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Club History

Posted: Tue 01 May 2012
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Formative years

Tranmere Rovers Football Club is proud of its history. From fantastic cup runs to the signing of international players, the Club has been witness to and taken part in many memorable events since it was founded in 1884.

When Lyndhurst Wanderers and Belmont Cricket Club came together, Belmont FC was formed and under the presidency of James McGaul, the Club won its first match against Brunswick Rovers 4-0 on November 15, 1884.

Less than one year later the Club changed its name to Tranmere Rovers Football Club and took to the pitch in blue shirts and white shorts at Steeles Field on Borough Road, Birkenhead.

By 1887 Rovers had moved ground to Ravenshaws Field, which was later renamed Prenton Park, our final home before the switch to the current Prenton Park in 1912.

Inter-war years

After competing in local leagues including the Liverpool & District League and the Lancashire Combination - a competition the side won its first silverwear from in 1908 - the Club made the step up to the Central League in 1919.

Following the expansion of the Football League in 1921 to a Third Divisions each for the north and south of England, Rovers were accepted into the Third Division (North) and played their first fixture against Crewe Alexandra at Prenton Park on August 27, 1921.

A young Birkenhead player named William Ralph "Dixie" Dean made his debut for Rovers at the age of just 16 years 355 days in 1924, a record that would stand for many decades. Dean scored 27 goals in 30 games for Tranmere, before being transferred across the River Mersey to Everton for £3,000, where he scored a British record 60 League goals in 1927-28.

In 1934 an FA Cup tie between Rovers and Liverpool was switched to Anfield where 61,036 fans packed into the ground, then a record crowd for a game involving Rovers. One year later, Robert "Bunny" Bell and Tranmere entered the record books when the striker scored nine goals - and missed a penalty - on Boxing Day in a 13-4 victory over Oldham Athletic.

Rovers claimed their first ever Championship in the Football League in 1938 when a tally of 56 points was enough to capture the Division Three (North) title and a place in Division Two for the first time.

Creation of the Superwhites

The side lasted just one season at the higher level and was relegated back to Division Three (North) where the Club remained until 1958 when the northern and southern section were combined into national Division Three and Division Four.

After just three seasons, Rovers were relegated to Division Four and the Club brought in Scotsman Dave Russell as manager. Russell not only abandoned the use of blue shirts in favour the all-white strip that is still worn today to differentiate Tranmere from Liverpool and Everton, but also introduced a highly successful youth policy.

Russell guided Rovers back to Division Three in 1967, a year before a new 4,000 seat main stand was opened and Rovers reached the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time. Three years later the Club's record attendance at Prenton Park was established as 24,424 supporters witnessed Rovers draw 2-2 with Stoke City in the FA Cup.

The 1980s

Relegation to Division Four in 1979 put the club in financial difficulties. However, a series of friendly fixtures, a "Save the Rovers" fund and a £200,000 loan from Wirral Council managed to secure Tranmere's existence.

The goals of Ian Muir were not enough to prevent the debts from mounting in 1987 and after the Club obtained an administration order through the courts, local businessman Peter Johnson took over control and ownership of Rovers, with one of his first changes being the appointment of John King as manager for a second time.

After first securing the Club's place in the Football League with a 1-0 victory over Exeter City on May 8 1987, he led the side to a succession of trips to Wembley Stadium.

The Wembley years

Record transfer fees spent on Jim Steel and Eric Nixon improved the side and Rovers were able to qualify for the Football League Centenary Festival where they defeated both Wimbledon and Newcastle before losing in the semi-finals.

The following season Tranmere were promoted to Division Three, and continued the success in 1990 as the club returned to the Twin Towers to defeat Bristol Rovers in the final of the Leyland Daf Cup. A week later, however, Rovers lost out in the play off final against Notts County to miss out on a place in Division Two.

But the goal was achieved in 1991, with a 1-0 win over Bolton Wanderers in the play-off final. The side continued to build and announced perhaps the greatest signing ever in the summer of 1991 when former Liverpool striker John Aldridge arrived from Real Sociedad for £250,000.

Aldridge's goals proved inspirational for the next eight years, with the Republic of Ireland international scoring 170 times for Rovers to put him behind only Ian Muir in the all time scoring charts.

In three successive seasons the side was on the brink of a place in the top flight of English football, but each time Rovers were disappointed, an emotion the Club also experienced when losing in the semi finals of the League Cup against Aston Villa and missing out on another match at Wembley.

A reconstructed Prenton Park was opened in March 1995, with the all seater stadium now holding just under 17,000 supporters. Just one year later King was replaced by Aldridge, who took up the role of player manager.

After Aldridge retired from football in 1999, he led the Club through a period that will long be remembered for many great cup results.

2000 and beyond

In 1999/2000, victories over a succession of Premiership sides led not only to a place in the sixth round of the FA Cup but a place in the final of the League, or Worthington Cup - the first time Rovers had ever reached a major final. However, after coming from a goal down to equalize, Tranmere eventually lost the match 2-1 against Leicester City.

In the following season the Club recorded perhaps its two most impressive results of all. After thrashing Premiership neighbours Everton 3-0 at Goodison Park in the FA Cup, Rovers came from 3-0 down at half time to defeat another Premiership side, Southampton, 4-3 as they again reached the sixth round.

Aldridge resigned in 2001 and after relegation to Division Two ended a spell of ten years in Division One, both Dave Watson and Ray Mathias failed to guide the club back to the second tier of English football.

In October 2003, Brian Little was appointed manager of Rovers and guided the side from the relegation zone to the brink of the play offs.

Little's first season in charge also led to an appearance in the quarter finals of the FA Cup - the third time the Club had achieved the feat in five seasons - where Rovers took eventual finalists Millwall to a replay before going down 2-1 at Prenton Park. 

In 2004-05, Rovers finished third on 79 points, one short of equalling the Club record. After losing the first leg of the Play Off semi final against Hartlepool 2-0, a packed Prenton Park witnessed a fantastic comeback as Rovers took the tie to penalties. However, the shoot out proved one step too far as the visitors ran out 6-5 winners. 

At the end of the 2005-06 season, Brian Little left the Club and was replaced by former player Ronnie Moore. In Moore's three seasons in charge at Tranmere, the Club finished 9th, 11th and 7th, just missing the Play Offs in the final season. 

In June 2009 former England international John Barnes was appointed First Team Manager by Chairman Peter Johnson but after picking up just seven points from the first 11 league games he was replaced by physiotherapist Les Parry. Rovers finished the season in 19th place in League One, avoiding relegation on the final day of the season with a 3-0 victory at Stockport County. 

Almost two seasons later Parry departed the Club, with Ronnie Moore returning and guiding Rovers to a top half finish in 2012-13.

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A detailed account of the Club's history, "A Short History of Tranmere Rovers" by Peter Bishop, is included in "Tranmere Rovers 1921-1997 A Complete Record" by Gilbert Upton and Steve Wilson ©.