Words by Larne Wallisson.
Exactly one year has passed
On Sunday 14 March 2021, Tranmere Rovers will play in the final of the EFL Papa Johns Trophy against Sunderland at Wembley. On Saturday, March 14, 2020, Tranmere Rovers would have played at home against Lincoln in League One. Covid-19 stopped the match and the rest of the season.
Here follows my little consideration of then and now. In a year that did not turn out as it should, this piece is about matches Tranmere have played and about matches Tranmere never got to play.
I'm in Liverpool to watch Saturday's match against Lincoln. I'm about to end a TRFC tour with three matches in ten days. Two matches we won. One that was never played.The first stop is Preston, as a base for the away meeting with Accrington on Saturday 7 March. We win 2-1. James Vaughan and Mark Ellis score our goals.
The journey continues to Blackpool. The Tangerines have played four straight matches without a loss and it feels like we have to win again to improve the table position in which we do. We win 2-1 again after goals from Morgan Ferrier and James Vaughan, but when Kiernan Dewsbury reduces in the 58th minute, an eternal half hour awaits before the referee blows for full time.
Nine points in three matches, what more could you ask for? Now we will continue the triumphant march against Lincoln and get on the same points as Wimbledon.
Then it happens. The coronavirus strikes.
I came to Liverpool on Thursday. Checked in as usual at The Sir Thomas Hotel. Time for a few pints and a good night's sleep before it's Friday when I am reached by the news that the UK is shutting down all sports / football. No league matches this weekend, then.
At the reception I meet Stephen Hind, Front Of House Manager, who comes from a meeting with managers from other hotels. He says that a total of 3,000 rooms have been cancelled for the weekend.
Twelve of them were booked for my friends in The Sweden Vikings, who have been looking forward to a visit to Liverpool and the Tranmere vs Lincoln match. Now covid-19 put a stop to their dream trip.
But a lone Viking stands strong and when it was definitely clear that there would be no Saturday match, I rebooked my flight ticket from Monday to Sunday and it was no problem to get a seat on EasyJet's penultimate flight from Manchester to Copenhagen - we were 21 people on board, almost 100 had been forced to book because Britons were not allowed to enter Denmark.
And that's the way it is…
It was difficult to accept the relegation from League One. Especially the way it happened. But with Mark and Nicola Palios at the helm, I know that the club has a positive belief in the future and the players have shown during Keith Hill's regime that the road to League One does not have to be that long.
I myself have not been able to travel to the UK in one year. I follow the league matches on iFollow, but it's not the same as live football. So I can not be at Wembley to hopefully see us win the cup final against Sunderland.
In that case, on the day, one year after the cancelled match against Lincoln. Let fate go our way. We are worthy of that.
And a cup trophy is long awaited.
It is 31 years ago, 1990, John King led TRFC to victory against Bristol Rovers, 2-1, after 1-0 by Ian Muir and victory goal by Kim Steel in the 1989/90 edition of the then Associate Members' Cup, current EFL Papa Johns Trophy.
Team: Eric Nixon, Shaun Garnett, Steve Mungall, Neil McNab, Mark Hughes, Steve Vickers, Chris Malkin, Jim Harvey, Jim Steel, Ian Muir, Tony Thomas. Subs: Eddie Bishop, David Fairclough.
Thirteen historical heroes. Plus the very greatest John King.
What this weekend's cup heroes are called, who hopefully also makes sure that the team in my heart plays again in League One next season, we know on Sunday afternoon.