By Ryan Ferguson
It all comes down to this. After months of hoping and dreaming, hurting and scheming, a maximum of three games will determine the immediate fate of Tranmere Rovers. After years of turmoil and strife, worry and frustration, an opportunity for redemption presents itself.
We pushed all the way in a gruelling title race, soaring back from the dead on numerous occasions to rekindle giddy belief, but the odds were too long, the mountain too steep, the rivals too clinically relentless.
If Micky Mellon was in charge for 46 league games, rather than 32, the outcome may have been different. But here we are, and here we go. There’s another fight ahead, and we’re not the kind of people to back down.
Bad things seem to befall us habitually. For decades, perhaps forever, this star-crossed football club from this rough and rugged town has fought bravely to deliver results befitting its imposing stature. In that quest, pain, unbearable pain, has greeted us more often than joy. But thousands upon thousands of people have fallen in love with this club, this story, this feeling.
It’s inside us, and there’s little that can be done.
To support Tranmere Rovers is to believe in unseen dreams. To invest in this peninsula jewel is to fight against preconception and stereotype. To adore such a beautifully flawed concept is to feel true love, requited or not.
Tranmere is the hard luck neighbour who can’t catch a break. Tranmere is the well-meaning friend who never gets rewarded. Tranmere is the smiling brother with a broken heart.
Our day never seems to arrive.
Since Rovers last won a league title, in 1938, America has elected fourteen Presidents, Britain has witnessed a change of monarch, and the world has even gone to war to defeat an unspeakable evil.
Since Rovers last won a promotion or trophy, in 1991, the Internet has taken hold of our lives, mobile phones have become ubiquitous, and the number of television channels has mushroomed out of control.
I’m tired of watching other teams celebrate through teary eyes. I’m tired of caveats, of dull regrets, of hearing what might have been. I’m tired of the taxi driver who knows little about football but who says conclusively that Tranmere will always bottle it in the end. I’m tired of waiting.
But don’t worry. We’re tough up here. Sure, we’ve spilled tears for the old white jersey. Yes, three relegations in fourteen seasons tested the soul. Obviously, exiting the Football League after 94 unbroken years was a seismic shock. But we sucked it up, gritted our teeth in the face of humiliation, and went again.
Attendances increased, from 5,192 on average in League Two to 5,214 in the National League. Passion grew, leading dozens to plough across the Deva Stadium turf to celebrate a late derby winner. A unique ecosystem formed around the sainted sons of this land betwixt Mersey and Dee. Pressure. Responsibility. Honour. Somewhere between the fall and renaissance, this became no ordinary football club. It became a cult, a movement, a vehicle for pride in an unjust world.
Even this season, our emotions have been tried. When a record points tally yields only second place, that stings. When a 9-0 victory is followed by a 1-0 defeat, that aches. When Sutton United beat Tranmere Rovers in a league match, that makes you ponder the futility of life.
Every loss hurts. The thought of opposition fans sniggering at this faltering behemoth gnaws at us all. Indignation pervades. Yet still we stand, still we clap, still we follow in blind devotion. Heartache makes us stronger, layer by layer. Failure makes us weary, but still we journey on. Dreaming makes us dizzy, but still we can’t help ourselves.
You see, there’s little choice. Once touched by the Shakespearian reality of Tranmere Rovers, you’re a character for life. It courses through your veins, pours through your heart. You’re subjected to the same feelings of raw anguish and occasional ecstasy as everyone else who believes.
And so, take a deep breath. Maybe even take a walk. Clear your head. Unblock your soul. Dig to the furthest reaches and conjure the greatest effort you can muster for this assault on the National League playoffs.
Bring a friend, a sibling, a neighbour. Tell your colleagues, your acquaintances, your enemies. Let’s cram the old ground on Borough Road and rock it to the foundations. Make a noise that could wake the dead. Suck the ball towards that goal beneath the Kop. Give voice to our yearning. Leave no regrets.
It’s going to be tough. Tears are guaranteed. We’re going to need one another, perhaps like never before. Be it an arm around the shoulder, a pat on the back or even a shared look of desperation, spread the burden and help each other through. Together, we can do this. Together, we can change the cosmic reality of this thing we hold so dear. Together, we can.
I know a nagging doubt exists in all of our minds. That’s natural. That’s Tranmere. The karmic forces surrounding this club hitherto suggest something will go wrong somewhere in this crusade. But perhaps we can change that. Perhaps we can play a part in bringing about that moment of ultimate glory promised but never delivered to generations on Wirral. Perhaps we can create a different ending, through sheer force of will.
For every time they’ve made you cry, shout a phrase of encouragement. For every time they’ve made you daydream, stand up and cheer anew. For every squashed hope and aborted party, give it your all once more. Yes, times have been tough, but remember the infrequent magic of which this club is capable.
Remember Barlow swooping it home, Williams leaping high, Henry smashing that volley. Remember the first time you clanked through the turnstiles, ambled up the stairs with your Dad, and saw the verdant green turf unfurl before you. Remember that moment Tranmere first entered your blood, grabbed at your core and dominated your thoughts.
Remember opening a Tranmere kit at Christmas. Remember pretending to score in front of the Kop when playing with your mates. Remember your first autograph, your first awayday, your first season ticket.
Remember the floodlights burning your eyes as a kid. Remember the boozy train journeys as an adult. Remember the freezing cold nights, the last minute winners, the stoppage time grief.
Remember the Rockford Files giving you goosebumps. Remember getting off the bus with your brother and walking towards the ground, so imposing and majestic. Remember standing next to your best friend through the good times and bad, from Portsmouth to Hartlepool, sharing elation and sorrow.
Summon those memories, harness those feelings, channel that desire into one more push.
In their 133-year history, so rich and extensive, Tranmere Rovers have played close to 5,000 matches. That total includes relegation deciders and Wembley finals, promotion clinchers and marquee cup ties. But a very convincing argument could be made that these playoff games are the most important we’ve ever faced.
A club with this heritage and these traditions should never find itself in the fifth tier. However, there are no league points awarded for our discovery of Dixie Dean, nor for the fact we reached a League Cup final less than two decades ago. The likes of Boreham Wood don’t care. If anything, those things make them even hungrier to beat us. But we simply can’t do this for much longer. The need to get out of this league has never been more pronounced.
As our parachute payments dwindle, they grow for clubs freshly relegated from League Two. More importantly, a grand old dame like Tranmere Rovers should be playing in proper stadiums against proper clubs. Get lost with your South Park and Chelmsford City. Shove your Maidstone and Guiseley. The time has come to reclaim what once was ours. The time has come for a new hero. The time has come for glory.
And so, attention now turns to the players and management, those entrusted with this prestigious opportunity. This is your chance to shine. This is your chance to carve an eternal place in the fabric of something larger than yourself. This is your chance to become part of Tranmere Rovers folklore, by elevating it from purgatory.
This is your chance.
Run that extra mile. Give that extra effort. Live that extra dream. Find a way to do this. Some way. Any way. And if you do, prepare for adulation beyond words.
You will be carried in the hearts of every Tranmere fan for the rest of time, the backyard fantasy brought to life. You will never have to buy a drink in Birkenhead again.
When you wake up, drive to that stadium, put on that shirt and walk onto that pitch, you’re living the dream and controlling the mood of thousands. Many of us would give our right arm to have your skill, your opportunity and your kit.
In the past, people have called that a curse, a daunting realisation that creates a cauldron of pressure. But I see it as a blessing, an asset, a gift to be appreciated. Wearing that crest, hearing that roar and seeing that emotion should be enough. You play for the famous Tranmere Rovers. You tread in the footsteps of giants. It’s time to prove why.
In fairness, we have done remarkably well to recover from the Brabin regime. To finish second, after slouching to ninth in October, deserves praise. We’ve applauded the effort and encouraged the progress. But at this club, in this league, at this time, anything short of promotion will be a failure. Another failure.
So do it for the pensioner who has seen it all and the teenager who fell in love with Rovers just this season. Do it for the memory of those dearly departed, stalwarts like Johnny King and Norman Wilson, without whom there would be no Tranmere Rovers. Do it for anyone who ever bestowed good wishes on this fine community club.
Do it for Micky Mellon, the kind of fearsome leader this club deserved. Do it for Mark and Nicola Palios, whose vision put us back on the rails. Do it to prove that Birkenhead can achieve something great, even if the establishment says it can’t.
I want to be soaked in champagne. I want to smoke a victory cigar. I want to do things a council estate kid never gets to do and feel things a Tranmere fan rarely gets to feel.
I want that moment where the ground shakes beneath your feet as Rovers score a goal. I want that ear-piercing scream of relief, that bug-eyed maelstrom of limbs. I want that moment when a Tranmere player wheels away into the record books, silverware secured.
For once, just once, let everything fall into place. Let it happen.
If promotion is somehow secured in the coming weeks, it would be the most cathartic achievement in the history of our club. Yes, Exeter ’87 was imperative. And yes, Everton ’01 was unbelievable. But to hoist ourselves back from the abyss, after so many injuries to so many stars, facing such thin margins, against the weight of daunting inevitability, would be mind-boggling. It would spark a celebration unlike any other. We’d show Lincoln how to party. Perhaps we’d never return home.
Some might say it’s only the National League. That three promotions are needed before true equilibrium is restored to Prentonia. In a certain light, I might even agree. However, the historic importance of ending this hex, changing this script and experiencing success, any success, cannot be overstated.
We have the infrastructure. We have the resources. We have the vision, the management and the players. All we need is a stroke of luck, at long last, to catalyse a potential dynasty. All we need is a start, and this has to be it.
Elsewhere, the world will keep spinning. Billions won’t care or even know that these matches are taking place. Even most football fans watching on television, up and down the land, will have zero clue what this means. They may never truly know, never truly understand Tranmere Rovers, but we will never truly care. To us, this matters. It matters like little else. So come on, let’s get to work.
I’ll see you on the other side.