Archives for posts with tag: Birkenhead News

Dec 2015 002

By 1934 Tranmere were a leading team of the Third Division North with promotion just slipping their grasp season after season. Even against bigger teams Tranmere Rovers had shown their quality by holding off  the top names in English football at Prenton Park.

The FA Cup gave Tranmere the chance to explore their possible future of playing in the higher divisions and in the 1934 Rovers were given another chance to test their skills.

After securing comfortable wins against Newark Town, Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic and finally Southend United Tranmere found themselves in the draw for the 4th Round of the FA Cup with the possibility of yet again meeting a First Division team.

Following the draw papers on both side of the River Mersey were reporting with much excitement the possibility of a Merseyside Derby in the FA Cup. If Liverpool were to beat Fulham in the 3rd Round replay they would travel across the river to Prenton Park to face Tranmere in the 4th Round.

This was by no means the first meeting of the two clubs as their first match was in 1902 when Tranmere faced Liverpool in the Final of the Liverpool Senior Cup at Anfield. However this would be the first competitive game in a major national competition between the two clubs.

This meeting of the two sides of the River Mersey had the potential of being one of the biggest games of the 1930s in Merseyside. Fans from both sides of the river looked upon Prenton Park’s modest stands which would somehow how have to host such a great occasion.

Prenton Park however quickly became an issue in the build up to the game as some questioned its capacity to hold such a big game. In 1902 1,500 people turned out for the clubs’ first meeting but the number of spectators had greatly increased over the decades and with such a local rivalry could Prenton Park handle the tens of thousands of fans expected on the day?

Liverpool however still had to beat Fulham before Prenton Park’s capacity could be called into question, a Fulham win would probably only see a small number of fans travel up to Birkenhead compared to the possible thousands from Liverpool.

Prenton Park at the time could hold a maximum of 25,000 spectators and Liverpool’s average home attendance was 30,000. Add to this that Everton were not playing on the day the Birkenhead News suggested a crowd of 50,000 could descend on the Birkenhead ground.

Before the replay between Liverpool and Fulham took place the management of the two clubs met and agreed that in the event of Liverpool beating Fulham the game against Tranmere would be moved to Anfield.

Although some in the local press debated the move from Prenton Park the talk slowly changed to the game in hand and Tranmere’s chances against their larger yet younger neighbour.

The likes of Chelsea and Leeds had gone into their games against Tranmere brimming with confidence but left Prenton Park with bruised egos as the Birkenhead men held the two teams to draws.

Liverpool perhaps having taken note of the previous season’s results did not go into the game with such confidence. The match day programme was full of praise for Roves discussing their success against Chelsea and Leeds in previous seasons ‘… Bradshaw’s (Liverpool Captain) men are not likely to underestimate their task.’

The programmes notes also discussed the great quality players Tranmere had produced and the affect they had had on Liverpool. In Liverpool’s previous home game the Aston Villa captain, a Tranmere old boy, Thomas Pongo Waring had scored two goals one of which the programme stated was the finest ever to be scored at Anfield.

But even with the likes of Waring no longer playing for Tranmere other players were not to be underestimated. The programme notes highlighted Bunny Bell as the Tranmere player to watch pointing out he had already scored 50 goals in all competitions that season for Tranmere.

Liverpool had much to consider before the game as Tranmere had gone eight games with only one lose during December and January. By contrast Liverpool had lost seven of their previous ten games including a humiliating 9-2 defeat to Newcastle.

On the 27th January fans from Birkenhead poured down to the ferry terminals and train stations making their way to the familiar ground of Anfield, being joined by hoards of Liverpool and Everton supporters wanting to see the sceptical.

As the teams prepared in their respective dressing rooms the noise must have been awe-inspiring as the fans from the three clubs packed the ground. In 1902 only 1,500 had attended the first meeting between the clubs however thirty two years later 61,000 fans crammed themselves into Anfield far exceeding initial expectations. This would be the record attendance at Anfield until the 1950s.

The Birkenhead News reported the Kop as being a ‘… a swaying mass of humanity…’ and the game was delayed by half an hour as the stands failed to contain the masses and fans ended up on the pitch. The foresight to move the games from Prenton Park was perhaps a welcome one on the day.

To the Tranmere players such sights must have been unlike anything they had seen before with crowds at Prenton Park generally being at around the five thousand mark. Could Tranmere hold there nerve in front of the pulsating Merseyside masses whose combined noise must have been deafening.

For the first quarter of the game Tranmere were out of sorts and shaken by the spectacle before them. However Rovers held the reds back until the seventeenth minute when English opened the scoring for Liverpool.

Tranmere bounced back though levelling the scoring again after only five minutes after Urmson hit the back of the net giving Rovers a fighting chance. However the fight back became even harder as Liverpool took the lead again just before half time.

Into the second half Tranmere came out a more open team according to the Birkenhead News however they failed to capitalise on this improvement of tactics and five minutes before the end of play Liverpool scored again leaving the final score at 3-1 to Liverpool.

The move to Anfield had given Liverpool the home advantage which many teams fall foul of and for Tranmere not playing at Prenton Park really took its toll. The 61,000 strong crowd was well over double anything Tranmere had faced and this audience had stunted their usual style of play as their nerves got the better of them according to the Birkenhead News.

Yet the game had still been entertaining with the Liverpool Echo writing ‘First let us give the hand of congratulations to Barton and his Tranmere men for one of the best shows Anfield has ever seen.’ The article did however go on to spell out Liverpool’s superiority and somewhat condescendingly referred to Tranmere as the Merseyside Mites.

Although the game was lost and on the big stage Tranmere faltered at the magnitude of First Division crowds they showed they could at least reach this level. With another game against a big side under their belt and top half finishes in the Third Division North at the end of the season Tranmere’s progression up the leagues looked certain.

 

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5.4.14 001

For many the 1990s was the golden age at Prenton Park with promotion battles and Wembley appearance a regular occurrence during the decade. With the financial backing of Peter Johnson the club became a power house in English football.

However before the arrival of Peter Johnson and the success of the 1990s, the 1930s saw Tranmere’s most successful time in the club’s history.

Unlike the 1990s, Tranmere’s budget was far smaller and attendance had been falling since the mid 1920s. On a shoe string budget the board and trainer Bert Cooke created some of the best teams Tranmere ever put out during the 1930s.

The late 1920s had seen Tranmere produce some of the biggest names in football to come out of Wirral. Dixie Dean made is professional debut for Tranmere before moving to Everton, Ellis Rimmer too began his career at Prenton Park before heading to Sheffield Wednesday and Thomas Pongo Waring left Tranmere for Aston Villa.

By the 1930-31 season Tranmere had lost some of their big name players to the upper divisions and so recruited players who would try to fill such big boots. One of these players was Ernie Dixon who came to Prenton Park from Nelson. Dixon had spent the 1920s playing for Bradford City, Halifax, Burnley, Huddersfield and Nelson making him an experienced addition to the Tranmere team.

Another crucial addition to the Tranmere team was the inside forward Jack Kennedy from Sheffield United.

The 1930-31 season for Tranmere would come to be dominated by Dixon and Kennedy especially when they linked up with Farewell Watts who had joined Tranmere in 1929. The three players would go on to score an astonishing ninety six goals in all competition between them in the 1931-30 season.

The season got off to a wonderful start with Tranmere securing wins against Southport, Carlisle United and Barrow. All eight goals in the three games scored by Tranmere were from Dixon, Watts and Kennedy however they had not all scored in the same game at the same time.

The first game in which the three men all scored in was against Rochdale on 20th September. In front of the home crowd at Prenton Park Watt put two past Rochdale, Dixon scored once and Kennedy got a hand trick. Add on a Rochdale own goal and Tranmere beat their North West rivals 7-3.

By November Tranmere had notched up nine wins with the goals from the trio and their next opponent was Nelson. Although this was Dixon’s old team no quarter was given as he put two past his former club. Kennedy and Watt added two each to the score and Meston added the seventh.

Through December the three players added sixteen more goals to their tally with big wins against Hull City, Rotherham United and Barrow. With goal tallies such as this some must have thought Tranmere a shoe in for promotion and may be even the title.

However although Watts, Kennedy and Dixon were knocking goals in left, right and centre the rest of the team lacked the consistency needed to win the title. With a 6-0 defeat against Doncaster Rovers in early December, the first game none of the three men scored in, questions were raised as to whether Tranmere could go all the way.

The second half of the season saw any kind of consistence for Tranmere go out the window. With a big 8-0 win against Accrington Stanley (Kennedy 4, Dixon 3 and Watts 1) being closely followed by a 0-0 draw against Crewe meant promotion was chances where slipping.

However by March some were still optimistic that promotion was on the cards especially after beating Wigan Borough 5-1. However this game would be the start of the slide in form of the Tranmere team and the last time Dixon, Watt and Kennedy would score in the same game.

The Wigan game however had another significance as Tranmere’s Hundredth goals of the season was scored, making Tranmere the first club in the Third Division North to do so.

But the goals which had flown in up to this point dried up as Tranmere would only score eleven more goals that season. After the Wigan game Tranmere went on to lose five of their final nine games.

After losing 3-0 to Carlisle on the last game of the season Tranmere finished fourth only four points behind the title winners Chesterfield.

For the next eight season Tranmere pushed for the Third Division title and eventually won their first league trophy in the 1937-38 season. The club may have lacked funds but building on good local players and bringing in experience where needed saw Tranmere dominate the 1930s Third Division.

Soccer - Barclays League Division Three - Playoffs - Final - Bolton Wanderers v Tranmere Rovers - Wembley Stadium

The 1989-90 season had been one of heart break and jubilation as Tranmere made two appearances at Wembley that season. After being on the brink of extinction only a few years early Tranmere had turned itself around into a rising star in English football.

Victory over Bristol Rovers in the Leyland DAF Cup had been the club’s first major trophy in almost 60 years. With this huge win under their belts Tranmere went to Wembley again that month hoping for the double in the Third Division Playoff Final however Notts County were the victors that day.

The 1990-91 season began fairly mixed notching up at win against Bradford, a draw against Middlesbrough and a loss at home to Stoke. By November the club had only managed to pull together six wins and hope was slipping that Tranmere would reach the automatic promotion spots.

One loss however was perhaps a little bitter than most as Tranmere began there campaign to defend their Leyland DAF trophy. In the preliminary round Tranmere had be drawn away against their rivals Bolton Wanderers. Unfortunately Bolton were the only team to hit the net that day but Tranmere could still progress in the Cup if they won their next game.

The next opponents for Tranmere came from just up the coast as Blackpool came to Prenton Park. Tranmere taking the competition very seriously did not want a repeat of the game against Bolton and smashed Blackpool 4-0 with Morrissey, Steel and Muir (2) get the goals for Tranmere.

Blackpool went on to beat Bolton in their final preliminary game 3-0 which saw Tranmere’s rival fall out of the competition but Tranmere would see them again that season…

Tranmere’s performance in the league was still fairly inconsistent with results being mixed. Back in the Leyland DAF Cup Tranmere were to face Rotherham at home in front of over six thousand fans. Rotherham had been struggling in the Third Division but had managed that season to hold Tranmere to draw earlier in the year.

This second meeting of the two teams was not as evenly matched however as Morrissey and Steel (2) put three past Rotherham. Tranmere cruised through to the next round where they would play Fourth Division Blackpool again.

The Rotherham was game was a turning point in Tranmere inconsistent season as Rovers found their form. Over the coming months Tranmere began notching up more and more wins and hopes of making the playoffs were now a distinct possibility.

In the Leyland DAF Cup Tranmere progress well beating Blackpool and Wigan Athletic without conceding a goal. By March Tranmere had made to the Semi Finals again and only Preston North End stood in their way of third visit to Wembley in two seasons.

March would be one of Tranmere’s most successful months that season as the club won seven games. The first leg of the Semi Final was at Prenton Park and Tranmere were clinical putting four past Preston with goals from Harvey and Muir (3).

However on the away leg in early April Tranmere’s form slumped and they travelled to Deepdale after drawing with Bolton in the League. The game didn’t get off to the best of starts as Preston scored first, was this the end of Tranmere’ cup run? Fortunately Preston’s goal was the only one of the game and Tranmere had made to Wembley again.

In the League Tranmere’s performance picked up again and by the end of the season Tranmere finished fifth securing a place in the play offs. After seeing of Brentford 3-2 on aggregate Tranmere were once again booking their tickets for London.

In May 1991 45,000 fans packed into Wembley to see Tranmere play their first Wembley game of the month. Birmingham took control of the game early on and Sturridge put the blues head after twenty minutes and just before the half time Gayle made it 2-0 to Birmingham.

However Tranmere came out in the second half a changed team and after few substitutions found themselves level with Birmingham after Steel and Cooper put the ball past the keeper. At 2-2 and the second half coming to a close the next goal would win it. But it wasn’t to be Tranmere’s day as Gayle put a third past Nixon.

After losing the Leyland DAF Trophy attentions turned to the Play Off Final against none other than Bolton Wanderers.

On 1st June Tranmere ran out onto Wembley hallowed ground hoping that they would walk back down the tunnel as a Second Division team. The game was hard fought and Bolton dominated early on but Tranmere’s biggest blow was losing Steel after 14 minutes to injury, he was replaced by Chris Malkin.

The two teams both came close to opening the scoring but by the 70th minute the game still stood at 0-0. The final whistle blew at 0-0….extra time would now decide Tranmere’s fate. Tranmere fate was sealed by a single goal in the 8th minute by Chris Malkin whose goal saw Tranmere return to the second tier football after a fifty three year absence.

Tranmere New Ground

Prenton Park has throughout its history been a fairly modest ground which in many respects reflects the club’s success over the years. It wasn’t until the 1990s that major development took place at the ground in readiness for Premier League football.

The expansion and redevelopment of Prenton Park in 1990s was not the first attempt to bring the ground up to the standards of top flight football as in 1936 the club had grand ambitions for Tranmere and Prenton Park.

Tranmere had joined the Football League in 1921 and by the 1930s it looked as though the club could reach the Second Division for the first time. By 1936 the club had finished in the top half of the table every season and managed to secure forth on two occasions and in the 1935-36 Tranmere had finished third. Although they had not secured promotion they were one of the most promising teams in the Third Division North.

Alongside increased success in the league attendance to games was slowly growing with matches attracting five figure crowds. New Brighton in October 1933 saw attendance of over 10,000, in 1935 the game against Chester saw over 13,000 and in 1936 17,000 turned out to welcome Chesterfield to Prenton Park.

With such high attendance Prenton Park needed to improved, especially as it had changed little since opening in 1912. Some improvements had been made to the Kop in the 1935-36 but mostly to stabilise the structure rather than to expand it.

In February of the 1936 the Board had began a campaign to see improvements made to Prenton Park through the 100 shillings (£5,000) money drive. The aim was simple; raise 100 shillings to help pay for major changes or even a new ground, however by June little money had been raised.

Although the funds had not been as forthcoming as the Board would had hoped plans were announced in the Birkenhead News in late June for new dressing rooms. Architect and Surveyor John Escoline was tasked with replacing the shed which currently housed the club’s dressing rooms.

With the funds for a new ground failing to meet the target set by the Board Tranmere fans were shocked that only a week after John Escoline was tasked with designing a new dressing rooms that his plans for a new stadium were published in the Birkenhead News.

The plans showed the ground being pushed back from Borough Road and Prenton Road West to allow for more spectators to congregate out side the ground and to allow for much larger stands to be built.

The capacity of the ground in 1936 was a modest fifteen thousand but the new ground would see the capacity increased to seventy thousand. The new ground would bring Prenton Park up to the same level many of the First Division sides of the day which clearly reflected the ambitions of the club.
The cost of the new ground was estimated at around £15,000 and was scheduled to be ready for the 1937-38 season. However construction of the new dressing rooms was already underway by the time the new plans were announced in the press.

In 1937-38 Tranmere finished top and were crowned champions of the Third Division and in turn promoted to the Second Division. Winning the club’s first major league title in front at 70,000 fans must have been a sight to see, however it never happened.

After the plans for the new ground were announced the entire enterprise went quiet with no mention ever made of it again. The new dressing rooms were finished but no further work was undertaken at Prenton Park until the 1960s.

So what happened? There are no records of what changed the Board’s mind about the new stadium but one factor probably helped changed their mind, attendance. Although the club had seen some of their highest attendances for certain games on average most matches only attracted around seven thousand fans, which would only fill a tenth of the new stadium.

Although promotion was likely and bigger team would be coming to Prenton Park there was no guarantee that more fans would come. In 1899 New Brighton Tower Football Club joined the Second Division with a team full of England and Scotland internationals playing at their 80,000 capacity stadium.

They entertained the likes of Newton Heath (Manchester United) and Woolwich Arsenal on regular basis but the big name players and competitively large teams still failed to bring more than a thousand fans to the Tower ground. The club folded in 1901.

The simple fact was for both Tranmere and New Brighton Tower was that the borough’s population was too small for such big grounds especially with so many fans crossing the Mersey to watch football in Liverpool.

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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.

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On the morning of the 31st August 1946 football fans across the country awoke with the knowledge that teams they had missed for seven long and hard years would once again take to their fields of play and entertain the masses who watch in ore at the spectacle that only completive football can create.

The Birkenhead Advertiser too saw the day as a special one in the football calendar writing ‘ Today is D-Day for a million football fans as four divisions of the Football League get under way for what promises to be the season of superlatives…’ The article went on to discuss Tranmere’s chances in the new season and players to watch out for.

However since so little football had taken place every team in the league was an unknown entity with almost completely different teams to the 1939-40 season. Tranmere’s youth player investment of the previous seven years had given the club the players they needed but few were optimistic of this being a promotion winning team.

The newly appointed Chairman Alderman Hodgekinson too thought Tranmere prospects were good but he was not over ambitious stating ‘We are going to do our best, but we can’t perform miracles. We hope that the people of Birkenhead will support the club and give us a chance to settle down to real competitive football again.’

Rotherham United had been described as Tranmere’s bogey team before the War as they had notch up so few wins against the United. However many felt this meaningless now as the two sides put out their new teams.

The over eight thousand fans that came to Prenton Park to see the first competitive League football in seven years came away a little down trodden as Rotherham continued to be the Tranmere’s bogey team beating Rovers 4-1. Atkinson scored Tranmere’s only goal that day in what had been a fairly disappointing start to such a monumental season.

However Tranmere bounced back the following game beating Southport 2-1 with one of the scores being Harold Bell who would be come a true Tranmere legend over the next decade or so.

As the season progressed the results were mixed with spells of wins and then loses hampering Tranmere’s move up the league. The fans were becoming frustrated with their team’s performance and began barracking the Rovers players on some occasions.

The Chairman reminded fans that for many of the players this was their first taste of League football and they should give them a chance. He went on to say ‘If our supporters want the players to do their best, they must encourage them. Last Saturday certain players who had had an off day were baited. Most of us are likely to have an off day and it is not sportsmanlike to bait a player…’

By the winter of 1946-47 the weather decided to play havoc with the fixture list as one of the worst winters in recorded history struck the country. With temperatures dropping down to -21C and heavy amounts of snow on the ground Tranmere like every other team struggled to play games in the winter.

The poor weather would lead to the longest season in the Football League’s history as replays took place well into June. However in the few games Tranmere did play in the winter months they notch up several wins as they seemed more at home playing on the frozen and muddy pitches.

The final game of the 1946-47 season was to be against Tranmere’s old Welsh rivals Wrexham at the Racecourse. Both teams by now had secured themselves top half finishes and had nothing to play for which should have made the game a dull affair.

The Birkenhead Advertiser stated ‘It was a match of pretty and sometimes thrilling football in which clever and thoughtful approached work by both sides was negative by consistently weak and ill-directed shooting.’

However neither team could break the deadlock and the game finished 0-0 leaving Tranmere with forty one points and a respectable tenth place finished in the Third Division North.

The season was billed as a new dawn in football as clubs across the land rebuilt their teams from scratch and took on untested opposition. Tranmere came into the season fairly strong with a good number of youth players and de-moded experienced players which matched their tenth place finish.

With the first season now complete some elements of normality had been restored to country but others were still years away as rationing and shortages would continue on into the 1950s. But at least fans could wander down to Prenton Park to forget the troubles of post war Britain.

Borough Road Stand

In September 1939 the outbreak of the Second World War meant an end of normal life for millions of Britons throughout the country. Factories went from making cars to tanks and the workers traded in their overalls for khaki uniforms. Footballers were no different as thousands put down their boots and picked up rifles.

Big names in football such as Joe Mercer and Tommy Lawton enlisted to do their bit in the war effort. Some Tranmere players enlisted and other worked in the protected industries such as Cammell Lairds building the ships of the Atlantic convoys.

Unlike in the First World War the FA judge the severity of the situation well and suspended League football until the war ended, even though the 1939-40 season was already underway. This decision would see no competitive Football League matches take place for over six years in England.

However every Football Club in the country was also a business and simply shutting up shop for the duration of the war was not an option. With heavy demands on transport from the military, travelling to distant clubs was difficult and so local leagues were established.

Clubs like Tranmere also looked at new ways to get fans through the turnstile by starting a baseball team. Friendly were also arranged against Army teams and Tranmere most famous played Czechoslovakia during the war.

But with some many players either being in service or working in protected industries putting a team out suddenly became a challenge. Before the war the players in most teams would have been in their mid 20s to 30s with every few youth players breaking through to the first team.

The Tranmere trainers during the Jimmy Moreton and Billy Gaskell however saw that the potential of using their youth players during the War and so endeavoured to use them in the first team. Alongside the youth players guest players were also a regular fixture at many clubs. Players who were on leave or in services based at home like the RAF would regularly turn out for teams in the war time leagues.

But the attendance to war time games was fairly low with so few people being available due to the war effort. Added to this the competitive nature of the local teams was lost as the players changed from match to match making results inconsistent.

In May 1945 victory was declared in Europe shortly followed by victory in the Far East. For the people of Britain the pre war normality could return and in turn so could the Football League.

However the six years of the Second World War had left Britain in a dire situation. The country was heavily in debt, all its major industries had been heavily damaged from bombing and everything was in short supply.

Football too had the scars of the war which needed to be mended before football could be played again. Many grounds had received damage from Germany bombs with Old Trafford, in the heart land of the Salford docks being almost totally destroyed. Even Prenton Park was down to three stands as the Borough Road stand had been damage.

As well as grounds, players who had left to join the war effort in 1939 six years later had lost most of their form due to lack of fitness and general age. This meant club’s needed to build completely new teams from scratch. Clubs like Tranmere however, who had worked with their youth team, had a new generation of players to put out.

With such difficulties to over come the Football Association decided not to restart the Football League until the following year (1946-47 season) meaning football fans across the country had to wait one more year.

The FA did however start the FA Cup again to at least give some air of normality back to the countries football fans. Unfortunately for Tranmere they only made it to second round before being knocked by Rochdale. The FA Cup was suspended in 1939 which meant Portsmouth held on to the trophy for six years but they had to pass it on to Derby County in 1946 who beat Charlton 4-1 in the first post war final.

By the summer of 1946 the country had spent seven years without any competitive League football. By late August of 1946 the wait would be over as once again teams from across the country took to their fields of play to entertain the thronging crowds.

For Tranmere their ground still only had three sides, the team looked nothing like the team of 1939 and some of the great statesmen of the club could no longer be found in the changing rooms or executive seats. It was a new dawn not just for Tranmere but for every club in the land.

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.

Dixie Dean

The most surprising statistic of Tranmere’s international players is that not one single player in the club’s history has ever played for England seniors team whilst being on the books at Prenton Park.

However two local boys did make it to the top of the game but after they left Tranmere for First Division teams. Their story starts just before the First World War in 1907 on the streets of Birkenhead.

On the 2nd Janauary on Park Road North just off Lairds Street in the North End of Birkenhead a boy was born whose footballing skills would see him become a great. The son of a Butcher Ellis Rimmer would go on play for Tranmere and one day England.

A few days later another boy was born just round the corner on Laird street who would be Rimmer’s rival but also his friend. William Ralph Dean is still one of the great footballers in World history with records he set over 70 years ago still not been broken.

Not as much is known about Rimmer’s early life in Birkenhead but he first came on the radar as a footballer for his school team Upper Brassey Street. Later in life Dean said that Rimmer was the school’s ‘..star turn.’ As well as being an accomplished footballer he was an excellent pianist as his mother Edith insisted he practise for two hours a day.

Dean’s early life is far better known with countless books telling the story of his life. He grew up above a chip shop on Laird Street and attended the Albert Memorial School (a borstal school) as they had the best team.

The skills of Dean had been noticed from an early age and in 1920 he was asked to play for the Birkenhead Schoolboys team. Dean received a medal from his school during morning assembly for being picked and was allowed to go home to tell his Mum.

When Dean went to meet the rest of the team one face was very familiar as Ellis Rimmer too had been picked from his school team.

Dean’s skills were soon picked up by Rovers chief scout Jack Lee and Dean joined Tranmere reserves. His first goal in a Rovers side was against Whitehead who team included his friend Rimmer. After the game Rimmer signed for Tranmere and joined Dean once again.

In 1924 Dean made his first senior debut for Tranmere Rovers and would go on to score 27 goals in 30 games. Dean was soon snapped up by Everton in 1925.

Rimmer too made his first senior appearance for Rovers in 1924 but he was not picked up by a bigger club until 1928 when Sheffield Wednesday paid for his skills.

The two would have met on many occasions during their First Division careers but never playing for the same team. However when England called upon them they had one last chance to play together.

In 1930 the first World Cup took place in Uruguay with both Dean and Rimmer hoping to represent England at the highest level. However they never got the chance as the FA decided England didn’t need to take part as we already knew we were the best team in the world. England wouldn’t play in a World Cup until the 1950s.

Both Dean and Rimmer did however receive England Caps over the years and in 1931 the two friends from Birkenhead came together to represent England against Spain. Although neither Dean nor Rimmer scored they both had a hand in setting up two of the seven goals England scored that day at Highbury in front of 55,000 England fans.

As the 1930s went on the records for Dean mounted and in 1937 he scored his 353rd goal in 390 games which broke the record for most goals scored by one player. Both teams cheered this accomplishment but the first man over to shake his hand was none other than is old school boy friend Ellis Rimmer who was playing for the opposition that day.

Like all players their times as footballers came to an end and the two friends went their separate ways in life. In 1965 Rimmer died at age of 58 and Dean died in 1980 at the age of 73.

Their story is a rare and almost unique one which his unlikely to be replicated in football ever again. But these friends from Birkenhead left the town as schoolboys and reached the highest levels in Football making them true legends of Birkenhead.

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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.