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.