When we think of great Tranmere games of the past most will bring up the classic 4-3 win over Southampton or St Yates day when Rovers beat Everton 3-0 at Goodison Park. In the pursuit of trophies and promotion Tranmere has played some great games.

One game however was not only one of its greatest but also one of the most important in the club’s history. In 1987 the Tranmere team walked out onto the field at Prenton Park knowing it could be last Football League game the club played.

During the early and mid 1980s the situation at Tranmere was dyer with trouble in the back office and falling attendance. All of this impacted on the team as the best players were sold on to cover the debts and morale around the club being at an all time low.

The club’s very future was on the line as there was no guarantee that Tranmere could fight their way back into the Football League if they were relegated. The 1986-87 season could have been the final nail in the coffin of Tranmere’s most difficult periods.

The previous season Tranmere had fought a long relegation battle but just managed to keep their head above the water even with Osterman trying to wind the club up. The 1986-87 season appeared by Christmas to already feel like a relegation battle with Tranmere only notching up a handful of points.

By March Tranmere were thrown a lifeline as Peter Johnson took over the club and Tranmere legend Johnny King was put in charge. However the legacy of the rest of 80s couldn’t be solved over night and Tranmere still struggled to get the points which would secure their survival.

After drawing with Wrexham on the 4th May it became clear that Tranmere’s survival would be decided on the last game of the season, a home fixture against the mid table side Exeter City.

Going into the game Tranmere did not have a full starting eleven of professional players with the likes of Camden and Edwards both being non contract. Tranmere had lost 1-0 when they visited Exeter and some felt the writing was on the wall for Rovers.

Tranmere were to play their final game on a Friday night which has traditionally always seen a bumper attendance. However this also meant Tranmere would have to wait for the results of the Saturday games involving Burnley, Torquay and Lincoln City to know their fate.

On May 8th as it stood Tranmere needed to win simple as, a draw wouldn’t be enough to save the club. Seeing the peril the Wirral club was in attendance at Prenton Park was its highest all season, with the game being delayed 15 minutes to allow for everyone to get in.

When play finally got under way the crowd’s anxiety was rubbing off on the Tranmere players who clearly were nervous. This led to mistakes allowing Exeter the opportunity to take the lead, however Tranmere just about held them off.
By half time the score stood at 0-0 but Tranmere didn’t seem likely to score on their current performance. It’s not known what Johnny King said to the team at half time but what ever it was it worked as Rovers came out a completely different team.

Full of confidence and fire Tranmere began to create opportunities which saw them test the Exeter keeper. Although Tranmere had increased their attacks they still hadn’t scored.

With less than 15 minutes to play Tranmere were desperate, they had to score! Muir ran the ball down through the Exeter players before crossing the ball into the box. Champen made a run and took his marker with him leaving plenty of room for Gary Williams to head it into the back of the net!!!!

The crowd exploded but soon settled as the clock showed that Tranmere needed to hold this lead for 12 more minutes to stay in the Football League. The Tranmere defence fought hard and kept Exeter out and when the referee blew the final whistle the crowd roared and invaded the pitch. The players headed to the directors box and celebrate with the crowd.

On Saturday due to the results of the teams surrounding Tranmere they would have survived with just a draw. From this season Peter Johnson and Johnny King took Tranmere to promotion out of Division Four and so began Tranmere’s rise.

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