By Ryan Ferguson
Attempting to explain why you love something is a thankless task. Where do you begin? Where do you end? How do you convey the depth of emotion? There’s no right or wrong way of doing it.
This is particularly true of our affection towards football clubs, because fandom is a fundamentally ridiculous concept. Nevertheless, in the subsequent paragraphs, I’ll attempt to articulate my love for Tranmere Rovers, which has brought me both happiness and sadness down the years.
At the most basic level, I love Tranmere because I had no choice in the matter. I was born with Rovers in my blood. My dad is a lifelong Tranmere fan, and the same fate was passed down to me as I lay in the cradle. Pretty much everything in life is optional, but only in exceptional circumstances can you change footballing allegiances.
As children, we have little say in the matter. But why, as rational adults, are we bound by degrees of loyalty that just don’t exist in other spheres of life? Why do we continue to attend games even when they have torturous consequences? For many, the simple answer is identity, and I totally concur. Being Tranmere fans gives us something tangible by which to be defined. Many outsiders may consider that shallow or pitiful, but they simply don’t understand.
There’s also an unmistakeable tribalism to football. I love Tranmere because I love Wirral, for instance. Deep down, every single person harbours special feelings for his or her homeland, and I’m no different. I’m incredibly proud of my working class roots and council estate background. Moreover, our peninsula has an enchanting history and some stunning geographical features. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. And whether people like it or not, football is now the foremost vehicle of that civic pride.
In the minds of millions, entire towns and cities are embodied by football clubs. That’s the true meaning of a club: to represent one area, one culture, one philosophy against another. Without that justification, that rational underpinning, football is nothing. Increasingly, Premier League fans don’t understand that, as elite sport is commercialised and supporters are viewed more as consumers of a brand than constituent parts of a club’s soul.
Therefore, I love Tranmere because they’re imperfect. Unlike the polished Premier League titans who are obsessed with public image, Rovers reflect the flawed nature of our existence. Life is a struggle, with many bumps in the road. It isn’t all about success and glory, and Tranmere teach you that. This club has brought me to tears far more than it has catapulted me to joy, but that’s okay. That’s real. It teaches you a lot about dealing with adversity and maintaining dreams. It gives you a grounding in life and tells you that nothing comes easy.
While mirroring life in some aspects, football fandom has a few redeeming features that make it so addictive. For example, even in the face of abject failure, a new opportunity will arise every August. Hope will spring eternal and a new chapter will be written.
In this regard, whole eras of my life have been defined by Tranmere. My childhood is represented by Steve Yates steaming in to crash home a header. My adolescence is defined by Ian Goodison scoring a crucially important goal and wheeling away to kiss the sacred badge. My adulthood is thus far synonymous with the agony of Boreham Wood winning at Prenton Park. From collecting autographs as a kid to hurling yourself down three rows of seats in a drunken goal celebration at Wrexham, the process is smooth and inexorable. If Tranmere is in your blood, there’s very little you can do to stop the evolution. More to the point, why would you want to?
I can still recall the first time Tranmere occupied my mind. It was March 2001, and Rovers hosted Liverpool in an FA Cup quarter-final. My dad, a lifelong Superwhite, attended as usual, whilst a few other relatives watched at home. I was five years old and soon to be saddled with the addiction.
There was something intoxicating about the big crowd, something aspirational that made me wander outside and play in the street. I kicked a ball into the hedges repeatedly, re-enacting the game and waiting for my dad to return. When he did, I asked about one day attending a match. A few months later, that thankfully happened, and life was never the same again.
Over the subsequent fifteen years, I’ve witnessed more last-minute capitulations than is healthy for the soul. I’ve travelled to all four corners of the country in support, often without reward. Why? Because it’s who I am. There’s a direct lineage to those first childhood memories, and attending games in the present day keeps them alive in some small way. By continuing to go, through thick and thin, we honour our Tranmere reminiscence. Below the surface, I’m still the same kid who worshipped Jason Koumas and Iain Hume; still the same kid who bought every shirt and pretended to score last gasp winners against Everton in front of the Kop.
It’s all linked together.
Nowadays, Tranmere is a fitting distraction at a time when those are sorely needed. No matter what happens through the week, matchday will always arrive, offering the rare opportunity to drink alcohol on public transportation and sing utter nonsense about decidedly inexact heroes. In this age of splintered society, with people finding new ways to disagree across political, religious and economical lines, the lower league football ground is one last bastion of unity. It’s the one place where people of all backgrounds and vocations assemble in a shared love, a common interest. You could be a banker or a supermarket stacker, a lawyer or a decorator. On a Saturday and the occasional Tuesday, it doesn’t matter. All of that is put to one side for a few hours of blissful cohesion, with people coalescing to share an experience and a feeling. Where else is that possible any more? Book club?
Some people will say its moronic to rely on the travails of a local football team to moderate ones mood; that it somehow illustrates an emotional immaturity. To be honest, I couldn’t care less, because those same people will never experience the blind delirium of Jennison Myrie-Williams bending one into the top corner at Elland Road. To outsiders, that may seem pathetic. And without understanding or emotion, it quite probably is. But if you’ve caught the football bug, that makes total sense. That’s second nature.
The actual football itself is only a small part of our experience. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful sport that excites like few others. I’m enthralled by the crowd, by the hostility and rolling waves of noise. It’s the smell of burgers cooking on a distant grill; the thunderous sound of ten thousand seats clanging into place as spectators rise together, yearning to see that delicate cross plundered into the net. It’s the imposing floodlights and the shared bond between fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, friends and loved ones. It’s the bug-eyed ecstasy of a last-minute winner.
It can be argued that most, if not all, football clubs offer these things, only in different doses and at unreliable times. So what makes Tranmere so special? What distinguishes it from the pack? Well, for me, the history of our club is incredibly unique, and its future is filled with enormous potential. Just one look at the majestic Kop informs of our stature and our opportunity to grow. We shouldn’t be where we are. Everyone knows that.
Tranmere haven’t lifted many trophies, but they have always fought a noble war against fate, in the shadows of larger neighbours. We discovered, nurtured and gifted Dixie Dean to the world. We were formed before Liverpool and Arsenal, Newcastle and West Ham. We signed Pat Nevin and John Aldridge before hammering on the door to Premier League football against steep odds. We journeyed to a League Cup final, and beat the grandest giants while laughing in the face of financial disparity. And we did it all without betraying our roots, without neglecting our responsibility within the community.
Sure, there have been down years and dark periods, but that’s life. I can still marvel at that gorgeous white kit, largely unspoiled in this age of ubiquitous commerce. I can still worship the hallowed badge and respect its meaning. I can still dream about the stadium being full one day, and about my humble football club competing again with the elite of English football.
This idea and spirit of Tranmere Rovers exist independent of the football club. There’s an essence to being a fan that overrides individual people and specific achievements. The day-to-day business of transfers and personnel and marketing is separate to the overall concept of Tranmere, just as it is for many clubs. That beating heart, real but invisible, exists no matter what the team does at any one time or in any one game. It’s buried deep in the soul of those who understand, those who believe. In some ways, then, following Tranmere is a religion. It’s a feeling, a way of life. It’s about community triumphing over division and belief conquering scepticism.
The Rovers force me to do things that are otherwise incongruous in daily life, such as praying or googling possible transport routes to Maidstone United. That’s somewhat exhilarating, and it has a way of reminding you about mortality. Still to this day, I cannot watch Tranmere defend a one-goal lead with five minutes remaining without expecting a fiery apocalypse to engulf us all at any moment. That keeps you on edge. That keeps you invigorated. That keeps you breathing.
Of course, there are other ways of obtaining those extreme highs, but few of them are legal. And whereas other forms of entertainment are typically fleeting, following a football club is like a constant soap opera unfolding before your very eyes. In this regard, Tranmere gives me something to think about in those bizarre moments of inactivity. In waiting rooms and on trains, normal people worry about what to have for tea or what to buy as a wedding gift for that person they don’t really like. Meanwhile, I’m contemplating to the point of perspiration how we can obtain three points against the mighty footballers of North Ferriby village, even though I have exactly zero control over the match.
There’s something wonderfully different about that, something slightly unhinged. We all have obsessions and we all have habits that could potentially kill us, be it smoking or eating too much chocolate. Like a lot of people, mine just happen to be the same exact thing: an unwavering love for Tranmere Rovers Football Club. And there’s nothing anybody can do to stop it.