporting ‘This is the first time the organisations have met and we may be assured that the conflict will be a desperate and determined one and will mean a fight to the very finish.’

In the modern game rivalry like this would usually lead local police forces to deploy hundreds of police officers to ensure the two rival fans didn’t meet and cause trouble. In 1900 crowd trouble of this sort didn’t seem to be an issue as the Birkenhead News reported ‘The crowd was a particularly good humoured one and prior to the game the supporters of either organisation lightly chaffed each other and joked together.’

As the players ran out onto the pitch to the applause of all fans it is interesting to wonder what was going through the heads of the Birkenhead players as they took on a club who in some cases had given them their start in football and who they so easily discarded.

The game was fairly equal by all accounts and both teams looked determined from the outset. Birkenhead found the back of the net as Tommy Southart headed the ball into the goal from a free kick. The game stayed at this score for much of the game and by the dying moment of the match Tranmere fans became more angry and loud as the possibility of losing to their once friends but now rivals became apparent.

The game finished 1-0 to the treasonous Birkenhead FC. The local press didn’t describe the scene after the match but one could only image one of absolute joy and sheer disappointment. Tranmere who had gone from a team with no players and near extinction failed to topple their new rivals. For some this must have seemed the end of Tranmere’s dominance as the new Birkenhead team took the mantel of best team in the borough.

Tranmere though like the phoenix would rise from the ashes for the 1900-1901 season to come back to the Combination to try to regain their place as the top Birkenhead team.

To be continued…

(Image from the Birkenhead News, provided by Wirral Archive Service)