By Ryan Ferguson
The noise was ferocious. It quaked from the dingy terraces, tore through the moistened night, and settled over the floodlit pitch like a film of pixie dust. Rolling waves of encouragement, volcanic in proportion. Desperate pleas of yearning, animalistic in desire. Ceaseless songs of jubilation, tribal in defiance.
That noise, that beautifully chaotic noise, stirred the soul of every starlet in white. It thumped in the heart and writhed through the blood. For one enchanted eve, the sheer inexorable magnitude of our passion finally made a difference. It transformed the archaic Recreation Ground, Aldershot, into a canvas for the most improbable masterpiece of all.
Tranmere Rovers, so often accursed, morphed into a team of world-beating artisans. In the first leg of a playoff semi-final, no less. The spirit and purpose of fandom was demonstrated before our misty eyes. It was the performance you continuously dream about, the flame you always chase, through multiple relegations and many thousands of miles. Fiction brought to life.
Just three minutes in, Rovers were ahead. No nerves. No settling in. No patented capitulation. At our raucous behest, those entrusted with the famous shirt hunted in packs of two and three, turning the screw on Aldershot.
Relentless early pressing forced a mistake from the home right-back, who was fleeced of possession by Jeff Hughes. Almost instantly, Cole Stockton received a sharp pass in the penalty area. Touch. Swivel. Bang.
Stockton wheeled away to our corner, arms spread wide in celebration. A scene of carnage unfurled before him, as the travelling horde went wild. The sense of shocked delirium was astounding. Years of pent up frustration erupted all at once. Some scaled the railings, bug-eyed and unhinged. Others cascaded down rows of concrete steps, cast adrift in the wonderment. The roar was classic. So venomous, so Tranmere. It was a feeling to behold.
The party raged on. Every song had its moment, beamed at optimum volume. Every fan gave their all, creating a white hot crucible of noise. Rarely have I encountered such unity amongst the Tranmere support. We weren’t losing that game.
It may sound exceedingly strange, unbelievably arrogant and grossly inaccurate, but I felt partly responsible for such an unprecedented fire within our fanbase at that moment in time. Prior to the playoffs, I sat down and wrote the greatest article of my life. After years of trying, I finally articulated every thought, dream and feeling about Tranmere Rovers that ever came my way. For days, I was submerged in a different zone of creativity, and the result was that rarest of achievements for any writer: an article that totally satisfied its initial purpose and inspiration. I emptied my soul onto the page, and your response was simply amazing.
A Time for Glory was read by over 6,000 people. The original tweet promoting it received 143 retweets, 177 likes, 63 individual replies and 27,510 impressions. We reached over 12,000 people on Facebook and garnered over 50 likes on Instagram. Dozens of people said it made them cry. Others thanked me for expressing their lifetime of devotion, for finding the words that had always eluded them. I received message after message, from the club owners and former legends right through to a pensioner in the local betting shop who asked my Dad for a printed copy that he could always cherish.
Every single message touched my heart. I was humbled, truly humbled. At Aldershot, strangers hugged me in the pub, asked if they could buy me a pint. People shook my hand on the terraces, thanking me again and again. This was all surreal to me, a simple council estate lad besotted with England’s most cursed football club. It was unexpected. It was exhilarating. It was a special time in my life. A time I’ll never forget.
I’ve since heard from two reliable sources that, somewhere along the line, Micky Mellon read it to his players. I’ve been unable to verify those claims, and my mind struggles to comprehend such a scenario, but it’s a proud little thought. Perhaps its even true. Regardless, I felt my article looming in the air at Aldershot. It stoked a furnace among us. I’d love to say it helped the players, but maybe that’s too indulgent even for these pages.
Whatever fuelled them, Tranmere played on in extraordinary fashion. Comfortable. Cool. Controlling. After 48 minutes, we were the beneficiaries of a most unusual slice of luck. The home goalkeeper dropped an innocuous cross, right into the path of James Norwood, who tapped it into the net almost apologetically. Further chaos in our stand. More noise from our fantasy. Wembley soared into view.
Amid the clattering din, Rovers added a third fifteen minutes from time. It was the type of goal Tranmere never seem to score. Hughes won the ball cleanly in his own half, thwarting an Aldershot attack and touching it off to James Wallace. Unconsciously, Wallace played a first-time ball into Norwood, galloping free over the halfway line. James burrowed through the pitch before stitching the most immaculate through ball between two Aldershot defenders. The kind of pass that typically gets intercepted when played by a man in Tranmere white. Yet this time? This time was different. The ball rolled through to Stockton, who slotted it with authority into the bottom corner.
When the final whistle blew on our anomalous night, pride flooded the field. Together, we stood on crash barriers and waved scarves aloft. We saluted our heroes and dared to ponder actual glory. And, yes, we experienced the absolute pinnacle of Planet Prentonia. Right there and then.
My little idea, my modest creation, may have had a positive impact on the actual fortunes of Tranmere Rovers.
That’s always the aspiration.
First, we yearn to pull on that shirt and score goals in front of a packed Kop. Then the realisation dawns that we’re suddenly too old, too fat and too overtly bereft of any footballing skill.
Some of us then daydream about being the manager instead, cracking the code and lifting the hex. Then we discover that, deep down, we’re more Rob Edwards than Pep Guardiola in terms of coaching acumen.
At that point, a very small percentage of us consider covering the club as a journalist, reporting on its fate. Then we learn that the mainstream media has little time for, or knowledge of, Tranmere Rovers.
Most give up.
I never did.
Some of us start our own website, questing to tell the real story of Tranmere Rovers. And, very occasionally, it works. You actually strike a chord with people. They accept rather than deride you. The words you spin have a real impact, reaching those chosen few who actually possess the ability to direct the fortunes of our club as players, coaches and executives.
That is special. That is the greatest feeling of all.
As the second leg against Aldershot approached, Planet Prentonia continued to enjoy its greatest days. A Time for Glory was shared far and wide. BT Sport asked to interview me about the article as part of their coverage at Prenton Park. I politely declined, because the published words did all my talking, all our talking. There was little else to say. Only we truly understand.
Rovers gave us a few twitchy moments in the second leg, before a crowd of 10,241 after tax, but eventually prevailed 5-2 on aggregate. Fans flooded the pitch when Norwood notched a 94th minute concluder, and the grand old dame floated off to Wembley.
I didn’t write anything before the biggest Tranmere match of my life. I was too drained. The articles come from such a deep place within, extracting the words properly can take weeks, if not months. It can be a gruelling process. Instead, I created a video that poured fuel on our fiery ambition. It has since been viewed over 5,000 times.
Of course, we lost in the end. Our tears filled the shiny citadel of Wembley Stadium. Thousands upon thousands of us, distraught to the core. Even the sheer weight of unparalleled craving was trumped by the dark karmic forces that conspire to thrust routine heartache upon Tranmere Rovers. Even this time, so different to the rest, there was an unhappy ending.
I still don’t know how.
I wrote a playoff final postmortem, summoning the last fumes of energy from a fleeting, golden time. It was some kind of coda, some type of ending. How could we ever top the previous few months? How could we ever reach that same crescendo of emotion? Attempting to write at that level, with such emotion, on a regular basis, seemed an improbable task. Hence a period of comparative inactivity from myself. I didn’t want to cheapen the output of Planet Prentonia by falling below its newly established standards.
This website changed my life. It enriched my career in journalism and gave me a place to express so many feelings about Tranmere Rovers. And it led directly to my current job as Commercial Manager of North Star Environmental, a wonderful opportunity for which I’m exceedingly grateful.
Today, Planet Prentonia turns two years old. While the correct words have often been elusive in the post-Wembley wilderness, and while work responsibilities give me less free time to populate these pages, our website lives on.
This year has seen a pleasant rise in the number of Tranmere websites, and I’ve been impressed by the variety of original content that has been created. I will always encourage such a process, for no written word or captured film about our beloved Rovers ever goes to waste. We need the publicity.
Yet, quite truthfully, nobody does it like Planet Prentonia. This remains a portal for some of the greatest writing ever published on the topic of Tranmere Rovers. At least that’s what you tell me. And I say that with immense pride, not arrogance, because we have built this platform together. Without your support, it would all mean nothing.
By my own admission, our website may look a little dated, and our social media channels may not be the hub of activity they once were, but Planet Prentonia is still supremely pertinent. Our purpose, to fight for a better understanding of Tranmere Rovers, remains relevant. And our ability, to create around Prenton Park an atmosphere of irresistible belief and momentum, remains purposeful.
At its best, Planet Prentonia gives structure to our feelings as a fanbase. It’s a receptacle for communal anger, frustration, disappointment, hope, faith, euphoria and pride. You’ve missed it. I’ve missed it. People have stopped me in the streets, nowhere near Prenton Park, and asked where the articles have gone. Others have approached me in the pub at matches and encouraged me to get things back on track. I’ve received tweets and messages, emails and texts. I can only apologise.
But we’re still here. We’re still alive. Right here, right now, we can make a difference again. Together. It’s been a perplexing season. One that saw Rovers languish to 18th place in the fifth tier at one point. Yet all is not lost. With twenty-two games completed, we sit in 11th position. Five points from the playoffs. Eleven off the top. One game in hand.
Here we go again. Here I come again, imploring you to dig a little deeper and push our perfectly imperfect lads towards success. All season long, we have teetered between ecstasy and absurdity from week to week, game to game. Won eight. Drawn seven. Lost seven. A collage of inconsistency. Our players have excited in flashes and bewildered routinely. But still we love them. They’re still ours.
So as the cold winds blow and a new year rounds into view, it’s time to catch our breath. The agonising memories of Wembley will never leave us, but the wound has finally reached a manageable state. We haven’t had a match for two weeks, providing an ideal time to recuperate from a perplexing league campaign. It’s time to start our push.
Sure, there’s plenty to worry about in Prentonia. The list grows longer every day. But, I ask, what do we have left? What magic is still buried in the fabric of this evocative club? Can the stars align and the ghosts be laid to rest? Will a season be resurrected from the ashes of discontent?
Let’s find out.
As we grow, priorities change and plans are altered. Lives drift apart. Friends come and go. We fall in and out of love. We find new jobs, buy new houses and build new families. But football is the one constant. Football is always there. Tranmere Rovers are always there.
They can be a pain in the arse, don’t get me wrong, but they are always there regardless. They can be terrible, but they still wear white. They can fall way below our demands, but they still deliver the odd flicker of amazement that lights up our world and encourages us to carry on.
Deep down, we’re all still that one kid running around a council estate pretending to be Hume or Koumas, Muir or Morrissey. We’re all still craving to make a difference. That’s why I continue with Planet Prentonia, because I yearn to write for you that story of all stories, when Tranmere Rovers emerge victorious.