The Mohawk Chronicles
Thankfully, my sister is a barber. So when I sat in the chair as a ten year old, requesting a blonde mohawk, I wasn’t laughed out of the shop.
We lived on a council estate in Bromborough and my mum knew that such a haircut would single me out for unwanted attention. She let me get the mohawk, but it would never be blonde. That would be going too far, Tranmere Rovers be damned. You have to draw the line somewhere.
I was deeply infatuated with Iain Hume, the star striker of my beloved team. I pestered my dad to somehow buy those obscure white Mizuno boots just so I could be like Humey. I tucked my socks down my shinpads when I played football just so I could be like Humey. In one exuberant twist, Iain developed a wicked hairstyle that resembled the markings of a tennis ball, and I wanted that, too, just so I could be like Humey. The guy was super cool. I have never loved a Tranmere player more.
We all have that one hero who stands above the rest. It’s usually the definitive superstar of our favourite team at the peak of our childhood. That’s certainly the case with me and Iain Hume, who remains the most exciting supernova I have ever witnessed at Prenton Park. Jason Koumas exceeds him in terms of raw genius, and James Norwood has recently surpassed him in terms of pure productivity, but Humey was different. Humey epitomised an era and electrified our dreams. Nobody has consistently reached that level of adrenaline-inducing excellence since.
How Tranmere Rovers found Iain Hume
Iain was born in Edinburgh to Scottish parents but grew up in Bampton, a suburb of Toronto, Canada’s largest city. A passion for football was instilled in him from an early age, and Hume’s natural competitive instinct drove him to master the art. Trials were arranged with Hearts and St Mirren in Scotland during his formative years, but neither club took a chance on his precocious abilities. Hume was left to focus on collegiate football, eventually being ushered into the national setup at youth level, a fitting outlet for his passion.
In 1998, the Canadian Soccer Association organised a European tour for its Under-18 team. Hume was just 15 at the time, but he was invited to join the delegation anyway, a nod to his burgeoning talent. The Canadian kids played a number of games in England, including a contest with the Tranmere youth team at their Ingleborough training complex. Hume played in that fateful match, dazzling with mazy dribbles and fearless determination. It was a performance that changed his life, and things would never be the same again.
Warwick Rimmer, Rovers’ legendary scout, liked what he saw. He like it a lot. However, Tranmere anticipated difficulty in obtaining a work permit for Hume, possibly precluding him from playing in professional matches. Perhaps Hearts and St Mirren thought along similar lines, missing their chance to sign a future star.
Tranmere dug deeper, however, discovering that the diminutive starlet held a British passport. Tranmere took his phone number. Then they invited Hume to play in a youth tournament in France, a most unusual trial. Hume hauled Rovers through the competition, scoring in the final as they beat Port Vale to lift the trophy. No more evidence was required. Tranmere had a star on their hands.
Rovers brokered a deal to sign Iain and bring him to Wirral. His parents accepted the move, even if it meant that Hume did not finish his high school education in Canada. Tranmere promised to look after the mercurial kid, helping with his accommodation and schooling. It was a huge gamble for all concerned, and a signing quite unlike any in Rovers’ history. The club wouldn’t have to wait long to reap the enormous rewards, however, as Hume’s hunger for success steered him to rapid development.
Iain Hume breaks through at Tranmere Rovers
Manager John Aldridge threw him in at the deep end in April 2000, with Hume making his professional debut as a late substitute for Nick Henry against Swindon in the second tier. Iain was 16 years and 167 days old, the youngest player ever to appear for Tranmere Rovers. The record was previously held by Dixie Dean, a concise snapshot of the club’s belief in Hume’s talent. Greatness was expected. Greatness was delivered.
Hume was used as a super sub during the next two seasons, dipping in and out of the first team. Tranmere were keen to manage his career trajectory, and the additional duty of care led them to a cautious approach. Iain witnessed some of Rovers’ finest victories under Aldridge from the bench, gaining a crash course appreciation of professional football and the rigorous demands bestowed upon Tranmere players.
When Ray Mathias became manager in August 2002, he placed tremendous faith in Hume as the man to lead Rovers back to the second tier. It was a time of mass upheaval at Prenton Park, with core players like Koumas, Clint Hill, Joe Murphy, Steve Yates and Wayne Allison finding new clubs. Aged just 19, Hume became a regular in the first team, starring alongside fellow youth products such as Ryan Taylor and Alex Hay. If Peter Johnson was going to be parsimonious, Mathias concluded, Tranmere would have to rely on their kids. It’s a good job they were talented.
Hume scored his first professional goal in October 2002, heading home a Gareth Roberts free-kick against Peterborough at Prenton Park. By January, Hume was starting regularly as Tranmere fought for a playoff place, and in February, he made his debut for the Canadian national team in a match away to Libya.
When Iain Hume destroyed Colin Hendry and Blackpool for Tranmere Rovers
A few weeks later, back on the domestic scene, Iain authored the single greatest individual performance I have ever seen from a Rovers player. I still smile thinking about it now. Blackpool were the opposition, bringing a 12-game unbeaten run to Birkenhead. A crowd of 9,111 gathered to watch a traditional grudge match, and they were treated to a stunning display of sublime talent.
Hume’s exhibition began after just fourteen minutes. With outrageous speed, he managed to corral a forward pass from Gary Jones, keeping the ball in play tight to the Borough Road touchline with nimble feet and twinkling toes. Unconscious and uncaring, he ran at Colin Hendry, the blonde-haired defender who captained Scotland at the World Cup just five years earlier, putting him on the back foot in a horrible position before darting inside and slaloming past two desperate midfield challenges. Twenty-five yards from goal, Hume unleashed an insurgent strike with his left foot, steering the ball into the bottom corner of the Cowshed net, beyond the despairing dive of goalkeeper Phil Barnes. Prenton Park was flabbergasted.
All afternoon, Hume stood out with searing pace, prodigious work rate and unique imagination. With skill and ingenuity, he linked play and drove Tranmere forward. Aged 38, Hendry was absolutely petrified of Hume’s fresh legs and cunning brain. A towering leader who had shackled strikers like Ronaldo, Rivaldo and a host of Premier League stars in his glittering career, Hendry couldn’t keep up with Hume. They were playing different games, and I’ve never seen a more dishevelled opponent at Prenton Park.
Blackpool equalised after an hour, but Hume dragged Tranmere back in front with twenty minutes remaining. Target man Simon Haworth knocked a smart ball forward from midfield, encouraging Hume to open his legs. Approaching the Kop end penalty area, our starlet was crowded by a scampering full-back, a tired midfielder, and a red-faced Hendry. With devastating intent, Hume fizzed towards the penalty area, evading challenges with exquisite close control. He faced up to Hendry once again, twisting and turning before leaving the defender on his arse, a broken old man on the cusp of retirement. Hume flashed another left-footed shot into the net, sparking delirium. I was sat on the front row of the Kop with my dad, a kid of wide-eyed wonder, and this was just about the greatest thing I had ever seen.
How Iain Hume rekindled the giant-killing spirit of Tranmere Rovers
The enchanting act continued against Cardiff a few weeks later in an epochal game between two passionate clubs fighting for a playoff place. The great Robert Earnshaw scored a hat-trick for Cardiff, but Rovers gave as good as they got in a pulsating 3-3 draw. Hume scored Tranmere’s second, another feather in his cap, before a last-gasp Cardiff equaliser scuppered our delight. Tranmere won their final five games of the season and avoided defeat in their final fifteen, but it just wasn’t enough as Cardiff secured the final playoff berth by one point.
After the season, Hume joined the Canadian Under-20s at the FIFA World Youth Championship in the United Arab Emirates. The competition featured future stars such as Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez, Andres Iniesta, Dani Alves and Freddy Adu, but Hume held his own in such illustrious company. He scored three goals at the tournament, including a stunning thirty-yard equaliser against Spain in the quarter-finals, as scouts began to monitor his progress.
Iain enjoyed another sensational campaign for Tranmere in 2003-04, scoring 14 goals in 50 games. His tenacious style of play was adored by Rovers fans, who appreciated the heart and hustle just as much as the silky skill. Another famous Tranmere cup run gave Hume a fine canvas on which to paint, and boy did he take advantage, placing himself firmly in the shop window.
Rovers met old rivals Bolton in the FA Cup third round that year, earning a replay against the Premier League side with a 1-1 draw on Wirral. The Reebok Stadium duly formed the next setting for Hume’s heroics.
Mere seconds into extra-time in the replay, Hume gathered the ball near the right touchline, some forty yards from goal, and evaded two challenges before arrowing a trademark twenty-five-yard piledriver with his left foot into the Bolton net. Rovers held on for a famous win as the reputation of their star grew.
Tranmere progressed past Luton in the next round, earning a fifth-round date with Swansea City. A bumper crowd of 12,215 flocked to Prenton Park, where Hume electrified the sacred turf once again. Swansea took the lead through Andy Robinson, a Tranmere fan from Rock Ferry, only for Ryan Taylor to equalise from the penalty spot. The stage was duly set for Hume, who mustered another twenty-five-yard thunderbolt into the top corner, hauling Tranmere through to the quarter-finals. This was Roy of the Rovers stuff.
In the last eight of England’s most prestigious cup competition, Tranmere could have faced Manchester United or Arsenal. Instead, they were paired with Millwall of the second division, fuelling genuine hope that Rovers could reach the semi-finals for the first time in club history.
Rovers battled for a valiant goalless draw at The Den with John Achterberg saving a penalty, necessitating a replay before 15,510 in Birkenhead. Millwall eventually won 2-1, narrowly scraping through to a semi-final with Sunderland at Old Trafford and a subsequent final against United. It was another one that got away for Tranmere, who also missed out on a playoff place once again, compounding their frustration.
The inimitable zenith of Iain Hume at Tranmere Rovers
Nevertheless, 2004-05 was an even better campaign for Hume, who simply terrorised the third division, scoring 16 goals in 50 games across all competitions. Brian Little moulded a well-coached team that played with an entertaining philosophy. Taylor and Paul Hall formed a fantastic partnership on the right flank, while Jason McAteer was a fine midfield conduit. Ian Goodison stabilised the defence, with Eugene Dadi becoming an effective force up front. Hume was the difference-maker, though, orchestrating key wins with impressive maturity.
Tranmere famously thumped Wrexham 5-1 in January 2005, with Hume notching a goal at the Racecourse. He also scored against Bradford as Rovers lost a memorable game 5-4, and against Peterborough in a rare 5-0 dismantling of a traditional nemesis.
Free-scoring Tranmere finished third in League One, securing a playoff semi-final against Hartlepool. A 2-0 deficit from the first leg was retrieved at Prenton Park, only for Rovers to lose painfully on penalties. It felt like the end of an era, and that marvellous team never received the ultimate glory it deserved.
Iain Hume at Leicester City
Iain Hume ran himself into the ground for the Tranmere cause, sustaining maximum effort for three relentless years. His was a transformative impact on the culture in Birkenhead, daring Rovers to compete and reach for their destiny, with no concern for reputations. Ultimately, without securing that vital promotion, Tranmere could not keep hold of their talisman, who joined Leicester in the Championship on transfer deadline day in August 2005.
Rovers received £500,000 for Hume, later rising to £750,000 with a 10% sell-on clause. That they should have extracted far more value is a typical tale of the chronic myopia that eventually doomed the club.
There was no real replacement for Hume, and a black hole consumed the Tranmere attack. Rovers only secured their third-tier status on the season’s penultimate day thanks to victory against relegation rivals Milton Keynes. They eventually finished in 18th place, a painful decline predictive of future struggles.
Hume performed well at Leicester, scoring 34 goals across three seasons, but even his stellar efforts couldn’t save the Foxes from relegation in 2008. Iain was then sold to Barnsley for £1.2 million, only for a harrowing injury to upend his progress.
The fractured skull - what happened to Iain Hume?
In a feisty Yorkshire derby at Oakwell in November 2008, Hume jostled for an aerial ball with Chris Morgan, the captain of Sheffield United. Prior to challenging for the ball, Hume received a sickening elbow to the head, sustaining a fractured skull and internal bleeding. Morgan received only a yellow card for his flagrant misdemeanour, while Iain was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries, undergoing emergency surgery.
Earlier in the match, Hume pleaded with referee Andy D’Urso for protection from Morgan’s notoriously rugged approach. Those suggestions fell on deaf ears, however, to devastating effect later on.
The road to recovery was long and frightening for Hume, who received support from the wider sporting community. Steven Gerrard sent him a signed shirt, as did Canadian ice hockey star Wayne Gretzky. World-beating goalkeeper Petr Čech offered his assistance, having suffered a similar injury himself.
Privately, Iain feared for his life, contemplating the future for his wife and kids, while some analysts believed he would never play again, a promising career over at 25. Remarkably, Humey made a full recovery and summoned the courage to enter the playing field once more. His love of football was second only to his competitive instinct, and such an injury would not defeat him.
Iain was left with an 18-inch scar and cognitive difficulties. Legal wrangles and political interventions stalled his return to the pitch, but Hume played in a friendly against Gainsborough in July 2009 then managed to score five goals in 35 games as Barnsley survived in the Championship.
The twilight of a bittersweet career
A move to Preston North End followed, and Hume topped 100 career goals while at Deepdale. Brief spells with Doncaster and Fleetwood were sprinkled in for good measure before Iain was drafted by the Kerala Blasters of the nascent Indian Super League in August 2014, joining player-manager David James for their inaugural season.
Hume scored Kerala’s first ever goal and became a huge fan favourite across India, scoring regularly before crowds that peaked at 61,000. Hume was voted as the league’s Player of the Season in his lone campaign with the Blasters, before a long-awaited return to Tranmere was finalised.
We always dreamed of a Humey return, serenading him with applause and chants whenever he played against us. Iain even scored a crucial winner for Doncaster against Rovers at Prenton Park in 2012, refusing to celebrate in a mark of respect.
Indeed, Hume made his family home on Wirral and maintained a strong affinity with Tranmere fans. There was a sense of destiny that he would one day come home, but the circumstances in which it actually occurred were less than ideal.
Tranmere was a fallen force in January 2015, when Iain signed a six-month contract. A shell of its former self, the club languished in the fourth division, rattling around the basement. It was hoped that Hume’s arrival, and that of other short-term signings, would spark a resurgence in the second’s second half. Such an improvement was not forthcoming, however, as Rovers finished bottom of the table, slipping out of the Football League for the first time in 94 years.
Hume returned to India after being released, joining Atletico de Kolkata at the age of 32. He also spent time with Ponferradina and Extremadura in the Spanish lower leagues before returning to Kerala in 2017. Iain is now playing for Pune City in the Indian Super League, with thoughts turning towards the next stage of an engrossing career in football.
Humey remains a huge Tranmere fan. He sat in the stands at Wembley in recent years, speaking of his satisfaction at seeing Rovers return to the Football League, then to League One, where he did most of his damage in the white shirt.
I would like to see the club embrace Iain once he eventually retires, offering him a route into coaching. He gave us some of the brightest moments we have ever had following this club, and it would be a crying shame if we didn’t use his unequalled experience to improve the next generation.
Iain Hume is a footballer quite unlike any other in the world. This is a guy who was born in Scotland, raised in Canada, idolised in Birkenhead, and deified in India. Iain has played matches in so many countries, before gargantuan crowds, and still remains a humble gentleman on and off the field.
His sheer unadulterated talent has been equalled only by Dale Jennings in a Tranmere shirt since those halcyon days, but Dale could not sustain that level quite like Iain did. People have scored more goals for Rovers, and others have won more medals, but few managed a more spectacular blend of skill, fearlessness and passion.
Iain Hume has a special place in my heart and a permanent spot in the Tranmere hall of fame. He was the face of generation, the star of an era. And now, if you would just excuse me for a second, I’m off to get that blonde mohawk. You only live once.
- I wrote a book about Tranmere Rovers, and you can buy it now
- Jason Koumas, the emperor of Prenton Park
- Prenton Pipeline: A history of the Tranmere Rovers youth system