Archives for posts with tag: Football Association

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.

 

Ron Yeats

Throughout Tranmere’s history they have been overshadowed by their larger neighbours across the River Mersey. Over the decades the biggest names in football have been draw in by the opportunity to play football at the top of the game.

However Tranmere have seen the benefits of having two large clubs on their doorstep as players have moved from Liverpool and Everton to Prenton Park. Some of the big names include the likes of Dave Hickson, John Aldridge, Archie Clarke and Pat Nevin.

Although there has been a steady flow of players from Everton and Liverpool over the years they have usually been one or two at a time. Yet in the 1970s the Tranmere team had a distinctly Liverpool feel to it as ex-Liverpool players fielded for Rovers.

The new Anfield feel to Tranmere Rovers was due mostly to the new captain who signed for Tranmere in 1971, Big Ron.

Ron Yeats had been described as the Colossus of Anfield and in his time for the club he made 358 appearances wining the First Division twice and the FA Cup under the stewardship of the great Bill Shankly.

Jackie Wright the then Tranmere Mangers signed Yeats in December 1971 as a player-assistant manager. At 34 his best days were behind him but Wright saw that he could make a real impact at Prenton Park.

Alongside the signing of Yeats Wright had also brought in Tommy Lawrence and Kit Fagan from Liverpool that season.

Less than four months later Wright was sacked as Tranmere finished just above the relegation spot in 1971-72 season. Seeing the wealth of experience Yeats had from working under Shankly he was given Wright’s job at Prenton Park to bring a little Anfield magic to the Wirral.

With the ink still drying on his contract Yeats was already moving to strength the Tranmere team and looked to George Heslop as a the new captain at Prenton Park. Although this £5,000 deal fell through it showed the ambitious thinking Yeats could bring to the club.

The summer however did not go without any signings as Frank D’Arcy (from Everton), Eddie Loyden, Tommy Veitch and Tommy Young joining the club before the start of the season.

Alongside the new signings Tranmere youth players made their debuts at the start of the season in Eddie Flood (originally from the Liverpool youth system)and Les Parry.

The additions to the club however had little impact at the start of the season as Tranmere lost four of their first five games and by the end of September they had only notched up five wins.

Seeing that Tranmere were not performing at the level he wanted Yeats looked to his former club Liverpool to strength his side. The first major signing Yeats made was the Liverpool legend Ian St John who had made over 300 appearances for the club scoring 95 goals.

The second came in the loan signing of Bobby Graham from Coventry City but he had made his name playing for Liverpool alongside Yeats.

With such experience and skill in the Tranmere team one would expect there to be some improvement on field. Yet Tranmere still seemed to struggle especially after key players left the squad in some cases only months after joining.

As the end of 1972-73 season drew closer Yeat’s key players began to leave the club with Ian St John, Bobby Graham, Roy Sinclair and Frank D’Arcy playing their football else where.

But even with the lose of such key players Yeats led Tranmere to a successful tenth position finish.

The following season Yeats looked to take Tranmere further than tenth but struggled to attract the big names he had been able to secure the previous season. But as the 1973-74 season started well as Tranmere went on a four game winning streak in September 1973.

The biggest game of Yeat’s premiership at Tranmere Rover was an away game against Arsenal in the League Cup in November in 1973. Yeats led Tranmere past the likes of Alan Ball, Bob Wilson and Ray Kennedy to win 1-0 making Tranmere the only club in the country to have a 100% success rate at Highbury.

However the early success of season faded as Tranmere finished sixteenth making Yeats’ position look in doubt. The 1974-75 season Yeats struggled and by November Big Ron asked his old mentor Bill Shankly to assist him at Prenton Park.

Shankly helped Tranmere to three straight wins but his stay at the club was short lived and his affects did not last. By April Tranmere were fighting a relegation battle and Yeats was sacked.

But for a short period Tranmere had seen some of the biggest names from Liverpool Football Club pull on a white shirt and play for their little neighbour.

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

Tranmere has had many local heroes from the Merseyside area throughout its history but for one season the heroes of the club were men from North of border as they put right the wrong of Tranmere Fourth Division place.

The 1960-61 season had been one of the worst seasons in the club’s history with 115 goals being conceded and some shocking defeats such as the 9-2 hammering Tranmere received from Queens Park Rangers. Not surprisingly Tranmere were relegated in the Fourth Division for the first time in the club’s history after 34 seasons in the Third Division.

For the next five seasons Tranmere attempt to gain promotion back into the Third Division under the watchful eye of Dave Russell. Over the five seasons Tranmere came close to achieving their goal of promotion coming fifth twice in the 1964-65 and 1965-66 seasons.

By the 1966-67 season Tranmere were ready to make that final push that would hopefully see them promoted back to their rightful place in the Third Division.

The season didn’t get off to the best of starts with a 0-0 draw against local rivals Chester and the following game saw Tranmere lose Bradford 0-1. However Tranmere picked up their form and beat Bradford Park Avenue 3-2 and then Hartlepool 2-0.

The season ploughed on seeing Tranmere picking up points here and there but big wins against Crewe (5-0) in October showed Tranmere were still on course to achieve the promotion position they so desperately wanted.

After going through February undefeated after winning four games in a row and conceding one draw Tranmere looked like a shoe in for promotion but a drop in form meant it came down to the wire and by the second to last game of the season Tranmere still hadn’t secured fourth place.

On Friday the 12th May Tranmere would entertain Rochdale at Prenton Park in a must win game if they didn’t want another fifth place finish. Even if Tranmere managed to beat Rochdale promotion wasn’t guarantee and it was likely it would come down to the last game of the season.

For many the game was somewhat of a forgone conclusion as Rochdale’s season had not been successful as they languished near the foot of the table but as the teams came out of the tunnel to 12,000 fans cool heads were needed to ensure this game was win.

The cool heads seemed to prevail as Tranmere took the lead after Stevens managed to fire in a shot from a Johnny King cross. Tranmere ramped up the pressure on Rochdale and eventually it paid off as Hudson managed to score a second for Rovers on the 42 minute.

After the half time team talk Russell sent Tranmere out feeling optimistic that the win was now a given. However the cool heads of the first half seemed to vanish as Storeton push Rochdale player Calder in the penalty area. Six minutes into the second half Rochdale were made the score 2-1 bringing the win for Tranmere suddenly into question.

With Tranmere dominating the first half it was now Rochdale’s turn to dominate as they pressured the Rovers goal. Not long after scoring the penalty Jenkins for Rochdale sent the ball flying into the box with Calder only needing a touch to equalise but he failed to reach the ball.

On the sixtieth minute though the game was finally put to bed as Williams managed to put the ball in the back of the Rochdale net from a Hill throw in. From this point on Tranmere dominated the game again but failed to add anymore goals to their tally.

The 3-1 win for Tranmere meant that after five seasons of Fourth Division football Tranmere would be returning back to the Third Division. Luckily for Tranmere results went their way meaning the Rochdale game secured their promotion.

With promotion secured –only for the second time in the club’s history- the crowd invaded the pitch to cheer on the home team and the celebrations could now begin. In the changing rooms the champagne was popping and the celebrations were being led by the club’s Scottish contingent Bill Bothwell the acting Chairman, the Manager Dave Russell, team captain Eddie Robertson and the Tranmere legend George Yardley who even put his kilt on.

The success of that season had been in part down to the youth programme that the club’s Scottish contingent had built with the likes of Roy McFarland –who would later play of England- ensuring Tranmere could compete not only in the Fourth but also the Third Division. Unfortunately for McFarland he watched Tranmere win promotion as he was six weeks into an injury which saw him miss the final games of the season.

These Scots had taken Tranmere back to their ancestral home of the Third Division, a division they help form in 1921 and even managed to win it in 1938.

The death of Sir Tom Finney has brought many memories and stories of the great 1950s footballers. The 1950s saw footballers with clean cut haircuts, jobs and a pride to play for England.

The 1950s saw the rise of great names such as Stanley Mathews, Stan Mortensen, Billy Wright and Nat Lofthouse who have all been described as some of the best players to ever grace the game.

Football in England by the 1950s was held up as the pinnacle and a model which should be followed across the world. However the rest of world was not following the English model and this was made clear in the first World Cup England attended in 1950. The England team which included some of the great names were humiliated after being knocked out early by the USA.

The flaws of English football were again put on full display as in 1953 Puskas and the Hungry team defeated England 6-1 at Wembley. Yet such humiliating defeats did not dampen the faith fans had in these giants of 1950s football.

At Prenton Park one player who perhaps isn’t listed among the usual suspects of great 1950s footballers is Harold Bell. This legend of Prenton Park was a one man club who was with Tranmere from 1939 until 1960.

A young Harold Bell joined Tranmere as the country prepared for war at the age of just fifteen. With the out break of war the Football League suspended all leagues until hostilities ended. Alongside this players from the first and reserve teams were draft into the war effort whether at home or abroad.

For the fifteen year old bell this lack of players gave him a rare opportunity to play first team football even if it was against weakened sides. The then coach Jimmy Moreton saw the potential of young players such as Bell and spent much of his time coaching the youngsters.

The youth programme took a massive blow however as Moreton died in 1942 but he had in his short time been instrumental in the development of players such as Bell. Bell too had great respect for Moreton and he was one of the pole bearers at his well attended funeral.

Bell’s debut for Tranmere seemed to show a career full of goals as the sixteen year old scored a hat trick beating Bradford 6-4 in 1941. However it was felt Bell’s skills would best be severed at centre half and later full back. During his professional career Bell would only manage another eleven goals.

After making around two hundred appearances for Tranmere during the war in 1946 Bell would make his first League appearance as the Football League began again after a seven year absence.

Unfortunately however the game wasn’t the greatest success for Bell as they lost 4-1 to Rotherham at Prenton Park. What Bell did not realise was that day he would embark on a record breaking career.
For nine seasons Bell went on to made 401 league appearances, never missing a game until 1955 when he was finally dropped to the bench. 401 consecutive appearances is still a Football League record and in all Bell would make 633 appearances.

The year bell missed his first game in nine seasons was also his testimonial year and Tranmere welcomed Bolton Wanderers to Prenton Park. The game made the front page of the Brikenhead News who may have been somewhat awestruck that the legendary Nat Lofthouse who was part of the Bolton Team.

Attendance at the testimonial was one of the highest in the club’s history for testimonial as twelve thousands fans packed into the still relatively small Prenton Park. In an age when player’s wagers were capped and many had second jobs the £1,500 raised by for Bell was welcomed gratefully, especially to Bolton who donated £1,000 to the fund.

Bell continued on with Tranmere until 1960 but the aged player could no longer compete in the now fast paced game. After leaving Prenton Park he joined Peter Farrell at Holyhead and even managed the club briefly before returning to his home town of Liverpool.

Back in Liverpool he became the manager of a Littlewoods Social Club and later died in July 1994.

Bell may not be remembered alongside the likes of Finney, Lofthouse or Mathews outside of Prenton Park but he still a true legend of the game.

The late 1980s and 1990s saw one of the most successful periods in Tranmere’s history with the club climbing up the league tables at an unstoppable rate. Along the way the club even picked up its first major trophy since the 1930s in the Leyland Cup.

Promotion to the Premiership to many was a given and the chance to compete against the biggest club’s in the world was no longer a distant dream. The increased success of the club also saw the possibility of competing in Europe one day.

At the end of the 1991-92 season Tranmere had finished 14th in the Second Division but the 1992-93 season had the billing to be one of the club’s most successful seasons. With the addition of the likes of John Aldridge Tranmere were one of the favourites to be promoted to the newly formed Premier League.

But early on in the season the club found itself booking flights to continent to compete in an international cup competition, The Anglo-Italian Cup. Original formed in the 1970s it was a competition between the top teams of the two second division leagues in Italy and England.

The tournament had failed to capture the imagination of the footballing world in the 1970s and the cup was abolished in 1973, however the organisers resurrected the competition in 1992.

To be in with a chance of competing in the Anglo-Italian Cup Tranmere first needed to qualify in a mini league with Wolves and Peterborough. Despite only securing a draw against Peterborough and losing 2-1 to Wolves Tranmere still qualified for their first major European competition.

All the qualifying clubs were then arranged into groups and Tranmere found themselves in Group B alongside Derby, West Ham, Bristol, US Cremonese, Cosenza, Pisa and AC Rggiana.

Tranmere’s first game was against AC Reggiana in Reggio d’Emilia which was a small medieval town just outside Bologna. So on the 10th November the Tranmere team boarded a chartered flight to their first European game.

The flight itself included the team, management, directors and 120 supporters. For everyone else they had to find their own way to this rarely visited Italian town. How fans made it to this somewhat distant outpost were varied but many found ways from cars, trains and hoping off coach tours to reach the Italian town.

The Mireabello Stadium was fairly modern and could hold 13,800 supporters and as the Tranmere fans entered the ground the Ultras called the ‘ghetto boys’ let of flares.

For Tranmere’s first game on foreign soil since the 1970s the game was a major let down as neither side managed to find the back of the net. The players did however receive large Parmesan cheese each as a memento of the time in Reggio d’Emilia.

The next game was at home against US Cremonese, the first foreign visitors to Prenton Park since Victoria Berlin in the 1950s. The Italians play was not entertaining with body checking and hacking being their main tactic for the game.

Tranmere went ahead in the first half through Chris Malkin but early in the second half Florjancic equalised for US. Corrado Verdelli made it 2-1 to US Cremonese and after Aldo missed a penalty the final whistle blew with Tranmere yet to find a win.

Hoping for better fortunes slightly less Tranmere fans headed out to Pisa and the Arena Garibaldi for the next leg. The weather in the city was appalling with the rain beating down onto the pitch making playing conditions difficult. The game was supposed to be re-arranged but the referee feeling sorry for the 250 travelling fans let the game go ahead especially as the tickets had cost £45.

Although the conditions were poor it played into the hands of the Tranmere team who were used to muddy pitches. Tranmere secured their first win after Kenny Irons rounded the keeper in the 57 minute. The Pisa team that day included a young Christian Vieri who would later make a name for himself at Juventus, Inter Milan and as one of Italy’s top goal scorers for the national team.

The final game was against Cosenza at Prenton Park which Rovers won 2-1 but it wasn’t enough to qualify for the knock out stages. Derby County beat AC Reggiana which left Tranmere third in Group B.

Derby went all the way to the final held at Wembley where they lost to Cremonese. Tranmere failed to find success in the Anglo-Italian Cup but the 1992-93 season became one their most successful finishing fourth in the First Division and only failing to reach the Premiership after losing 5-4 on aggregate to Swindon Town in the Play-Offs.

Although Tranmere didn’t find success in Europe that season they would get one more chance to prove their worth on the international stage…

tommy jones

Seven years without the Football League had come to an end and Tranmere were gearing up for the new season. By August 1946 Tranmere were calling back their players to prepare for the up coming season.

The Club’s Secretary-Director Mr Trueman had the important task of replacing the first team Manager and Trainer Billy Ridding who had left the season before. Ridding had been put in place during the war after one of Tranmere’s greatest legends died suddenly in 1942. Jimmy Moreton who had been with Tranmere since 1910 as a player and then Trainer/Manager died of a stomach complaint in 1942 leaving a hole in the club Ridding could never fill.

As fans waited to hear who would be leading Tranmere into the 1946-47 season shocking news came out of Prenton Park as the Mr Trueman resigned from the Club after twelve years of services.

During the War Trueman had been running the Club almost single handily with so many of the Board involved in the War effort. After the war he continued to run the club without always consulting the still incomplete Board. Whilst trying to transfer Edward Chapman from Oldham the Board had written to the Oldham say Trueman did not have the backing of the Tranmere Board for any deal due to the lack of Board members.

Feeling incredibly hard done by Trueman offered his resignation at the Board meeting. Many of the other Board members let out cries of no but Trueman’s mind had been made and he left the Club he helped survive during the War.

In Trueman’s final statement as the Club Director he stated ‘Tranmere Rovers have had many ups and downs. If the Club is well managed, the desire to ape your betters resisted, and not be coerced by public opinion, you will be all right. You have got to manage on a strict budget, and that fact must always be remembered.’ The board then thanked Trueman for his years of service.

The Board meeting also announced the appointment of the new Trainer and Manager Tommy Jones. Jones had played for Rover between 1929-26 before joining Sheffield Wednesday and later Manchester United. During the War he had been the assistant trainer at Watford.

With the trouble at board level resolved and a new manager in place the club now needed to prepare for the up coming season. With 42 players on the books including youth players, amateurs and professionals the first pre season training was set to be busy.

As the new members of the Board made their way to the training ground they were somewhat surprised to see only five playing staff. Harold Bell, Benny Jones, ‘Lol’ Hodgson, Gil Alldis and Tommy Bryom were kicking a ball about at the training ground.

The absence of so many was not surprising when you consider so many players were still amateurs and were at work during the Thursday morning training session. Others either didn’t live in the area or were still waiting to be de-mod.

Further troubles hit the club as a break in at Prenton Park’s dressing rooms saw the club reduced to only having two footballs and not enough kits for the first teams. Everton loaned Tranmere six balls and it was hope replacement kits would be found before the start of the season.

As well as the damaged dressing room Prenton Park was not looking its best for the start of the 1946-47 season. A lack of materials and labour meant that five years after the Borough Road stand was bombed it still had not been repaired and the old hated concrete wall surrounding the pitch had not been replaced due to the lack of wood. The Kop too was in a poor state, after years of neglect weeds had taken hold and it resembled a meadow more than a stand.

The opening game of the season was to be against the Rotherham United at home, the same fixture they had played at the opening of the short lived 1939-40 season. The FA saw not reason in creating a new fixture list as so few games of the 1939-40 season fixtures had been played so they used the same one for the 1946-47 season.

On the afternoon of the 31st August 1946, almost seven years to the day, Tranmere fans wandered down to Prenton Park to watch the same fixture against Rotherham like they had done in 1939. This time however the fear of war was gone and a new dawn was breaking at Prenton Park as a new generation of players took up the torch of the 1939 team.

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.