Plans include new stand and shop
11 December ~ East Fife have become the first UK football club to use crowd funding to raise revenue for improvements to their ground. The scheme has generated £10,000 in its first week, after the club targeted small sums of money from a large number of people for three projects; replacing the club shop, extending the bar in the main stand to incorporate a cafe and, finally, to build a new 750-capacity stand behind one goal. In return the people who pledge money will receive a share in the club, among other benefits. Herald Scotland has more information.
11 December ~ Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is being criticised today because he appeared not to realise his team were only one goal away from winning their Champions League group last night. It's not the first time City have got their maths wrong. In 1996 they needed a win to avoid relegation from the Premier League but, without the internet, word spread that a draw against Liverpool would be enough. With the score at 2-2 City ran down time and only realised too late that they needed another goal, meaning they were relegated.
January issue available in shops and online
The new WSC is out now, dispatched on the day of order from the WSC shop.
What's wrong with Youth coaching?
BT Sport's challenge to Sky
Decline of English keepers
Press ban at Newcastle
Fans in charge: Dons v Pompey
Player power in Brazil
The Stadio Renato dall'Ara, home to Bologna FC, is one of the most emblematic grounds in Italy. Built under the fascist regime, it was inaugurated by Mussolini in 1926 – he was the target of a failed assassination attempt during the event. Its tower, inserted into one of the main stands, symbolises the competition and athletes' resistance, and it makes of the Dall'Ara a unique venue. The 38,200-capacity stadium hosted games in both 1934 and 1990 World Cup finals.
6 December ~ As the draw for the 2014 World Cup approaches this afternoon, FIFA will be hoping it goes more smoothly than in 1982. Then, as this unfortunately low-quality video shows, the familiar (if slightly younger) face of Sepp Blatter struggled to cope as Scotland were drawn in the wrong group. Eventually they just went back and did it again.
6 December ~ Following their first victory at Old Trafford after 21 years, Everton will be aiming to end another winless streak on Sunday. They visit the Emirates Stadium, where they have never left with three points. The last time they did so at Arsenal's ground was at Highbury in 1996, when Graham Stuart and Andrei Kanchelskis scored to come back from an Ian Wright goal.
4 December ~ Among all the clubs with bog-standard striped crests, shines out this beacon of non-conformity, the rave lighthouse. Uruguayan rave culture was driven underground in the early 1990s by draconian laws forbidding the assembly of more than ten people at any one place, unless the individual had a doctor's note stating they suffered from separation anxiety. Read more
Barcelona vs Real Madrid
"Barcelona good, Madrid bad" is a pretty common idea among English-speaking football fans. Even those who question the Catalan club's "football philosophy", or its board's financial dealings with Qatar and Brazil, still often see Barça as purer than, and morally superior to, their rivals from the Spanish capital. This idea can be traced all the way back to George Orwell's Homage To Catalonia – and is just plain wrong, according to Sid Lowe's new contribution to the growing pile of English language books on Spanish football. Read more
The approved biography of George Best
Despite what Immortal would have you believe, George Best divides opinion in his home country. For each of the tens of thousands who stood reverently in the Belfast rain for his 2005 funeral, there is a counterpart embarrassed and infuriated by the constant scandals and drunken antics. It is a mark of his status, of course, that most people in Northern Ireland still care enough to have an opinion about Best – good or bad – and it is unlikely that Duncan Hamilton's "approved" biography will change what they think. Read more
The unknown story of football's true talent spotters
Shaun O'Connor arrived at the Potters Bar pitches to check on the progress of some under-12 players who'd shown potential, but when the referee for a neighbouring game between teams of under-9s failed to show, he volunteered to officiate. He was about to start a new job with Arsenal's academy and one eight-year-old, playing on the wing for Luton, caught his eye. Read more
Offer for iPhone and iPad users in November
6 November ~ Anyone heading to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday for Chelsea's Champions League match against Schalke will get exclusive free access to the latest WSC digital edition. In partnership with digital publishers Exact Editions, the When Saturday Comes app will be available to download for anyone with an iPhone or iPad in Stamford Bridge over the next three weeks, showcasing for the first time the latest ByPlace geo-location technology for the iOS newsstand. All you need to do is download the When Saturday Comes app from the App Store and open it up when in Stamford Bridge.
Despite three play-off semi-final defeats on the trot, the early 1990s were heady times for Merseyside's third team. Karl Sturgeon recalls
“Tranmere,” Johnny King once said, “will never be able to compete with Liverpool and Everton. They’re big liners like the Queen Mary, but I see Tranmere like a deadly submarine.”
In 1987, when Johnny King rolled into Birkenhead for a second go as Tranmere boss, Rovers weren’t the kind of team who inspired elaborate metaphors or poetic flights of fancy. If you wanted glory or romance, you took a trip across the Mersey to either Everton or Liverpool. Tranmere fans had no such pretensions. Prenton Park regulars Half Man Half Biscuit illustrated the difference in mentality when they sang: “Friday night and the gates are low... bastard slip of a sub’s ruined my weekend.” Tranmere were the archetypal lower-league stragglers, forever in the slipstream of their powerful, big-city rivals. They were Merseyside’s third team and everyone knew it. Everton and Liverpool’s dominance was set in stone, as surely as the world-famous Liverpool skyline, which is seen easily from the other side of the river and taunts Birkenhead residents every day.
But as the Eighties turned to the Nineties something happened. Those giant cruise-liners didn’t look quite so majestic and the submarine that had plumbed the Mersey finally struck. This was a time, as a post-Dalglish Liverpool fell from their perch and Everton’s ambitions had shrunk to just staying up every season, when Tranmere fans could genuinely say they supported the Merseyside team on the rise.
In the spring of 1987 it didn’t look possible. Everton and Liverpool were battling at the top of the First Division but Tranmere had spent the decade lurching from one financial crisis to another. Crowds for the 1986-87 Fourth Division season had dwindled to less than 2,000. Hamper millionaire Peter Johnson’s purchase of the club from American lawyer Bruce Osterman offered some hope, but the club were in real danger of dropping out of the League, maybe forever. Johnson turned to Johnny King.
King had played for Tranmere in the Sixties and initially managed the club in the late Seventies, during which time he had been something of a protege for the recently retired Bill Shankly. King certainly shared some of Shanks’s flair for a soundbite – when Elvis Costello appeared on the BBC’s Fantasy Football League, he called his team The Deadly Submarine as a tribute – and propensity for thinking big. He needed to. When Johnson brought King back to Prenton Park in 1987, King said, in his Shanklyesque way: “I can’t promise anyone success, but I can promise a trip to the moon.”
Before they could fly into orbit, however, Tranmere needed to avoid being sucked under. On the last day of the 1987 season, Rovers needed to beat Exeter to avoid relegation from the League. Chief executive Frank Corfe did everything he could to promote the game, talking to local newspapers and radio stations. “I think I realised,” he said, “the only way we could win the game was to... suck it into the net by the supporters. And 1,200 people weren’t going to do it.”
It worked. Tranmere won 1-0 to stay up and lifelong fan and director George Higham spoke of fans: “Hanging on the rafters... standing on the roof. Although the figure for the gate was 6,900, I know there were more there.” A day of celebration, then, but even amid the relief, the realities of lower-League life bit. Peter Johnson later bemoaned the players celebrating by throwing their kit into the crowd. “We hadn’t arranged for boots and shirts... and we had nothing to start the following season with.”
But with safety secured, Tranmere could set about building their own mythology. They played at Wembley five times in three years, reaching two play-off finals, two Leyland Daf Cup finals and representing the Fourth Division in the 1988 Centenary Cup tournament, in which 16 teams played a series of 40- and 60-minute matches over two days. Tranmere were the surprise hit of the tournament, beating First Division clubs Newcastle and Wimbledon to make it through to the second day of games. Rovers, expecting to go out early on, hadn’t bothered to arrange overnight accommodation. Luckily, Liverpool had been knocked out in their opening game and Tranmere were able to take over the bigger club’s hotel booking.
In 1989 Rovers were promoted to Division Three. Two years later they beat Bolton Wanderers in the play-offs to win promotion to English football’s second tier for only the second season in their history.
In the summer of 1991, with the Second Division awaiting, King was bold in the transfer market. John Aldridge, scorer of so many goals for Liverpool, joined from Real Sociedad. Later that season, winger Pat Nevin made the short journey from Everton. The symbolism was obvious – Tranmere were serious about joining Everton and Liverpool in the top flight.
And they nearly made it. Backed by Peter Johnson’s money, Tranmere played without fear in the second tier and made the play-offs in three successive seasons between 1993 and 1995. They lost in the semi-finals on all three occasions, but Rovers had a reputation for being easy on the eye. Nevin, on the right, linked up with left-winger Johnny Morrissey and between them they set up plenty of goals for Aldridge and strike partner Ian Muir, Rovers’s all-time top goalscorer. In 1994 Tranmere played Aston Villa in the semi-finals of the Coca Cola Cup and, after winning the first leg 3-1, looked ready for another trip to Wembley. It wasn’t to be – in the return at Villa Park, the home team pulled level on aggregate and edged past Rovers 5-4 on penalties.
That was probably the peak. Peter Johnson was casting coveting glances across the Mersey towards Everton, who were skint, haunted by relegation, but still one of England’s biggest clubs. Even at their lowest ebb for a generation, the Blues had a fanbase and a history that Tranmere would never have. Despite Tranmere’s long-standing tradition of playing home matches on a Friday night to attract punters who might have otherwise ventured to Goodison or Anfield, average gates in 1994 were still only around the 8,500 mark.
For the big games that had become a regular occurrence, Rovers could pull in crowds of up to 15,000, hinting at potential but still falling well short of the attendances Everton could expect. Johnson took control at Goodison later that year. He kept a stake in Tranmere – something he managed to keep quiet for a decade – but his attentions were now elsewhere. Symbolism again came into play. Merseyside’s natural order was
Tranmere finished mid-table in 1995-96 and in March 1996 Johnny King moved upstairs. John Aldridge took over as player/manager. Some of the old magic remained. Rovers remained cup upstarts, reaching the Worthington Cup final in 2000 and enjoying a famous 3-0 victory at Goodison in the 2001 FA Cup. Even that glory was quickly snuffed out when Liverpool won 4-2 at Prenton Park in the quarter-finals. Gravity eventually pulled Tranmere back to earth, and Rovers were relegated back to the third tier later in 2001. They’ve been there ever since.
Peter Johnson is back involved with Tranmere and this summer he again delved into Merseyside’s football past, appointing John Barnes as manager. Johnson had dismissed the previous boss, Ronnie Moore, because he was worried about falling attendances, but this time bringing in an ex-Liverpool man didn’t help. Barnes was sacked in October, with Rovers 22nd and with the worst goal difference in the country. The Johnson era is drawing to a close, he’s made no secret of wanting to sell up and over the summer the club was listed on eBay, to the amusement of the papers. Perhaps the fascination with Liverpool and Everton will end with it.
From WSC 274 December 2009
You must be logged in to comment. Please register if you don't have an account yet.