Tranmere Fan Base: Could history be repeated?

One of the major reasons behind Peter Johnson’s decision to cross the River Mersey and take the reigns at Everton in the 1990s was Tranmere’s failure to attract a large support.

Logic says they should have been able to. Under Johnny King, Rovers were playing some of the best football in the country, and regularly won by wide goal margins.

They had flair players like Johnny Morrissey and Pat Nevin who would get you off your seat, charismatic leaders in Eric Nixon and Dave Higgins, and two of the best goal scorers the Football League will ever see in Ian Muir and John Aldridge.

Yet despite all that, with the club battling it out at the top of Division One and suffering many near misses for promotion to the Premiership, the fans just would not come through the turnstiles.

Perhaps the success happened at the wrong time.

The Premier League was born and “Sky Sports” was just becoming a thing, meaning football was taken to a whole new level in the United Kingdom.

Suddenly, the general public were able to watch live games every weekend from the comfort of their own armchair, or whilst downing a pint at the local pub.

It had not been that way before, and things have changed ever since. Now, there are multiple matches on TV; the easy (and maybe sensible!) decision is not to actually go to the ground, but view a fixture by other means instead.

So perhaps Tranmere missed out on a generation of fans. When they were flying high at the top of Division One, conquering teams like West Ham, Barnsley and Burnley, people were not coming through the gates because they did not need to if they wanted to get a taste of the live action.

My fear is that now, 20 years on, history could be repeating itself.

At the time of writing, Rovers are fighting at the top end of the National League. They have just lost for the first time this season against Aldershot, having won six of their first seven matches.

The scorelines may not suggest it, with four matches won by just the one goal, but performances have been strong and games have been dominated.

Yet the crowds are not high. The trend since 2005 has continued, with attendances falling. A hat-trick of home matches have seen fewer than 5,000 come through the games.

To a certain extent, this is understandable at the early stage of the campaign. The public are still holding their breath, waiting to see if this is a good run of form or if the squad are the real deal.

On top of that, the number of season ticket holders is down.

Many supporters gave Tranmere a “year of grace” in the National League. They were prepared to continue paying their money to see if Gary Brabin could mastermind an immediate promotion back to League Two.

That, of course, did not happen. Rovers finished the season stranded in sixth, only just adrift of the play-offs, but enough to ensure they would be spending another campaign in this division.

As such, a good number (and we are talking several hundred) of fans decided they had had enough. Their Saturday’s are now being spent doing other things.

Another reason behind the low attendances in this league is the clubs that Tranmere play.

This affects Rovers two-fold. Firstly, on several occasions the number of visiting supporters will not reach the 100 mark. For very few matches will a decent away following actually come to Prenton Park – games such as Chester or Wrexham.

In turn, this does not exactly entice the general public in. Your average football fan on the street who is looking for a game to attend is far less likely to go and watch Gary Brabin and his side take on Maidstone or Boreham Wood than they would if Tranmere were back up in League One facing on Southampton, Norwich or Leicester like they did only a handful of years ago.

Gates therefore continue to drop, and it is clear to see from the attendances so far (for the record; 4,977 supporters came to the first home game against Barrow, followed by 4,619 for Eastleigh a few days later and then 4,797 when Tranmere beat Maidstone) that there has been a decline.

There are other factors behind falling crowds of course.

You would think a club like Tranmere should have significant potential. They play on a peninsular inhabited by over 300,000 people, it does not cost an arm and a leg to get in and you can just walk up and pay on the gate instead of having to buy a ticket months in advance.

Throw in the mix of a successful team and you have the perfect blend. Who would not want to come and watch a high-flying side who are finding wins easy to come by and should be capable of mounting a strong promotion push?

But then these days, the “cool” thing to do is to follow one of the Premier League big boys (made easier by the aforementioned deal with Sky Sports).

Kids do not want to grow up supporting Tranmere. I can tell you from experience that you certainly get the mickey taken out of you something rotten in school for it, and that kind of thing eventually takes its toll.

Just look around the parks and playing fields of the Wirral and you will see umpteen different shirts; Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal – even Barcelona and Real Madrid. They are all there. But so infrequently Rovers.

Supporters are the lifeblood of the game. Regardless of all the television revenue that comes in at the top, Sky would not be interested in matches if the North London derby was played in front of 10,000 people.

Since Mark and Nicola Palios came to Prenton Park, one of their missions has been to spread the good word of the Super White Army, stretching out to communities and interest groups who perhaps would never have come to a game before.

They are putting in the leg work which had previously been missing. They know how vital it is to get those extra supporters through the gates.

You only have to look back to some of Tranmere’s most cherished moments to see how threatening and intimidating a place home soil can be when Prenton Park is packed; the Kop practically sucked the ball into the back of the net on those nights against Bolton, Leeds and Southampton.

The same can happen again. Teams should be scared of coming here, instead of taking selfies on the pitch before kick off and then seeing the home side wilt under the pressure of an expectant home crowd.

The Palios’ want to make Rovers a force again, and to do that they have got to make sure people know who the club are, how they can watch them and where to be and when.

The best way to do that of course is through winning games. Gary Brabin’s men are keeping up their side of the bargain at the moment. Hopefully things continue, and fingers crossed the doubters return and history does not repeat itself.

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One response to “Tranmere Fan Base: Could history be repeated?

  1. The scorelines may not suggest it, with four matches won by just the one goal, but performances have been strong and games have been dominated.

    Do you actually goto the games ???

    The football has been dire. It’s taken 2 goals in last few mins at home to scrape wins that we just scraped through. Awful against Southport, Guiseley & Fell apart v Aldershot…..

    Only one reason for the drop in attendances and one reason why some have given up on Rovers, that reason

    Gary Brabin and his anti football tactics

    Everyone says Palios are great, they’re this and that. This may be true, but their footballing decisions have been woeful.

    Until the excitement factor is brought back, fans will stay away.

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