I’ve played the Red Rover for many a year.

Posted: February 25, 2010 in Tranmere Rovers FC

If the shirt doesn’t quite fit…

I was first asked to write a version of this piece for the Tranmere Rovers match-day programme, for their pre-season friendly with Liverpool in July 2008. I’m putting it here to explain why I might be writing on this blog about the occasional Tranmere match as well as Liverpool, but it’s also for my own football team-mates (in Leeds, where I live), because I’m tired of decades spent justifying why I sometimes turn up to our weekly  training in my Rovers shirt, though mostly they are used to seeing me in a Liverpool one. Their poor brains don’t seem to get it if you just give them a few sentences in the changing room or the pub. No matter how well I think I’ve justified myself, I still always get “You can’t support two teams!”, or “You must be a glory hunter ! I reckon you only come in that shirt when Liverpool have been losing!”

No I haven’t got “divided loyalties”. Are your loyalties divided if you live in Crosby and support both Marine and Liverpool? If you live in Blackpool and support both AFC Blackpool and Blackpool FC? If you support your child’s school team on a Friday and then your partner’s side on a Saturday? If the politics of FC St. Pauli mean you have to follow them, as well as your local club in England?

I grew up in Wallasey, on the Wirral. Merseyside’s three league grounds were pretty much equidistant from our home, but at school and in family circles it became a social imperative to choose between Red or Blue at around the age of six. I’m so lucky that I didn’t choose my team according to what division they were in, or what trophies they’d won, as so many kids of that sort of age seem to do …an inevitable if regrettable fact of the TV culture we now live under. In fact a great Everton side was winning the title that 1969-70 season when I had to make the choice, and loads of my schoolmates were jumping on the Blue bandwagon, as those Goodison stars like Alan Ball, Brian Labone, Keith Newton and Tommy Wright headed off to Mexico to defend the World Cup.

But no, I was luckier, and I chose the Reds despite Shankly’s old 1960s team having hit the buffers by then, because my granddad, a lifetime employee of the Moores empire, was an Anfield match-goer. He showed me his match programmes with the wonderful pictures of the swaying, seething red Kop, he made me listen to the noise they made on the wireless and he made me hush my childish babbling and listen to the wisdom of Mr. Shankly when the great man came on the radio.

Granddad Shaw treasured his Saturdays with his mates and didn’t want a kid tagging along with him to Anfield. My dad wasn’t interested in commuting across the Mersey more often than he already had to, so I would have to wait till the late seventies when I started going to Liverpool matches on my own. I listened on the radio as the Shankly built a second great side and the Reds won trophy after trophy, but for a live football fix I was taken to Prenton Park on Friday nights with my schoolmate and his dad. They were both committed Blues and they went to Saturday matches at Goodison as well, but I always spurned their invitations to tag along to those.

My first Tranmere match was a chilly 0-0 draw with Swansea or Rotherham in the autumn of 1972. I think my second match was 0-0 too, but that didn’t stop me. Players like Beamish, Crossley, Tynan, Coppell and Peplow became heroes to me on a far more tangible level than my Red idols like Kevin Keegan or Emlyn Hughes. I went to Prenton off and on for 15 years, and I remember especially that 1975-76 glory season when Ronnie Moore was unstoppable. In those days, before Rovers were revived and re-invented as a club and emerged properly from the shadows of the two giants over the river, you really could support both the Rovers and either Everton or Liverpool, and of course many of us did. Let’s face it – why else were nearly all the home games back then scheduled for Friday nights?

I was there in the old Cowsheds of course for that game v. Exeter City in May ’87, hitch-hiking up from London where I was a poverty-stricken student teacher. Because I endured those days of the 4th division and the “Friday Nights when the Gates were Low” (to paraphrase the mighty Half man Half Biscuit), I was surely entitled to enjoy some glory-hunting trips to Wembley with the Rovers on various occasions between 1990 and 2000, even though since 1987 I have probably averaged less than two Tranmere matches per season. And at least that means I’ve don my glory-hunting with the Rovers, as opposed to with Liverpool like some out-of-town bandwagon-jumper!

When all is said and done, my heart is Red. But it was at Prenton Park that I first laid eyes on some of my LFC heroes in the flesh: Bill Shankly, a frequent visitor, as well as Ian St. John, Ron Yeats, Peter Thompson, and many other old Red legends who passed through the ranks at Rovers. I didn’t start going across to Anfield on my own till my pocket money went up in 1977, after which I became a regular Kopite. Then in 1979 my first Liverpool away game was the League Cup tie at Prenton, the first time I ever saw the first teams of these two clubs play each other (though I’d already seen several Liverpool Senior Cup clashes between them). That special edition newspaper-style programme is till one of my most treasured pieces of match memorabilia, despite it being another dull 0-0 result.

I’m happy, for the sake of the Rovers, that there’s no way today that you can maintain credibility if you tell your mates that you support Tranmere and another of the ‘Big Three’ on Merseyside !  But I’m even happier that in my day, I could and did!  And anyway (if my team-mates at football in Leeds still don’t get it), I sometimes just like wearing a shirt with my “WIRRAL” origins proudly emblazoned on the front.

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