Tranmere Rovers
Prenton Park

Ground No. 12 (return visit)
Visited - Sunday 3rd February 2010
Result - Tranmere Roves 0-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers
Competition - FA Cup Third Round
Attendance - 7476

The televising of games and change of kick-off times is often referred to as a sign of the modern games contempt for the fans who pay to attend matches, but as Stan Cullis’ excellent ‘All for the Wolves’ reveals, it’s a concern that dates back far longer than those who complain have been watching the game for!

Football was first televised in 1937, when Arsenal’s first team staged a match against their reserves, shown live on the BBC, and since then, particularly post-1992, the coverage has become sweeping, the lifeblood of the game itself even, with an estimated £1bn made each season by Premier League clubs alone from TV deals. The latest advance is showing matches on the internet, and not just dodgy foreign sites that spend as much time buffering as broadcasting their blurred images, but the FA who have jumped on the technology to show selected games from this years FA Cup on their own website. Starting off at Boundary Park to broadcast Oldham’s first round loss to Leeds, Carlisle was the next choice, both games moved back a few hours to 5:15 slots, yet when the next match (bar a couple of replays) was chosen, you could bet that it was Wolves’ game that would be the one switched to the bizarre time of Sunday 6:15pm to pull in the viewers for the glamour tie that had the nation on the edge of their seats in anticipation of the big clash between the men in gold and black, and relegation threatened League One side, Tranmere Rovers. Romance of the cup? Hmmm...

The Wirral side have played at Prenton Park since 1912, the second ground of that name that they’ve called home, and over the years it was built up to suit the clubs needs, including a terrace at the Prenton Road End that featured a multi-span roof, not dissimilar to the one still in situ at Carlisle, yet come the 1980’s things were looking bleak. The club were struggling both on and off the pitch. Financially things were tough, even a full time groundsman was considered a luxury not affordable for the early part of the decade, whilst come 1987 they only retained their league status on the last day with a 1-0 victory over Exeter, but at the same time the ground was suffering as well. The Kop had been closed in 1985 due to safety concerns, and in his legendary book ‘Football Grounds of Great Britain’, Simon Inglis had all but sold it off to a supermarket, suggesting the club would be better suited taking the cash and relocating (his joke of somewhere blocking the mouth of the Mersey Tunnel probably not being too bad a suggestion!)

Since the 1987 survival season though, things had started to look up for Rovers, staggeringly in fact. Guided by manager Johnny King, who had been the man to keep them up after coming back for his second stint in the Prenton Park hotseat, within four years the club were playing at their highest level since 1939 after they beat Bolton in the play-off final to win promotion to the old Second Division, having made four appearances at Wembley in the meantime. As if this wasn’t enough, the return to Division Two was topped by the coup of signing ex-Liverpool striker John Aldridge, who started his 10 year association with the club by weighing in with a mammoth 40 goals in his first season to ensure a comfortable mid-table finish. The 1990s turned out to be the best period in their history, with three successive play-off finishes and ending the 1999/00 season with another Wembley appearance, this time in the League Cup Final (losing narrowly to Leicester), but finances were again an issue and despite Aldridge (now manager) having got to the final with a team that he hadn’t paid a single penny for, the writing was on the wall as the team slumped in the league, getting relegated in 2001 and spending the following decade back in League One.

Despite this setback, the club were still in a far better position than they had been 15 years earlier, and contrary to Inglis’ gloomy prediction for its future, the form on the pitch had been reflected off it as well with Prenton Park rebuilt on three sides, only the Main Stand having survived the post-Taylor Report modifications that had taken place.

This was how I’d found the ground on my first visit in 1998, a final day of the season fixture with nothing to play for, notable only for being the last game John Aldridge played for the club (scoring both goals in a 2-1 win), so when the FA Cup draw had been made I’d actually been quite pleased, a chance to revisit, having wanted to go back there for quite a while. The downside of course was the change in the time being a real put off, and it had only been a few days beforehand that I’d decided to definitely go, setting off on an absolutely freezing afternoon which was in stark contrast to that bright warm summers day of 12 years earlier.

The train journey went fine, quick changes in Crewe and Chester, before arriving at Rock Ferry early and making my way to the ground, being allowed in to take pictures as the preparations on the pitch continued full steam, the groundstaff filling a ‘bubble’ with hot air in an attempt to warm it up. When approaching the ground from the South, it’s the tall Kop that you can see first of all, towering over the surrounding area with its foreboding form that is somewhat reminiscent of the Devonshire Dock shipyard at Barrow with its shapeless body (I should point out, it doesn’t actually look anything like it, just has a similar feeling of colossal size), whilst the small Borough Road stand sits aside the busy road that it takes its name from. Maybe surprisingly, there’s little signage outside the ground, all three new stands clad by blue sheet metal with no writing to boldly announce that you’re at the home of Tranmere Rovers FC or badges or such like. A planning regulation one might assume, or merely just a finishing touch not considered to be needed by the club. The Main Stand is similar, albeit greyish/blue cladding with only the reception standing out. Inside is a bit different, the Kop still dominates with its huge single tier of seats stretching high back from the pitch, whilst to its left is the Borough Road Stand, renamed after manager Johnny King who did so much for the club in his second spell. Running the length of the pitch, it is also single tiered, and quite steep, despite being only 13 rows high, perhaps an omen for its unlucky inhabitants who have to put up with the sun in their eyes for 3pm kick-offs. The Cowshed sits opposite the Kop, and due to the road behind it, is taller on one side than the other, sloping down towards where the Main Stand sits. Built in 1968 this is now the oldest part of the ground, although still impressive enough in its own right. With two tiers, it formerly had a separate paddock below an upper tier of seats, but this too was modified post-Taylor, the terracing re-profiled to make the stand look almost single tiered at first glance, the only thing giving its age away being the two pillars in its centre which restrict the views for those sitting either side of the directors box. The final thing of note is a police control box sitting on stilts in the corner between the Kop and Main Stand.

Having seen enough, then I made my way away, still concerned at the rock hard pitch, spending the remainder of the afternoon in Birkenhead, expecting a text at any time to say the game was off, before relieved that none had come, heading back in time for kick-off. 

On my last visit, visiting supporters had been given half of the Kop, but since then the away end had been relocated to the Cowshed, where the Wolves supporters seemed to spend most of the time pre kick-off huddling in the concourse to escape the biting chill of the night air. It was only a brief escape though, and it was soon time to go out to the seats, the ridiculousness of the start time furthered by both sides knowing before the game even started that the prize on offer was a home tie against Crystal Palace.

Contrary to expectations, and perhaps due to the arguments still rumbling on from throwing the game at Old Trafford several weeks earlier, Mick McCarthy had named a strong(ish) side to start the new decade as the match got underway, but even so, what followed was a game to instantly forget. With the pitch still rock hard, the players on both sides seemed reluctant to make any rash challenges, the pace not too dissimilar to a pre-season friendly. But for a couple of tame shots from the home side, the only two bits of action in the first half came within minutes of each other and at opposite ends of the pitch. Kevin Foley was on the line to clear an Ian Thomas-Moore header from a corner, before a Richard Stearman throw-in eluded everyone to bounce into the box where Matt Jarvis looked certain to score, only to fire wide under pressure. The second half was little better, Ebanks-Blake going close to scoring his first of the season from open play, but for a good save from Luke Daniels, and with thoughts of a replay coming thick and fast, then it wasn’t until the 77th minute when the deadlock was finally broken, Jarvis showing his pace by racing onto a great through ball from Milijas to poke home and atone for the earlier miss. This was a wake-up call to the home side who had seemed content to sit behind the ball up until then, and the final minutes were played out with them besieging the Wolves goal, but they couldn’t find their way through a packed defence and Wayne Hennessey had only a few weak shots and a couple of corners to contend with before the ref blew for full time.

After leaving, then I made my way hurriedly back to the station, glad of the walk to try and warm up a bit having stood around, bored for the previous couple of hours, before getting back on the train and eventually home with no trouble.

Overall, despite the tedium of the match, it had been good to get back to the ground. With four different stand designs, then it has a lot of character, and probably looks better viewed from the Cowshed than the Kop, making it seem a bit bigger than the last time. The game aside, the only other disappointing thing was the attendance, which not helped by the cold weather, or even perhaps the FA Cup’s decreasing importance (it was hardly a glamour tie for either side), was lower than expected with the ground more than half empty, only 1200 having made the trip from the Midlands. Whilst the above two reasons wouldn’t have helped matters, the kick-off time and being screened live would most likely have been the main excuses for absentees, and it perhaps shows with this being only the third away game of the season we haven’t sold out, the other two occasions being Wigan (where we still took over 4000 for a Tuesday night match) and Sunderland (Sunday 4pm on Sky). There’s a good argument for all the wealth and prosperity that TV has bought to the game, but there’s no doubt of the negatives it brings as well, the increasing divide of the haves and have not’s, and more importantly for the match-going fan, the stupid kick-off times and empty grounds to endure. No one enjoys the flat atmosphere of a lunchtime match or the difficulty of getting to Sunday games, and 6:15 in the evening, just so it can be screened on the internet really makes you question what the future holds, especially as clubs seem so reluctant to reduce ticket prices for televised fixtures (a recommendation by authorities that has been all but laughed at). Still, when you have someone else stupid enough to continue to take the consequences of selling your soul, then who can blame those who hold the power for accepting the pieces of silver the TV companies put on offer to them. Perhaps we ask for it. 

Rear of the Main Stand

Main Entrance to the Ground

Rear of the Kop

Rear of the Kop

Rear of the Borough Road Stand

Rear of the Cowshed

Stupid Time...

The Cowshed

The Kop

The Borough Road Stand

The Main Stand

The Borough Road Stand

The Kop

The Main Stand

The Main Stand

The Kop

The Borough Road Stand


Prenton Park Panoramic 1

Prenton Park Panoramic 2

Prenton Park Panoramic 3

Prenton Park Panoramic 4

Prenton Park Panoramic 5


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