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.