By Ryan Ferguson
To support Tranmere Rovers is to accept a life of rampant mood swings and chronic upheaval. Down the years, this club has been a font of joy and a trough of despair. Certain generations have celebrated promotions and journeyed into Europe, while others have suffered relegations and journeyed to Boreham Wood. Together, we’ve witnessed more stoppage time capitulations than is healthy for the soul. Yet nothing could prepare us for the inherent uncertainty of non-league football, which twists and turns every week, oscillating human emotion between hope and frustration, excitement and dread.
We’ve suffered the ignominy of defeats to clubs we only knew existed after a prolonged Wikipedia search, but also experienced the euphoria of victory over long lost rivals. We’ve visited grounds that could fit into Prenton Park several times over, but also enjoyed a surge in attendance that warms the heart. We’ve won and lost, laughed and cried, all without knowing exactly what lurks around the corner.
However, amid that ceaseless inconsistency, two rays of sunshine have shone inexorably: James Norwood and Adam Mekki. Even when times were tough, and other players struggled to perform, this dynamic duo provided optimism with an exemplary work ethic and a touch of class. Of course, it’s always difficult to single out individual players, and Rovers have galvanised a refreshing togetherness in recent weeks, but for vast swathes of the season, Norwood and Mekki have been simply outstanding. They deserve special recognition.
Both are capable of pure magic on the ball, while working exceptionally hard off it. In that regard, they are throwbacks to a bygone age of professionalism, when players cared more about their craft than their bank balance. At Tranmere, we love anybody who gives total effort, who busts a gut for the cause. Norwood and Mekki, among others, understand that responsibility, but are also able to marry it with real attacking productivity. They are reliable outlets, capable of relieving pressure by carrying the ball directly with a thirty yard dribble or winning a free-kick. In this league of undependable assets, that’s more than enough to distinguish them, but they offer so much more than meets the eye.
For instance, take Norwood’s selfless running. He appears to be second favourite to almost every ball knocked into the channel or down the line, only to make up a ten-yard disadvantage and beat his opponent to win a throw-in or start an attack. Those are the little things, often overlooked, that need to be appreciated. Those are the little things that make teams successful.
Then, of course, we have his goals. Despite criticism from some quarters of the fanbase, James has scored sixteen goals this season, fourteen in the league. That includes five match-winning goals and two that earned Rovers a point. By my calculations, without Norwood’s goals this season, Tranmere would have twenty less points and find themselves in 17th place, just five points above the relegation zone. Naturally, some will argue that Rovers would have signed somebody of a similar ilk if Norwood didn’t join, but the point still remains. Quite frankly, he has been our saviour this season.
Indeed, James has already doubled the total of Tranmere’s top league goalscorer from last season, with ten games to play. Overall, Norwood is on pace to score nineteen league goals this season, which would match Ryan Lowe for the second-best output in the past thirteen years. However, James has scored five in the last six games, and if that ratio can be replicated through the remaining fixtures, he would finish with twenty-two league goals, the most since John Aldridge in 1995/96.
Those statistics are great, but I’m more impressed by the manner in which he achieves them. You would have to search long and hard to find a non-league player who runs further than Norwood, who routinely creates so many chances out of nothing. In that manner, he reminds me of Jamie Vardy, with a killer instinct matched by terrific fitness levels and an eminent desire for success.
Yet, as we’ve all come to know, every Vardy needs a Mahrez, and Adam Mekki performs that role dutifully for Rovers. The pacey winger has been an absolute revelation at Prenton Park this season, ever since earning a contract as a trialist. Just when we were mourning the loss of traditional wing play at Tranmere, this ball of skill and verve arrived like a salve for sore eyes, terrorising the fifth tier with rare imagination.
Mekki has quickly become a fan favourite. We love the jinking runs and the splash of quality, so difficult to locate at this level. We admire the vision and the end product, so lacking in recent years. And we marvel at the agility and speed and bubbling dynamism. However, the brilliance of Adam Mekki is deeper than those surface attributes, those attention-grabbing qualities. He also displays tremendous courage on the pitch, to drive at defenders and believe in his own ability. To make a difference, essentially.
Adam is also very humble and grounded, which further enhances his standing as the ideal Tranmere role model. Even when five thousand people are chanting his name, he doesn’t gloat or arrogantly stoke the flames. Rather, he takes it all in stride and remains level-headed. That’s the sign of a star. That’s the sign of an icon. That’s the sign of somebody destined for a higher level.
Mekki is genuinely thrilling to watch. With direct dribbles and consistent creativity, he gets people out of their seats, cheering with pride. He’s a maverick, an entertainer, but also a grafter who works tirelessly for the team. He’s the archetypal Tranmere player, around whom our club identity should be built. He’s simply brilliant.
Ultimately, this league won’t be able to contain Norwood or Mekki for much longer. The former is already among its most predatory goalscorers, while the latter must be its most fouled by defenders who simply cannot cope. There is still so much more to come from both player, and we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. Norwood is 25-years old, Mekki 24. With the right direction and more space on Football League pitches, they could both play comfortably in League One. Let’s just hope they take Tranmere with them.