Manchopper in….Birkenhead (Tranmere Rovers FC)

Result: Tranmere Rovers Reserves 2-0 Altrincham (Cheshire Senior Cup Semi Final)

Venue: Prenton Park (Tuesday 18th March 2014, 7.45pm)

Att: Around 400 I’d say, no idea though!

When this game was first announced it was originally scheduled for the night afterwards, when I was due to be at the Champions League Last 16 tie between Manchester United & Olympiacos at Old Trafford. But then, someone made the terrific decision to move the tie forward by 24 hours and so it was I found myself on the train platform at Manchester Oxford Road awaiting a train to Liverpool Lime Street. Having had a chance to get in Prenton Park for a cut price charge, it was an opportunity I couldn’t spurn and with it including a side who I have an interest in, Altrincham, it gave me all the more reason to travel to the Wirral on this chilly Tuesday evening.

I got the, horribly crowded, train at about 5.40 in the afternoon, and was soon headed in the direction of Liverpool. After dodging a few people whilst standing in the aisle, I eventually secured a seat by the time the train arrived in Birchwood, near Warrington, whereupon a drinks trolley went past. This was something I was not used to, as usually the trains I get are covered in graffiti and bodily fluids. What a nice vision I’ve given you there!

After around an hour, the train pulled into Lime Street station with an airline like goodbye from the driver, and I arrived at Platform One for the train onwards towards Ellesmere Port. But there was no train to Ellesmere Port in sight. Only a spur of the moment decision to head back into the concourse of the station led me to see the bright yellow signed tunnel heading down towards the Merseyrail ‘Wirral Line’ underground service. After passing through the tunnel and running down the escalator, I made the platform just as the train came into view from the darkness with mere seconds to spare. I was now heading towards the Wirral, and into Cheshire, not Liverpool remember, (though even if you don’t and make the mistake the locals will be more than happy to right your error!)

After a further 20 minute journey, I arrived at Rock Ferry station, which is also the station you’d use for Cammell Laird F.C., I’d imagine. After passing through the small ticket office building (accompanied with vending machine) I set off on  the 25 minute walk up the road towards Prenton Park. It is easily navigated, by turning right out of the station and following the road all the way until you get to a co-operative, where you turn right at the lights whereupon, if you have followed these directions correctly, you should be faced with the stadium staring back at you. After almost lapping the ground, and passing the neighbouring ‘Prenton Park’ pub, I arrived at the entrance.

For tonight, there was only a small section of the ground open, which was to be accessed via the ‘Tranmere Suite’ entrance near the Main Reception. After handing over my entrance fee, to the official manning the turnst…well, table, I ventured up a small flight of carpeted stairs where I bumped into a man holding a large amount of newly printed team sheets. “Will you be wanting one?” he asked, and I had no hesitation in taking him up on the offer. It appeared they had been somewhat surprised by the turnout, although the teams on the back where, I think, up to date so perhaps that had something to do with it?

After popping into the ‘Tranmere Suite’ itself, I purchased a hot chocolate for a pound from the guy serving who was juggling pouring water with speaking into his mobile phone. Now with something to keep warm with, I headed outside into the cold evening and into the small section of red seating within the middle of the two-tiered main ‘family’ stand. To the right was the single-tiered ‘Kop’ Stand, a former open terrace, which appears to be the largest stand at the ground, but it only houses 5,500 fans, less than the Main Stand. To the left is the Cowshed Stand, which has a strange appearance as the further right you go, the more rows of seats there are, which gives it a sloping effect. Straight opposite me was the John King Stand (named after a former club manager), which is only quite small, and as per the Main Stand runs the full length of the pitch. It has a capacity of 16,567.

History Lesson:

Founded in 1884 as Belmont F.C., the club were formed by the amalgamation of Lyndhurst Wanderers and Belmont. They won their first game, a friendly, versus Brunswick Rovers 4-0. A year later, the club adopted the name they carry today, Tranmere Rovers F.C. Playing originally at Steeles Field in Birkenhead, they moved in 1887 to Ravenshaws Road, the former home of Tranmere Rugby Club.

After a change of kit from blue shirts, white shorts to Orange and Maroon Shirts and back again, they entered their first competition in 1886, the Liverpool & District Senior Cup, and joined the West Lancashire League in 1889. They joined the stronger Combination in 1897 and won the 1908 championship. In 1910, they moved into the Lancashire Combination and in 1912 they moved into their present Prenton Park site complete with 800-seat stand. They won the Lancashire Combination in 1914.

Following the expulsion of Leeds City Reserves, the club were allowed to enter the Central League, and the following season four clubs,  Tranmere included, were invited to join the new Division Three North. As founder members, the club won their first league match, at home to Crewe Alexandra, 4-1. They gave a debut to a young Dixie Dean in 1924, before he was sold to Everton in 1927 for £3,000. In 1934, the club reached the final of the Welsh Cup, which also allowed clubs near Wales to enter, but lost a replay 3-0 to Bristol City after a 1-1 draw, but won I the following season with a 1-0 win over Chester City. Tranmere won their first championship in 1938, in the shape of the Division 3 North, an with it promotion to Division 2. However, this lasted just one season, as the club were relegated.

After WW2 the club re-joined the Division 3 North, and remained there until league restructuring in 1958. After finishing 11th in the final season, this meant they were admitted into the new Division 3 rather than Division 4. The last game to see who would get the last Division 3 spot, versus Wrexham, attracted 19,615 fans, the highest for a league game at Prenton Park. Their stay in Division 3 didn’t last long and in 1961 Rovers were relegated to Division 4.

Having switched to their all-white kit, Tranmere bounced back into Division Three in 1967, and they reached the fifth  round of the FA Cup for the first time. Three years later, a club record attendance saw 24,424 fans watch Rovers draw 2-2 with Stoke City in the cup. In 1973, further cup success was achieved when Tranmere beat First Division Arsenal 1-0 at Highbury, but their league results didn’t improve and in 1975 they were relegated back to Division 4. After another short stay in Division 3, they returned to the lowest division of the League in 1979.

In 1987, the club entered administration, but this proved a blessing in disguise, as it bore a new owner and success. Under the aforementioned John King, the club staved off relegation, in their first season before in 1988, qualifying for the Football League Centenary Tournament held at Wembley. They beat Division One Wimbledon & Newcastle United before losing to eventual winners Nottingham Forest on penalties. The following season saw promotion back to Division 3 as runners-up. The last game versus Crewe saw both sides need a point to be promoted. This was duly attained in a 1-1 draw which cued dual celebrations.

The first season back in Division 3 saw the club lose out in the play-offs final to Notts County, but they did beat Bristol Rovers in the Leyland DAF Trophy, the club’s first trophy. In 1990-’91 Tranmere won promotion to Division 2, with a 1-0 play-off victory over Bolton Wanderers, but lost in the Leyland DAF Trophy final to Birmingham City 3-2. After this, they signed John Aldridge and Pat Nevin.

When Division 2 became One, Tranmere narrowly missed out on promotion to the newly formed Premiership after losing in three straight play-offs. They also lost out in the League Cup Semi-Final to Aston Villa in 1994 on penalties. The club reached the sixth round of the FA Cup in ’99-’00 and also reached the League Cup Final where they lost out to Leicester City. In 2000, the current kit as introduced, and a further cup run was achieved, beating Everton and Southampton of the Premiership before losing out to Liverpool.

A play-off semi and a sixth round cup replay were achieved in 2005, but this was the last success of note for the club despite the management of John Barnes and Ronnie Moore (twice). Moore is still in charge, and last season guided Tranmere to 11th place in League One.

Back onto tonight’ events then, and around five minutes after I had taken my seat, the teams entered the arena, with Tranmere in their usual all white, and Altrincham in their usual red and white vertically striped kit. With Tranmere playing a youthful side mixed with a few first team players, Altrincham also took the opportunity to play a few of their youth squad, including goalkeeper Josh Samberg, David Brown, Max Pouncey and debutant Jeff King, nephew of a former Robin, John King. I was wishing it was Joe when I couldn’t remember but sadly, no.

The home side ‘s captain had the power with him tonight, and he was intent on delivering it to the max. If you couldn’t work out his name from that awful, awful sentence, his name was Max Power. Power was one of a number of the first team squad to feature alongside forward Cole Stockton, Evan Horwood and goalkeeper Jason Mooney, to prove that it wasn’t a throwaway competition to the league side.

The game began at quite a slow pace, with very little to choose between the sides. In fact, there was so little happening on the field that it wouldn’t have been an exaggeration to say that to watch the grass growing would’ve been more exciting. But thankfully we have twitter for such occasions now, and I could keep up to date with the scores around the country, as well as getting regular updates from Skrill North games which Altrincham had an interest in which were shouted out, at times, quite excitedly!

Apart from an offside goal, which was actually a really good volleyed finish by Stockton, it wasn’t until after half-an-hour we finally had a chance to make any note of when Altrincham’s target man Kyle Perry’s shot dribbled a fair way wide. Tranmere then had a good chance, when winger Leo Riley skipped past three Altrincham players before laying the ball on for Stockton, whose rasping drive was tipped over well by Samberg. That was the end of the chances in the first half and, mercifully, the referee blew for half-time with the tie still goalless.

At the break I headed back into the Tranmere Suite in a search for hot food, a search which was to, alas, prove to be in vain. There were some barmcake sandwiches though, but it wasn’t for me. I took a closer look at the large boards hung on the wall, 3 in number, noting ‘Club Honours’, ‘Memorable Matches & ‘Dates of Historical Interest’, which seemed to leave out 1066 and all that in favour of a number of Tranmere Rovers related dates….

On this note (I’m not really confused you know), I headed back outside for the second half, sitting as I was behind two guys decked out in Tranmere tracksuits emblazoned with sponsor Home Bargains. They had had the same idea as me and decided that phones were the way to go. The only plus point was that the tie would go to a replay if tied at 90 minutes, and as neither side really wanted any more games to add to crowded schedules, both sides were going to go for it. Surely?!

With Luca Havern subbed at half-time for Altrincham, the Robins seemed to lose some stability at the back, and not only that, but Tranmere put in a couple of ‘meaty’ challenges in the opening minutes of the half to impose themselves with with Evan Gumbs and Power both going into the book, although Power was replaced soon afterwards. Rowe’s challenge caused an injury to Tom Clarke which saw Spencer Cunliffe, another youth team product, replace him. By now, Alty were on top, and Kyle Perry worked hard to force his way into the box where he forced Mooney into an error. The ball fell to Max Pouncey who horribly scuffed his shot when he really ought to have scored. Tranmere’s number 11 Ben Jago  struck a sweet drive from 25 yards just over with Samberg rooted as the game began to pick up pace, and Altrincham came closest to a goal when Carl Rodgers’ header from a corner rippled the roof of the net, and then Pouncey looped just wide as if anything, it looked as though Altrincham would take the lead when and after Rowe had volleyed wide from a great position for the home side, Rovers took the lead from a corner. On the right flank, Callum Morris, the home right-back swung in a pinpoint ball onto  the forehead of Antonie Boland and the central  defender directed his header into the bottom corner.

As Altrincham looked to press for the equaliser, so they became more prone on the counter, and after King had come close for Alty, a horrible miscommunication in the 90th minue saw Matt Doughty sell Samberg short with a back pass. Just as he reached the ball, so did Cole Stockton, and he robbed the goalkeeper of possession and slotted into the empty net to seal the Birkenhead side’s place in the final.

At this point I left to cover myself for the trip back, with the tie all over bar the shouting and the fat lady warbling away, and as I came back onto the road the final whistle went without further incident. After getting back to Rock Ferry Station, something made me look up at the timetable. And then I saw it, 21.52 Chester. Cancelled. Oh shit. How was I getting back now? I decided that there was nothing better than to get the next train which was headed for Liverpool Central, only for this train to decide it was going on to Chester instead, and thus get me back to Lime Street in time for my connection back to Oxford Road thanks to the train headed to York. Back at Oxford Road in an hour, and straight onto the train back to Urmston, he journey ended uneventfully, when it could have, oh so easily, have left me stranded in Liverpool!!

My Tranmere Rovers M.o.M.- Cole Stockton

My Altrincham M.o.M.- Max Pouncey


Game: 6- Not great first half, but the second was pretty decent.

Ground: 9- Really smart, and up to date. I also found the old-style floodlights.

Fans: 7- Hard to rate, with a small attendance but well done to those who got down there.

Programme: 3- Just a teamsheet really, nothing to write home about, but did have Mark Maddox’s MND association leaflet in, which is always good.

Food: 6- Not food per se, but the hot chocolate was tasty, and Cadbury’s too.

Value For Money: 9- Can’t go wrong for a new ground at a cheap cut price.

Referee: 7- Didn’t have a lot to do, but probably got the flashpoint challenge decisions right.


TRANMERE ROVERS: 1.Jason Mooney, 2.Callum Morris, 3.Evan Horwood, 4.Max Power(c), 5.Antonie Boland(1), 6.Evan Gumbs, 7.Leo Riley, 8.James Rowe, 9.Cole Stockton(1), 10.Lewis Moynes,11.Ben Jago. SUBS: 12.Joe Newton, 13.Sam Ramsbottom(GK), 14.Mitch Duggan(p), 15.Connor Shackleton, 16.Ben Maher.

ALTRINCHAM: 1.Josh Samberg, 2.David Brown, 3.Matt Doughty(c), 4.Jake Moult, 5.Gianluca Havern, 6.Tom Clarke, 7.Max Pouncey, 8.Jeff King, 9.Kyle Perry, 10.Greg Wilkinson, 11.James Lawrie. SUBS: 12.Adam Griffin, 14.James Walshaw, 15.Damien Reeves, 16.Carl Rodgers(p), 17.Spencer Cunliffe(p).

REFEREE: Mr.R.Jones  ASSISTANTS: Mr.T.Ratcliffe & Mr.A.Philbin 4TH OFFICIAL: Mr.T.Morgan.