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Last season saw three clubs in League One reach the brink of the financial cliff and their very existence was brought into question. Portsmouth who had won the FA Cup only a few years early found themselves lose another ten points, Coventry City looked like they’d have to move out of Coventry and Bury nearly disappeared forever.

Tranmere may have on of the smallest budgets in the League but with a sound executive the club has been able to stay a float. However thirty years ago Tranmere became the first club to go into modern Administration.

Tranmere had never been a cash rich club, surviving season to season selling their best players to keep a float. By the 1970s this formula was still the best option to keep the club going so in 1978 Tynan and Moore were sold for around £100,000 each.

As well as selling players Tranmere has maintained a strong fan base whose gate receipts kept the club going through the season. However during the 1970s and 80s unemployment stood at two million nationally and work in the area was in short supply. Attendance fell to 1,500 supports, which was lower than when Tranmere was a non league club.

The club though tried to turn things around selling land by Prenton Park for the Clipper pub to be built and the clubs first shirt sponsors Storeton Motors were signed.
But it wasn’t enough as the debts kept rising the clubs future looked in real doubt.

By 1981 Tranmere only just secured re-election to the football league with the sale of Jim Lunby to Mansfield.

The troubles at Prenton Park began to attract national attention and the BBC documentary Forty Minutes filmed a short piece on the club’s problems, but it was never aired.

Tranmere was in dyer need of investment and Birkenhead born but US based tycoon Billy McAteer seem a good fit. Negotiations broke down leaving the London based businessman Tony Kramer to place a bid for the club. At a meeting at the Birkenhead YMCA he claimed he’d bring George Best to the club if he took over Tranmere. But the Tranmere Management didn’t trust his motives and he failed in his take over bid.

With the debts still rising the Save the Rovers Fund was established which saw Tranmere play charity matches against the likes of Liverpool, Wolves and Manchester United to raise funds.

The clubs real lifeline though came from an unlikely source as Wirral Council loaned the club £200,000. This loan would lead to a partnership lasting between the two lasting nearly thirty years.

The loan was only a stop gap and it wasn’t until a San Francisco based business man Bruce Osterman stepped in that the club achieve some stability. Osterman enjoyed training with the players and came to Birkenhead three or four times a season.

For several seasons his investment secured the clubs future but overspending on directors wages meant the club’s debts soon rose again. Added to this the club’s attendance had fallen to just a thousand.

Osterman could only see one option to save Tranmere Rover………sell Prenton Park!! A ground which had been the home of Rovers for 80 years was now being valuated for its possible sale.

The plan was to sell the ground for £4 million to allow a Tesco Hypermarket built on the site of Prenton Park. The £4 million would have cleared the debt and left enough money for Tranmere to build a new ground. However when seeking permission from Wirral Council (who were still owed £200,000) it became clear Osterman had no plans for a new ground.

Osterman threatened that if permission was granted he would wind up Tranmere Rovers completely. Wirral Council called his bluff and stopped the sale of Prenton Park.

Tranmere had no option left except to the first club in the country to go into the modern form of Administration. Fearing for the future of the club the lifetime Tranmere fan and director George Higham stepped in and stripped Osterman of his powers.

Eventually Osterman’s shares were sold to local businessman Peter Johnson and under his ownership Tranmere have seen some of the best success in the club’s history.

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