Club Focus: Tranmere Rovers Football Club 1993/94

1993-10-01

Peter Bishop For Matchday October 1993

Peter Bishop takes a walk down Wirral way to Prenton Park

THE MANAGER

John King's second spell in charge has established him as the most successful manager in the club's history.

Born in London, King moved to Liverpool at an early age and joined Everton straight from school. A determined, bustling wing-half, he served for four seasons before moving on to Bournemouth.

In 1960. he returned north to Tranmere Rovers to begin an association spanning 20 years in three separate spells.

Always a winner, King helped Rovers achieve promotion in 1967 before moving on to Port Yale where he led Gordon Lee's team to promotion.

After finishing his playing career at non League Wigan Athletic, Ron Yeats brought him back to Prenton Park in 1973 as coach. When Yeats was sacked two years later John was thrust into the hot seat as Rovers slipped into the Fourth Division.

The following season King steered Rovers' mix of youth and experience back into the Third and there they stayed until 1979-80 when the regular sale of his prize assets ended in relegation and ultimately dismissal.

After leaving Tranmere, he turned his hand to coaching with Rochdale before taking on non-League Northwich Victoria and leading them to two FA Trophy Finals at Wembley - winning in 1984. His next port of call was Caernarvon before receiving the call to return to Tranmere in April 1987. After Rovers had to win against Exeter to stay in the kague came virtually non-stop success, with promotion from the Fourth to the Second Divisions and victory in the 1990 Leyland DAF Cup Final - one of five Wembley appearances inside three years.

A disciple of the late, great Bill Shankly, King is one of football's great characters. At 55, he is now the most senior of the current managers in Division One but shows no sign of losing his love for the game.

His ambition is to lead Tranmere into the promised land of the Premiership for the first time, and his policy of blending home-grown stars established players like Aldridge, Nixon and Nevin could well pay dividends. A cautious operator in the transfer market, King has nevertheless worked wonders with limited resources.

THE BOARD

AJter decades of financial austerity and limited ambition, the arrival of Wirral businessman Peter Johnson as chairman in 1987 was a breath of fresh air.

Though he had cut his footballing teeth as a small boy watching Rovers from the Kop End in the 1950s, he had no ambition to be Tranmere's saviour until a deputation of officials from the club in January 1987 asked him to save Wirral's last remaining Football League club from extinction.

Johnson had long since switched his allegiance to Liverpool, but was sufficiently impressed to buy a controlling interest from the administrator who had been placed in charge of company affairs. He took over as chairman in March, bringing Frank Corfe with him as vice chairman and chief executive. Corfe was another local businessman wilh a reputation lor getting things done, and together they set about re-kindling the dormant interest of Wirral people in their local club.

Building an empire from scratch was not a new scenario for either Johnson or Corfe. Peter Johnson started his Christmas Hamper business from a room at the rear of his father's butchers shop in North Birkenhead: it has now grown to a public limited company, Park Foods Group, employing hundreds of local people with an annual turnover in excess of £100 million.

At the time of going to press, however, speculation was rife that Johnson was set to quit Rovers for Everton, disillusioned by the faiiure of the Wirral public to respond in sufficient numbers to his investment.

If .Iohnson takes over Everton, it is likely his successor at Tranmere will be close friend Gerry White, another Wirral millionaire who made his fortune in the food business.

CLUB SPONSOR

Following the demise of MilLwall's shirt sponsorship deal with Lewisham Council, Tranmere Rovers are now the only club to carry the name of their local authority, Wirral Borough Council, on their shirts.

Links between Tranmere and Council have been strong since 1982, when Councillors baled out Rovers with a £200,000 loan which was still largely outstanding when Peter Johnson took over in 1987. In 1989 the two parties reached agreement on a method by which Rovers could clear the debt at a rate of around £40,000 per annum by carrying the message of the wirral Peninsula the length and breadth of the country.

Rovers have the use of a multi-purpose sports centre operated by Wirral alongside Rovers' own training headquarters in North Birkenhead, while the Council are given use of Rovers' executive facilities for seminars. Tranmere have turned down more lucrative shirt sponsorship deals in favour of maintaining their partnership with the Council, and the club's success has helped put Wirral on the map.

YOUTH POLICY

Tranmere's once-famous knack of unearlhing talent had long been in a state of suspended animation with only one team in the Lancashire League to blood youngsters, but the appointment of former Bolton full-back (and former Rovers commercial manager) War-wick Rimmer as youth development officer has proved an inspired move.

Rovers now have their own school of excellence to groom boys between the ages of 10 and 14, under 15s and 16s teams playing regularly and some l8 YTS apprentices playing in the Lancashire League Divisions One and Two. Indeed, several of this year's intake of apprentices have been with the club from 11 years old. One 14 year old, Mark Quayle, was offered a place at the FA's National School of Excellence.

With a comprehensive scouting network, including North Wales and Ireland, Rimmer is hopeful that he can maintain the supply line which has already seen Ged Brannan, Tony Thomas, Steve Vickers, Shaun Garnett, John McGreal, Danny Coyne, Jon Kenworthy and Kenny Irons graduate to the first-team squad in the last few years.

FOOTBALL IN THE COMMUNITY

Over the past four years community development officer Steve Williams and his team of five assistants have cemented strong links between the club and the local community, ranging from school visits and coaching clinics for boys and girls to tea dances for pensioners. Tranmere also have a very strong ladies football section. The open age girls have gained promotion in recent years from the Fourlh Division to the First Division of the North West Women's League and judging by the success of the Under-13 and 16s girls, interest in women's soccer is now stronger than ever on Wirral.

PRENTON PUPS

The 'Prenton Pups'are the real future of Tranmere Rovers. Young supporters, some only hours old, are enrolled by eager parents into this vibrant club for the next generation of regular supporters.

From undertaking chariff runs in aid of youngsters less forlunate than themseives to penalty competitions on the pitch with young supporters from Rovers' opponents, the Pups are learning how the next generation of supporters should behave with issues such as racism in sPort discussed at the packed monthly meetings.

With a membership of around 700, the monthly get-togethers attended by club officials and players have attracted wide publicity. Even John Aldridge, whose own children have enrolled, says 'It's a great idea; there was nothing like this at Liverpool'.

PROSPECTS FOR THE 1993-94 SEASON

Tranmere achieved their highest ever League placing in the 1992-93 season finishing fourth in the First Division - but there was still a sense of disappointment after missing out on another trip to Wembley.

Rovers are hoping to go one better this time around, yet despite the chairman's considerable financial input are not in a position to go out and splash out millions on players while home average gates remain below the 10,000 threshold.

Manager John King signed just one player during the summer - Mark Proctor on a free from Middiesbrough - but was frustrated in his attempts to bring Newcastie's Liam O'Brien and Leeds striker Lee Chapman to the club. Indeed, King has had little luck in the last year: Graeme Sharp injured his back at Oldham just as King prepared to swoop, while Tommy Coyne, the club's record £350,000 signing from Celtic, looks set to return to Scotland after the tragic death of his wife pre-season.

On the plus side, Tranmere have the evergreen John Aldridge - and with him fit and scoring, anything is possible. The Republic of Ireland striker has committed himself to Rovers until the end of his career and there is nothing to cannot continue to sniff out goals as he has done regularly for the past 15 years at Newport, Oxford, Liverpool and Real Sociedad. Rovers' other current international, Scotland winger Pat Nevin, is a nightmare for defenders with his trickery and eye for goal - he scored 16 last season - and forms a bold attacking quartet with John Morrissey and the speedy Chris Malkin. With Proctor, Martindale and young Kenny Irons dictating operations in midfield and providing an ample supply line to the forwards, Rovers have high hopes, providing the defence can shut up shop when required.

If Tranmere are to succeed where they failed last season they are going to have to grind out results away from home by staying tight at the back, pafticularly in the early stages, and eradicate mistakes which cost them dearly. There is a general feeling among fans that certain positions need to be strengthened. With eight of the squad 30 and over, some fresh faces, and indeed legs, would not go amiss.

THE GROUND

Tranmere Rovers have piayed at the current Prenton Park since 1912, having moved across Prenton Road West from the previous 'Prenton Park'when the site was re-developed for housing. It remained largely unchanged until 1968 when the old grandstand was replaced with a new 4,000 seat structure. By 1987 even that stand, along with the remainder of the ground was looking dilapidated, with overall capaci[r under 7,000.

In the last five years well over £1.5 million has been spent to bring the ground up to scratch and increase the capaciff to 17 ,400. The main stand has been transformed with five separate executive facilities, new boardroom, sponsors' suites, offices, luxurious dressing rooms, a new sunken players tunnel plus new turnstiles, exit gates and seating.

Other areas of the ground have been refurbished too with new turnstiles, crush barriers, disabled enclosure, toilets and catering facilities. New floodlights, a tarmac car park, new club shop and a huge refurbished supporters'club compiete the package of developments to date.

A new 7,300-seat grandstand with a new suite underneath, costing £2.3 million (Rovers have a £1.3 million grant from the Football Trust) will be built on the site of the current open Bebington End, a winged section linking it to the existing main stand. The pitch, which will also be relaid during next summer, is to be moved several metres towards the Kop to facilitate future development at the Prenton Road West or 'Cow Shed' End.

In order to comply with the requirements of the Taylor Report, seats will also be installed in both paddocks, the Borough Road side and the 'Cow Shed' to convert Prenton into an all-seater stadium. hopefully in time for the club's arrival in the FA Carling Premiership.

Quite apart from Prenton Park, the club have developed a superb training headquarters in North Birkenhead. With changing rooms, sauna, treatment room, gym, canteen and snooker,lecture room plus offices, it must be the envy of several Premiership clubs.