“Tranmere isn’t the little brother of Liverpool and Everton, as many people think. We were formed before the Anfield club, and our identity inspires pride in itself. If Planet Prentonia can shed more light on that and help create a positive mood around the club, then that’s great.”
We’ve only been to Prenton Park once to see the Super White Army play. It was a 4-0 win against Exeter with Lucas Akins – described by our die-hard friend as a ‘waste of skin’ that season – scoring two goals; one of them a 30-yard lob for Les Parry’s side.
Rovers secured their place in League One for another season that day. That was in 2011, with Tranmere sharing the table with Southampton and Bournemouth. Since then, those two clubs have propelled themselves into the Premier League while Tranmere have gone the other way, dropping out of the league with a whimper.
Over the water and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have set themselves a minimum top-four finish this campaign while new investment in Everton and and the popular Ronald Koeman are raising expectations.
Surely the only way is up for Tranmere?
If you know your history
Local journalist Ryan Ferguson is hoping so. He loves Tranmere, and he’s spearheading a local media project – Planet Prentonia – to generate more original content and local discussion about Tranmere Rovers instead of the team becoming a byline in local and national press.
“I certainly think Tranmere have been overlooked. People like Nick Hilton of the Liverpool Echo have done great work covering the club for many years, but the mainstream tends to be more patronising.
“I launched Planet Prentonia to solve that, to tell the real story of a proud club with its own unique history, from discovering Dixie Dean right through to reaching the League Cup final in 2000.
“Planet Prentonia [launched] in December 2015 and it has already grown really well. We now have over 1,000 Twitter followers, where we share some great historical content, and the website is expanding, too.
“This is still a hobby, but any potential donations through Patreon would enable me to dedicate even more time to Planet Prentonia, which means much more content and interaction, which in turn will help our following and reputation grow. I believe there is a bright future for the site, and our journey has only just begun.”
Ryan has a point about Tranmere disappearing from the nationals. Though Trinity Mirror’s Wirral Globe and Liverpool Echo give regular health checks, the club’s largely ignored elsewhere – an amazing fall from grace since the club boasted a prime-time spot on the BBC against Liverpool in the quarter finals of the FA Cup 15 years ago.
Ryan believes he knows the reason why. “The root of Tranmere’s current struggles can be traced to the late-1990s, when the club was in the second division.
“After banging on the Premier League door for many years without ultimately achieving promotion, expenditure on wages began to outstrip revenue from attendances. That forced player sales, which weakened the squad and led to relegation into the third tier.
“From there, Peter Johnson, the owner who bankrolled the big dream, gradually grew disinterested as attendances waned. When Rovers struggled to return to division two straight away, he decided to put the club up for sale.
“That process dragged on for way too long, as he couldn’t find a suitable buyer. In the meantime, budgets were cut to merely what the club generated in attendances, as expectations slipped to merely surviving in the third tier.
“The club stagnated in all facets, including commercially. With limited funds, back-to-back relegations into the non-league occurred, ending Rovers’ 94-year run in the Football League.
“Certainly, there was plenty of coaching and management issues along the way, but the trouble largely began in the boardroom.”
Life’s a pitch
Ryan’s currently looking for backing to the tune of $100 (about £75) a month to work on and grow Planet Prentonia via Patreon. He wants to be able to write more articles, create graphics, produce videos; mainly to explode myths and ‘lazy stereotypes’ surrounding our historic local club.
He wants to bring the pride back and ‘tell the real story of Wirral’s pre-eminent sports club’, hoping to fill in the gaps that mainstream press doesn’t provide. He has form too, having written for the Liverpool Echo, The Guardian, numerous local publications and countless football magazines and blogs.
“I was born into a Tranmere-supporting family, so the club is in my blood. My first match was in 2001, when I was six years old. Since then, the bond has grown stronger and stronger, with each relegation making me more proud, strangely.
“I’m working to build a career in journalism, and my freelance portfolio is coming along really well. I’ve had work published by the Guardian, Liverpool Echo and Montreal Gazette, in addition to many top class websites and magazines. I’d love to make a living reporting on Tranmere one day.”
We ask Ryan could we as locals be doing more to help our sleeping giant? We ask because we have friends who have supported Tranmere for decades and have invested a hell of a lot of money buying season tickets, kits and following them home and away. They’ve even rented the pitch during the off-season to play with friends.
They’ve had enough at the moment, though. They love the club and have dedicated their life to the Super White Army, but home defeats against Braintree Town when the team couldn’t get a corner past the first man have turned them off completely.
They’re not alone in that sentiment as empty stands suggest, but Ryan’s sure we can be doing more instead of admiring the glitz and glamour of Liverpool and Everton. “Absolutely. The main purpose of a football club is to represent one area and one culture against another.
“By neglecting the local club, fans lose sight of that meaning. I can understand family traditions, and people support teams for different reasons, but you cannot beat that tangible connection to a club.
“Wirral has a population of more than 320,000. That Tranmere, its premier sports club, averages gates of 5,000 is quite sad. If that power, that intelligence, and that passion was harnessed for the benefit of our local club, it could be a genuine juggernaut of English football. I strongly believe that.”
“The revival is well underway,” Ryan tells us. “The new ownership group, Mark and Nicola Palios, are really passionate and they care immensely about Rovers’ place in the community. Mark played for Tranmere back in the day, and he was later chief executive of the FA. He has the clout and contacts to lead a renaissance.”
And there are reasons to be cheerful. The Palios family look to be sticking around for the long-term with Mark and wife Nicola recently investing in the Riverhill Hotel in Oxton. A new season starts on Saturday, and with it the hopes and dreams of success and promotion. This may well be Rovers’ year.
“Their first year in charge was taken up with trying to reverse the many years of neglect. From sprucing up the stadium and suites to bolstering the commercial department and playing staff, the Palioses are full of energy and ideas to get Tranmere back where it belongs. For the first time in a decade, there is actually a plan for the future.
“It hurts that we’re in the non-league, and it’s notoriously difficult to get out due to one automatic promotion place, but it will happen. I’m really confident ahead of this season, and people should come along to Prenton Park to sample the totally revamped matchday experience.”