Thoughts as Micky Mellon leaves Tranmere Rovers for Dundee United

In this year of unceasing disappointment, Tranmere Rovers fans are currently grinding their teeth through another incredulous hiccup. Micky Mellon, the defiant leader of Birkenhead’s resurgence, has left for Dundee United of the Scottish Premiership, swapping Prenton Park for Tannadice on a two-year contract. The pain is that of a dagger through the soul.

Mellon leaves Merseyside having carved his giant Glaswegian moon face into the Mount Rushmore of Tranmere Rovers management. Micky is right there alongside Bert Cooke, Johnny King and John Aldridge in a sequestered pantheon of hardy men who came closer than anyone to triggering the enormous potential of this heartrending football club. Some will say his achievements top the lot.

Indeed, after King, Mellon is the only manager who has ever led Tranmere to multiple promotions. They have been playing football on Borough Road for 136 years, and Micky is the only man ever to steer Rovers to successive promotions. He took charge of the Superwhites on 200 occasions, winning 46.5% of the time. Only two coaches have massaged a greater winning percentage at Prenton Park: Gary Brabin, whose record is skewed by playing in the fifth tier, and Walter Galbraith, who found a second home on Wirral.

A fellow Scot, Galbraith was Tranmere boss between January and November of 1961. Before today, he was the last manager to leave Prenton Park for another club, without resigning, getting fired or being unceremoniously ‘moved upstairs.’ Galbraith left when Hibernian came calling for his services. Almost 60 years later, Rovers finally had another manager who was coveted elsewhere. The poetry is poignant.

Why Micky Mellon was the best Tranmere Rovers manager I have seen

Mellon is one of the rare few to make it out alive, completing a job that chews people up and spits them out into the cold, dark Mersey. More commonly, Tranmere managers are sacked amid varying shades of scandal or poor performance. Remarkably, of the 24 humans not named Mellon who have been full-time Rovers manager since 1884, a total of 14 never managed again after simmering in the Birkenhead furnace.

Accordingly, for much of the club’s existence, taking the job of managing Tranmere Rovers came with a 58% probability of ending up on football’s managerial blacklist, condemned to the knacker’s yard of failed coaching supernovas. John Barnes raps there. Ronnie Moore studies his coupon. Les Parry contemplates wearing shorts, while Frank Worthington juggles a ball on the back of his neck. Micky Mellon solved that puzzle and escaped those odds. He is a god in an almanac of journeymen. It hurts to watch him leave.

Certainly, I’m unlikely to see a better manager prowl the Prenton Park touchline no matter how long I live. We may see better tacticians, perhaps – slick guys in sharp suits who use phrases like gegenpress, heat maps and philosophy. But I’m doubtful we will ever meet a manager who holds such a deep affection for the football club that employs him as that displayed by Micky Mellon. That is the galling thing about his departure. It feels like a sibling is leaving on a far-flung expedition.

I was raised on stories of King, whose salt of the earth galacticos restored pride to the Tranmere Rovers crest. My older brothers remember Aldridge, of course, telling tales of epic giant-killings and that random League Cup final. Well, I will always have Micky, the man who made our dreams come true. I will always have the fist-pumping, expletive-spewing, heart-pounding, teeth-gritting warrior who inherited a club on life support and had it running marathons within three years. I will always have my own golden age. 

How Micky Mellon transformed Tranmere Rovers

A former Tranmere player, Mellon returned to Wirral as manager in October 2016, dropping two divisions from his League One post with Shrewsbury Town to cradle a forlorn dame of British football in its hour of gravest need. Rovers were a non-league entity when Micky took charge, marooned outside the top 100 clubs of English football. With fire and brimstone, he quickly changed a culture of defeatist gloom in Prentonia, kickstarting the deadly submarine for another trip to the moon. 

At the time of Mellon’s appointment, Tranmere had waited longer than any professional club in the top five divisions of English football to win a trophy or promotion. Meshing passionately with a distinct counterculture that pulsed throughout the club, Mellon promptly delivered a trilogy of Wembley appearances, including two consecutive promotions via the playoffs, hoisting Rovers back into the third division. Micky helped the perennial bridesmaid get hitched, and this bedraggled little town celebrated like it was 1990 all over again.

The exponential rise spluttered somewhat this season, as Tranmere battled relegation. However, Mellon cajoled an unlikely uptick in performances as February merged into March, masterminding three straight wins to put Rovers within three points of survival with a game in hand. Then the coronavirus pandemic turned our dreams to mush. League One clubs voted to demote Tranmere using points-per-game, a fatally flawed mechanism that blotched Micky’s copybook. Let it never be said that Rovers were relegated on Mellon’s watch. They were voted out of the league by their selfish peers.

What can Dundee United fans expect from Micky Mellon as their new manager?

Alas, Mellon’s move to Dundee United comes at an awful time for Tranmere. Right now, the club is mired in uncertainty, with solid ownership its only saving grace. As fans, we do not know when Rovers’ next match will take place. We do not know when we will be allowed back into stadiums to watch. We do not know which league Tranmere will participate in, pending the outcome of a potential legal challenge. We do not know who will be playing in the famous white shirt. We do not know who the manager will be. After a four-year period of uncharacteristic calm, we just do not know. Quintessential panic cannot be far away, but we must learn from our past and plot a sagacious route to safety.

No Tranmere fan would ever begrudge Micky Mellon leaving for another challenge. Personally, he has delivered the greatest days of my life supporting this football club, and I wish him well north of the border. However, a sense of sadness pervades as the grand project to revive Tranmere Rovers enters a new phase without its spiritual spearhead.

Dundee United are getting one of Birkenhead’s finest in their quest for regeneration. Mellon has always harboured ambitions to manage in his homeland, and I would not rule out a shot at the Scotland manager’s job one day. To some, this may seem like a lateral move, but Micky has his reasons and we cannot stand in the way of his desires.

Where do Tranmere Rovers turn next?

We are hurting right now, that is for sure. Just as we hurt a month ago after being dumped out of League One. Just as we hurt three years ago after losing at Wembley. Just as we hurt five years ago after falling into the non-league abyss. And just as we hurt for 27 merciless years in the stomach-churning wilderness betwixt King and Mellon.

But, as ever, we will dust ourselves down, stick out our chin and puff out our chest. We will swallow the ball of angst lodged at the back of our throat, and we will squint away the residual agony of another curtailed plan. Things are tough just now. Life is tough, as the traditional pillars of our existence are torn asunder and shifted beyond recognition. Yet down by the river, in bracing Birkenhead, that plucky club rolls on, just as it always will.

Tranmere Rovers is bigger than any one person, you see. Micky will tell you that. Our job is to support it through thick and thin, incubate it like a cherished extension of the family. Our job is to be there, and to never shirk a battle. Our job is to fight for everything that once was ours and what could soon be again.

Farewell, Micky. You did us proud.


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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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