A potted history of Tranmere Rovers Football Club, written for thecowsheds.co.uk by club historian Peter Bishop.
A POTTED HISTORY OF TRANMERE ROVERS FOOTBALL CLUB
How it all started
Back in the early 1880s, when every self respecting gentleman wore a hat of some sort and had a walrus moustache, sporting activity in Birkenhead was, until the arrival of Association football, confined to cricket in the summer and Rugby football in the winter. Given that scenario, it is hardly surprising that a cricket club should have spawned the first Tranmere Rovers - as a football section attached to a cricket club.
Tranmere Rovers Cricket Club (Association football section) played only one season, 1881-82, using a pitch on the corner of Church Terrace and Agnes Road, a site subsequently swallowed up by Mersey Park. At the end of that season, those packed into the Beehive Hotel for the AGM of the Cricket Club and its football section decided to drop the “Rovers” and from then on became known simply as “Tranmere”. Under that sparse title, they continued to play until 1888 when they disbanded.
However, in 1885, the name of Tranmere Rovers was resurrected by an entirely different set of players who had played their first and exceptionally successful season as Belmont, having been formed by two more groups of cricketers, Belmont CC and Lyndhurst Wanderers CC, in 1884. Again, the desire to continue sporting activity beyond the summer months was the catalyst and, so legend has it, the two clubs held a summit meeting . . . . in a ditch adjacent to Borough Road! The new football club, Belmont, elected as their president Mr James Hannay McGaul a local entrepreneur, J.P. and dignitary of Scottish origins who, coincidentally, had been a vice-president of the original Tranmere Rovers Cricket and Football Club. Most of the players, whose average age was just 15, were members of the local Wesleyan Chapel in Whitfield Street, as was Mr McGaul. They believed a healthy body helped develop a healthy mind and this led to a great interest in participation sport.
Belmont FC played their first recorded match against Brunswick Rovers on 15th November, 1884, a 4-0 victory, and they went on to lose just one of 15 “friendly” matches (there being no leagues at this time) over the rest of the season. But, on 16th September, 1885, just prior to the start of their second season, a change of name was announced in the pages of the Birkenhead News - from now on Belmont would be known to the world as “Tranmere Rovers”. Given his connections with the original Tranmere Rovers, it seems probable that the change of name was instigated by Mr McGaul - their president, benefactor and father figure. The current club had been born.
The birth of Tranmere Rovers
Early matches were played on open ground known as “Steele’s Field”, believed to have been on Borough Road adjacent to South Road, which became known as “South Road”. After a 1-1 draw with Birkenhead Argyle the previous week, the current Tranmere Rovers’ first recorded home game, on 26th September, 1885, was a 10-0 success over Liverpool North End. In 1887, Rovers moved to “Ravenshaw’s Field”, known, because it was fenced so that gate money could be taken, as “the Borough-road enclosure”. It was this ground which was re-named “Prenton Park” in November, 1895, and was their home for twenty five years, until 1912.
Not satisfied with playing just “friendlies” against local opposition, Rovers entered the Liverpool and District Challenge Cup for the first time in 1886-87 season and followed that by entering into the pioneering West Lancashire League in 1889-90. They continued their climb up football’s ladder in the Liverpool & District League, the Lancashire Combination and the Liverpool, Wirral and District League. Their thirst for improvement was fuelled by an 1887 Liverpool Challenge Cup tie against Everton, at their old Anfield ground. Though they lost 1-9 in front of over 2,000 fans, Rovers’ share of the “gate” did at least allow the ambitious committee, headed by secretary Alf Mayor, to finance the move to Ravenshaw’s Field.
Between 1884 and 1889, Rovers played in blue shirts, white shorts and blue stockings but, in 1889, they switched to maroon and orange halves, navy shorts and white stockings, apparently with the intention of “dazzling” their opponents, only reverting to the blue and white in 1904. By 1897, they had joined “The Combination”, a much stronger league which included Everton Reserves. Some of the players became semi-professional, getting paid whilst still having other jobs.
Having successfully negotiated a crisis in 1900, when the club was split down the middle over a proposed ground move and player defections, Rovers’ first taste of silverware, beyond local cup competitions, came in 1908 when they won the championship of The Combination. With that, they decided to move onwards and upwards and, two years later, they joined the Lancashire Combination, Second Division. Their rise continued when they were promoted to the First Division 18 months after that. Their arrival in the Lancashire Combination was swiftly followed by the move to the present Prenton Park site and conversion into a limited company.
When the site of the original Prenton Park was needed for a housing development and Temple Road School, Rovers acquired the land opposite and created a new ground with an 800-seater stand which incorporated the one transferred across from Temple Road. Also named Prenton Park, it was officially opened by the Mayor of Birkenhead on 9th March, 1912. With crowds between 5,000 and 8,000, Rovers won the Lancashire Combination Championship in 1914 and even had one of their players, Stan Rowlands, selected for international duty with Wales - the first such recognition for the club. Rovers continued to play throughout the 1914-18 War, although many footballers were, unjustly, criticised for avoiding military service. Many of Rovers’ players, in fact, were contributing to the war effort being employed in the local shipyards.
In October, 1919, Leeds City and their reserves were expelled from the Football League and the Central League, respectively, for overpaying their players in breach of the wartime maximum wage, and it was Rovers who took advantage of the vacancy in the Central League - and took over Leeds City’s playing record too. However, entertaining the reserves of Liverpool, Everton, Manchester City, Preston North End and Burnley at Prenton Park was infinitely better than what the Lancashire Combination offered and this was reflected in attendances which reached over 11,000 when Bolton Wanderers’ second XI visited.
Within a year of gaining admission to the Central League, the Football League had formed a Third Division, mainly from the clubs in the Southern League, and, as widely expected, a Third Division for Northern clubs followed. Tranmere, along with such clubs as Accrington Stanley, Southport, Wrexham, Walsall, Nelson, Crewe Alexandra, Stalybridge Celtic, Rochdale, Halifax Town and Darlington, were proposed and accepted for the new Third Division (North) for the commencement of the 1921-22 season. On 27th August, 1921, the great dream was finally fulfilled as Tranmere made their Football League début against Crewe Alexandra, at Prenton Park, and won 4-1. In contrast, their first campaign was not a great success, with a finish in 18th place out of 20 clubs.
There was, however, sadness at the club when their president from their Belmont days until 1911, James Hannay McGaul, the father of Tranmere Rovers, died on 16th December, 1921. During his 40 year association with the club, he had seen Tranmere Rovers rise from being a Chapel youth team to a Football League club. No doubt he died a contented man for, without doubt, had he not been so determined and supportive in the formative years, there would have been no Tranmere Rovers today. Until recent times, the high hopes and dreams of 1921 have been largely unfulfilled, though there have been some sublime moments of glory over the years.
In 1924, a strapping Birkenhead youth named William Ralph Dean, but known to his fans as “Dixie”, made his début at the age of 16. Discovered by Jack “Dump” Lee, Rovers’ trainer and a member of the 1908 Combination championship team, it was clear to all that he was something special. After 30 games and 27 goals, he fulfilled his own boyhood dream when he was transferred to Everton in 1925 for a club record fee, £3,000. In the season 1927-28, Dixie netted 60 League goals and that is a record unlikely ever to be broken.
Three years after Dixie’s departure, two more talented youngsters left for First Division clubs - winger Ellis Rimmer to Sheffield Wednesday for £3,000 and Tom “Pongo” Waring to Aston Villa, where he is still their all time record scorer in a single season, for £4,700. As a boy, Pongo had sold chocolate and cigarettes to the Prenton Park crowd before signing for the club. Before he left, Pongo made his mark with a then club record six goals in the 11-1 thrashing of Durham City in January, 1928. A fourth local youngster with an eye for goals, Bill “Nibbler” Ridding, was sold to Manchester City, in early 1930, for £3,500.
Without these talents, Rovers took some time to re-group but by 1930-31 they seemed to be running away with the championship on the back of an inside forward trio of Watts, Dixon and Kennedy, who netted 93 goals between them. Then, with four games to go, Rovers’ form slumped and the promotion dream vanished. A scenario oft to be repeated in later years! Off the pitch, many improvements were made to Prenton Park including a five span roof over the Prenton Road West end terrace, forever to be known as the “Cowshed”, and the expansion of the Kop which was doubled in size with ash and clinker.
In 1932, Chelsea were held to a 2-2 draw in the F A Cup at Prenton Park. Again in the F A Cup, a home tie in Round 4 against Liverpool, on 27th January, 1934, was switched to Anfield where 61,036 saw Rovers defeated 1-3 - the largest ever gate for a “home game”! In both 1934-35 and 1935-36 seasons, Rovers led the Third Division (North) for most of the campaign but, in the last few vital weeks, blew their promotion chance on each occasion to fuel talk that the club lacked ambition and “did not want to go up” - though they did win the Welsh F A Cup in 1935.
The stability of the club was hardly helped by the departure, in acrimonious circumstances, of long serving secretary/manager Bert Cooke amid F A enquiries into illegal payments to players to induce them to sign for Rovers and the dismissal of several directors. Cooke was replaced by former England international, Jack Carr, who was in charge on 26th December, 1935, when Robert “Bunny” Bell, who had netted an incredible 57 goals in all competitions during 1933-34 season, scored a record breaking nine goals in the 13-4 demolition of Oldham Athletic - and missed a penalty.
Bell’s record was broken by Joe Payne of Luton, three months later, and he himself was subsequently sold to Everton being replaced a year later by the returning Pongo Waring. It was Pongo, along with former film extra and new team secretary/manager, Jim Knowles, who masterminded Rovers’ triumphant championship season in 1937-38, when five points from their three final games clinched a first ever season in Division Two. In fact, it is still, nearly seventy years later, Rovers’ sole championship in the Football League. With Pongo well past his best and allowed to go to Accrington Stanley, and the rest of the team inadequate for the higher grade of football, Rovers struggled. Despite early euphoria and then a series of panic buys which failed, they were relegated having won just six of 42 matches - the all time worst record of any team in Division Two.
Wartime damage to Prenton Park during the 1939-45 conflict was, thankfully, minimal, though the roof over the Borough Road terraces was blown off when a landmine fell on a house across the road. So it was that, in 1946, the club was able to re-join the peacetime Football League in Division Three (North) with a team composed mainly of young players, including Harold Atkinson, Harold Bell, Eric Hornby, Len Kieran, Percy Steele and Johnny Wheeler, who had been fostered by wartime team managers Jimmy Moreton and Bill Ridding, and Ray Davies, Ralph Millington and Ken McDevitt who joined the club soon afterwards.
One of the highlights of the early Fifties was the Abe Rosenthal inspired 2-1 victory over First Division Huddersfield, at Leeds Road, in the Third Round of the F A Cup but, in the next round, Rovers lost 0-4 at Chelsea. The next season, 1952-53, also brought F A Cup success, Harold Atkinson netting a record six against Ashington before Rovers held mighty Spurs to a 1-1 draw at a packed Prenton Park. Sadly, the replay was lost 1-9!
In 1956, Ernie Blackburn, who had been secretary/manager since 1946, relinquished the “manager” rôle to Eire international Noel Kelly, as player/manager, but his time ended miserably amid financial difficulties for the club. By 1958, another Irishman, Peter Farrell, had taken over and secured a place in the new national Third Division after finishing 11th in the final season of the Northern Section. The crowd of 19,615 for the final and crucial game, a 2-1 win against Wrexham, on 30th April, 1958, is the highest ever at Prenton Park for a Football League game. Prenton Park’s first floodlights were installed later that year.
Despite some memorable players, including Tommy Eglington, Tony Rowley, Keith Williams, Wilf Charlton, Ken Finney and Elkanah Onyeali (Rovers’ first black player), Rovers flattered to deceive and certainly missed their inspirational captain Harold Bell when he finally left the club in 1961. Between 1946 and 1955, Bell never missed a game - 459 in total - a record which stands to this day. After only three years in Division Three, Rovers were relegated to Division Four, despite new boss Walter Galbraith’s vain bid to buy them out of trouble - one of his signings was John King.
When Galbraith quit after just eleven months in charge, the club turned to another Scot, Bury’s manager Dave Russell, to take over. He it was who put in place a highly successful youth policy which produced many players for the First XI over the next ten years, including Alan King, Joe Pritchard, Charlie McDonnell and future England international Roy McFarland. More visibly, he introduced Rovers’ first all-white club strip to end 58 years in blue shirts.
A canny operator in the transfer market, Russell assembled his teams for “peanuts” recruiting outstanding players such as Barry Dyson, Dave Hickson and George Yardley on “frees”. During the “Big Freeze” of the 1962-63 season, the club enjoyed some unaccustomed attention and fame when their third round home tie in the F A Cup against Chelsea, which ended 2-2, was the featured game on BBC television.
After near misses and disappointments along the way, Dave Russell finally steered Rovers back to the Third Division at the conclusion of 1966-67 season, having won fewer games than in the two previous seasons when they had just missed out! Overall, 1968 was a momentous year for the club. A brand new 4,000 seat main stand was opened, and two First Division clubs, Huddersfield Town and Coventry City, were vanquished in the F A Cup as Rovers reached the 5th Round for the first time in their history - losing 0-2 to Everton at Goodison Park in front of the then largest crowd for a Rovers game, 61,982. In 1969, Russell became the club’s general manager to allow his long time coach, Jackie Wright, to take over the managerial reins.
In 1971, Wright brought big Ron Yeats over from Anfield as player/assistant manager to bolster his defence and the former Red scored one of the goals when Rovers drew 2-2 in an F A Cup Round 4 tie with First Division Stoke City, on 5th February, 1972. That match produced Prenton Park’s record attendance of 24,424 which is now unlikely ever to be beaten given the reduced capacity of the reconstructed stadium.
Four months after Yeats’ arrival, new chairman, Bill Bothwell, a well known radio journalist, decided to end Wright’s spell in charge and install Yeats as player/manager. So began a period in which Liverpool connections were particularly strong with Yeats recruiting several of his former team-mates, including Ian St John, Bobby Graham, Willie Stevenson and Tommy Lawrence, to the cause. Even the great Bill Shankly came over to Prenton Park in a “consultancy” rôle.
To Rovers’ fans, the Yeats Era will be remembered for one result above all others - Arsenal 0, Tranmere Rovers 1, on 2nd October, 1973, in a League Cup tie. Mark Palios’ performance in shackling Alan Ball was the springboard for victory which was secured by Eddie Loyden’s goal - a magic moment which thrust the name of Tranmere Rovers into the national spotlight once again.
Eventually, the years finally caught up with Yeats. When he retired in 1974, the side was largely composed of inexperienced youngsters, including one Steve Coppell, and, by 1975, Rovers were on their way back to Division Four again when Yeats was sacked and replaced by John King, his coach. King was powerless to halt the slide into soccer’s basement but what a change he effected the following season, 1975-76.
Spearheaded by 37 goal defender-turned-striker Ronnie Moore and his wily partner John James, and prompted by Bobby Tynan in front of a defence marshalled by Dave Philpotts and Ray Mathias (who would go on to establish a club record 637 appearances), Rovers were in the promotion frame all season and went up in 4th position.
During the summer of 1976, Rovers opened a new sports and indoor bowls centre, attached to the social club, in an attempt to generate much needed extra income in the long term. This was not forthcoming, either from gate receipts or other sources, and players were eventually sold, Tynan to Blackpool in 1978 (£100,000) and Moore to Cardiff City in 1979 (£120,000) without any comparable replacements being found. Much as John King tried to work a miracle, he too was eventually sacked in the wake of relegation at the end of 1978-79 season.
Crowds having fallen to under the 2,000 mark, the prospects for new boss, Bryan Hamilton, were not good. In 1981, Rovers survived when their application for re-election was successful but a crisis was not far away. With the club celebrating - incorrectly - their “Centenary” in 1982, a bid to take over the club by USA based tycoon and Birkenhead old boy, Billy McAteer, failed leaving chairman Gerry Gould to announce that the club would close in three weeks with the words “We’re flogging a dead horse!”
Gratefully accepted offers of prestige friendly matches, plus a “Save the Rovers” fund, staved off the vultures until Wirral Council saved the day with a £200, 000 loan. Another eighteen months later, a bid from the States was successful. San Francisco lawyer Bruce Osterman took over and very soon fell out with Hamilton, despite a 6th place finish in 1985 thanks mainly to the League’s most productive scoring partnership (53 goals between them) in John Clayton and Colin Clarke. Norman Wilson also returned to the club, as secretary, after thirteen years at Everton and Wrexham.
The flamboyant Frank Worthington took over as player/manager but, after a good start, his period in charge was characterised by defensive naïveté, occasionally illuminated by cavalier attacking and golden goals. Many came from Frank’s best signing, Ian Muir, who would overtake Bunny Bell to become the club’s record scorer with 180 goals in aggregate.
The survival of Rovers and return of Johnny King
In early 1987, as Osterman’s cash for the club dwindled and debts mounted, he first tried to sell the ground and then wind up the club, forcing the one remaining director, George Higham, and secretary Norman Wilson, to act through the Courts to obtain an Administration Order. Having secured control, there was sufficient breathing space to allow Peter Johnson, a successful local entrepreneur and owner of Park Foods plc, to become the new owner and chairman with Frank Corfe as vice chairman and chief executive. Frank Worthington was dismissed by the Administrator who put player/coach Ronnie Moore in charge for a couple of months until John King was persuaded to return after his dismissal seven years previously.
Despite the promise of a sound financial base, success on the field did not come immediately and only a last gasp 1-0 victory over Exeter City, on 8th May, saved Rovers from the abyss of the GM Vauxhall Conference, Gary Williams heading the crucial goal after Ian Muir’s exquisite turn and pinpoint cross.
With John King able to spend over £150,000 to acquire Kenny McKenna, Jimmy Harvey, Jim Steel and Eric Nixon, Rovers were soon moving in an upward direction and made their first appearance at the twin towers of Wembley in the Football League Centenary Festival in April, 1988. There they recorded famous victories over Wimbledon and Newcastle before bowing out at the semi-final stage to Nottingham Forest on penalties.
Inspired by that success, and a wave of public support which manifested itself in a 300% increase in attendances, John King steered Rovers, now back in all white (after six seasons in blue), to promotion from Division Four as runners up to Rotherham United at the end of the 1988-89 season.
With Ian Muir scoring the vital goal - one of 29 that season - against Crewe Alexandra in front of 15,000 plus fans, the season was one of unqualified success, a rarity. Even the Cup yielded memorable moments with Mark Hughes heading a glorious winner against First Division Middlesbrough in a Littlewoods Cup tie, and there were notable victories over Preston North End in the F A Cup and Blackpool in the Littlewoods Cup, both from Division Three.
The following season, 1989-90, Rovers topped even those successes by battling through to the play-off final and the final of the Leyland Daf Cup where they faced Division Three champions, Bristol Rovers, in front of nearly 50,000 colourful fans at Wembley, the first of two successive weekend dates at the old stadium.
Ian Muir opened Rovers’ account with a stunning volley but Devon White hit back for the Pirates before Jim Steel nodded Rovers’ fans into seventh heaven with a late winner to clinch Jimmy Harvey’s triumphant walk up the 39 steps to collect the trophy. Maybe this took Rovers’ eyes off the real prize because there was crushing disappointment the following week as Notts County won 2-0 to take their place in Division Two.
Behind the scenes, huge improvements were taking place, as the club expanded, with major refurbishment of the main stand, new floodlights, the re-introduction of the famous youth scheme and the training centre in Valley Road being the most significant. During that summer, Rovers thought they had been reprieved when Swindon Town’s relegation for financial irregularities saw them briefly promoted to Division Two before the decision was overturned, on appeal, by the Football Association. Amazingly, the team recovered from that blow to mount another promotion campaign and the defence of the Leyland Daf Cup.
Once again, Rovers were at Wembley on two successive weekends. After disposing of Brentford in the semi-final of the play-offs, Rovers had first to face Birmingham City in the Leyland Daf Final. Two goals down early on, Rovers fought back through Steve Cooper and Jim Steel only to succumb to a late stunner from big John Gayle.
Down, but not out, defeat merely fired up Rovers for their second bite at the play-off cherry, when they faced Phil Neal’s Bolton Wanderers. After an even and tense 90 minutes, a single goal in extra time from substitute Chris Malkin was enough to send the club and its fans into dreamland. With Division Two football assured on merit, rather than by default, plans were announced to rebuild Prenton Park into a 22,000 all-seater stadium.
Given a long term cruciate ligament injury to Ian Muir, the summer of 1991 saw an inspired signing by John King - the return to Merseyside of ex-Liverpool striker, John Aldridge, for just £250,000 (a club record) from Spanish club, Real Sociedad. His two goals in the opening game at Brighton were the first of 40 that season to equal Bunny Bell’s record which had stood since 1934.
With such international players as Pat Nevin, Tommy Coyne and Liam O’Brien added to the squad, Tranmere Rovers became a force to be reckoned with, reaching the play-off semi-finals three years in succession. There was disappointment each time - Rovers were always the bridesmaid and never the bride to earn the unwanted tag in the press of the “nearly team”.
Having previously had their first taste of football in Europe in the 1992-93 Anglo-Italian Tournament, and having lost in the Division 1 play-offs, ironically to Swindon Town, managed by future England coach Glenn Hoddle, the 1993-94 campaign was very nearly the greatest in the club’s history. A trip to Wembley for the play-off final was denied by the slenderest margin, 1-2, over two legs against Leicester City. A cruel blow for, two months earlier, Rovers were crestfallen after losing a semi-final penalty shoot-out against Aston Villa in the Coca Cola Cup. Against all the odds, Rovers had beaten Villa 3-1 at Prenton Park but lost the second leg by the same score to force a nail biting finale for the right to face Manchester United in the final at Wembley.
That result was to prove a watershed for, soon afterwards, chairman Peter Johnson decided to pack his bags and leave to take over Everton. Vice-chairman, Frank Corfe decided he would stay and took over but there was no doubt Rovers would miss Johnson’s financial support, even though they made almost £1.5 million profit on the record sale of Ian Nolan to Sheffield Wednesday. That aside, plans to rebuild Prenton Park proceeded, with some modification. On 11th March, 1995, the re-constructed 16,790 capacity all-seater Prenton Park, which had cost £3.1 million, was officially opened.
Though money was certainly tighter, Tranmere nevertheless battled their way through the 1994-95 campaign to reach the play-offs once again although, if truth be told, they blew a real chance of automatic promotion with some appalling performances in the final crucial games. This time, they lost badly to surprise package Reading.
Yet, with more internationals on the books than at any time in their history and a successful youth scheme, managed by Warwick Rimmer, that produced Ged Brannan, Dave Challinor, Danny Coyne, Shaun Garnett, Kenny Irons, Gary Jones, John McGreal, Alan Mahon, Ian Moore, Alan Rogers and Tony Thomas, optimism was high at the start of 1995-96 season. The recruitment of new record buy Shaun Teale from Aston Villa (£450,000) and Gary Bennett, the country’s leading scorer the previous season, from Wrexham (£300,000), suggested Rovers would, at last, achieve promotion.
By mid season, it had all gone wrong and, on 12th April, 1996, the unthinkable happened - team boss John King was relieved of his command by chairman Frank Corfe as Rovers appeared to be in free fall towards Division Two. John Aldridge was appointed player/manager, with Ray Mathias and Steve Mungall (who had over 1,250 appearances for the club between them) at his side, and the situation was stabilised. John King “moved upstairs” to be director of football. Within twelve months, Aldridge had transformed the team from one facing relegation into one challenging for, but narrowly missing out on, a play-off spot - and that despite not being able to spend a penny on transfers.
The Aldridge years
Following the £400,000 sale of Tony Thomas to Everton in August 1997 Aldridge was able to squeeze some funds from Frank Corfe to enable midfielder Mick Mellon to be signed from Blackpool in October and defender Stephen Frail from Hearts (to replace the injured Gary Stevens) a few months later, both for modest fees. But the big bonus was the discovery of goalkeeper Steve Simonson who at one stage went seven matches in succession without conceding a goal and established himself as the best young English born keeper in the country.
Having made just 14 cameo appearances during the season John Aldridge finally hung up his famous shooting boots at the end of the season and even signed off, at the age of 39 years and 228 days, with both goals in a 2-1 defeat of Wolverhampton Wanderers to become the club’s oldest player in a League match- though Eric Nixon subsequently took the record from him. In all, he scored 174 of his 476 career goals whilst wearing a Tranmere Rovers shirt.
The next few years though would be a roller coaster ride as first Frank Corfe resigned as chairman, Peter Johnson reclaiming control and installing his then girlfriend, Lorraine Rogers as Chief executive and then chairperson - all against the backcloth of a supposed record £3.3 million sale of young goalkeeper Steve Simonsen to Everton.
The 1999-2000 season however turned out to be one of the momentous in the clubs history. With limited resources Aldridge welded together a team which became the talk of football and the scourge of a whole host of top flight opponents as they battled through to the quarter finals of the FA Cup and the Final of the Worthington League Cup- the last to be played at the old Wembley stadium.
Though they lost 1-2 to Leicester City –with David Kelly scoring the Rovers goal-the real glory was Rovers as their 10 hero’s ( Clint Hill was sent off) battled against all odds.
While some branded Aldridge’s direct up and at ‘em style ‘ugly football’ no one could deny he had achieved miracles with limited resources and welded together a hard working, spirited team that delivered excitement by the barrow load and scared the pants out of supposedly more cultured opposition-often exploiting Dave Challinor’s long throws.
After one or two scares Rovers finished the 1999-2000 season in 13th position with 57 points, a point better than the previous campaign. On the strength of their cup exploits many considered Rovers promotion favourites in 2000-2001 and while they enjoyed yet another fantastic season in Cup competitions beating Southampton 4-3 after being three down and then Everton 3-0 on their own ground before finally bowing out to Liverpool, they nevertheless struggled in League matches.
Literally a week after losing to Liverpool and with relegation beckoning, John Aldridge suddenly quit as Manager, the poisoned chalice passing to his assistants Kevin Sheedy and Ray Mathias. Despite a gallant effort they were unable to save Rovers and the club’s 10 year stint playing on the cusp of the top flight was over. The distraction of glamorous cup ties ultimately proved their downfall.
Life in the Third Tier
The task of taking Rovers back to the now championship has since proved too much for a clutch of managers. The first to try was Dave Watson and he was followed by old favourite Ray Mathias, assisted for some of his tenure by Wembley goal hero David Kelly.
With money becoming increasingly tighter as gates plunged both lasted less than two years in the job but high profile appointment Brian Little at least took Rovers to a Play off semi final in 2004-05 and a best ever 6th round replay in the FA Cup where they lost to eventual finalists, Millwall.
After the erudite and ultimately idiosyncratic Little came old boy Ronnie Moore in 2006 but after three years going close to a play off spot chairman Peter Johnson surprisingly sacked him in 2009 and bizarrely installed former England winger John Barnes, whose only previous domestic managerial experience was with Celtic 10 years earlier.
His ill fated reign with assistant Jason McAteer last merely 5 months before long serving club physio Les Parry was entrusted with saving the club from relegation to Division Two –a task he achieved by the skin of his teeth on the final day of 2009-10 season.
Thanks to Peter for writing this fantastic history of Rovers for us. We are constantly adding content to our website, and this fantastic article will now sit in the 'History' section of the website under the 'Club' tab.
If you wish to read the entire history or our club, along with stats, records and other great features, be sure to check out Tranmere Rovers - The Complete Record, the superbly written and illustrated hardbook encylopedia of all things Tranmere, written by Peter Bishop, Steve Wilson and Gilbert Upton. Click here to buy on Amazon.