26 times Tranmere have made Bolton fume
This article was originally published in January 2021. By popular demand, it has since been adapted into a living, breathing list that will be updated in perpetuity, a monument to Tranmere Rovers' eternal ability to trigger Bolton meltdowns.
The phrase bogey team was coined by Les Parry as he watched his Tranmere Rovers team lose repeatedly to Peterborough United in the 2010s. Alright, I just made that up, but it might as well be true. After all, Tranmere have more bogey teams than perhaps any club in world football.
From Colchester, Swindon and Northampton to Cheltenham, Scunthorpe and Gillingham, our fixture list is usually a landmine of I’ll take a point nightmares and we’ll be lucky to get anything conundrums. Pretty much anywhere south of Milton Keynes is shaky ground for Rovers, who have mastered the elusive art of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory away from Prenton Park.
However, if you feel insecure when facing any of the aforementioned bogey teams, just imagine the plight of Bolton Wanderers fans when they have to play us. Few clubs have destroyed the hopes of another team with the regularity of Tranmere thwarting Bolton. Quite simply, we are their kryptonite, an immovable buzzsaw shredding intergenerational dreams. And as the cool kids say these days, you just love to see it.
Tranmere, Bolton and the random rivalries of English football
The classic footballing rivalry has several key components, often setting the fault-lines of combat and filling the criteria for hatred. Typically, geographical proximity is a pivotal criteria, with anything greater than 25 miles testing the classification of a local derby. Where location fails, politics and religion often fill the void, however, producing ideological nemeses of diverse abode. Think Real Madrid and Barcelona. And if all other attributes fail, outright imperialism is often a keen instigator of enmity, with hugely successful clubs trading blows for honour and pride. Hello, Ajax and Feyenoord.
In all honesty, an ungodly shitstorm of time and place must converge to create a rivalry by any other means. If geography, politics, religion or prestige do not drive a wedge between football clubs, it is unlikely that isolated media barbs and occasional defeats will. Yet, quite remarkably, within the febrile morass of English football, there are a slew of rivalries that defy the conventional laws of such a definition. We love to hate each other for innocuous or flippant reasons, it would seem, and any opportunity to moan must be taken.
Brighton and Crystal Palace loathe each other despite being separated by 45 miles, two counties and multiple motorways. Swindon Town and Oxford United share serious bile despite hardly ever playing each other. Oh, and then there is the bizarre bruhaha between Norwich and Wolves, apparently sparked by Kevin Muscat breaking Craig Bellamy’s leg in 1998.
However, when it comes to random, illogical and weird football rivalries, that between Tranmere Rovers and Bolton Wanderers is unsurpassed. On a good day, you can drive from Birkenhead to Bolton in an hour, eating up 40 miles or so. Hardly a local feud, then. Moreover, the clubs only met for the first time in September 1971, after decades in different divisions, while Bolton have won the FA Cup four times, operating in a separate orbit to Tranmere, a comparative underdog.
Yet there is genuine animosity between these two clubs and tangible hatred among the respective fanbases. Bolton fans somehow call us Trampmere without cringing to death, and we reply with songs about Wanky Wanderers, despite that being adopted by them as a badge of honour. There is little rhyme or reason to the awkward discourse, but there is an interesting backstory to this entire quarrel. To truly understand it, we need to dig a little deeper than is often the case among casual observers.
Why are Tranmere and Bolton rivals?
The Tranmere-Bolton rivalry began to take shape in the late-1980s and early-1990s, when the clubs did meet frequently while challenging for promotions and cups in the lower reaches of English football. Bolton lurked at a low ebb back then, while Rovers experienced a renaissance under the management of Johnny King, and the two teams developed a mutual dislike for one another across a broad continuum of time.
Once formalised, the grudge was turbocharged in the 1990s and 2000s as a new cast of protagonists and antagonists emerged. Bolton manager Phil Neal could barely hide his disdain for Tranmere, while John Aldridge and Sam Allardyce later traded insults during high-octane sagas. There was no end to the brazen one-upmanship.
In this regard, despite flourishing around the new millennium, the Tranmere-Bolton feud actually has a much earlier – and much more staggered – genesis. The seeds of hostility can be traced all the way back to the 1880s, in some instances, while spasms of conflict in the early-1980s were particularly influential in guiding the rivalry to fruition.
Why do Bolton fans hate Tranmere? A full list of reasons
In short, Bolton fans hate Tranmere because Tranmere beat Bolton whenever it matters most. The Trotters and their acolytes view Rovers and their denizens as somehow inferior, akin to a vexatious minnow that will not go away. In reality, though, Tranmere are bigger, bolder and more resourceful than most Wanderers fans will care to admit, and that, in turn, creates its own annoyance.
Accordingly, there is a lot to unpack when it comes to Tranmere and Bolton, so a whistle-stop tour is most assuredly needed. To fully appreciate the scope and scale of this unorthodox duel, we must scour the history books for cryptic clues. Without further ado, then, here is a non-exhaustive list of 25 times Tranmere have made Bolton fume.
1. Lord Leverhulme, born in Bolton, chooses Wirral as the focus of his empire – 1880s-1920s
William Hesketh Lever was born to working class parents in Bolton in 1851, prescribed a moribund life of menial work and routine disappointment. William entered the family grocery business at an early age, running the local store owned by his father. However, his life was forever transformed by one Eureka moment, which had profound consequences for two northern towns instantly opposed to one another.
One day in the mid-1880s, William gazed around the humble shop and began daydreaming about the soap that his father sold in bulk. Out of blind happenstance or sheer genius, Lever wondered whether he could invent a more versatile household soap that was less harsh and did not create such a burden on the user. Following this hunch, he set up a small soapworks in Warrington and, along with his brother James, enlisted the help of renowned chemist William Hough, who eventually spawned Sunlight Soap – ‘a soap so purifying and cleansing that even the dirtiest clothing can be washed in lukewarm water with very little rubbing.’
Initially, Lever sold his soap at the family shop in Bolton, but demand soon rose, prompting him to explore options for expansion. With the price of raw materials low, he seized the opportunity to transform Sunlight Soap into a product of universal eminence. By the late-1880s, Lever was selling 440 tons of soap per week, increasing the need for a larger manufacturing plant with better transportation links to major cities.
In 1887, following a lengthy scouting mission, Lever found the ideal location from which to expand his empire. At that time, the undulating marshes at Bromborough Pool on Wirral – about three miles from Tranmere’s eventual Prenton Park home -resembled a barren wasteland. To mortal folk, it was a useless bog, but to Lever, it was the perfect hub for his grand idea.
He loved the location's close proximity to road, rail and water, allowing raw materials to be shipped in and finished goods to be transported out by van and train more easily. From what became Port Sunlight, named after his flagship product, Lever built a truly global dynasty – later rebranded Unilever – and a once-obscure slice of Wirral was at the heart of it all.
A pioneer of domestic social reform and something of a liberal visionary, Lever contributed to many philanthropic causes in both Wirral and Bolton. Still, Port Sunlight – a model village built in his image – remained the prime beneficiary of William’s goodwill, to the frustration of some people back home in his native Lancashire.
Incidentally, the Lever brothers even contributed to the maintenance and improvement of Prenton Park itself. In 1914, for instance, they sold a grandstand from their Oval sports ground to Tranmere for a discounted price of £350. It was duly installed in two wings either side of the existing Main Stand, eventually demolished in 1968.
It is not known which football team Lord Leverhulme supported, but he was an avid believer in sport and recreation driving physical and mental wellbeing. Accordingly, perhaps Rovers and Wanderers should seriously consider honouring this titan of both jurisdictions – perhaps in a manner similar to the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps competing for the Cascadia Cup, or England and Scotland jousting for the Calcutta Cup in rugby. How about the Leverhulme Cup, eh? Maybe that would be a fitting tribute to this unconventional rivalry.
2. Vince Matthews, the one who got away – 1925
A towering central defender, Vince Matthews began his professional career with Bolton in 1922. However, the youngster struggled to make an impression with Wanderers, who shipped him to Tranmere after just three appearances in as many years. Written off by the Trotters, Matthews flourished at Prenton Park under the ebullient tutelage of legendary manager Bert Cooke.
In an age of agricultural football, defenders were expected to fight, scrap and put their bodies on the line. They were not expected to play pretty, expansive football. However, Matthews was a real trailblazer, often bursting out from his centre-half position to join attacks, link play and spread the ball about with poetic abandon. He was a fine dribbler with exceptional skills, and his influence on the Tranmere team had scouts flocking to Birkenhead.
In two seasons with Rovers, Matthews never missed a single game, and he was swiftly sold to Sheffield United, then a first division powerhouse, for the princely sum of £2,000. He proceeded to thwart a string of top tier centre forwards, including those of Bolton, en route to an England call-up.
A later developer, Matthews played twice for the national team, against France and Belgium, before merging into obscurity. He did score for his country, though, and there was a sense of regret among key Bolton powerbrokers that Wanderers never got the best out of Matthews earlier in his career. Indeed, the marauding centre-back remains one of the great what ifs of Bolton history, just as he lurks as a historic reminder of Tranmere’s keen eye for a prospect.
3. Frank Worthington, Bolton folk hero, becomes Tranmere player-manager – 1985
Frank Worthington was arguably the most enigmatic footballer of England’s premodern sporting age. Before the rugged first division morphed into the cosmopolitan Premier League, flamboyance was symbolised by a permed wizard from Yorkshire balancing a ball on his back.
The very personification of a footballing maverick, Worthington valued beautiful skill over functional results, a penchant for artistry that often jarred with the ethos of disciplinarian England managers like Alf Ramsey and Don Revie. Indeed, Worthington won just eight international caps in a meandering career, scant return from his extraordinary talent.
Perhaps better known for marquee spells with Huddersfield and Leicester, Worthington also spent two seasons at Bolton between 1977 and 1979, making close to 100 appearances. The moustachioed messiah carved a cult-like status at Burnden Park, highlighting his Trotters tenure with sublime goals and sheer individual brilliance.
Therefore, when Worthington was appointed player-manager at Tranmere in 1985, a sense of resentment percolated among Bolton fans, who likely chafed at the blaze of publicity afforded their pesky North West neighbours. Worthington also signed some brilliant players for Rovers – including Ian Muir, Mark Hughes and Johnny Morrissey – crafting the nucleus of a dynasty later conducted by Johnny King. But more on that shortly.
4. ‘Tinpot Tranmere’ and an infamous points deduction – 1987
On Tuesday 29th September 1987, Tranmere were due to host Bolton in a routine fourth division fixture at Prenton Park, only for an unfortunate dispute to mar proceedings and cast a long shadow over the clubs’ relationship.
A few hours before the evening kick-off, around 2,000 Wanderers fans departed for Merseyside, keen to support their team, which found itself in the fourth tier for the first time ever. With meagre – though rebounding – average home attendances against the abject minnows of lower league football, Tranmere were not prepared for such a travelling horde, creating last-ditch panic in the corridors of power.
When word of the large Bolton contingent reached key decision-makers, it became apparent that, on that night, Prenton Park was ill-equipped to welcome such a large crowd. Liverpool were at home to Derby County that evening, and an Anfield crowd of 43,405 took precedence with the local constabulary.
Tranmere requested additional officers from Merseyside Police to attend the Bolton game, but the force was irked by such late notice, increasing the cost to a prohibitive level. Backed into a corner, and unable to guarantee the safety of those in attendance, Rovers had little choice but to postpone the match, causing uproar among the travelling Bolton fans, most of whom were already in transit.
Indeed, many Wanderers supporters cite this as the genesis of ‘tinpot Tranmere’ winding them up and spoiling their fun. Nevertheless, Rovers were fined £2,000 for the late postponement, and they also had two points deducted from their tally. Just to spice things up a little, Tranmere then won the rearranged fixture anyway, prevailing 2-0 thanks to goals from Jim Harvey and Jim Steel. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
5. Warwick Rimmer, Bolton legend, builds a brilliant youth system at Tranmere – 1980s-2010s
The nephew of Ellis Rimmer, a trailblazing Tranmere and England winger, Warwick was born in Birkenhead in 1941. A fearless defender, he broke into professional football with Bolton, making 469 appearances for the Trotters in a 14-year career. Warwick eventually became club captain at Burnden Park, skippering the side to a heralded promotion.
Rimmer transitioned to player-management with Crewe Alexandra in the late-1970s before coaching the Sierra Leone national team, somewhat randomly. Warwick then took up a role within the commercial department at Bolton, before returning to the Wirral and occupying a similar position at bankruptcy-threatened Tranmere.
When swashbuckling entrepreneur Peter Johnson rescued Rovers in 1987, he tasked Rimmer with building a new youth system at Prenton Park, replenishing a talent pipeline that had all but dried up. Warwick had reservations about the project at first, but his pioneering approach – heavily inspired by his own experiences as a youth player at Bolton – revolutionised football in Birkenhead.
Over the subsequent three decades, Rimmer found, developed and promoted a phalanx of excellent players at Tranmere, imbuing the club’s ethos with homegrown grit and panache. From Jason Koumas, Ryan Taylor and Iain Hume to Steve Simonson, Ian Moore and Aaron Cresswell, dozens of stars owe Warwick for their big break on Merseyside.
To that end, conservative estimates suggest Rimmer generated almost £20 million in transfer fees for Tranmere during his career, polishing rough gems into sophisticated diamonds. That Bolton could have, and perhaps should have, benefited from Warwick’s visionary expertise, is particularly pleasing for Rovers fans. Likewise, the fact that so many of his alumni later contributed to legendary Tranmere wins over Bolton pours salt into the open wound.
6. Tranmere beat Bolton, 2-1, in the Leyland DAF Cup area semi-final – 1990
To Bolton fans of a certain vintage, the Leyland DAF Cup – now known as the Papa John’s Trophy – was and is a Mickey Mouse competition devoid of meaning. However, when Wanderers met Tranmere in the tournament’s area semi-final of 1990, a bumper crowd of 9,315 flocked to Prenton Park, suggesting it was a little more important than many people would like to admit.
Despite dropping five points to Bolton in the league that season, Tranmere won when it mattered most, as soon became their trademark. The aforementioned Jim Steel and Ian Muir scored for Rovers in the area semi-final, and Wanderers could only muster a single goal in reply.
Tranmere went on to beat Doncaster in the area final before overcoming Bristol Rovers in a Wembley showcase to lift a piece of significant silverware. Meanwhile, Bolton fans acted like they did not really care about the Leyland DAF Cup, despite defeat to Tranmere eating them alive. In many ways, then, it was a portent of drama to come.
7. Tranmere beat Bolton, 1-0, after extra-time, in the third division playoff final at Wembley – 1991
Financed by Peter Johnson, stocked by Warwick Rimmer and managed by Johnny King, Tranmere rose like a phoenix in the late-1980s, intent on breaking through a glass ceiling that had always held the club back.
Often playing on Friday nights at Prenton Park to attract a rabid fanbase, Rovers developed a siege mentality that culminated in promotion to the third tier in 1989. They then reached Wembley four times in two seasons, including a humdinger against Bolton in the 1991 third division playoff final.
That year, Wanderers and Rovers finished fourth and fifth, respectively, with their standard league encounters proving similarly tight, cagey and highly competitive. Bumper crowds once again bore witness to increasingly tense games between the two sides, who shared a mutual dislike.
Therefore, when Tranmere beat Brentford and Bolton usurped Bury in the playoffs, scheduling a Wembley rendezvous, the pre-match rhetoric was suitably acerbic. “I want you to give me the head of Tony Cunningham on a plate,” King told young defender Shaun Garnett, according to Tranmere Rovers: The Complete Record, referring to the in-form Bolton striker. Meanwhile, Bolton boss Phil Neal was monosyllabic in his assessment of Tranmere, preferring to focus on his own charges before the decisive encounter.
Garnett did nullify Cunningham at Wembley, though, as a partisan crowd of 30,215 endured a gruelling encounter short on quality but long on guts. Neither side could force a breakthrough in regulation time, sending the contest into extra-time.
After nine minutes in the first additional period, Ged Brannan saw a shot saved smartly by Bolton goalkeeper David Felgate. The rebound fell into the path of an onrushing Chris Malkin, though, and Tranmere’s beanpole forward hammered home an immortal strike. Rovers defended stoutly for the remainder of extra-time, clinching a famous win and returning to the second tier after a 52-year absence.
The most famous photo of Malkin’s goal, taken from beside the net, shows a faint smile on the face of referee Keith Hackett, watching on knowingly. Even the future Premier League ref appreciated the triumph of good over evil, it would seem, and Bolton were suitably rankled, with indignation spewing from every pore.
Neal said Rovers’ celebrations were overly exuberant, despite the club just netting an extra-time winner at Wembley – you know, the kind of thing that happens every week in football. Likewise, Liverpool-born Sammy Lee, a spare part milling about the Bolton fringes, was duly incensed by Tranmere fans goading him good-naturedly. Lee screamed at the travelling Rovers supporters, almost bursting a blood vessel, then subsequently retired, never to play professional football again.
Back in the bowels of our national stadium, the Bolton staff and players were understandably shellshocked, having blown their chances of securing a much-needed promotion. “People ask what the manager said to us in the dressing room,” Phil Brown, the Bolton captain that day, once said. “What can you say to thirteen men who have their heads in their hands, crying?”
By all accounts, the Bolton fans turned violent in and around Wembley after losing, throwing their toys out of the pram. Tranmere may well have celebrated wildly, and they may even have overstepped the mark in places, but to suggest Bolton would not have done the same is pure hokum. They were just sore losers, and that became a recurring theme.
8. Elton Welsby and the supposed Tranmere bias of ITV – 1990s
It is impossible to surf any Bolton fan forum before a match against Tranmere without encountering repeated references to Elton Welsby, an obscure regional television presenter everybody else has happily forgotten. Trust me, Wanderers supporters are obsessed with this guy and his supposed lust for Tranmere, even if Rovers fans of a certain generation are not too keen on him, either.
Welsby was born in St Helens and began his broadcasting career in Liverpool, working as a sports commentator for Radio City, before joining Granada – ITV’s regional arm in the North West – in 1978. It was there that that Welsby did his most memorable work, fronting various football-related programmes, including live regional matches and invariable highlights packages.
As they grew in prominence, Tranmere and Bolton naturally featured quite heavily in Granada’s sporting output during that era, and Wanderers fans soon developed wild conspiracy theories of Rovers bias infecting the station’s worldview. Bolton supporters began protesting vehemently, writing angry letters and chanting on the terraces about Welsby being a chronic self-pleasurer.
Of course, the fact that he is a lifelong Evertonian barely seemed to matter, nor did the notion that many Tranmere fans found him loathsome, as well. Welsby became an unlikely protagonist in the gathering feud – a suitably odd villain in a rivalry that makes little sense.
9. Tranmere legend Roy McFarland gets Bolton relegated from the Premier League – 1996
In the aftermath of Malkin’s tour de force, Tranmere spent a decade in the second division, setting new records for club accomplishment. In three straight seasons, Rovers reached the second division playoffs, competing for a place in the embryonic Premier League, only to lose on each occasion – to Swindon, Leicester and Reading, respectively. Meanwhile, Bolton went one better, winning two quick promotions and returning to the top tier in 1995.
The meteoric rise was masterminded by Bruce Rioch, who replaced Neal as Wanderers manager. However, when Arsenal came calling for his services, Bolton turned to Roy McFarland and Colin Todd in a bizarre co-manager experiment. The plan backfired, somewhat predictably, and Bolton were swiftly relegated back down to earth. Roy was sacked way before the drop could be confirmed, but he gets co-author credits in a uniquely Bolton debacle.
Of course, McFarland was synonymous with Tranmere, having started his illustrious career at Prenton Park. Born in Liverpool, McFarland was spotted while playing youth football against Tranmere, who quickly signed him up. A cultured centre-half, Roy became a crucial linchpin in the Rovers defence as a teenager, piquing the interest of first division outfits.
Legendary Derby County boss Brian Clough eventually paid £25,000 for McFarland, who played almost 500 games in the top tier while winning two league titles. Roy also played 28 times for England, making him one of just eight Tranmere youth products to represent the Three Lions. Oh, and he is the only one to help get Bolton relegated from the Premier League, which adds yet more lustre to his Prentonian legacy.
10. John Aldridge and the Bolton vendetta – 1990s
While the Tranmere-Bolton rivalry is multi-causal, one man has been more responsible than any other for intensifying the feud: John Aldridge, the hot-headed Rovers legend who spent 10 consecutive years at Prenton Park as a player and manager. Aldo did not think much of Bolton, whose fans enjoyed deriding him as a pantomime villain whenever the chance arose.
Perhaps more synonymous with Liverpool, Aldo actually only played 83 times for the Anfield outfit, compared with 294 appearances for Tranmere. The Republic of Ireland international joined Rovers from Real Sociedad in 1991, and he subsequently taught the club to dream big, scoring 174 goals and masterminding a string of cup giant-killings.
Occasionally bitter and typically tempestuous, Aldo became Tranmere player-manager in 1996, tasked with prolonging the club’s momentum as King moved upstairs. Aldridge insisted on picking himself, and indeed he continued to score with great frequency, but his demonstrable passion often boiled over into rage, which was not always conducive with effective management.
Somewhat inexplicably, Bolton seemed to get Aldo’s pulse racing more than most clubs, and that showed when Tranmere visited Burnden Park in October 1996. Rovers had made a decent start to the season, pushing for a playoff place, but Bolton were riding high at the top. Wanderers frustrated Tranmere on the day, winning 1-0, and Aldridge was duly furious, lashing out at everyone and anyone.
At one point, the player-boss lambasted Ged Brannan, his own full-back, on the pitch, remonstrating with him for failing to deliver adequate service. The Bolton fans began to mock Aldridge, whose larger-than-life persona made him a natural target for ridicule. When Aldo was later denied a penalty after falling down in the Wanderers penalty area, the cat calls and sarcastic whistles grew louder from the home terraces.
After the defeat, obviously irked, Aldridge said that he was not impressed with Bolton, and he doubted their promotion credentials. Wanderers conceded too many goals, according to Aldo, despite his side failing to find the net. They did not have what it took to withstand the pressure, he said, while backing Tranmere to fight every step of the way. And just like that, a new subsection of the rivalry was sparked by impassioned rhetoric.
11. Tranmere stop Bolton reaching 100 league points with a 92nd minute equaliser – 1997
In the broad history of English football, spanning the top four divisions, no team has ever amassed 100 points and scored 100 goals in the same season. Managed solely by Todd, Bolton had a chance to smash both landmarks on the final day of the 1996-97 season. Their opponents? Why, Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park, of course. It turns out Aldo was wrong about their leaky defence, after all.
Already promoted as champions of the second division, Wanderers travelled to Birkenhead with 97 points and 98 goals to their name. A two-goal victory would see them rewrite the history books, demanding attention in any debate about the most potent squads in the annals of English football. Rovers, and perhaps Aldridge in particular, relished their chances of spoiling the party.
A crowd of 14,309 gathered at Prenton Park for the game, which pulsated back and forth wonderfully. Bolton went ahead midway through the first half, closing in on the century of goals, before Aldridge equalised from the penalty spot with his customary 12-yard shuffle. Aldo waved sarcastically at the travelling Bolton fans, numbering more than 5,000, who had earlier chanted ‘cheat’ at the Rovers marksman following another supposed dive. Aldo then gave a ‘thumbs down’ salute, insinuating that Bolton would soon be relegated back down to earth.
Both sides fought valiantly in the second half, but Wanderers edged towards history with a 76th minute goal from Jamie Pollock, the 100th of their season. With time running out, Bolton were in a position to complete the double-century, only for late Tranmere heroics to blunt their celebrations.
As time ebbed into the 92nd minute, whistles from the Bolton fans pierced the Birkenhead sky. Johnny Morrissey, Tranmere’s classy winger, knocked the ball inside to Kenny Irons, who played an instinctive pass into the channel, where young Lee Jones made a fantastic run. Latching onto the perfectly weighted ball, Jones controlled with his left, swivelled on a sixpence, and lashed a rising dagger into the top corner, sparking pandemonium at Prenton Park.
Jones removed his shirt, pumping his fist triumphantly. The Tranmere squad mobbed him down beneath the Cowshed. Meanwhile, police ran onto the field, attempting to keep order and separate the giddy Roverites from their smarting Lancastrian counterparts. There was barely any time for Bolton to mount a repost, and they finished the season on 98 points, to the chagrin of Todd and to the delight of Aldridge.
Wanderers still won the championship, of course, and they again accused Tranmere fans of over-celebrating. Yes, Rovers finished eleventh in the table, more than 30 points adrift of their rivals, but this hurt Bolton. This really killed them, and Aldo’s unapologetic goading made it all the sweeter. “You could say it was a very satisfying result,” said the Tranmere boss. “I’m used to being baited by the Bolton fans, and I dedicate my goal to them.”
In turn, Todd was outraged by Aldo’s boisterous provocation, questioning his class and integrity. “The players interpreted his gesture as meaning we would go straight back down,” said Todd. “He was having a go at our supporters and it was totally uncalled for. He is a manager with a lot to learn. I certainly would not do things like that."
Todd also poured scorn on Rovers’ jubilant fans, stoking the fire. “If Tranmere had been as committed as that all season, they would probably have made the playoffs,” he said, wryly. “It just shows you how far we have come when they treat this game as their cup final. You would have thought they had won the league when that goal went in, but they have not. We have!”
It is not known whether Colin ordered chips with his salt.
12. The ghost of Scott Taylor comes back to haunt Bolton – 1999
Scott Taylor was a frustrating player – full of potential but never quite prolific enough to set the world alight as a centre forward. Bolton took a chance on him in 1996, offering an escape from Millwall, but Taylor rarely featured for Wanderers, making just 12 appearances – and scoring just one goal – in two seasons.
Loan spells with Rotherham and Blackpool were a little more fruitful, though, and Bolton offered Scott a new deal in 1998. When he turned them down to join Aldridge at Tranmere, Wanderers fans were left seething – as usual. Aldo paid £150,000 for Taylor, who had the raw attributes to one day replace the iconic boss up front for Rovers.
Scott featured in two tight draws with Bolton in the 1998-99 season, only to torment Wanderers throughout 1999-2000. Most notably, in a December 1999 game at Bolton’s new Reebok Stadium, Taylor popped up with a dramatic late winner that put another dagger through Wanderers hearts.
Tranmere raced into a 2-0 lead in that contest, courtesy of goals from Andy Parkinson and Dave Challinor, only to be pegged back in second half. Eiður Guðjohnsen scored for Bolton – then managed by the loathsome Sam Allardyce – before Robert Taylor equalised with 13 minutes remaining. Gareth Roberts was sent off for Tranmere, whose good run of form looked set to end in disappointment.
Wanderers pressed for a winner, urged on by a demanding home crowd, but Scott Taylor – the Reebok pariah – popped up with an unlikely winner with barely 10 minutes left. Parkinson stole possession inside his own half and raided deep into Bolton territory, before offloading the ball to Taylor, who rifled a left-footed shot beyond Jussi Jääskeläinen and into the net. Incidentally, this was the first time Tranmere had ever managed to beat Bolton away from home, Wembley aside. Of course, it would not be that last.
13. Big Sam barks at defenceless advertising boards – 2000
Before Rory Delap became kick of the flingers, the crown belonged to Dave Challinor, an otherwise unspectacular defender who played for Tranmere between 1994 and 2002. “That boy throws the ball further than I go on holiday,” said Big Ron Atkinson, while Bobby Robson likened the impact of a Challinor Exocet to a David Beckham cross.
As Tranmere scrapped for their second division lives under Aldridge, approaching the new millennium with faded dreams and depleted finances, Challinor’s world record-setting throws became a potent weapon in Rovers’ arsenal. While their league form was questionable at best, Aldo transformed Tranmere into a giant-killing juggernaut in the domestic cup competitions, with Challinor causing havoc at every turn.
In 1999-2000, Rovers embarked on a truly miraculous season, threatening to visit Wembley three or four times in the same campaign. West Ham, Sunderland and Fulham were beaten en route to the FA Cup quarter-finals, where Newcastle thwarted Aldo’s men, 3-2. The League Cup was even more enchanting, though, with Tranmere defeating Blackpool, Coventry, Oxford, Barnsley and Middlesbrough to reach the semi-finals. Their opponents? Bolton, of course, as Aldo licked his lips.
Running scared of little Tranmere, Allardyce ramped up his grumpy rhetoric way before the first leg, held at the Reebok Stadium in January 2000. Challinor became a particular focus of Big Sam’s panic, and the Bolton boss campaigned to have the defender’s throw-in banned. Allardyce complained about Tranmere giving towels to ballboys, allowing Challinor to gain more grip on the ball. He also lambasted the Prenton Park advertising hoardings, which featured convenient gaps so that Challinor could lengthen his run-up.
When Tranmere arrived at the Reebok, then, they were not shocked to see Wanderers’ advertising boards pushed right in, tight to the pitch, with gaps closed, aimed at nullifying Rovers’ potent weapon. Aldo chuckled wryly, by all accounts, then told his lads to go out and beat Bolton anyway. And that is exactly what they did, causing endless Wanderers meltdowns along the way.
In the greatest irony of all, Allardyce eventually established Bolton as a Premier League mainstay using the long throws of Jay-Jay Okocha and Kevin Nolan as ammunition for target men like Michael Ricketts and Kevin Davies. I wonder what inspired him? If you can’t beat them, join them, I guess.
14. Clint Hill snatches a win for Rovers – League Cup semi-final, first leg, Reebok Stadium – 2000
In the aforementioned FA Cup tie against Sunderland, Aldridge and Tranmere courted typical controversy when a mix-up led to Rovers still playing with 11 men despite defender Clint Hill being sent off. With Tranmere leading 1-0 courtesy of a Wayne Allison goal, Hill received a second yellow card deep into stoppage time. However, Rovers were already preparing a substitute, in the form of Stephen Frail, and a flustered fourth official mistakenly thought Hill made way for him as he left the pitch. Tranmere defended one last free-kick with a full complement of players, Frail heading clear, and the final whistle followed soon thereafter.
When Mackems manager Peter Reid had a volcanic meltdown, an FA investigation was launched, but a commission decided to uphold the result. Hill was suspended – wasn’t he always? – for the next FA Cup tie, away to Fulham, but he was allowed to play four days after the infamous incident against Bolton in the League Cup semi-final first leg. Clint was cast in the national spotlight, vilified by journalists and harangued by rival fans, only to silence the critics with an iconic goal.
From a Tranmere corner, Hill ghosted in at the far post to plunder home a vital opener, swinging the tie in Rovers’ favour. His celebration was cheekily staunch, and it motivated Aldo’s men to see out the first leg with a slender, one-goal advantage. Alan Mahon had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, while Bolton goalkeeper Steve Banks was lucky to escape a blatant red card. Wanderers hit the woodwork twice, and John Achterberg made some fine saves in the Tranmere goal, putting the tie on a knife’s edge heading back to Prenton Park.
15. Alan Morgan two-foots Guðni Bergsson, sparking a nose-to-nose brawl – League Cup semi-final, first leg, Reebok Stadium – 2000
There was needle between the players going into the second leg, too, thanks to a classic brawl late in the Reebok game. Alan Morgan, Tranmere’s feisty midfielder, won an aerial duel, but the ball ran free into a no-man’s land near the Bolton backline. Guðni Bergsson, a Wanderers defender, rushed in, attempting to clear his lines, but Morgan barrelled into him with a wild, two-footed tackle, winning the ball but clipping Bergsson in the process.
With Morgan on the floor, Bergsson sprinted over to him, squaring up aggressively in anger at the challenge. Morgan stood his ground, going head-to-head and nose-to-nose with the Icelandic international, who was furious. Dave Kelly stepped in to stop the brawl escalating, as multiple players milled around. Gareth Roberts wisely pulled Hill away from the melee, while both Bergsson and Morgan were booked for the fracas, much to the disgust of Wanderers fans, who booed lustily.
“Same old scousers, always cheating,” barked the Bolton supporters, whose grasp of basic geography was never a strong suit. Bergsson was driven to distraction for the rest of the game, and his animus proved contagious ahead of the decisive match in Birkenhead. Gufa is Icelandic for fume, and Bolton were all gufa’d out, it would seem.
16. A patchwork Tranmere destroy a full-strength Bolton – League Cup semi-final, second leg, Prenton Park – 2000
In the two weeks between semi-final legs, Tranmere’s threadbare squad took a hammering, forcing Aldridge to cobble together a patchwork lineup. For the second leg at Prenton Park, Hill was once again suspended, as were Roberts and Morgan. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Joe Murphy and influential defender Steve Yates were out injured. Moreover, Allison was cup tied, and Tranmere stoked the pre-game shenanigans by saying Challinor was likely out with ankle ligament damage, only for him to be resurrected like Lazarus – albeit with a longer throw.
Aldo turned to Liverpool, cap in hand, to secure a loan deal for experienced defender Phil Babb, who had more than 200 Premier League appearances to his name at that point. The Republic of Ireland international played alongside Ruben Hazell at the heart of Tranmere’s defence against Bolton, while old stages like Nick Henry, Gary Jones and Dave Kelly heading into battle once again.
By contrast, Bolton were at full strength heading into the Birkenhead showdown. "We have a completely clean bill of health," said Allardyce, somewhat gleefully. "The players are so pumped-up for this game, it is hard to see how we will not get a result. I said after the home leg that the tie was far from over and I still feel that way. We have got to get up and at them and try to make the nerves jangle in the Tranmere team. Some of the older players in our squad might never get another chance to get to Wembley, so they are particularly desperate to get a result."
Yeah, that didn't exactly work out for you, did it, Sam? Tranmere were simply phenomenal that night, channelling the magical desperation of 15,883 enrapt supporters into a spellbinding display. Indeed, for all their talk of Rovers being a smaller club, Bolton attracted just 13,303 to the first leg encounter – a 16% deficit, if you are keeping score.
Henry scored a wondergoal after five minutes, lashing home a volley at the Kop end when Bolton repelled a Challinor missile back into open play. Mahon rocked the crossbar with a long-range effort then tucked away a penalty, pushing the aggregate score to 3-0. Then, in the second half, Kelly peeled away to notch his seventh goal of the tournament, sending Rovers to Wembley in emphatic style.
“I wanted us to win the game and win it well, and that is exactly what happened,” said a jubilant Aldo after the game. “As a player, I was lucky to win a lot of trophies and play at World Cups, but to get Tranmere to a major final makes me a very happy man.” Amen to that, and amen to the Superwhites.
17. Aldo dances for Big Sam – League Cup semi-final, second leg, Prenton Park – 2000
Aldridge managed with full-blooded passion, kicking every ball and always cajoling more from his players. There was a tempestuousness to his attitude that sparked an us-against-the-world mentality at Prenton Park, an intensity of belief that belied the club’s meagre resources. John occasionally overstepped the mark, but he was a colourful character whose fiery competitive instinct enriched English football for generations.
Naturally, then, when Tranmere scored those cathartic goals against Bolton in the semi-final second leg, Aldo’s celebrations were suitably demonstrative. He jumped for joy and galloped along the touchline, pogoing and fist-pumping breathlessly. After all, this was little old Tranmere on the verge of a major cup final – indeed, on the verge of potentially qualifying for Europe – and emotions ran high.
Of course, Big Sam and Bolton saw things differently. In short, they fumed at Aldridge, accusing him of unsporting conduct. On the touchline, Allardyce looked like he was about to chew his own moustache off with rage, before erupting sullenly in the press. He never forgave Aldo for his victory jig, and the pair endure a frosty relationship to this day.
“Every dog has his day, but you never forget,” Allardyce said years later in an interview with Four Four Two magazine. “John Aldridge was way, way out of order jumping around like he did in front of us. They deserved to beat us over the two legs, but there was no need for that. The year after that, we went back and turned Aldridge over, then got promoted. Now, I’m managing in the Premiership and he is doing Merseyside radio, so I think we know whose management style is the best.”
Jesus - I bet Sam is fun at parties.
18. Bolton’s dirty protest – Prenton Park – 2000
Allardyce was still smarting eight months later, when Bolton returned to Tranmere in August 2000 for the first time since their semi-final destruction. Keen to make a point about Rovers’ perceived rule-bending, the Wanderers boss called the Prenton Park facilities ‘somewhat lacking,’ and had his players change into their kits at the Reebok Stadium before travelling late to Birkenhead. Bolton arrived just 35 minutes before kick-off and went straight onto the pitch to warm-up, attempting to ratchet up the psychological warfare.
“We didn’t want to spend too long there,” said Allardyce. “I suppose we put ourselves on the line again by arriving late, but I really wanted the players to be up for this one because I knew it would be our biggest test of the season. Not from a football point of view, but in terms of the mental aspect. It was all about getting the players motivated and not about winding Tranmere up. We went there to do a job, and we did it.”
In all fairness, Bolton played well that day and ran out 1-0 victors. However, rather than shake hands in mutual respect of a fantastic rivalry, Big Sam ordered his players to get straight back on their bus after the final whistle, sweating profusely and caked in mud. The Wanderers delegation then travelled back to the Reebok – more than an hour away – where they then showered and changed.
Some say this was a dirty protest at Aldo’s inhospitable ideology. Indeed, the Rovers gaffer did master the dark arts during his team’s giant-killing heyday, from leaving the Prenton Park grass uncut to the whole phantom substitute debacle against Sunderland. According to urban legend, Aldo even ran cold water to the away dressing room on occasion, while his own players were often forced to dodge flying teacups as he tried to rally the troops.
Still, Allardyce was keen to make a point that day: Bolton were better than Tranmere – in class, decorum, professionalism and facilities. “What I remember most about that game at Tranmere was that we won it well,” he said years later, knowingly obtuse. Big Sam said he ordered similar arrangements for other games that season, too, but in reality, Wanderers were preoccupied with Rovers, to a point where the club’s top brass became steeped in paranoia.
19. Lorraine Rogers, Tranmere chairwoman, mocks Big Sam – 2000
Speaking after the dirty protest debacle, Tranmere chairwoman Lorraine Rogers sparked controversy by questioning Allardyce and his methods. “He is a little peculiar with his approach to certain aspects of football,” said Rogers. “I feel sorry for the players who were made to go home in such a sweaty state.”
This sparked a war of words between the respective clubs at board level, complementing the enmity felt on the pitch and in the stands. The Football League looked to step in at one point, keen to broker détente, but eventually let Tranmere and Bolton get on with their feud. “We are not about to step in and force the issue,” said a League spokesman. “But it would be better if the clubs buried the hatchet and got on with each other.”
Never one to back down, Allardyce did not heed such warnings, however. “Everybody else talked about it, but we did not,” said Big Sam when Wanderers and Rovers next faced each other in the league. “We made no comment before or after the game, but the Tranmere chairwoman talked about it. We did our talking on the pitch, but she decided to have her say in the papers. What we did was not exclusive to Tranmere. We have done it many times, including against Preston on New Year’s Day, but no fuss was made about that one.”
In turn, Aldridge prolonged the row, speaking of his desire to beat Wanderers when Rovers returned to the Reebok in January 2001. “Bolton showed us a lack of respect,” said the Tranmere boss, referring to showergate. “So it would be nice to go there and get a result.”
Wanderers won that one, 2-0, but their manager was still exposed as a peculiar human being. Incidentally, that was also the last time Aldo took charge of Rovers against Bolton. A disastrous 2000-01 league season saw Tranmere finish bottom of the second division, with Aldridge resigning in March. When Wanderers secured promotion via the playoffs, two divisions suddenly separated the enemies. However, even that did not stop Rovers being a royal pain in the arse for Bolton. Yes, more drama was still to come.
20. Stubborn Tranmere add to fixture congestion that dooms Bolton’s season - 2004
When Tranmere and Bolton were drawn together in the 2003-04 FA Cup third round, you could almost picture Big Sam pulling his hair out. Even as Wanderers rode high in the Premier League, pushing towards the top half, the prospect of visiting Birkenhead filled them with dread, even more so given a hectic winter fixture list.
“I could have done without the extra game,” said Allardyce, throwing shade on Rovers. “The Premiership is our priority, and now we have reached the semi-final of the Carling Cup, that is next on our list. The FA Cup comes bottom at the moment, but the policy of playing squad players and giving academy players a chance has worked well. When Alex Ferguson or Arsène Wenger make seven or eight changes for a cup tie, nothing is said, so why should it be different when I do it?”
Allardyce was quick to dismiss Tranmere in more direct terms, too, unbefitting such a Premier League bigshot. “We had a bit of a tête-à-tête when Aldo was in charge, and the players did as well,” he said. “But most of their players from that time have gone and so have ours. Since then, though, they have gone into a downward spiral, whereas we have gone in an upward one. It just shows you how quickly the fortunes of football clubs can change.”
Now managed by former Aston Villa and Leicester boss Brian Little, Tranmere relished the chance to throw a spanner in the Bolton works. A crowd of 10,587 showed up at Prenton Park, creating a phenomenal racket for old times’ sake. Allardyce rotated his squad, fielding an unrecognisable lineup, and Rovers took advantage, fashioning a typically awkward display.
Simon Haworth put Rovers ahead with sharp reactions in the penalty area early in the second half, forcing Bolton to introduce Ricardo Vaz Tê and Kevin Nolan from the bench. The latter scored a late equaliser, necessitating a replay at the Reebok, as Tranmere added to Wanderers’ chaotic schedule.
Bolton eventually played 47 games in all competitions throughout the 2003-04 campaign, finishing eighth in the Premier League. They lost the League Cup final to Middlesbrough, however, ending the season without a trophy. Tranmere contributed to the general malaise that wore Wanderers down. Oh, and the aforementioned replay was rather eventful, too.
21. Iain Hume scores a wondergoal to complete an FA Cup giant-killing for Tranmere at the Reebok – 2004
Despite the supposed gulf in class, Bolton once again failed to attract a big crowd to the Reebok for the replay. Just 8,759 showed up, with more than 2,000 traveling from Birkenhead. The majority proclaimed that games against Tranmere were inconsequential for such a preoccupied Premier League outfit, but when the match commenced, those opinions soon changed, as Rovers took the game to their esteemed hosts.
Indeed, for all the pretence about fielding a weakened team, Allardyce called upon a few internationals against Tranmere in the replay. Stelios Giannakopoulos, Henrik Pederson and Per Frandsen all started, as did Mário Jardel, the former Porto, Galatasaray and Sporting CP marksman who had previously topped the goalscoring charts in the UEFA Champions League and Copa Libertadores. Wanderers were hardly a pushover, then.
Still, Tranmere gave a good account of themselves, and when enigmatic striker Eugène Dadi bundled them ahead with eight minutes remaining, victory looked to be assured. Ricky Shakes struck for Bolton in stoppage time, though, forcing the game into extra-time. Allardyce probably shared our disappointment at a further 30 minutes of attrition.
Almost immediately from the kick-off, young Rovers starlet Iain Hume picked up the ball and drove into the Wanderers half, gliding past tired challenges. Scything into the right-hand channel, perhaps 25 yards from goal, Hume unleashed a left-footed firecracker that darted through the air and left 41-year-old goalkeeper Kevin Poole gobsmacked. The ball beat Poole easily and nestled with aplomb in the top corner, sending the travelling Tranmere masses into ecstasy. Rovers held out from there, adding another scalp to their glowing FA Cup record.
“I’m glad we are out of it,” said Allardyce after the game, obviously fuming to have been beaten by Tranmere yet again. “Our squad cannot cope with three very competitive competitions.”
With a fraction of Bolton’s resources, and playing far more games in the Football League, Rovers progressed to a quarter-final replay, where they faced Millwall. Therefore, Little’s men were included in the semi-final draw, quite remarkably, and a potential tie against Sunderland beckoned. Thus, a trip to the FA Cup final against Manchester United was not beyond the realms of possibility, but Millwall put paid to those dreams with a narrow 2-1 win.
22. Jon Walters, Wirral born and bred, relegates Bolton from the Premier League – 2012
During the 1990s and 2000s, the gentlemanly smile of Mick O’Brien became ubiquitous in the amateur football circles of Wirral. A journeyman scout, Mick had an infectious personality, and his passion for the game was unrivalled. Even if you did not directly know Mick, you always remembered his face, and few local football events took place without him in attendance.
Once retained by Tranmere, Mick’s services later benefited Everton and Blackburn, too. It was while employed by the latter that O’Brien discovered one of his roughest diamonds on the fields of Shaftesbury Youth Club, a couple of hundred yards from Prenton Park in Birkenhead. There, in the shadows cast by Tranmere’s monumental Kop, Moreton-born Jonathan Walters began his football career, toiling in the Eastham & District League as a burly kid.
“He was at Shaftesbury under-16s when I first decided he had something,” said O’Brien years later. “I had been watching him for the previous two years, but his physique wasn’t what it should have been. But once he got to 16, you could see him developing. He was always quick. He played against Tranmere Rovers and scored three for Merseyside Schoolboys, so I made the decision to bring him in to Blackburn. He scored two against Manchester United on the Saturday and we signed him on the Monday.”
Walters endured a rocky start to his professional career, making zero first team appearances for Blackburn, who shipped him out to – yes, you guessed it – Bolton in 2001. A prototypical Big Sam battering ram, Walters made just four appearances for Wanderers, mixed in with various loan stints. He then turned out for Wrexham and Chester, completing an unlikely triumvirate of Tranmere rivals.
A late bloomer, Jon’s career gained traction with Ipswich, then flourished with Stoke. It was there, under the management of Tony Pulis, that Walters put the conclusive nail in Bolton’s Premier League coffin with final day shenanigans to cap the 2011-12 season.
Bolton needed to beat Stoke and hope for a QPR defeat at Manchester City to prolong their 11-year stay in the top flight. Walters put Stoke ahead with a controversial goal early on, nicking the ball from goalkeeper Adam Bogdan before scoring. Then, after a spirited Wanderers fightback sparked hope of survival, Jon – ever the doting Wirralian – slammed home a 77th minute penalty, levelling the score.
The match finished 2-2, City beat QPR thanks to Sergio Agüero’s immortal goal, and Bolton are yet to return to the top tier. By all accounts, Walters is an Everton fan, despite growing up five miles from Prenton Park. Still, he was an honorary Superwhite that day, and I would have paid good money to see him celebrate those goals with a Dave Challinor impression down beneath the away end.
23. Déjà vu all over again as Tranmere beat Bolton in the League Cup – 2013
When the League Cup second round draw paired Tranmere and Bolton in August 2013, there was a palpable sense of just how far both clubs had fallen in little over a decade. Wanderers were then a Championship club, managed by Dougie Freedman, while Rovers were mired in League One, soon to suffer the first of two successive relegations out of the Football League.
However, for one night at Prenton Park, Tranmere turned back the clock with some typical League Cup magic. Cole Stockton picked the pocket of Bolton defender Zat Knight to fire Rovers ahead, only for Jermaine Beckford to equalise in the second half. Tranmere weathered a late storm, including two disallowed goals for Wanderers and a heroic goal-line clearance from Evan Horwood, to force extra-time, which passed almost without incident.
In the resultant penalty shootout, down beneath a sparsely populated Kop, Rovers goalkeeper Owain Fôn Williams electrified the crowd, which sprang into raucous song with each exhilarating spot-kick. André Moritz and Alex Baptiste saw their penalties saved, while Tranmere converted all of their strikes, securing another fantastic win against higher-league opposition.
“We were fantastic from start to finish,” said Rovers boss Ronnie Moore, himself a veteran of early grudge matches against Bolton. “The first tackle from Goody set the standard for everybody, and that is the first time I have won on penalties as a manager!”
In turn, Freedman was magnanimous in defeat, signalling a shift in approach from Allardyce’s self-righteous indignation. “I was disappointed in losing the match, but I thought our approach play was good. It was just that decision-making that let us down. Tranmere stuck at it, took good penalties, and good luck to them in the next round.”
Somewhere, Big Sam snarled in disgust.
24. Tranmere thump depleted Bolton youngsters 5-0 – 2019
Sadly, both clubs were blighted by various crises during the 2010s, crashing to low ebbs in their respective histories. Tranmere spent three seasons in the fifth tier, playing non-league football for the first time in almost a century. Meanwhile, Bolton lurched from one financial meltdown to another, with unscrupulous figures besmirching a once-proud institution.
In 2019-20, then, Rovers and Wanderers found themselves in the same division for the first time in 19 years. Tranmere rebounded from their National League debacle to secure successive promotions, meeting Bolton in League One. Wanderers began the season with a points deduction, a symptom of modern football’s grim absurdity, as their fans endured routine humiliation.
In this regard, when the clubs met at Prenton Park in August 2019, Bolton were forced to field an ostensible youth team, such was their dire predicament. Tranmere showed little mercy, however, thumping five unanswered goals past the old enemy. Rovers fans enjoyed the occasion, but it was also tinged with mutual sadness at the state of our national sport.
Channelling the spirit of Bjørge Lillelien, Norway’s most famous football commentator, I composed a satirical tweet after the match, teasing Wanderers fans in jest.
Vernon Kay. Peter Kay. Paddy McGuinness. Amir Khan. Your boys took one hell of a beating.— Planet Prentonia (@PlanetPrentonia) August 17, 2019
In reality, though, it was disappointing to see such a formidable foe brought to its knees by managerial intransigence and executive malpractice. This was not a fair fight, and rarely has that been said about Tranmere Rovers and Bolton Wanderers.
25. Managed by Keith Hill, native Bolton son, Rovers beat Wanderers 3-0 – 2020
It is safe to say that, when Tranmere appointed Keith Hill as manager in November, we were the ones fuming, not Bolton. Undoubtedly an accomplished football man, Hill has struggled to win over vast portions of the Tranmere fanbase, with inconsistent results accompanying dreary performances.
Rovers enjoyed a phenomenal spell under the interim command of Ian Dawes and Andy Parkinson before Hill took over, so he was on a hiding to nothing in many respects. Still, in just his fourth league match as Tranmere boss, Hill executed a fine win over his hometown club in December, as Rovers produced an unflustered performance to beat Bolton 3-0 away from home.
Of course, Hill managed Wanderers last season, dealing with mounting turmoil, so he knows the club well. “It was the right job at the wrong time,” he said after leaving the club in June. “I’m a proud Boltonian and very proud of the way I was brought up by a Bolton mum and dad.”
Thus, it is difficult for Wanderers fans to muster genuine dislike or hatred for Hill, even if they do tend to call him a ‘chino-wearing dinosaur’ on social media. One expects that this entire episode of the rivalry would have been heightened emotionally if fans were allowed into stadiums, but Covid-19 means we must all sit at home and ponder Keith’s questionable fashion choices from afar.
26. Ian Evatt has a monumental meltdown as Tranmere complete a league double over Bolton - 2021
In all the many years of this strange and befuddling rivalry, Tranmere had never completed a league double over Bolton, defeating the Trotters home and away in the same season. They did so in the League Cup, of course, but never in the league. Well, that changed in January 2021, with a classic Wanderers meltdown thrown in for good measure.
Tranmere went ahead early on, courtesy of a fine goal from industrious midfielder Danny Lloyd. Bolton, managed by the ineffective Ian Evatt, then grew into the game somewhat, only for Rovers to be awarded a dubious penalty. Superwhite winger Liam Feeney was fouled by a clumsy Wanderers defender, but he had already got a shot off at goal. The referee initially gave a corner, before changing his mind delightfully and pointing to the spot. James Vaughan did the rest, putting Tranmere 2-0 up.
Bolton pinched a goal shortly after the hour, setting up a grandstand finish, but they were subsequently reduced to ten men as Evatt's blood reached an ungodly temperature. Wanderers knocked on the door before full-time, searching for an equaliser, yet Rovers stood firm, beating Bolton for the second time in five weeks.
Suitably raging, Evatt marched onto the field and remonstrated with the match officials, first receiving a yellow card, then quickly seeing a red. The Bolton boss was still irate during his post-match press conference, spewing bile about dodgy decisions and abhorrent gamesmanship. His comments were proforma, of course, easily attributable to any Bolton manager visiting Prenton Park in the last 40 years.
"I don't know why he sent me off," said Evatt. "I didn't swear at him. I just asked him why he didn't send Monthe off when Sarcevic is clean through. He's dragged him down, everyone can see it - he'd already been booked and should have been sent off. There's no explanation for it, and if you miss that one, then you certainly can't send my player off for coming and winning a header. It's baffling.
"I think we have not had the rub of the green, and we are going to report the referee and the officials today - not just for their officiating, but for the way and the manner in which they were speaking to our bench during the game.
"I went over to speak to the ref, and he just had a smug grin on his face, which was very arrogant. I questioned why he'd made the decisions he had, and he obviously felt the need to book me once and then give me a second yellow and a red, which in my opinion is unjust."
Evatt clearly graduated from the Phil Neal-Sam Allardyce school of press relations, lacking any sense of dignity. Meanwhile, Bolton fans did not take things too well on social media, either, finding the ref, Neil Hair, on Facebook and lambasting him. It did not help that the cover photo on Hair's profile was a shot of Wembley Stadium on the day Tranmere beat Boreham Wood to secure promotion back to the Football League. Hair officiated that game and, according to Bolton fans, obviously fell in love with Rovers in the process, despite the fact he also sent off Liam Ridehalgh, our influential defender, after 48 seconds, nearly ruining our lives all over again. But hey, why bother with logic when conspiracy theories are so entertaining? The Tranmere curse rolls on, and Wanderers are powerless to stop it.