Local media and authorities offering little support
31 October ~ Any week that starts with an 8-0 humiliation isn’t perhaps the best way to prepare for a match against one of our most disliked neighbours, or an ideal starting point for new manager Gary Rowett. Birmingham City are famously dysfunctional, but despite years of being held in contempt by the club’s owners, Blues fans have found the events of the last seven days embarrassing, degrading and confusing in equal measure.
30 October ~ Miss happened while playing against Atalanta
30 October ~ The summerhouse played an important part in 19th and 20th century Macedonian culture. The most famous fictional detective from Macedonia, Bogdan Adrijan Illianovic Petkov (known simply to his wife, friends and colleagues as Bogdan Adrijan Illianovic) begins his first case as a detective when he encounters a body in a summerhouse. Petkov’s special idiosyncrasy is a partiality for urinating outdoors, hence he is the first at a house party to find the victim. Read more
26 October ~ Leeds United's defeat of Oldham, through an own goal by Brian Kilcline, put them top of Division One for the first time since their last League title in 1973-74. They then swapped places with Manchester United a few times until April when their rivals lost three games in a row. The last of these, a 2-0 defeat at Liverpool in the penultimate fixture, was decisive. Leeds' 3-2 win at Sheffield United on the same day made them the last Division One champions as the Premier League launched the following season.
20 October ~ You can never write off FIFA president Sepp Blatter – he is a man with great ideas. By Tim Bradford.
November issue available online and in stores
The new WSC is out now, available from all good newsagents or dispatched on the day of order from the WSC shop.
- New approach at Aston Villa
- Scotland: independence and football
- Third party ownership debate
- Threat of technology
- When players wear glasses
- In praise of the FA Vase
17 October ~ Newcastle Utd will be hoping to get their first win of the Premier League season this weekend when they host Leicester City at St James’ Park. In 1989-90 the two teams were in the second tier, with Leicester mid-table but newly relegated Newcastle, managed by Jim Smith and fielding the prolific strike partnership of Micky Quinn and Mark McGhee, pushing for an immediate return to Division One. In a thrilling game Newcastle missed a penalty as the visitors, featuring Gary McAllister and Kevin Campbell, took a 4-2 lead. Eventually the home team won out, with McGhee completing the comeback with a neat turn and shot. Newcastle went on to finish third, losing out in the play-offs to Sunderland. When the two teams next met, at Filbert Street the following season, the scoreline was again 5-4 but to Leicester.
£5 off to WSC readers
WSC contributor Simon Inglis has launched the latest book in his Played in Britain series. Played in London charts the spaces, buildings and sports that have shaped London’s cultural and urban landscape for centuries. Beautifully illustrated with original photographs and detailed maps, the book is based on over ten years of in-depth research. There is an extensive chapter on football and even if your team isn’t based in the capital you’ve probably watched them there.
Lakeside Stadium is the 12,000-capacity home of South Melbourne, who play in the top level of the Victorian league system, one step below the A-League. The ground was built on the old site of the Lake Oval, which was used for Australian rules football. However, in 1995 South Melbourne were forced out of their old Middle Park ground because of the construction of the Melbourne Grand Prix circuit, and Lakeside was built as their new home. In 2008 the ground underwent another major redevelopment to accommodate an athletics track and make it the centre of the Victorian Institute of Sport.
The story of Billy Meredith
If you had to choose one player to encapsulate the Edwardian football world, you would be hard pressed to do better than Billy Meredith. In an extraordinary career, which ended in 1924 FA Cup semi-final defeat at the age of 49, the celebrated Welsh winger was central to many of the era's key moments. He scored the winner for Manchester City in the 1904 FA Cup final, then won the League with Manchester United in 1908 and 1911, and claimed another Cup winner's medal in 1909. He was with United when Old Trafford opened in 1910, and back with City when they moved to Maine Road in 1923. Read more
by Kevin Sheedy
Paul McGrath and Tony Cascarino's autobiographies are renowned as two of the most caustic and revealing footballing books in recent times. Their former Republic of Ireland international team-mate Kevin Sheedy has written his life story now but anyone expecting soul searching in the same vein as Back From The Brink or Full Time is likely to be disappointed. Sheedy's story is told in a fashion that could most politely be described as "breezy". From a youngster at Hereford to a bit-part player at Liverpool before becoming a key part in the all-conquering Everton side of the mid-1980s – then rounding off his playing career at Newcastle United and Blackpool – it's all dealt with in the same cheery, almost matter-of-fact fashion. Read more
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
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