101 mind-blowing facts about Tranmere Rovers

Three weeks ago, I published the first extended narrative history of Tranmere Rovers. Planet Prentonia breaks from the reference book norm and eschews the almanac format in favour of flowing prose, chronicling the exploits of Wirral’s predominant football club from 1884 to the present day.

Writing a book was an incredible journey. I learned so much along the way - about Tranmere, about Birkenhead, about football and about life. Where those pillars collide, overlap and coalesce, a wonderful movement thrives. Prenton Park is the hub of said movement, and its tenants are perhaps the most overlooked and misunderstood team in British sports.

Accordingly, I would like to present the ultimate Tranmere Rovers crib sheet. Here are 101 facts about my beloved club that will blow your mind.

      1. The club was formed in 1884 by kids with an average age of 15.

      2. All of the founding players were members of a Wesleyan church on Whitfield Street in Birkenhead.

      3. The club was established as a merger of two youth cricket teams, Belmont and Lyndhurst Wanderers, who yearned for a shared pursuit in the summer months.

      4. The founder members of Tranmere Rovers were decidedly middle class, contrary to the club’s later association with working class Wirral.

      5. James Hannay McGaul, the club’s first president, guided the young players, buying with his own money the first goalposts and footballs used by Tranmere Rovers.

      6. Originally christened Belmont, the club was renamed Tranmere Rovers on 16th September 1885.

      7. Tranmere Rovers became a limited company in 1911.

      8. Tranmere was one of the first 150 football clubs in England, from thousands playing at numerous levels, to join a formal league. Rovers joined the West Lancashire League in 1888.

      9. In the 1890s, Tranmere endured a bitter rivalry with Birkenhead FC, a club formed from the defection of almost the entire Rovers squad.

      10. Billy Davidson, a proud Lancastrian, was the only player who did not desert Tranmere to join Birkenhead. Every other Rovers player joined the upstart nemesis, making Davidson the most loyal representative our club has ever known.

      11. Tranmere Rovers is the only club with a Norse-Viking name in professional English football.

      12. Tranmere were the fourth major club to adopt the Rovers adjunct, following their counterparts in Blackburn, Doncaster and Bristol.

      13. The word Tranmere can be traced to AD 902.

      14. Tranmere means ‘sandbank with herons’ in Norse.

      15. Tranmere unearthed, refined and gifted to the world a young striker called William Ralph Dean. Later known as Dixie, this raw colt from Birkenhead became one of the greatest forwards in football history.

      16. In a 1924 reserve game against Altrincham, Dixie Dean lost a testicle on the pitch at Prenton Park as a vicious tackle placed his career in jeopardy.

      17. The three most prolific goalscoring seasons in English first division history were authored by players from Birkenhead originally discovered by Tranmere Rovers.

      18. Pongo Waring, an Aston Villa legend, got his start in professional football with Tranmere after selling cigarettes on matchdays at Prenton Park.

      19. Ellis Rimmer, a Rovers player who later gained fame with Sheffield Wednesday, played jazz piano at the Empire Theatre.

      20. Rimmer and Dean played together for Wirral Schoolboys, Tranmere Rovers and England.

      21. George Moorhouse, the first Englishman ever to play at the World Cup finals, represented Tranmere between 1921 and 1923.

      22. Jack Kennedy, Fred Watts and Ernie Dixon of Tranmere hold the record for combined Football League goals in a season by a trio of teammates.

      23. Technically, the largest ever crowd for a Tranmere ‘home’ game is 61,036. In 1934, Rovers moved an FA Cup tie against Liverpool from Prenton Park to Anfield, capitalising on a monumental attendance.

      24. Tranmere is one of just ten English clubs to have won the Welsh Cup.

      25. Between 1895 and 1935, Tranmere went 40 years without having a player sent off. After a period of sporadic violence, Rovers then embarked on another 18 years without a dismissal between 1937 and 1955.

      26. Rovers’ Bunny Bell was the first player ever to score a triple hat-trick in a Football League game.

      27. Tranmere Rovers 13-4 Oldham Athletic is still a Football League record scoreline in terms of goals.

      28. Max Power was Rovers’ top goalscorer in 2014-15 with seven goals. Bell eclipsed that tally inside 70 minutes of one game.

      29. On average, Bunny Bell scored once every 1.1 games for Tranmere, the best goals-to-games ratio in club history.

      30. The same club that couldn’t be bothered to paint the Main Stand for generations claimed to have preserved the very ball that Bell used to score his triple hat-trick. It was presented to Bunny in 1985 and later placed on display in a bar at Prenton Park. Nobody believed it was the real ball.

      31. When Tranmere Rovers last won a league title of any description, Adolf Hitler was Time magazine’s Man of the Year.

      32. In 135 years of existence, Tranmere Rovers have only ever won one Football League championship.

      33. Tranmere played a Czech Army XI at Prenton Park during World War II, raising money for the Spitfire Fund that transformed Allied fortunes.

      34. Eleven percent (11%) of all professional British footballers who died during World War II played for Tranmere Rovers.

      35. In 1939, a circus visited the fields off Borough Road, close to Prenton Park. Two tigers escaped, leading to a chaotic hunt. Both were eventually recaptured, and one of the tigers was found in the garage of a house opposite the stadium. Crikey.

      36. Tranmere had a baseball team in the 1940s, and they played at Prenton Park.

      37. Wirral had two Football League clubs between 1923 and 1951: Tranmere Rovers and New Brighton FC.

      38. In 1958, Tranmere beat Wrexham on the season’s final day in a winner-takes-all showdown for the last place in a newly restructured national third division.

      39. Tranmere were the first club on Merseyside, and one of the first in England, to hire a black professional footballer: Elkanah Onyeali.

      40. Dave Russell, the man who introduced Tranmere’s all-white kit, managed the Danish national team at the 1948 Olympics in London, defeating Great Britain en route to a bronze medal.

      41. Between 1946 and 1955, Harold Bell did not miss a match for Tranmere Rovers. The defender appeared in 401 consecutive Football League games, a record that will never be broken.

      42. Tranmere played Viktoria Berlin at Prenton Park in 1959.

      43. Jim Cumbes, a young Tranmere goalkeeper, also played first class cricket for Lancashire, maintaining a dual-sport career.

      44. In 1963, Rovers flew to an away game for the first time. They lost 5-0 against Exeter.

      45. Dave Russell was offered the Scotland manager’s job ahead of Matt Busby.

      46. Celtic used Russell’s philosophy, imbued through the Scottish FA’s coaching curriculum, to win the European Cup in 1967.

      47. The Main Stand, a fine feat of modern engineering, was officially opened in 1968. Ah, asbestos.

      48. The Rockford Files theme song is played before every Rovers game at Prenton Park.

      49. Tranmere are the only English football club with three lions on their crest.

      50. Tranmere are the only British club with a 100% winning record at Highbury.

      51. The oldest football hooligan in British history, Charlie Lindsay, was a Tranmere fan.

      52. Rovers embarked on a summer tour of Yugoslavia in the 1970s. Nobody knows why.

      53. Bill Shankly was once a consultant at Prenton Park, guiding player-manager Ron Yeats.

      54. Yeats introduced a red alternate kit at Tranmere. It was swiftly rejected.

      55. Tranmere was the first English football club under foreign ownership.

      56. Tranmere was the first English football club under American ownership.

      57. In the 1980s, Bruce Osterman, a San Francisco lawyer, bought the club so he could train with the players, fulfilling his passion as a wannabe goalkeeper.

      58. Osterman threatened to bulldoze Prenton Park and build a Tesco superstore on the site.

      59. Things got so bad for Tranmere in the 1980s that they had to buy a new kit on credit from a generic sportswear catalogue. No manufacturer saw any commercial potential in partnering with the club.

      60. Rovers’ first four shirt sponsors all went bust.

      61. Half Man, Half Biscuit is a cult band of Tranmere-supporting rockers from Wirral. They once turned down an appearance on Channel 4 music show The Tube, foregoing a huge popularity boost, because Tranmere were playing at the same time.

      62. Rovers participated in the Football League Centenary Event in 1988, defeating Wimbledon and Newcastle at Wembley.

      63. In 1989, Tranmere drew 2-2 with a Tottenham Hotspur team featuring Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker.

      64. In 1990 and 1991, Tranmere visited Wembley twice in a week on two different occasions under the management of Johnny King.

      65. Tranmere Rovers have played in Europe, courtesy of the Anglo-Italian Cup.

      66. Tranmere managed to sign John Aldridge from Real Sociedad for £250,000 in 1991, arguably the greatest transfer of all-time.

      67. Tranmere drew 6-6 with Newcastle in a 1991 Zenith Data Systems cup tie. Rovers won the resultant penalty shootout.

      68. In 1991-92, Aldridge scored 18 goals for Rovers in cup competitions alone.

      69. Rovers beat Galatasaray and Celtic to the signature of winger Pat Nevin in 1992.

      70. Christian Vieri, a young phenom who would later become the world’s most expensive footballer, played against Tranmere for Venezia in 1994.

      71. Oliver Bierhoff, a future star of Germany and AC Milan, played against Tranmere at Prenton Park for Ascoli on the day I was born: 4thOctober 1994.

      72. Tranmere lost a penalty shootout against Aston Villa in the 1994 League Cup semi-final. Manchester United awaited in the Wembley final, and Sir Alex Ferguson’s men had already qualified for the Champions League. Therefore, Villa entered the UEFA Cup by default. They then played Internazionale in the San Siro. That should have been us.

      73. John Aldridge is the only player to score at the World Cup finals while on the books at Prenton Park. Aldo managed the feat in 1994, netting for the Republic of Ireland against Mexico before 60,790 in Orlando.

      74. In the 1980s, attendances at Prenton Park fell to 2,903 on average. In the 1990s, that figure soared to 7,890, a rise of 171%.

      75. In the mid-1990s, Tranmere qualified for the second division playoffs in three consecutive seasons, losing each time. Rovers never got closer to reaching the Premier League.

      76. Jason Koumas played in the same Liverpool junior teams as Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard. Koumas was considered the brighter prospect, but he chose to join Tranmere when Liverpool played him out of position.

      77. Mercurial forward Iain Hume moved from Canada to Birkenhead at the age of 15, foregoing the final years of his education to become the youngest player ever to play for Tranmere Rovers.

      78. Warwick Rimmer, nephew of the aforementioned Ellis, established the Tranmere Rovers youth system, generating almost £14 million in subsequent player sales, a vital lifeline for a humble club.

      79. As a teenager, future Rovers legend Ian Goodison played for two clubs at the same time: Olympic Gardens in Kingston, Jamaica, and a nondescript outfit in the Cayman Islands. He flew between destinations in a committed bid to become a professional footballer.

      80. Goodison played more than 400 games for Tranmere. He joined the club as a 32-year old trialist. Never give up on your dreams.

      81. Pelé once asked Ian Goodison for a photograph.

      82. Theo Whitmore once went in goal for Tranmere against Hull City. Rovers lost 6-1.

      83. In 2006, legendary club physio Les Parry released a charity single entitled I’m Les The White Legs Parry, a spoof of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Somehow, this was deemed legal.

      84. In 2009, club owner Peter Johnson entrusted US firm Dornoch Capital to broker a potential sale of his shares. Dornoch duly placed Tranmere on eBay with a starting bid of $10 million.

      85. John Barnes once managed Tranmere Rovers. No, seriously. And Jason McAteer was his assistant.

      86. The aforementioned Parry, surprisingly a failed pop star, replaced Barnes in the dugout. He kept Rovers in League One against all odds, masterminding wins over Norwich, Southampton and Millwall along the way.

      87. In 2011, Bayern Munich signed teenage starlet Dale Jennings from Rovers. Tipped as the replacement for Franck Ribery, Jennings now plays for Runcorn Town.

      88. Jon Otsemobor played two matches for Tranmere, and his most notable contribution was falling into the Kop and sustaining a back injury. He never played professional football again.

      89. In 2014, Ronnie Moore lost his job as Tranmere manager after breaching FA betting rules. Ronnie’s £1 accumulator, netting a return of £3.93, cost him a job paying £130,000 per year.

      90. Jeremy Butler, a journalist, somehow became Tranmere chief executive during a farcical spell in 2014. Butler hired Rob Edwards as manager and sold Ryan Lowe to make room for Eliot Richards and George Donnelly. Shrewd.

      91. From January 2013 to May 2015, Tranmere plunged from the summit of League One to the squalor of non-league.

      92. In 12 years, Rovers went from enjoying three FA Cup quarter-finals in five seasons to not even reaching the first round proper.

      93. In 15 years, Tranmere went from playing in the League Cup final to not even qualifying for the competition.

      94. In 23 years, Rovers went from winning in Europe to losing in the FA Trophy.

      95. Between 1938 and 2018, Tranmere won exactly zero promotions that did not involve Johnny King as a player or manager.

      96. Prior to Rovers’ triumph at Wembley in 2018, every other club in the top five divisions of English football had experienced success, in the form of promotion or a trophy, since Tranmere last managed such a feat, back in 1991. This made Rovers the most success-starved club in the country.

      97. Connor Jennings spent five days in hospital in May 2018. He recovered from severe illness to provide a fabled assist for James Norwood, steering Rovers back into the Football League.

      98. Exceptionally inebriated, Larnell Cole slept at a fan’s house after celebrating the Wembley win over Boreham Wood in 2018.

      99. Jennings lost his grandad shortly before the League Two playoff final in 2019. Connor scored in the 119th minute, dedicating the goal to his cherished relative and catapulting Rovers into the third division.

      100. Micky Mellon is the only man to achieve back-to-back promotions as Tranmere manager.

      101. There is no club like it, and you should definitely get involved.


Get the Planet Prentonia book!

Ryan Ferguson is the author of Planet Prentonia: The Real Story of Tranmere Rovers, available now in paperback and Kindle formats through Amazon. Click the link below to get your copy now!

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  • Love the club and this insight into there history is definitely an eye opener with the good and the bad 😁

    Gary Williams
  • 72) AstonVilla beat man utd in the league cup final qualifying for the uefa cup as winners if they had lost then this spot would have been allocated to an end of season league place such as seventh

    Paul Jones
  • Nice one Ryan, it’s sad but I probably experienced over half of these

    paul kelly

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