By Ryan Ferguson
After weeks of wrangling, Tranmere finally have their man. Former Rovers player Micky Mellon was appointed manager at Prenton Park tonight, heralding another fresh start for a club in desperate need of inspiration.
Mellon, 44, left Shrewsbury Town by mutual consent earlier on Thursday, paving the way for a new project in Birkenhead. The fiery Scot will drop down two divisions to seize control at Tranmere, a club that’s always been close to his heart.
Rovers sought a replacement for Gary Brabin, who was dismissed in September amid a poor run of form. Tranmere began the season with five consecutive wins, but performances were never convincing, and the wheels soon fell off. Two victories from the last nine games has seen Rovers slump to ninth in the National League. Now, Mellon is tasked with resuscitating hope and leading Tranmere on a charge up the table.
In recent weeks, negativity crept back in around Birkenhead, as Rovers spluttered once again. Patience was in short supply, mainly due to the miniscule margins between success and failure at this juncture of the club’s history. However, much of that frustration stems from a belief that Tranmere has the potential to become a genuine force of lower league football. If they squint hard enough, most fans can see the makings of a dynasty. All the ingredients are on the table, scattered about rather recklessly, and a quality chef was needed to create something beautiful. We shouldn’t expect miracles overnight, but Micky Mellon has been entrusted with that opportunity, and it’s now time to support him with every drop of energy we can muster.
Mellon’s arrival has been warmly received by fans who fondly recall his playing days. The midfielder enjoyed two spells at Tranmere, between 1997-99 and 2001-04, and he eventually became captain. John Aldridge brought Mellon to Prenton Park initially, and Micky also spent time with Bristol City, West Brom and Blackpool in a highly respectable career.
After completing his coaching badges, Mellon transitioned to management with Fleetwood Town in 2008. Backed by a strong budget, he masterminded two promotions at the club, guiding it into League Two for the first time. A role on the coaching staff at Barnsley followed, before Mellon took over at Shrewsbury in 2014. There, he built another strong squad, this time on a less luxuriant budget, and secured automatic promotion into League One. A difficult start to this season has the Shrews languishing near the bottom of that division, but it’s still a major coup for Tranmere to lure him back to the non-league circuit.
Clearly, this club means a lot to Micky Mellon. He played in the second tier for Tranmere, back when average attendances touched 9,000. Therefore, he knows first-hand about the enormous potential of football on the peninsula. He probably even sees this as a big step forward in his managerial career, and I would wholeheartedly agree. Yes, Rovers are currently in the National League, but our average attendance of 4,675 is comparable to Shrewsbury’s 4,969. Their ground only holds 10,000, while ours can seat over 16,500. That may not be important to most people, but it’s certainly a convenient barometer of just what this club is capable of. Micky Mellon sees that, and he’s ready for the fight.
It finally appears that Tranmere have a manager with the right character, temperament and personality to succeed. This is by far the most ruthless job in non-league football, and perhaps one of the most intense anywhere outside the Championship. Our expectations are immense, and rightly so. Previous managers haven’t embraced that. Rather than harnessing that burning ambition, old regimes shied away from it. That led to disunity that often doomed Rovers. By contrast, Micky Mellon knows all about our demands. He appreciates what it means to wear that shirt, and he also has a ruthlessness to extract maximum dedication from the players.
Make no mistake; this is a wonderful opportunity for Micky Mellon. Off the field, Tranmere has grown so much in recent years, but on-field ineptitude has soured the mood somewhat. Many will call me crazy, but I believe any manager should consider this one of the most exciting projects outside the Championship. In the owners, you have people with a strong vision for progress and the power to make it reality. In the fans, you have loyalty that cannot be bought and major potential for growth. And if you’re the guy who finally brings a trophy home to Birkenhead, you’ll be loved forever.
Throughout his managerial career, Mellon has proved adept in the transfer market, constructing squads capable of competing for promotion. Here at Tranmere, I believe he already has a lot to work with. Although recent weeks have been a real struggle, at least some of the problem can be attributed to injuries, suspensions and international call-ups ravaging what is an accomplished squad at this level. Rovers have signed several Player of the Season award winners and top goalscorers from other National League clubs to compliment an experienced core. Mellon’s first task will be fitting them all into a shape conducive with winning matches. We want to see attacking football, with wingers and strikers unleashed from their purgatory. Some tough decisions may be on the horizon, therefore, but so be it. Nobody is bigger than the club.
One of the great flaws of Brabin’s reign was his insistence on playing players out of position, most notably James Norwood. By simplifying things and putting people where they’re most likely to succeed, Mellon will already be a vast upgrade. Then he should be able to impart greater tactical intelligence and motivational ability on the players, who seemed to lack preparation and guidance under the previous regime.
Mellon will also be keen to get Tranmere scoring goals again. With Brabin in charge, Rovers averaged 1.25 goals per game, which simply wasn’t good enough. Mellon inherits the National League’s joint-best defence, but Tranmere have only scored 15 goals this season. Just five National League teams have a smaller tally. That needs to change, especially considering the embarrassment of attacking riches Rovers have when everybody is fit. If Mellon can get Tranmere scoring goals again and make Prenton Park a fortress, really good things can happen.
And so, it’s time we all came together again. Players, fans, executives, coaches. Everybody wants the same thing, even if sometimes our passion leads us to pursue it in less than ideal ways. We all yearn to see Tranmere Rovers back in the Football League, and if Micky Mellon can’t manage it, I honestly don’t know who can.
As fans, we’ve been through an unreal amount of fresh starts, only to be back in the same situation twelve months later. This time, it feels slightly different. The club may have bottomed out, and now it’s time to dig our way back to respectability. I know some of you have lost energy, and disillusionment has been understandable. But let’s draw a line under the past and give it another go. After all, we’re Tranmere Rovers. Fighting on through adversity is what we do. Perhaps this time we’ll strike gold.