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Fifth Non-League Day focuses on important institutions

Event takes place this weekend

icon nofans2 September ~ Non-League Day, the campaign to promote semi-professional and amateur football, returns for a fifth consecutive season this Saturday. Although initially founded to channel supporters of Premier League and Championship clubs to their local non-League club by virtue of there being a "blank" post-international weekend, the event has evolved over the last two seasons to be more inclusive. In the past, some of the more geographically isolated non-League clubs have argued that with no big sides on their doorstep, the event had no relevance. To a large extent these were valid criticisms, which is why the focus has shifted.


Watch Real Sociedad beat Real Madrid to the 1981 title

31 August ~ Real Sociedad were knocked out of the Europa League by Krasnodar this week and, having lost their first La Liga match to Eibar, they now face the daunting task of hosting Real Madrid tonight – a team they haven't beaten in a decade. However, there was a time when the two were serious rivals for the Spanish title. In 1980-81 they finished level on points at the top of the table, with Sociedad's superior head-to-head record taking the first of their two consecutive titles. The video shows Sociedad’s final match against Gijón. Needing at least a draw, the visitors went 2-1 down before a last-minute goal from Jesús Zamora won the title.

Badge of the week ~ Nakhon Si Heritage FC, Thailand

Nakhon150a28 August ~ The Wheat Witch of Nakhon Province is a marginal, unknowable figure in all the tales that are told of her. For one thing, her powers are only strong in areas of high wheat presence. So this is wheat fields and the cereal aisle of supermarkets. She did work the cereal aisle of supermarkets for a while, until a trainee manager at the local Tesco carried out a civilian's arrest on her for "dressing in a manner inappropriate to the public's enjoyment of the Tesco retail experience". And for "foul and derisive language". Read more

WSC 331 and 2014-15 Season Guide ~ out now

September issue available online and in stores

wsc331 The new WSC is out now, available in all good newsagents or dispatched on the day of order from the WSC shop.

- Liverpool v Man City in New York
- When the FA Cup was king
- Football and First World War
- Soundtrack to the game
- Palestinian team in Chile
- League's lost counties

Get with the programme ~ West Ham Utd v Chelsea

August 20, 1966, Division One

WHUvChelsea6627 August ~ The 1966-67 season kicked off just three weeks after the World Cup final, and there was no break for West Ham's medal-winning trio of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, who took to the field ahead of the other players on a hot afternoon to be greeted by a widely bare-chested crowd. Not only did they play 90 minutes against Chelsea, but they had played through against Kaiserslautern seven days after the 4-2 win against West Germany, and in subsequent tour games at Lausanne and Karlsruhe. Across the three pre-season games, the Hammers used a single sub.

Getting shirty ~ Hellas Verona, 1995-96

Notable kits of yesteryear

verona959619 August ~ After wearing blue-and-yellow stripes for the previous three seasons, Hellas Verona president Alberto Mazzi designed this unique shirt for 1995-96 and presented the idea to Italian sports manufacturer Errea on A4 graph paper. The badge in the centre of the shirt was used for the first time that season, featuring a ladder and two mastiff dogs (symbols of the city) and Verona's coat of arms, a yellow cross on a blue background. The club was sponsored by famous Veronese chef Giovanni Rana, a fan of the club since birth and main shirt sponsor of Verona from 1989 to 1996.

The fairground home of Ottawa Fury in Canada

Ottawa300The TD Place Stadium is the 24,000-capacity home of North American Soccer League’s Ottawa Fury. Located in the Lansdowne Park fairgrounds of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada, the ground has been used since the 1870s for a range of sports including lacrosse, rugby and equestrian events. It has undergone plenty of renovations, including in 1967 when an ice hockey arena was integrated underneath in the Ottawa Civic Centre.

Leicester 1-5 Everton, Division One, 1977

15 August ~ Everton travel to newly promoted Leicester City this weekend for their opening match of the Premier League season. In 1977 the two teams met at Filbert Street in only the fifth game of Leicester's seventh consecutive season in the top flight. However, this match was a sign of things to come, with the visitors – who eventually finished in third place behind champions Nottingham Forest and runners-up Liverpool – winning 5-1. Leicester only won four games in the remainder of the season and went down on 22 points, bottom of the table and 11 adrift of QPR in 19th.

Book review: The Special One

The secret world 
of José Mourinho

329 MourinhoJosé Mourinho is a strange, as well as a special, one. He seems quite consciously and gleefully to play up to the stereo-type of a conniving practitioner of cunning tricks and brazen gamesmanship – a living affirmation of the lower morals of the southern European sort, with decent Englishmen being advised to be on their guard and lock up their wives and daughters should he attempt to beguile them with his oily ways. Read more

Book review: Conference Season

by Steve Leach

329 ConferenceOften erroneously likened to a fifth division of the Football League, the Football Conference could more accurately be described as a halfway house. Non-League's top tier is home to a curious mix of teams; professional clubs who have fallen on hard times compete alongside new names making their way up the pyramid and getting a first taste of the big time. Read more

Book review: World Cup Cortinas

by James Ruppert

329 CortinasIn 1970 the Ford Motor Company loaned every member of the England World Cup squad a car ahead of the forthcoming Mexico World Cup. With the exception of Jack Charlton – who requested a Ford Zodiac because he needed a bigger boot for his fishing tackle – they each received a Cortina 1600E. This is the story of how motoring journalist James Ruppert sets out to track down the 24 original "World Cup Cortinas". Read more

Tranmere Rovers 1994

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
reasserting itself.

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


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