By Ryan Ferguson
What possesses a man to sit on a coach for fifteen hours just to watch a dismal nil-nil between his beloved football team and the lowly Dover Athletic?
In the cold light of day, why do we continue to attend fifth division matches at ramshackle grounds with a part-time bricklayer playing centre-half for the opposition?
How, quite frankly, can we justify the emotion, effort and expense of supporting Tranmere Rovers through thick and thin?
These are fairly valid questions that we’re asked on regular basis. As Rovers have slipped down the leagues and out of the limelight, casual observers seem perplexed at the level of loyalty that persists within our fanbase. Are you still going there?, many ask. Why do you bother?, others enquire. Well, aside from basic masochism, the issue is far more complex than most people will ever understand. Nevertheless, it’s worth articulating our rationale, and explaining why this football club continues to dominate our emotions.
Essentially, we continue to go because we have no choice in the matter. Tranmere fans are born, not manufactured, and the club courses through your veins without forewarning. Tranmere is a hereditary obsession. True loyalty isn’t optional, even if we lose, even if our love is unrequited. It’s who we are. It’s what we do. Only a select few understand.
Bigger clubs may look down on Tranmere as irrelevant, but we have something they never will: a football club that represents our town and its people, rather than its sponsors and corporate shareholders. After all, that’s the true meaning of a football club; to represent your area and your values around the country. When people bypass that and support a team from across the water or down the road, they miss the point and lose sight of football’s most sacred purpose. For glory, they neglect their roots. For trophies, they sacrifice genuine emotion. For fame, they betray their community.
Yes, these people may enjoy Champions League success and Premier League recognition, but those achievements are hollow. The club hasn’t won it for them or their town; they’ve won it for a city located miles away or a global audience on social media. Millions now live in a vacuous football ether, totally untethered to any spiritual bedrock. Of course, if there’s an authentic family tradition of supporting a certain club, then that’s understandable. But willingly seeking glory is pathetic and incomprehensible.
I may never see Tranmere win a trophy, but at least the club represents me. If you shout at Prenton Park, the players hear. If you shout at a Premier League stadium, yours is but one voice in a vacuum, largely disregarded in favour of an international crowd watching on television. Elite football is akin to window shopping. There is always glass separating you from the action. You can look, but please don’t touch. On the contrary, lower league clubs like Tranmere are more human and personable. It’s the foremost avatar of Wirral around the country, and that’s why we support, because it’s naturally ingrained in our psyche.
We want our team to represent our town in a positive manner. We want Tranmere to beat other teams and stake a claim to superiority. That’s the tribal, rudimentary essence of football. We keep going because we keep pursuing that satisfaction, rather like a drug. Even through regular defeat and successive relegations, we continue to attend, because Tranmere is like a family member you can never reject. It’s an intrinsic part of us, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
There’s an untouchable force, buried deep in the soul, that just compels us to keep going. Rather like the brain instructing us to breathe, we don’t even think about it. Following Tranmere is an unconscious tick, a thoughtless habit. Besides, what else are you going to do on a Saturday? Gardening?
It’s the buzz of the crowd, the sight of the floodlights. It’s Prenton Park, a playground of childhood memories, a burial ground of adolescent dreams. It’s beers with family and friends, all sharing a common bond, all united by devotion to this club, no matter how much it falters and frustrates.
We go in spite of woeful loanees and ghastly kits bearing gruesome advertising. We go in spite of non-league ignominy and one of the longest trophy droughts in English football. We go in spite of ticket increases and players who make us shake our head in mawkish agitation.
We go in perpetual hope that today will be the day it all changes, the day our mundane heroes transform into world-beaters. We go to honour legacies and remember bygone loved ones. We go because where there is faith, there is light and strength.
We go because we go. And nobody can argue with that.