As I know I’ve mentioned on this blog countless times, in September 2010 I moved to Liverpool. Regularly, I would enjoy a Saturday afternoon on the Kop to get my football fix. Anfield? What are you on about? I mean the Kop of Prenton Park of course, the home of Tranmere Rovers.
Not that I went every week, but I did enjoy a good 7-8 trips across the Mersey (not on the fabled ferry) to Birkenhead to watch the Rovers play on a Saturday. By the time my time on Merseyside had come to an end, I owned a Tranmere scarf and even a home shirt (only because it was £15 in their end of season sale though). Onmy trips over to the Wirral, I found the Tranmere fans a particularly despondent and bleak folk, yet somehow comforting. Admittedly, there wasn’t too much to get excited about on the pitch, yet every time I went you could find the same characters on the Kop – clearly just coming out of ritual more than joy. Me on the other hand, I came regularly as I had discovered a joyous talent to watch on the pitch and he was surely also the highlight of many a Birkenheaders’ weekend; this player was a 17-year-old called Dale Jennings, who was worth the entry fee alone (admittedly, as an under 22 at the time, entry was only £11 for me, but you know what I mean). Jennings’ talented soared in League One to the extent that he eventually signed for Bayern Munich’s youth team, but after 3 years in Bavaria he’s returned to these shores with Barnsley recently.
I’d not visited Prenton Park since that year on Merseyside, but I’d spotted an opportunity to return to the ground for the first time in 4 years; however, this time I wouldn’t be heading for the Kop, but the away end instead. No, my beloved Swansea were not in town, but my pals from Morecambe were heading down for a day on Merseyside for their League Two clash against Rovers.
I arrived into Liverpool Lime Street shortly before 11am and headed for a quick pint next door in the Head of Steam pub, so I could finish reading my bumper Saturday edition of the Guardian, which I had begun on the train. With my Morecambe pals, father and son Dom and John Lancaster, not rolling into the station until 12.30pm, I opted to head a few yards up the road to the Ma Egerton’s Stage Door pub – named as it is located directly at the back of the Liverpool Empire Theatre. The pub had certainly been renovated since I had last been in there too – all very plush! The place was also housing a few Evertonians too who were excited about taking on Chelsea that evening and also wanting to chat with me about their upcoming League Cup game with the Swans.
By 12.30ish, I had met up with the Lancaster lads and we were soon heading down into the depths of Liverpool Lime Street’s underground station to hop on the Merseyrail across to Birkenhead. In my Liverpool-dwelling days, I had always got off at Birkenhead Central, but train driver John was confident that Green Lane station was actually closer to Prenton Park. It turned out he was right and I felt a bit silly for getting off at Birkenhead Central all those times in the past.
We navigated our way through the streets of Birkenhead until we headed down a hill with the superb floodlights of Prenton Park just ahead of us. Our destination was Prenton Park – the pub with the same name as the ground and directly opposite the away end. It was here we were told that we would find the Morecambe fan stronghold.
The place was a full of red (and purple away) shirts of Morecambe as we entered and clearly the Shrimps had come out in force for today’s trip to Birkenhead. As I entered, I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who came over to say hello to me and beckon me over to say hello – they are really are an awesome bunch of fans. The part I found strangest of all was that loads said hello to me without me having a clue who they were; “They all read Lost Boyos,” I was told, especially since the blog seems to have become an unofficial advert for Morecambe Football Club on the side. It was amusing that some still referred to me by my Morecambe nickname too: ‘Jack Shrimp’ – in ode to my Swansea fandom.
I took a seat next to Globe Arena employee Sama, who had clearly enjoyed her drink this morning as she slurred how ‘sexy’ it was that I travelled around watching football. If only all ladies saw it that way! Then the legendary Pete Two Scarves came bundling over with two pints and plumped one down in front of me. “There you go Matt!” I was honoured to receive an unexpected pint from such a Morecambe legend, it was just a shame that I had been drinking lager all morning and it was certainly a struggle to drink whatever sort of real beer he had bought me.
It also turned out that I was not the only outsider amongst the Morecambe support today; also in attendance was Motherwell fan Garry Murphy. It seems that Motherwell and Morecambe have formed quite a friendship since a preseason game a few seasons ago and Garry was attending his first Morecambe away game today. He was quiet, shy and well-behaved…of course, he wasn’t! Like all good Scotsmen he was loud, enjoying his drink and soon ‘mooning’ some other fans out the window. Top guy though and also had a very fetching flat cap, which I obviously condone.
A few renditions of Morecambe anthem Bring Me Sunshine later and it was time to depart the pub. Literally one road crossing later and we were at the turnstiles to the Cowshed End, where the away fans are held at Prenton Park. £17 handed over at the turnstiles and I was back in Prenton Park for the first time in almost 4 years.
Tranmere were formed in 1884 as Belmont FC, before adopting their current name a year later. The club played their first games at Steeles Park in Birkenhead, but in 1887 moved onwards to Borough Road Enclosure, also referred to as Ravenshaw’s Field and South Road. The ground was eventually named Prenton Park. However, the club were moved again as the land was needed for new houses and a school and so Tranmere took the name of the ground to their new, and now current, home in 1912.
Unsurprisingly, the ground has undergone a whole host of renovations over the years with the biggest wholsesale redevelopment coming in 1994, influenced by the Taylor Report. The redevelopment saw changes and updates to the Borough Road Stand, the Cowshed Stand and The Kop, which increased the capacity of the ground to 16,500 – the capacity of the ground today.
Onwards onto the concourse for a prematch beer, which was, as per usual in the Football League, over-priced and in plastic bottles (although I cannot recall what beer it was for the life of me now). Following closely behind me through the turnstiles was Dom with his drum draped over his shoulder ready to lead the Shrimp fans on in song. With his creative chants (see my Burton blog for some of those) Dom really is becoming Morecambe’s ‘Music Man’.
A quick trip to the toilets and I headed up into the Cowshed Stand with the recognisable structure of the Kop opposite behind the far goals. I say recognisable, but this was the first time of viewing it from afar and from a different part of the ground for me. We were placed in the fairly large single-tiered Cowshed Stand, which interestingly has more rows on one side of it giving the stand a rather sloping look. To the left of us was the smallest stand in the ground, the John King Stand, whilst opposite that running down the other side of the pitch you could find the Main Stand. Strangely, despite the imposing figure of the Kop at the far end, the Main Stand actually holds a lot more as well as housing the various press areas. The ground has four open corners and I particularly liked the small tower (which I’m guessing holds some sort of boxes?) draped with the words ‘HOME BARGAINS’ surrounded by the Tranmere Rovers badge.
As always when I’ve gone away with them, Morecambe were in superb voice with Dom and another drummer at the back of the stand booming the chants along. The teams came out onto the pitch with Morecambe top of the league and having won all 4 of their league games so far. “Do you know, I’ve watched Morecambe away from home 4 times and they’ve won all 4 times? I hope I’ve not jinxed them now,” I boldly stated in the pub beforehand.
The game was certainly a slow burner with little happening on the pitch for the best part of 30 minutes. More fun was being had in the stands with a few renditions of ‘Twist and Shout’ (always a personal favourite chant of mine, no matter which club sings it) and the usual ‘Since I was young…”
If you had to pick a better team over the first half, you would have to say it was the Shrimps and they were the ones who eventually took the lead in the 38th minute. Some shocking defending from Tranmere saw Morecambe win a free header in the box, which then went onwards to skipper Mark Hughes, who also had a free header to float past Welshman Owain Fon Williams in the Tranmere goal. Cue ‘scenes’ in the away end. I was soon in an embrace with Scottish Garry. Perfect time to score for the Shrimps as the away team saw the lead out until half-time.
Chants of “WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE” resonated around the away end and it was certainly apt for me, as Swansea were leading 2-0 against WBA at the Liberty Stadium meaning that they were also top of the Premier league too. Double celebration as the half closed.
Half-time: Tranmere 0 – 1 Morecambe.
More beer was consumed at half-time, as well as catching up with another load of Shrimps fan who all seemed to know ‘Jack Shrimp, before heading back into the stands to try cheer Morecambe onto a 5th straight league win.
Tranmere came out for the second half much better than they did the first and they were on the front foot from the first minute of the second period. The introduction of Tranmere’s Kayode Odejayi seemed to swing things their way and it was the sub who would be the victim of an off the ball incident that would get Morecambe’s skipper and goalscorer sent-off. Not many people saw the off-ball incident from the stands, but I just happened to glimpse over at Hughes as he leaned his head into Odejayi (not a skull destroying headbutt); I immediately turned to John and said, “He’s walking for that.” And he did.
There was a more hostile atmosphere developing in the ground now with the Tranmere fans giving particular abuse to Morecambe fan favourite Kevin Ellison. This obviously led to Shrimps’ fans defending their bald-headed hero and thus abuse was hurled between sections of both sets of fans.
Morecambe seemed to be coping well with Tranmere’s extra man, but the referee was having an absolute stinker and gave everything the home team’s way.
Just as I was complimenting Morecambe’s defensive resilience, the away team’s right back tried to stretch and poke a pass back to keeper Barry Roche, only for the pass to fall well short and for Tranmere’s Cole Stockton to skip past Roche and finish well. 1-1.
Now it was just a case of holding on for Morecambe and it was a task they performed admirably. Most of the away fans seemed confident that the Shrimps would hold out and a point would keep them top of the league. However, as the clock ticked over 90 minutes, disaster struck. A brilliantly chipped pass into the box from Matt Hill saw Stockton connect with a shot and fire past Roche once again to make it 2-1 to the home team with minutes left. Rather embarrassingly I thought, Tranmere fans ran onto the side of the pitch celebrating much to the distaste of the Morecambe bench; so much so that a scuffle broke out between some Tranmere fans and Morecambe’s backroom staff.
There was much baiting between certain sections of both fans as the final whistle went.
Full-time: Tranmere 2-1 Morecambe. Sadly, the Shrimps dropped off the top of the league and down to 3rd (I had to hide my smile as Swansea had soared to the top of the Premier League in the same afternoon – for a few hours at least).
Football is a brilliant game and 95% of football fans are brilliant, but sadly this game was to be marred by ugly scenes post match as a select group of idiots ruined things. There were a lot of ugly stories being floatedaround about which fans started the ruckus near the away end (none I’ll put here as I can’t confirm any of the stories), but all I do know is that a small group of Tranmere fans did try to get into the away end. This led to the away end being closed off by the police and a whole host of sirens outside the ground.
After 5 minutes, the police informed us to cover our colours to walk back to Rockferry station (they wouldn’t let us go to Green Lane) and that they would provide us with a police escort. It was all a bit laughable really. As the 6 of us strolled up towards Rockferry, even the riot van following us realised that nothing was going to kick off with us and soon they sped away leading us to fend for ourselves in Birkenhead.
Before 6pm we were back in Liverpool Lime Street and after saying goodbye to the Lancasters, I headed back to Ma Egerton’s to watch Everton v Chelsea on TV; a draw or an Everton win would keep Swansea top. Amongst a few Evertonians we watched a great 6-3 game, which Chelsea sadly won, but a great evening was had with many opportunities to chat to several Everton and Chelsea fans popping into the pub for a pint before hopping on a train at the adjacent Lime Street. Soon it was my time to go too.
My journey was made much better by the Chelsea fans, mother and son Elaine and James, who I befriended and chatted with about Swansea’s next game – a trip to Stamford Bridge (which I will be at, as it is the only Premier League I’m yet to visit).
Overall, it was great to revisit Prenton Park – a throoroughly decent Football League ground, although it was sad that the day was slightly tarnished with the post match scenes. Once again, it was a pleasure to be amongst the Morecambe fans and I’m sure I’ll be joining them again soon. This time though, I won’t jinx them by talking about how many times I’ve seen them win away from home. Sorry about that spot of jinxing Shrimps.
Highlights: the improved Ma Egerton’s, the Prenton Park pub, the Morecambe fans (as always), god atmosphere in the away end.
Low Points: the game was quite poor, the ugly scenes at the end of the game.
See all the photos from my trip to Tranmere here.