Archives for posts with tag: Prenton Park

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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The 1931-32 season became a significant moment in the history of Tranmere Rovers as they announced themselves as a football team with ambition and the squad to match.

In 1921-22 Tranmere had joined the Football League as a founding member of the Third Division North and spent much of the 1920s looking like a team not quite sure of themselves. By the end of the 20s and into the early 1930s Tranmere Rover’s name was being mentioned more and more at the top table of English football.

The most notable quality that saw Tranmere draw national attention was their ability to find and develop good young players. Ellis Rimmer, Thomas ‘Pongo’ Warring and of course Dixie Dean made their first Football League debuts at Prenton Park before moving to First Division clubs and ultimately England.

By 1931 Tranmere had yet to display their own brand of football to a national audience only playing against their opponents in the Third Division North. However the luck of the FA Cup draw saw an opportunity for Tranmere to enter the national football scene.

After confidentially dispatching West Stanley 3-0 in the First Round of the FA Cup and then Bristol Rovers 2-0 in the Second Round Rovers now had the chance of being drawn against a top club from the First Division. As football fans across Birkenhead flicked to the sport pages of the local press they would have discovered Tranmere had be draw at home against Chelsea.

Chelsea who had just been promoted to back to the First Division in 1930 were looking to make a name for themselves taking on some of the great teams of the age including Huddersfield, Arsenal and Everton. Their first move upon returning the First Division was to sign three Scots Hughie Gallacher, Alex Jackson and Alec Cheyne.

These names may not mean a great deal to many today but these three were some of the most successful players of the 1920s and 30s. All had been part of the Scotland team who had beaten England 5-1 in 1928, Gallacher had captained Newcastle to First Division champions in 1926-27 and Jackson led Huddersfield to two FA Cup finals and won several league medal with the club.

The 1931-32 season had not got off to the best of starts for the Londoners however with some humiliating defeats most notably losing 7-2 to Everton in October. However by January Chelsea had won four out of their five games and were brimming with confidence for their FA Cup tie against ‘Little Tranmere.’

The Chelsea team arrived on the Wirral after their game against Bolton and decided to take in some of the sights. The teams were pictured taking in several holes at the Royal Liverpool Golf Course and were seen by many locals at West Kirby promenade as they stayed at the Royal Hotel. Although it was not all fun as the team were seen training along Hoylake shore, yet not all the players took the sessions seriously such as Hughie Gallacher who smoked cigars whilst rest of the team trained.

The Birkenhead News reported that the Chelsea team seemed quite relaxed in their training for Saturday’s game taking in a round of golf every morning. After light training the team would eat the championship winning meal of Beef and Chips with beer to wash it down with.

A reporter from the Liverpool Echo managed to catch up with Alex Jackson who proclaimed ‘I can’t see Tranmere having a chance!’ Others writing into the paper poured scorn on Tranmere’s chances against their First Division opposition.

However was this over confidence justified? In the modern game clubs at the top flight spend hours pouring over DVDs of their opponents recent games to ensure they are ready for anything. Obvious in 1932 this would have been impossible yet it seems Chelsea hadn’t even checked the results of this Third Division North team.

Out of the last nine games Tranmere had played prior to Chelsea they had won seven and drawn two. During that run they managed to play Rochdale twice beating them 9-0 at Prenton Park and away 6-3. Much of this success had been the goal scoring ability of both Ernie Dixon and Fred Watts who the previous season alongside Jack Kennedy had score a total of 96 goals.

Unlike the Chelsea team the Tranmere players under the trainer Jimmy Morten spent several hours a day running, sprinting, going through physical and dumb-bell exercises. However it wasn’t all hard work, the team were invited to the Birkenhead Hippodrome the Wednesday before the game to see the Pantomime of Robinson Cruseo.

The game though did catch the attention of the national media as the Pathe News Company sent down a film crew to record the game. Prenton Park was looking its best for its first film debut as the new five span roof stand had been built at the start of the season along Park Road West. The stands distinctive roof had been constructed by a company more used to building barns and this design saw the fans nickname the structure the Cowshed .

On the day crowds packed into a cold Prenton Park to see their local heroes take on the Goliath’s of the First Division hoping Chelsea’s over confidence would be their undoing.

The crowd didn’t have to wait long after kick off for the first bout of excitement as Fred Urmson for Tranmere fired a power shot into the back of the next after ten minutes. However the celebrations were short lived as E. V Gough the referee deemed Meston was in an offside position before Urmson took the shot. The Tranmere players protested he was not interfering with play but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

Chelsea responded to the Tranmere onslaught going 0-1 up after 28 minutes and as the play got underway in the second half Fred Watts equalised bringing Tranmere back into the game. Soon after Ernie Dixon raced down the ground and powered the ball into the back of the net from twenty five yards giving Tranmere the lead.

A famous victory was now in the sight for Tranmere however referee Gough hadn’t finished playing his part on the result. Johnson for Chelsea put the ball into the Tranmere box where Pearson headed in the equaliser even though he was in an offside position.

The Tranmere players once again found themselves at the mercy of the Gough who again made a controversial decision to let the goal stand. The game finish 2-2 which was a frustrating disappointment for all at Prenton Park even Chelsea who now had to look forward to an unwelcome replay.

The gate attendance for the game was around 13,000 which was far below expected numbers however the turnout still produced £1250 from the gate.

Ultimately Tranmere’s trip to Stamford Bridge was more clear cut as Chelsea won the day 5-3 ending Rover’s cup run dreams. By the end of the season Tranmere managed a very respectful fourth position finish in the league whereas Chelsea only finished 12th in the First Division.

Although Tranmere’s moment in the spotlight was short lived they had managed to raise the profile of the club and their ambition. The game against Chelsea and subsequent games in following season against Leeds, Barnsley and Liverpool showed that this little club from the Wirral were not mire minnows in the game happy just to be in the Football League, but a team with the drive and skills to push on to the highest levels.

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.

Soccer - Leyland Daf Cup Final - Wembley - Tranmere Rovers v Bristol Rovers

The 1980s for Tranmere Rovers saw the club go from near extinction to Wembley in a matter of years. Tranmere went from administration to a club with the money to match their ambition of being a First Division club.

By the mid point of the 80s Tranmere were languishing in the lower part of the Four Division and by 1987 it looked like their sixty five years in the Football League would come to end as relegation seemed almost certain. However by beating Exeter on the last game of the season Tranmere stayed up and from that point began to climb back up the tables.

The 1988-89 season saw Tranmere not only return back to the Third Division but through the automatic promotion spot.

When looking down the team sheet of the Tranmere team of the 1988-89 some of the club’s biggest names litter the page. With the likes of Dave Higgins, Eddie Bishop, Jim Steel, Ian Muir, Chris Malkin, John Morrissey and Steve Vickers to name a few, the team in 1989-90 looked its strongest since the 1930s.

The start of the season for Tranmere couldn’t have been better notching up four wins in a row in all competitions. By November had already pulled together twelve wins including a 6-0 hammering of Bristol City.

One game dominated November however which was the visit of Tottenham to Prenton Park in the League Cup. One game that month however at the time had little significance other than to settle old scores with a local rival.

On November 7th Chester came to Prenton Park in preliminary round of the Leyland DAF Cup a competition few showed much interested in. However as Chester were a local rival over ten thousand fans packed the old stands at Prenton Park to see Muir score the only goal in the game.

This victory may have seemed small in the grand scheme of things but it set in motion the wheels which would see Tranmere reach Wembley.

After seeing of Rochdale 1-0 in the final Preliminary game Tranmere’s next opponent was Scunthorpe United at home. Rovers overcame United 2-1 with McCarrick and Malkin scoring for the home side.

With the competition hotting up Tranmere must have been relieved to see their next hurdle was Chester City again. Perhaps it was the home advantage but Tranmere were clinical, beating their local rivals 3-0 with McNab, Morrissey and Muir scoring.

Tranmere’s next opponents were a team for whom Rovers would develop a deep rivalry with over the next few years, Bolton Wanderers. Rover had already lost to the promotion contenders earlier in the season 3-1 at Prenton Park and no one wanted a repeat of that game.

With over nine thousand fans cheering on Tranmere at Prenton Park the home side overturned the earlier season defeat beating Wanderers 2-1 with Steel and Muir scoring the important goals.

After seeing off Bolton Tranmere had made it all the way to the Semi Final and only had to see off the weak Doncaster Rovers team who were propping up the lower end of the Fourth Division.

Tranmere cruised past Doncaster 3-0 over two legs and secured their second ever visit to Wembley.

By the time Tranmere team arrived at Wembley on the 20th May Rovers had secured a place in the Third Division Playoff Final which would see them at Wembley again just a week later. But on that day the team’s focus was on winning the club’s first silverware since 1938.

Facing Tranmere that day was Third Division title winners Bristol Rovers who were looking for the double. Bristol had already beat Tranmere twice that season and some may have thought the game a forgone conclusion…expect for Tranmere and it’s fans of course.

In front of nearly 50,000 supporters Bristol took control of the game nearly taking the lead after four minutes only to be denied by a double save from Nixon. Soon after the save though Tranmere showed they meant business as Ian Muir scored from a Chris Malkin header.

Although Hughes, Garnett and Thomas defending was outstanding Bristol pulled one back at the start of the second half. The pressure was on for Tranmere but in the 71st minute Jim Steel headed in the winner from a Muir cross.

Tranmere had won their first major piece of silverware in over fifty years and a week later it was hoped the playoff trophy would be added to the collection. However Neil Lennon’s Notts County proved too strong for Rovers as County won 2-0.

The Leyland DAF Cup may not stand as one of the great cup competitions in the world but this win saw Tranmere become a regular at Wembley over the next decade as they fought to play in the highest league in the country.

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.

bergamo-atalanta

The summer of 1994 had been a disappointing one for millions of football fans across the country as the USA World Cup took place without England. Having failed to qualify for the World Cup England fans had a summer without any Football.

For one Tranmere player though the summer had not been spent watching the World Cup at home as they went over to the States with his national team. John Aldridge had joined the Ireland team to play in the 1994 Cup but his time in the Cup was marred by events on the touchline.

By August normal league football was soon to be back on the menu for fans across the land but for Aldo and the Tranmere team international football was still on the cards.

Having failed to qualify for the knock stages in the 1992-93 Anglo Italian Cup Tranmere were given a second chance to show their wares on an international stage in the 1994-95 tournament.

Over the two years since Tranmere fell out of the Anglo Italian Cup the club had successfully made the First Division Play offs only to be knocked out by Swindon and Leicester City. However these setbacks did not dampen the optimism that encased the club who were in touching distance of the Premier League.

With Premier League football being the main aim, to Tranmere and its fans the Anglo Italian Club was seen as a side show with few people being interested. But the club and players wanting to take the rare opportunity of European football readied themselves.

The first game was against Venezia from Venice which as away games go wasn’t too bad as fans could take in one Europe’s most historic cities. However the game was drawn at home and so the Italian used to splendour of Venice came to slightly less impressive Birkenhead.

In front of the small 3,012 attendance Tranmere took the lead after an Aldo goal which was soon followed by a second by Malkins. However in the 66th minute Cerbone scored from the penalty spot and in the dying moments Bonaldi equalised. Just like in the 1992-93 tournament Tranmere had started on the wrong foot.

In 1992-93 the flight carrying players had been paid for by fans wanting to travel with the team but with so few fans interested in the tournament this time round Frank Corfe had to pay for the flights to the first away game.

The away game was against Atalanta in Bergamo which was just outside Milan. The few Tranmere fans travelling to game stopped off at the San Siro to see one of football’s most legendary grounds before being wedged in a corner of the 32,000 capacity Stadio Communale.

Just like the fans Tranmere were not prioritising the away games as much as they had done in the 1992-93 season as mostly youth player took to the field in Bergamo. One of the youngsters to make his debut for Tranmere was a young Ian Thomas-Moore.
This young team lost 2-0 with Montero and Saurini scoring for Atalanta in the one sided game.

The next game was at home and fans hoped to try save face in the competition before they were knocked out of the competition. Ascoli were the next and last Italian team to play at Prenton Park in the Anglo-Italian Cup.

Ascoli were one of the favourite of the tournament especially with their German international star who opened the scoring after fourteen minute. Oliver Bierhoff had already been capped by the time he came to Prenton Park but his career was only really just getting started. He best remembered for scoring the two winning goals in the Euro 96 final against the Czech Republic.

With the Ascoli game finishing 1-0 to the away team Tranmere’s fate was sealed even before they board the plane to their final game against Lecce. Only 286 fans travelled to see Tranmere lose 3-0 at the 55,000 Stadio Commuila. The trip however did have its moments as fans mingled with some of their heroes at the Hotel and on the flight.

The rest of the season went well for Tranmere who again made it to the play offs of the First Division but were knocked out by Reading. The 1994-95 season was the last time Tranmere would make the First Division play offs.

As the price of Premier League football slipped further and further from the grasp of Tranmere many still looked back on the Anglo Italian Cups as time when the sky was the limit for the club and have fond memories of flights and hotel stays with the team.

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…