The story of Charlie Lindsay, a most unlikely hooligan
The late-1970s heralded the start of a dark period for Tranmere Rovers as a return to the fourth tier was compounded by dwindling fan interest and boardroom turmoil.
Only 259 season tickets were sold for the 1979-80 season, an increase from 153 the previous year, as Rovers spiralled towards a dark era culminating in the disastrous ownership of American tycoon Bruce Osterman.
Yet amid the gloom, as attendances fell and results failed to excite, some great characters shone through. Ray Mathias played with heart, Ronnie Moore transitioned from defence to attack, and Steve Peplow, otherwise known for ‘stifling a yawn on the wing,’ received the first red card in Rovers’ history.
Despite chronic struggles on the pitch, this era has almost taken on a mythic significance thanks to the spirit and humour that pervaded at Prenton Park.
For instance, Tranmere’s first four shirt sponsors all went into liquidation, a sign of the farcical times. Bill Shankly was drafted in as a consultant but even he couldn’t corral a rambunctious squad. Rovers even lost in the FA Cup to Coventry Sporting in 1974, the amateurs triumphing 2-0 in a humiliating contest.
One story in particular still echoes through the club’s folklore as deeply epochal, however: the illustrative meltdown of a frustrated pensioner who had seen enough.
It was a cool Friday night in Birkenhead. September 28th, 1979. AFC Bournemouth were in town to play Rovers in a fairly mundane fixture. Liverpool were away to Nottingham Forest the following day, while Everton prepared to take on Bristol City at Goodison Park. Tranmere executives hoped for a decent crowd, despite the mammoth journey incurred by the visitors. In the end, that didn’t quite materialise, as just 2,803 hardy souls gathered at Prenton Park.
Tranmere were still adjusting to life back in the basement of English football after three seasons in Division Three. A young Johnny King was enduring his first spell as Rovers boss as money dried up and problems began to mount. A number of star players were sold to balance the books, namely Bobby Tynan and Ronnie Moore, leaving Tranmere with few attractions as crowds sagged to 2,245 on average.
Morale was certainly low among Rovers fans, and that mood soured as Bournemouth played some exhibition football. The visitors raced to a 5-0 lead in effortless style as Tranmere capitulated. Late in the second half, Bournemouth, managed by Alec Stock, eased up and began to run down the clock. That was the catalyst for one enraged pensioner to write his name in the Tranmere Rovers history books.
Charlie Lindsay was 72-years old. Very little is known about his background, other than his evident love of Tranmere Rovers and his regular surfacing in the Cowshed at Prenton Park. That’s exactly where Charlie stood on the fateful night Bournemouth ran amok, and he couldn’t bear the humiliation.
With about ten minutes to go, as the Cherries won a goal-kick, Lindsay hurdled the railing and stormed towards the visiting goalkeeper, Kenny Allen, who he then proceeded to thrash across the backside with his walking stick.
“He was wearing a pork pie hat and had a walking stick in one hand and his false teeth in the other!,” Allen told the Bournemouth Echo in 2010. “He was moaning at me because we were beating his team. I told him he needed to whack his own goalkeeper because he was the one who had let in the goals. The police frog-marched him away and, as he reached the Main Stand, he doffed his hat.”
Lindsay was arrested on the spot and escorted out of Prenton Park. The sound of laughter rumbled through the ground as fans serenaded the smartly-dressed pitch invader.
The Bournemouth Echo claimed that Lindsay was also banned from attending games for two years by Birkenhead Magistrates Court. This quite possibly makes him Britain’s oldest football hooligan.
Rovers eventually finished 15th that season, which undoubtedly would have annoyed Lindsay. Very little was ever heard of the old man again, however, as Tranmere lurched from one crisis to another.
It’s unknown whether Charlie ever returned to watch his beloved Tranmere, but a few unconfirmed whispers suggest he’s now buried in Landican cemetery.
For many years, the iconic photo of him attacking Allen hung proudly in one of the hallways inside the Main Stand at Prenton Park. It was highly symbolic of a dreary age for Rovers, but also of an age when the resilient soul of a dedicated fanbase was ever so apparent.