Tranmere Rovers relegated out of the Football League after 94 years
It stings. It aches. It hurts like a bastard. But no matter how much I cry, or how much I moan, it is still reality. Tranmere Rovers, my greatest passion since birth, is now a non-league football club. For the first time in 94 long and tradition-filled years, the Superwhites slipped from the Football League with a painful whimper last week, concluding the darkest chapter in the history of Wirral football.
Basically, all I have ever known at Tranmere is failure, misery and heartache. Of course, I was baptised into the star-crossed faith as a bright-eyed seven year old in 2001, never to be allowed a normal life again. To me, those early years were sensational, full of heroes and magic and memories. Yet, in retrospect, even that era was a dark one for Rovers, who had just been relegated after a decade in the second tier. Alas, I joined the congregation at the apex of a downward curve and, well, we have carried on slipping ever since, like a skier down a mountain.
Saturday 25th April 2015 was by far the most devastating day in the 131-year history of the club I love unconditionally. Tranmere lost 3-2 at Plymouth Argyle while controversial former manager Ronnie Moore – of all people – led Hartlepool United to another miraculous home victory, kicking the stool from beneath our feet and leaving us to hang. For the first time since gaining admittance to the Football League in 1921, it was all over for Rovers. Just like that.
Our second successive relegation was unbelievably hard to take. In my 14 years watching Tranmere, I have become a hardy soul. After all, when your team regularly conspires to lose after leading 2-0 with 10 minutes to play, you get used to it. After hundreds of games, broadly characterised as disappointing with the occasional flicker of light, you grow almost numb to it. However, this – relegation out of the Football League and into the abyss shared by Chester, Wrexham and Southport – was enough to smash anybody’s heart into tiny shards all over again.
At first, I was completely shocked, gawping at the television in equal parts disgust and anger. Then, I began to rage, marching around the house screaming obscenities about mismanagement and myopia. Ultimately, though, after settling down and truly contemplating the situation, my word just caved in. The tears were not far behind.
I began thinking about the first time I stepped foot inside Prenton Park with my dad – about the blood, sweat and toil of so many men to make this club so proud and illustrious. I reminisced about the great awaydays and the wonderful moments shared with true friends. And I also thought about our seemingly eternal quest for even a modicum of success – a quest shared with my younger brother, who is similarly afflicted with the Rovers disease. I sobbed uncontrollably – my heart breaking, my soul shaking, my throat and mind burning with pain.
In the end, I ventured downstairs, into the waiting arms of my dad, who consoled me with a hug. If he had known all the pain, suffering and angst that would be caused by thrusting Tranmere Rovers – that wonderfully beguiling drug – onto his son at the earliest age, he likely would not have bothered. But, then again, perhaps he would have. After all, this is what football – real football – is all about. This is what Tranmere – a real football club from a real town – is all about. Good times and tragic times. High moments and depressing moments. Life, in essence, without all the snobby pretence.
I struggled to come to terms with out relegation over the next few days, feeling tender and morose as everything I have ever wanted in life now seemed so far away. I felt melancholic and sensitive, like one particular memory floating into my head could unleash floods of tears anew. Quite frankly, I have never felt pain like it, even after a decade-and-a-half watching the most curse football team in the country. There seemed no end to the murky tunnel.
Finally, I began to acquiesce a little after about five days, taking some solace from the fact that we will have feisty local derbies next season. Likewise, we may finally have the chance to win something – perhaps a promotion or the FA Trophy at Wembley – fulfilling the only real dream I have ever had. However, the hard part – the part that sticks in your gut and percolates an inferno of anger – is that we had to tumble this low, and sacrifice so much history, just to wake up with an opportunity to taste success. Why does it have to be like this?
Somewhat begrudgingly, I went along to the final game of the season, at home to Bury. Of course I did. What else are you going to do, go shopping? Naturally, even that game ended in farce, and I left Prenton Park more dejected, frustrated, bitter and crestfallen than when I entered it. Bury scored a late goal against a woeful Rovers side, clinching promotion and sparking mass delirium on our pitch. I snapped a seat in frustration.
When their goal went in, the celebrations in our Cowshed were unbelievable – bodies strewn across the terraces in a joyous maelstrom of human emotion. Every fibre of my being crawled with envy, lust and seething hatred. That is what I want out of life. I want that moment, when complete and utter carnage greets the success of Tranmere Rovers. I want that moment, when a Superwhite player scores the goal to win something for us, and all hell breaks loose in a joyous cesspit of fanfare. I want that moment, and that is why I keep turning up.
Will that moment ever arrive? I was so disconsolate walking back to the bus stop post-Bury that the most pertinent answer seemed to be no. It is always the other team celebrating, always the other team laughing. We are always left waiting, hoping, praying and clinging to the thinnest of hopes. My body positively throbbed with anger. All night, I was restless and annoyed. Trying to sleep, I kept worrying that maybe it will never happen.
I have been going for 14 years, and it has not happened yet. That is 14 years of wait ‘til next year. That is 14 years of wait and see. That is 14 years of dashed hopes and shattered dreams. Who is to say there may not be another 14 years to wait for salvation?
I started out as a fresh-faced, Tranmere-obsessed kid, expecting a life of football merriment. Now, I’m a haggled, forlorn Tranmere addict, weary after two straight relegations. The need to shave, earn a living and survive as an adult have arrived before any Rovers success, which is a deeply worrying concept.
However, I will be there next season. You better believe it. I would not miss it for the world. No matter how awful we are, and no matter how frequently the emotionless players may boil my blood, that blood is still white, and that will always be the case. Tranmere Rovers, this sleeping giant beside the Mersey, is in my veins, and it will be until the day I die. My only hope is that I’m around to see our eventual, long-awaited, richly-deserved moment in the sun. These days, you just never know.