THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Tuesday 16 June ~

"The fact that I am here does not mean we are going to turn things around," said John Barnes, asking for patience from supporters on being appointed manager of Tranmere yesterday. But then Tranmere fans might not be anticipating immediate success given that the new appointee has had one previous club management job, which ended in ignominy nine years ago. Since being sacked by Celtic after they were beaten at home by Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup, John Barnes applied unsuccessfully for several managerial jobs and feels that prejudice was the root cause of his failure to be given another chance: "I don't think that my experience with Celtic explains why I couldn't get a job in the fourth division."

There is surely no doubt that institutional racism has long been a problem in English football. But Barnes's appointment has received a mixed reception from Tranmere supporters for reasons that have nothing to with his skin colour. The extent to which things need to be "turned around" at Tranmere is debatable given that they got their best points total in four years in 2008-09 and only missed out on the play-offs due to a last-day draw with rivals Scunthorpe. To general surprise manager Ronnie Moore – a highly popular figure at the club where he had spent most of his playing career – was then sacked, ostensibly because the board were concerned about falling attendances, which were down by 11 per cent on the previous year.

Barnes is now urging caution in part because he has inherited a thin squad with just a dozen senior players under contract. But that is an effect of owner Peter Johnson scaling back on his financial involvement at the club as a prelude, it has been suggested, to selling up. As is the case with Alan Shearer at Newcastle, an inexperienced manager with little knowledge of the transfer market is not the best person to take charge of a club operating on a tight budget.

Barnes's appointment has generated plenty of national press coverage for Tranmere this week – the Sun even researched the menu at Birkenhead's best known gastro pub – and heightened media interest in the club in the early months of the season will be of use to a board looking for a buyer. But Barnes could also become a fall-guy. In among the various astute observations made by Barnes about the number of black ex-players who haven't been offered management jobs, he was unwise to draw a comparison with a former England colleague: "Look at how Paul Ince wasn't given enough time at Blackburn."

The fact that Ince had to begin his managerial career with Macclesfield at the bottom of League Two is no doubt due to prejudicial attitudes among some club chairmen. But he subsequently moved up three divisions in going from MK Dons to Blackburn – an almost unheard-of leap, not least for someone with only 18 months' experience in management. The fact that Ince was a famous player contributed substantially to his being appointed at Blackburn, in much the same way that Barnes the managerial novice was given a plum job at Celtic working alongside his former Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish. Every success for a black manager chips away at what remains of ingrained prejudice in football, so we should hope that Barnes is able to make a positive impact at Tranmere – and that he isn't fatally undermined by manoeuvrings in the boardroom. Rob Weston

Comments (3)
Comment by ykikamoocow 2009-06-17 00:42:19

There is more to this appointment than meets the eye. When Peter Johnson first took over at Tranmere back in 1987 his first act was to entice Johnny King back to the club, knowing that a man whose heart lay with the club would give it his all. Johnson proclaimed that we would be in the Second division by 1991, which everyone scoffed at. Yet sure enough we made it there and had also got the bargain of the decade in bringing John Aldridge to the club.

But in reaching this level, we knew we had a tough season ahead of us. The free flowing football that had seen us command decent gates had become all about keeping it tight, although there were a couple of exceptional games (not least the 6-6 game against Newcastle, and a rip-roaring 4-3 win against Wolves). Not only that, the increasing infrequency of Friday night games due in no small part to having no local derbies of any note (Barnsley was probably the nearest we had to a local derby that season) meant that crowds started to dip.

This was enough to cause Johnson to speak out publicly at this time about the lack of support for a team whose fortunes on the pitch were on the rise. His pleas for five figure gates fell on deaf ears and he soon found himself enticed by the thought of taking over at Everton. In spite of being good for a top 6 finish in what was now the first division, Johnson jumped ship to a team about to embark on a relegation dog-fight in January 1994 and presided over a period that most Evertonians would rather forget.

The official line was that he had sold his controlling stake in Tranmere to his then Chief Executive Frank Corfe, a local construction magnate who presided over the construction of the all new Prenton Park yet still couldn't keep his business going, fuelling suggestions that the club was not in his hands as was claimed.

Then Everton made enquiries in August 1998 for Tranmere's Steve Simonsen, and the truth emerged. Johnson had not sold his stake to Corfe as claimed, thereby breaching rules regarding dual ownership. The deal to buy Simonsen went through, but Tranmere only saw a fraction of a fee reported to be 3 1/4 million. Something was rotten at Goodison and Prenton Park.

Johnson's hand forced, he sold his controlling stake to relieve himself of all involvement at Everton, greeted with universal glee by our bluenosed friends. He decided to take a back seat on his return to Prenton Park, placing Lorraine Rogers (his then squeeze) in charge. With no-one willing to replace Ms Rogers when she stepped down at the end of this season, Johnson has found himself back in the spotlight.

It has been an open secret that Johnson has wanted rid of his burden at Tranmere for at least the last 15 or so years; but who would want to take on a club based in an area where the population has declined over the last decade and where Tranmere are behind the pecking order to the likes of Liverpool, Everton and even Man U, Chelsea and Arsenal?

Prenton Park is worthless whilst Tranmere Rovers remain in existence. Yet the value of the land as a redevelopment opportunity is a good deal greater. It may sound fanciful, but the decision to replace a good manager who kept us from falling into oblivion (Ronnie Moore was Tranmere through and through, which the fans, as few as we are, appreciated fully) with someone with less experience (the Celtic experience is not an issue, but ten years out of the game is simply too long) smacks of someone who has pressed the self destruct button.

Of course, John Barnes could surprise us all. For starters, he'll probably get a game if he brings his boots. But in all seriousness, this could be the beginning of the end for Tranmere.

Comment by NiceOneCenturian 2009-06-17 03:43:45

"Look at how Paul Ince wasn't given enough time at Blackburn."

How long should he have been given? Until Blackburn were relegated? Becuase that's where they were going with Incey in charge.

Barnes is as bad as the racists he decries.

Comment by ad hoc 2009-06-18 06:15:17

"as bad"? No he isn't.

A black man wondering whether race played a part in the sacking of another black man, is not even close to being as bad as a racist. That's just a ludicrous and offensive thing to say.

Related articles

From the archive: When Tranmere Rovers were the Merseyside club on the up
Embed from Getty Images // Despite three play-off semi-final defeats on the trot, the early 1990s were heady times for Merseyside’s third...
Photo of the week ~ Birkenhead docks loom over Tranmere Rovers Ladies
Tranmere Rovers Ladies 5 Middlesbrough Ladies 0, 22/01/2006, FA Women's Premier League North Tranmere Rovers Ladies (white) take on Middlesbrough...
Tranmere’s luck slowly turning ahead of Chester clash after slow start
After defeat in last season’s play-off final Rovers fans have had to wait for their team to click this time but recent signs have pointed to a...