Own goals, glory days and car parks – Travels with Town at Prenton Park
Football writer Carl Marston has visited 120 Football League grounds, many of them reporting on Ipswich Town. Here he spotlights Prenton Park, home of Tranmere Rovers, ahead of Town’s weekend trip.
Tranmere Rovers, despite being in the shadow of the mighty Merseyside duo of Liverpool and Everton, basked in some of their own glory during the days when I was starting out as a rookie reporter, at the end of the 1980s through the 90s and into the new Millennium.
This was 'Roy of the Rovers' comic book material, with unfashionable Rovers getting within a whisker of gate-crashing the Premier League, on more than one occasion, as well as enjoying a sequence of stunning Cup runs.
Football can be a very fickle business, however, and Rovers have had just as many lows, as they have had highs, over the last four decades, not unlike this weekend's visitors from Portman Road!
I have seen Rovers mix with the best, beating the likes of Everton, West Ham and Southampton in FA Cup ties, in addition to walloping Ipswich a couple of times in the second tier during the 1990s, by 5-2 and 3-0 scorelines, both in 1996.
But then I have also seen proud Rovers grapple with the unfamiliar surroundings of the non-league scene, following their relegation out of the Football League in 2015, most notably a couple of visits to Braintree Town's humble home at Cressing Road - their introduction to the National League, in 2015, included an uninspiring 0-0 draw away at The Iron (I remember that well!).
It took Tranmere three seasons to clamber out of the National League, very speedy when compared to the likes of Cambridge United, Lincoln City and Wrexham (still trying).
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But they are back with a bang.
Promoted back to the Football League via the play-offs in 2018, they immediately secured another play-off triumph last year (over Newport County) to leap into League One.
Weather permitting, and with a beleaguered pitch holding up, Town are set for their first visit to Prenton Park in 20 years on Saturday, a place I have always enjoyed to visit (not everyone says this, about Birkenhead and its surroundings).
I always like a club with a good car park (Prenton Park has one of the best), a good fish-and-chip shop nearby (another box ticked, unless its closed since my last visit with Colchester a few years ago), a cracking view of the pitch (the press box is perched high up in the main stand) and a sense of history (the ground is dripping with the memories of the glory days under Jimmy King and his successor, John Aldridge).
I'm glad Rovers have returned, to the big-ish time.
- Club: Tranmere Rovers
- Founded: 1884 as Belmont FC (adopted current name in 1885)
- Ground: Prenton Park (since 1912)
- Town's first visit: 1-0 away defeat on October 3, 1989
- Town's last visit: 2-0 away win on March 22, 2000
- Town's overall record at Prenton Park: P9 W5 D1 L3
Tranmere Rovers played in the same colours as neighbours Everton (blue shirts, white shorts) in their early days.
There was a brief period when they donned orange-and-maroon shirts (sounds a bit garish), from 1889 to 1904, after which the former blue shirts returned until the current predominantly white strip was first introduced in 1962.
This sits well with 'The Whites' or 'Superwhites' nicknames.
Town's visits/Carl's experience
Rovers have a proud FA Cup tradition, reaching the quarter-finals three times following the turn of the century in 2000, 2001 and 2004.
And yet Town have never had a difficulty in booting out Rovers, even away from home.
Back in 1992-93, when Rovers finished fourth in the First Division (Championship), John Lyall's top-flight Town side won 2-1 in a third round tie, despite trailing to Pat Nevin's first-half opener. Jason Dozzell and Boncho Genchev bagged the goals.
Town went on to reach the quarter-finals, Genchev and fellow front-runner Chris Kiwomya both scoring in a Portman Road thriller, though Arsenal won through 4-2.
Personally, whenever I think of Tranmere Rovers, I don't just think about good car parks, fish-and-chip lunches and a lofty view from the press box.
No, I also think of John McGreal!
I mention McGreal, because this former Rovers and Town favourite (233 games for Tranmere, 150 games for Ipswich) scored the winner while in a Rovers shirt for another FA Cup clash in 1999.
However, unfortunately for defender McGreal, his own goal, at the start of the second half, gifted Town a 1-0 away win.