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Hull City enjoying joining in with European adventures

Steve Bruce's squad face tough test against KSC Lokeren

icons abroad21 August ~ Hull City's Europe League tie at KSC Lokeren has been deemed too unexciting for ITV's thrill-packed Thursday night schedule. But for those of us who spent a chunk of their 1970s and 1980s childhoods surreptitiously listening to other British clubs' adventures in Europe on a crackly transistor radio secreted under the bedcovers, a trip to a rickety old stadium in Belgium is an almost unimaginable delight. Hull spent most of those decades bumbling round the lower divisions between bankruptcies. Consequently, their ticket allocation for the first leg in Flanders sold out rapidly.


Badge of the week ~ Annagh United FC

Annagh15020 August ~ In the wild forest outside Annagh there lived a troll who challenged all who passed over his bridge. It wasn't really the troll's bridge, it belonged to Lord Annagh and was built by the tenants of his estate, but one thing you tend to find about trolls is that they are no respecters of legal documents. 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

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.

Highlights of Newport v Carl Zeiss Jena, 1981

Cup-Winners Cup quarter-final

25 July ~ Newport County welcome Carl Zeiss Jena to Rodney Parade tomorrow in a friendly that rekindles memories of the clubs' European Cup-Winners Cup quarter-final in 1981. The Welsh club, in the Third Division at the time, managed a 2-2 draw in East Germany with Tommy Tynan's double cancelling out two goals from Jürgen Raab. The second leg was played in front of around 18,000 at Somerton Park, where a first half goal from Lothar Kurbjuweit saw the Germans progress. Carl Zeiss Jena went on to beat Benfica in the semi-finals before losing 2-1 to Dinamo Tbilisi in the final. Below are highlights from both legs of the quater-final, though the first is a bit blurry and has no commentary.

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

How fans around the planet watched World Cup final

21 July ~ Kick Off! is a global project that filmed fans watching the Brazil 2014 final between Germany and Argentina around the world. The documentary follows people's reactions to match, from a beach in New Zealand to a taxi in Moscow and market in Tokyo.

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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