Inside the promotion dream of Tranmere Rovers
In a certain light, football can seem ridiculous. What compels billions of people to care so much about balls crossing lines and players switching teams? Why do we get so worked up when the ultimate reward seems to be watching millionaires lift metal cups above their heads? To some, the lust for trophies is a fittingly vacuous end to a futile journey of devotion.
But to view this sport in such simplistic terms is to miss the point entirely. Football is so much more than the end product of its toil. Football is far more complex and consuming than many people can comprehend. Football is engrained in the soul, imbued in the blood. It’s part of who we are. That’s why we care so much, in spite of the trivial trappings.
I spend a significant portion of my existence daydreaming about Tranmere Rovers finally winning something. Many will see that as a ridiculous waste of time. Others will concur, because they harbour similar fantasies.
I yearn for that moment when years of pain are washed away by tears of joy. That moment when the final whistle is blown and it’s finally our turn to celebrate. That moment when Tranmere Rovers are champions at long last.
Right now, as February approaches, we sit third in the National League, five points off the top with a game in hand. You can almost taste the expectation. The prize is there, teasing us and daring us to believe once again. At least once a day, I think about what it would actually be like if we won this godforsaken title. And I’m not ashamed to say it gives me goosebumps.
Yes, it’s just the fifth division. Outsiders may scoff at such a humongous desire to win such a miniscule prize. But, quite frankly, who gives a damn about outsiders? Tranmere haven’t won a league title since 1938, a cup since 1990 or a promotion since 1991. Success, and the accompanying party, is long overdue.
My first match was in 2001, aged six. Since then, I’ve witnessed two relegations and the lowest ebb in our club’s history. My closest brush with glory has been an occasional cup run or a stunted assault on the playoffs. I’m ready for our moment in the sun.
Besides, winning the National League title is no laughing matter. Aside from the Premier League, it’s arguably the most awkward division to conquer, with little margin for error and ample competition to overcome. The champions will likely approach 100 points this season, and accumulating such a total at any level is a vast achievement. Given the desperate nature of our quest, I would venture that, should Tranmere win the National League, it would rank alongside the 1987 defeat of Exeter as one of the most cathartic events in Rovers’ history. Who doesn’t want to experience that?
You see, football is about creating special memories, when all is said and done. We traipse around the world in pursuit of our heroes, week after week, but only a few moments or feelings will stand out in years to come. It’s all about that moment. Some of us have chased it for a lifetime.
That moment when one of your players scores the goal, so elusive to a generation. That moment when you’re crying with friends who stood beside you during the tough times. That moment when you hug your dad, the man who got you hooked on this club and always promised the glory days would come.
With regard to Tranmere Rovers, it’s all I’ve ever wanted. Just one moment. No caveats. No catches. No more waiting for tomorrow. I just want it to be our turn. For that first memory of a floodlit Prenton Park, I want it. For all those awaydays, I want it. For all those shattered hopes and broken dreams, I want it. For all the times I’ve cried, and for every new supporter who attends a match in unknowing aspiration, I want it. For young and old, casual and obsessed, I want it.
I want that moment like little else.
In the top five divisions of English football, every club bar two has enjoyed its moment since last we did. That Tranmere’s grand stature isn’t beholden to success speaks profoundly of the intensity of this fanbase. Others may snigger at such honesty, but that just proves the special importance of Tranmere Rovers. To a small band of people, this club inspires more passion than many people can appreciate. This club matters. Only a select few understand. And what a party we’ll have when it rises to prominence once again.
I’m obviously biased, but I struggle to find another club that so deserves a taste of success. The statistics are clear for all to see. No trophy for 25 years and counting. Three relegations in a 14-year span. Non-league for the first time in almost a century. But, even as we’ve slumped through the pyramid, the old flame keeps burning. Attendances have actually increased at home, while our away support would make many League One clubs envious. Then there’s the incredible community spirit at Prenton Park, as Rovers enrich the lives of disadvantaged youths, homeless adults and the disabled through many different schemes. It’s time such diligent dedication was rewarded.
The appetite is certainly there. We want this, perhaps more than we’ve collectively wanted anything before. The importance of securing promotion this season cannot be overstated. From a financial perspective, things are only going to get harder with each passing season down here. With the current owners, manager, coaching staff and squad, our opportunity is now. We have to do the business. Together. We have to make history. That thought is absolutely exhilarating, but also slightly terrifying.
We have 19 league games remaining. Ten of them are at Prenton Park. Over the years, we’ve witnessed so many false dawns and endured so many empty marketing ploys encouraging one last fight to the finish. But seriously, we have a real role to play in these final months. While the media is busy fawning over the boisterous fans of Lincoln City, it’s important to remember that ours is by far the largest fanbase in this league. Our energy and yearning can be a difference-maker in this promotion push.
In recent weeks, the season has almost been on pause. Rovers haven’t played a league game since New Year’s Day, away to Macclesfield. Aside from a breezy run-out against South Park in the FA Trophy, we’ve almost experienced an impromptu winter break. That has left a lot of time to ponder, think and fret over the outcome of this season.
Will we do it? As Tranmere fans, there’s always a nagging sense of negative foreboding in the back of our minds, because nothing ever comes easy for us. Lincoln and Forest Green are strong rivals, but we’re right there in the race. If we’re going to change the typical outcome of our seasons, we might need to change the typical attitude of our existence. Why shouldn’t it be our turn, anyway?
We yearn to see Micky Mellon parading a trophy in front of the adoring masses, wherever and whenever it may be. Prenton Park? Maidstone United? Wembley?
We yearn to gather on the streets and welcome a trophy back to Birkenhead.
We yearn for our moment. And nobody can take that away from us.