Soccer - Leyland Daf Cup Final - Wembley - Tranmere Rovers v Bristol Rovers

The 1980s for Tranmere Rovers saw the club go from near extinction to Wembley in a matter of years. Tranmere went from administration to a club with the money to match their ambition of being a First Division club.

By the mid point of the 80s Tranmere were languishing in the lower part of the Four Division and by 1987 it looked like their sixty five years in the Football League would come to end as relegation seemed almost certain. However by beating Exeter on the last game of the season Tranmere stayed up and from that point began to climb back up the tables.

The 1988-89 season saw Tranmere not only return back to the Third Division but through the automatic promotion spot.

When looking down the team sheet of the Tranmere team of the 1988-89 some of the club’s biggest names litter the page. With the likes of Dave Higgins, Eddie Bishop, Jim Steel, Ian Muir, Chris Malkin, John Morrissey and Steve Vickers to name a few, the team in 1989-90 looked its strongest since the 1930s.

The start of the season for Tranmere couldn’t have been better notching up four wins in a row in all competitions. By November had already pulled together twelve wins including a 6-0 hammering of Bristol City.

One game dominated November however which was the visit of Tottenham to Prenton Park in the League Cup. One game that month however at the time had little significance other than to settle old scores with a local rival.

On November 7th Chester came to Prenton Park in preliminary round of the Leyland DAF Cup a competition few showed much interested in. However as Chester were a local rival over ten thousand fans packed the old stands at Prenton Park to see Muir score the only goal in the game.

This victory may have seemed small in the grand scheme of things but it set in motion the wheels which would see Tranmere reach Wembley.

After seeing of Rochdale 1-0 in the final Preliminary game Tranmere’s next opponent was Scunthorpe United at home. Rovers overcame United 2-1 with McCarrick and Malkin scoring for the home side.

With the competition hotting up Tranmere must have been relieved to see their next hurdle was Chester City again. Perhaps it was the home advantage but Tranmere were clinical, beating their local rivals 3-0 with McNab, Morrissey and Muir scoring.

Tranmere’s next opponents were a team for whom Rovers would develop a deep rivalry with over the next few years, Bolton Wanderers. Rover had already lost to the promotion contenders earlier in the season 3-1 at Prenton Park and no one wanted a repeat of that game.

With over nine thousand fans cheering on Tranmere at Prenton Park the home side overturned the earlier season defeat beating Wanderers 2-1 with Steel and Muir scoring the important goals.

After seeing off Bolton Tranmere had made it all the way to the Semi Final and only had to see off the weak Doncaster Rovers team who were propping up the lower end of the Fourth Division.

Tranmere cruised past Doncaster 3-0 over two legs and secured their second ever visit to Wembley.

By the time Tranmere team arrived at Wembley on the 20th May Rovers had secured a place in the Third Division Playoff Final which would see them at Wembley again just a week later. But on that day the team’s focus was on winning the club’s first silverware since 1938.

Facing Tranmere that day was Third Division title winners Bristol Rovers who were looking for the double. Bristol had already beat Tranmere twice that season and some may have thought the game a forgone conclusion…expect for Tranmere and it’s fans of course.

In front of nearly 50,000 supporters Bristol took control of the game nearly taking the lead after four minutes only to be denied by a double save from Nixon. Soon after the save though Tranmere showed they meant business as Ian Muir scored from a Chris Malkin header.

Although Hughes, Garnett and Thomas defending was outstanding Bristol pulled one back at the start of the second half. The pressure was on for Tranmere but in the 71st minute Jim Steel headed in the winner from a Muir cross.

Tranmere had won their first major piece of silverware in over fifty years and a week later it was hoped the playoff trophy would be added to the collection. However Neil Lennon’s Notts County proved too strong for Rovers as County won 2-0.

The Leyland DAF Cup may not stand as one of the great cup competitions in the world but this win saw Tranmere become a regular at Wembley over the next decade as they fought to play in the highest league in the country.

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