Archives for posts with tag: Birkenhead Advertiser

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The 1950s saw Football in England challenged for the first time, as traditional styles of play were questioned. As the founders of the game countries from around the world tried to catch up but few teams could beat the physical and winger orientated English style.

The game was changing however and clubs like Tranmere needed to make steps to ensure their survival. For Tranmere Rovers this meant the handing the team over to Noel Kelly in 1955 as player-manager.

Tranmere’s post war seasons had been distinctly average at times with little progress being made. But with spectator numbers at the highest in the club’s history the money was there to push for promotion. Kelly was seen as a new start for the club’s more modern style of management.

Previous to Noel Kelly the club had never really had a manager in the modern sense, with coaches dealing with the training and the role of picking the team falling to the Board. Kelly however was not successful and was relieved of his duties in 1956.

A replacement was not found until the following season when Peter Farrell took over the management of the team as a player-manager. The Irish international joined Tranmere from Everton for £2,500 much to the glee of many fans as the Birkenhead Advertiser stated ‘Unquestionably, this bold move by the club was met with the supporter’s whole hearted approval.’

Linking up with his old team mate Tommy Eglington, Farrell brought about a very professional style of football to the club.

Eglington had joined Tranmere from Everton under Noel Kelly and was instrumental in persuading his old team mate Farrell to join Tranmere. Although Eglington’s career was very much in its later stages by the time he joined Tranmere he still made over 170 appearances and scored thirty six goals.

With Farrell’s professional way of playing alongside Eglington’s skills Tranmere could face their first hurdle of the season, securing the club’s place in the new Third Division.

Previously the Third Division had been separated into two leagues North and South but by the end of the 1950s the Football League intended to merge the two divisions and create the Four Division for the weaker of the two leagues.

In the 1956-57 season Tranmere had finished second from bottom which in the 1957-58 season would have seen the club relegated to the new Forth Division. Farrell joined Tranmere twelve games into the 1957-58 with the team only having two wins to their name. In Farrell’s first twelve games he managed to notch up eight wins.

But the season was long and the poor start made it a hard slog to secure a Third Division place. It came down to the last game of the season against Wrexham at home where a crowd of just under 20,000 turning out. In front of the club’s largest home crowd for a league game (a record that still stands today) Tranmere beat Wrexham 2-1 securing their place in the new Third Division.

The style of football being played at Prenton Park was nothing new as clubs across the country heavily relied on fast wingers like Eglington to put the ball in the box. But the experience of both Farrell and Eglington helped professionalize the whole team into a tighter unit.

For the next three seasons Tranmere play was has been described as their most attractive football with Farrell and Eglington professionalizing the style of play. However the two aged players could not carry the squad and with no funds to bring in new players the team’s performance slipped and in the 1959-60 season Tranmere were almost relegated.

The writing was on the wall for Farrell and by December of the 1960-61 season he parted company with the club. Eglington too left the club in 1961 not before a testimonial against an Irish XI.

Farrell may have given club a more professional style of football but he was already a dinosaur of modern football by the time he reached Prenton Park. The over reliance on wingers had been shown to be disastrous in 1953 when the undefeated England team were humiliated by Hungary 6-3 at Wembley, whose tactics and formations are more akin to today’s game.

In 1944 Merseyside was playing hosted to one of the greatest movements of people in world history as hundreds of thousands of American soldier poured across the Atlantic in preparation for the D Day landings. With so many Americans in the area the people of Merseyside want all things American and that included sport.

By April of that year the Merseyside National Baseball League was formed with seven local teams competing. Baseball was not new to Merseyside though, as in the 1930s the game became fairly popular with the top local side being the Liverpool Giants. Dixie Dean was very keen on the sport playing for Caledonians and even met Babe Ruth in 1934.

With the formation of the new baseball league Mr R S Trueman from Tranmere Rovers saw an opportunity for using Prenton Park in the slow summer months. The Club put two teams into the Merseyside League Tranmere Rovers Baseball Team and the Birkenhead Baseball Team, both of whom would play their home games at Prenton Park.

By mid May the first game of the season was drawing close and Tranmere prepared for the coming season. One of the first additions was to the ground as a Loud Speaker was installed to allow a running commentary to be given of the game. The pitch at Prenton Park was also altered so as to accommodate a baseball field.

The investment didn’t stop with the ground as the club looked to build a strong team with plenty of experience. The first key signing for the Tranmere Rovers Baseball team was Colin Grove who according to the Birkenhead News had played in the American Leagues and was international player.

Tranmere’s opening game was against Roote at Prenton Park which Rovers won 18-7 in front of a modest crowd. The gate receipts for the game were £12 2s 10d which Mr R S Trueman of Tranmere Rovers expected to rise as the sport increased in popularity. Luckily for the club it was far cheaper to put a baseball game on than a Football match.

The next test for Tranmere was against their very local rival Birkenhead who they shared Prenton Park with. The Rovers team had been strengthen after the Roote victory to include Cecil Rutherford whose addition saw Tranmere beat Birkenhead 14-9. Although the teams played well according to the Birkenhead News both teams still needed more experienced players.

Trueman was aware of this and made probably the best signing of the entire league in A C Haley, a pitcher who it was claimed could pitch at over 90 mph. Haley was a Canadian who had played in the American Leagues before moving to Liverpool and playing for the Giants. When war broke out he joined the RAF.

Haley’s impact was seen instantly in his first game for Tranmere against Fazakerly at the end of May. By the Fourth inning Tranmere were down 6-4 when Haley came on to pitch he took thirteen strike outs. Tranmere won 15-6 and the league already seemed to be in the bag for Rovers especially with the signing of Haley’s old Giants team mate Jackie Ritchie on second base.

However although Tranmere had made these great players one factor meant they never quite reached their full potential….the War. Grove, Haley and Ritchie were all involved in the war effort and so couldn’t play ever game. By June this problem saw Tranmere lose to Caledonians and later were hammered 25-3 by Everton.

But Tranmere could still turn heads as one report stated ‘When at full strength, they are considered as one of the best teams in England.’ However being one of the best teams in the country saw the likes of Grove and Haley being called up for international games which in turn meant they missed more Tranmere games.

By July other teams had invested in their squads and Tranmere lost the edge they had had at the start of the season.

Tranmere Rovers Footballer and Manager Bill Ridding started playing for Birkenhead and made an instant impact on their performance.

Ridding impact led the Birkenhead press to ask why more footballer weren’t asked to play for one of the baseball teams. The star player and coach of Tranmere Baseball Team Grove told the press ‘…footballers have not only been invited, but have been asked through the management of Tranmere Rovers to join one of the teams…but the request has not been complied with.’

With the season coming to an end Tranmere still put out good performances but as other teams continued to improve Tranmere struggled to get the wins.

By mid August talk of the new football season was creeping back into the press and interest in baseball disappeared. Tranmere may not have won the league but for a few brief months Prenton Park was a bastion of Baseball and Tranmere one of the best teams in the country.

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The Aintree Munitions Team after playing men’s teams and themselves would at Prenton Park taken on their biggest challenge as they took on the North Haymarket Munitions Factory Team.

There is not other mention of the Haymarket team in the Press before the game against Aintree but it is likely they too played teams internally at their factory and then men’s teams.

This game would become a turning point in the course of women’s football in the Merseyside area. The reason for this was the involvement of Mr W R Clayton the chairman of directors at Everton Football Club. Clayton helped arrange this and later games for the Aintree team. Why he became interest in women’s football is unclear but he may have seen the numbers who were willing to watch the women’s game and saw there was a profit to be made.

Unlike the Birkenhead North game the local Wirral press did publise the game fairly well. In the day leading up to the game it was said that the completion would be a good one as there was not ‘no love lost’ between the two teams.

There is no image from this game which is a real shame as the kits the ladies wore sound some what outlandish. The Aintree girls wore blue jumpers with red facings and the North Haymarket team worn green jumpers with salmon coloured ties and green caps.

The pitch that day did not sound to be in the best condition but the Birkenhead News reported ‘…the mud did daunt them, and their courage was almost Spartan-like…’ The previous evening had seen very heavy rain and the pitch was little more than quagmire.

From the start Aintree took control of the game and appeared to be more experienced of the two sides. Haymarket attempted to break through the Aintree defence but Nellie Woods beat back the Haymarket girls and ‘dumped’ several players into the mud.

The crowds were in a roar of laughter when players fell into the mud as for many this game was comical event. One player was even seen washing the mud off her face in a dirty pool which had appeared on the pitch over night.

The girls didn’t seem to mind the mud and they could be just as physical as the men. After one girl lost the ball to another she race up to her opponent and pulled at her hair resulting in her losing her hat.

But some observed the skills of the players and saw the women’s game in a new light. One player Clayton for Aintree speed was complimented by the skilful pass she made to Tyson who put the first goal in the back of the net.

The Birkenhead News described the rest of the first half was ‘…a series of bustling tactics without substantial result, and the Grand National crowd finished up with a goal to the good.’

In the second half Aintree showed their dominance with Reece adding a second and third goal for Aintree. With the 90 minutes nearly up Clayton again put an impressive ball into the path of Jones this time who made the final score 4-0 to Aintree.

The Birkenhead Advertiser stated ‘The football abilities of the girls was such that some of the male clubs will have to look to their laurel if they wish to crow over their female rivals.’

Although much of the match reports focused on the comedic value of women’s football the Birkenhead Advertiser also discussed the skills of the women’s teams in the way they did men. The Advertiser stated Haymarket ‘…could not cope with the rushes of this clever quintette of girls…’

Alongside this specific players were being picked out not for their hilarity but their attributes as a footballer. Miss Mabel Wilson and Miss Nellie Woods were singled out for Haymarket who the journalist believed their defensive skills stopped the score being trebled. For Aintree Miss Clayton’s forward skills made her the stand out player.

After playing at Prenton Park the Ladies then moved on to Chester and Wrexham to continue their charity work whilst improving their skills.

Cavendish Street Ground

After receiving a large amount of press surrounding their games at Seacombe and Port Sunlight the enthusiasm for the ladies game seemed to dissipate. The Liverpool Echo who covered both games suddenly seemed disinterested in the games and the Birkenhead News and Advertisers slowly trickled off for awhile at least.

The next game after the Port Sunlight match was to be played at the Birkenhead North Ground, the Dock Enclosure near the Docks. The game was to be held on the 22nd December and the first mention of the game came ten days earlier as the Birkenhead Advertiser stated the Aintree Filling Factory Ladies would play themselves, the A team would pay the B team. This would be the first time the Aintree Ladies would play another women’s team in public.

Very little build was given to the game and the only other article for the game was on the day of the game. The Birkenhead Advertiser stated the people of Birkenhead North would have the chance of ‘…witnessing the female sex disport themselves on a football field this afternoon…’

Just like the games before hand the ladies were playing to raise funds for the Sportsmen’s Ambulance Fund. As a reward Councillor W W Kelly granted the ladies free seats in the Theatre Royal where Mr Evelyn A’ Dell’s No. 1 company were playing ‘Because Love Made You Mine.’

Like the build up to the game there appears to be little coverage of the games itself with only a small article in the Birkenhead Advertiser. The Advertiser stated ‘Once again these fair and smart enthusiasts on Saturday gave a display worthy of the name of Football.’

Although the first half was described as being end to end with plenty of give and take the first half ended with no goals. Five minutes into the second half the ‘blues’ scored a magnificent shot from the outside right. The ‘Reds’ pushed on and soon gained an equaliser from some smart play by the ladies.

In front of a large attendance both ladies teams pushed on for the win and grasped at very opportunity. However the Blues were the victors as they found the back of the net from what the Advertiser described as a remarkably fine shot.

No further information was found for this game.

The Ladies would next take on their biggest test to date as the Ladies from the Haymarket Munitions Factory Team challenged Aintree’s dominance. The game would take place at Prenton Park in January 1918.

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At the end of the 2012/13 season this blog and the Tranmere Rover’s match day programme produced an article about players who had been involved in the First World War. The article stated that Thomas NcNaught was the only person to have played for Rovers and to be killed in the War. But as the article stated it was not conclusive he was the only one as further research was required.

Whilst researching the Aintree Munitions Girls in 1917 I happened upon a small article by one of three brothers, James Devaney (who played for Hoylake FC), from Greasby who were all in the service at some point during the war. Sadly one of the brothers had been killed the previous year, George Devaney.

Before the war George had been a keen sports man and before joining the army was goalkeeper for Tranmere Rovers. George has been describe as one of the best-known all round sportsman from the Wirral and he played for several local teams including, Gilbrook Mission and Hoylake.

He moved from Hoylake FC to Wrexham and made 195 appearances for the Welsh side at the Racecourse. After winning a Welsh Cup medal without conceding a single goal he was transferred to Tranmere in 1911.

George always believed in keeping fit which probably gave him the skills to be almost unbeatable in front of the Rover’s goal. His natural abilities made him an instant hit at Prenton Park and the future for George looked bright.

Sadly like so many of his generation the War cruelly took his life before he was able to show his full potential.

Sapper George Devaney had been serving with the Cheshire Field Company Royal Engineers and after only a few weeks of frontline service was killed on the 4th November in France during the Somme Offensive.

The article by George’s brother James spoke of how Football had given him and several of his footballing friends the edge in fighting the war. Three of James friends had connections at Prenton Park with one being Joe Mercer whose war record is discussed in an earlier article.

Harold Lees made two appearances for Tranmere in the 1911-12 season and played for several other clubs before finishing his career at Hoylake FC. It is not known whether he survive the war but this true gentleman does not appear to have been involved in sport after the war.

The third friend was Billy Fenner who has a long history with Tranmere Rovers Football Club. He was given his first trial for Rovers in 1908 against Middlewich in a game which Tranmere won 4-1. Unfortunately he was not signed as he appeared to have weak tackles which was a problem for a full back.

Billy went on though to play for Wrexham where he blossomed as a footballer and he won the Welsh Cup. His success attracted Football League interest and he was soon signed to Bury who were playing in the First Division at the time. In all he made 57 appearances for Bury over three seasons before rejoining Wrexham.

However with travel becoming so difficult during the early stages of the war Billy joined Tranmere Rovers. He moved to Rock Ferry and eventually signed up to the Liverpool ‘Pals’ regiment in 1915.

Billy was injured in the army which kept him out of the game for two seasons at Rovers. Trying to get back into the team he appeared in a public trial match in 1921 but he had lost his edge due to his injury and was not resigned by Rovers.

The article in the Birkenhead Advertiser gave us a glimpse of some of the names and lives that were touched by the First World War. The Author James Devaney talked of football giving him and others the edge to be better soldiers. Unfortunately Lance Corporal James Devaney of the Royal Engineers was killed in action on the 30th October 1918 just twelve days before the Armistice was signed.

Special thanks to Gil Upton and George Higham for the background information