A pre-Yule top-of-the-table clash brings Tranmere Rovers closer to a potential return to the Football League. On the eve of a visit to fellow former League Two club Lincoln City, Peter Doyle speaks to Ryan Ferguson, editor of fan website Planet Prentonia.
There was a time when all that Half Man Half Biscuit wanted for Christmas was a Dukla Prague away kit.
But with Tranmere banished to the fifth-flight National League since 2015, the local indie legends, lifelong Rovers fans, might just be adding ‘promotion’ to their wish list this year.
Currently top, a point clear of Lincoln City, Tranmere play a six-pointer at Sincil Bank on Saturday. At stake is full league status, something that Rovers had enjoyed for 94 years before the drop.
Ryan Ferguson, editor of Tranmere supporters’ website planetprentonia.com, feels the frustration more than most. ‘In general terms, being in the National League is absolutely infuriating. The standard of just about everything is worse than we’re accustomed to – referees, stadiums, even down to the training kits! A club of this magnitude should never find itself in the fifth tier. That’s a simple fact. However, it’s happened, and we must adjust.’
It was 25 years ago that Rovers attracted Irish international John Aldridge to Prenton Park, soon joined by former Everton and Chelsea winger Pat Nevin. Tranmere made three Premiership play-offs in successive seasons, winning none. A League Cup final followed – but so did relegation to League Two, then worse.
Many expected Tranmere to bounce straight back, especially after the appointment of manager Gary Brabin in May 2015. ‘Last season was tough,’ said Ferguson, ‘and many grew disillusioned with Brabin. But his replacement, Micky Mellon, has really reinvigorated people, and rightly so’.
Tranmere have been unbeaten in the league since the return of former club stalwart Mellon in early October.
As Ferguson explains: ‘He was a decent player for Rovers back in the day. His record as a manager at Fleetwood and Shrewsbury was exceptional. Enticing a coach to drop down two divisions is a major coup, and excitement has been renewed among fans who demand promotion. He actually has a good squad to work with, so there’s a sense Tranmere are finally back on track’.
Back in the 1990s, Half Man Half Biscuit penned ‘Friday Night and the Gates are Low’ – a track partly inspired by Abba, partly by Tranmere’s attempt to entice floating fans over the Mersey with evening kick-offs before Saturday came.
Last week’s defeat of York City attracted a bumper crowd of 5,000 to Prenton Park. Matches in Birkenhead are now played on Saturday afternoons – with Rovers riding high and on course for the big return.
Lincoln City v Tranmere Rovers, National League, Saturday December 17, 3pm.