The 19th January 2013 seems like a lifetime ago for Tranmere Rovers supporters. That afternoon they won 2–1 away to fellow promotion hopefuls Brentford, and sat proudly at the top of League One, seven points clear of the play-offs, and 13 points clear of the also-rans below the top six. Despite the club’s modest playing budget, Rovers fans dared to dream of an unlikely return to the second tier of English football after a 12-year absence.
Then things began to go wrong. Horribly wrong.
Injuries to key players contributed to a nosedive in form that saw Rovers lose 12 of their remaining 17 games, finishing the season in 11th place. This downward spiral continued into the 2013/14 season, leaving them in the midst of a desperate relegation battle.
Events off the field added to the gloom. In December striker Akpo Sodje and defender Ian Goodison were arrested in connection with alleged spot-fixing. While Sodje had only been at Rovers for a matter of months, it was Goodison’s arrest that sent shockwaves through everyone connected with the club. Goodison is revered by the fans, having clocked up more than 400 appearances for Rovers over a 10-year period.
In February, to add considerable insult to injury, manager Ronnie Moore, whose long association with the club as player, coach and manager goes back to 1971, was charged with multiple breaches of FA rules on betting. Moore was placed on ‘gardening leave’, with assistant manager John McMahon assuming temporary charge of the team. Once Moore admitted guilt in April he was sacked.
Meanwhile, the financial future of the club was also thrown into doubt with longstanding chairman Peter Johnson keen to sell the club as soon as possible. The Supporters Trust mounted an unsuccessful bid to take the club into fan ownership in December, before negotiations with Tranmere-supporting property developer Michael Wilde reached an advanced stage in February. However, a transaction could not be agreed, and the club was back to square one.
Back on the pitch, Rovers continued to struggle. A 2–1 victory over Shrewsbury on 12 April left them three points clear of the relegation zone, with a game in hand. But once again their form deserted them at the crucial time. Rovers managed a solitary point from their remaining five matches, and were relegated. Next season they will play in the basement division of English football for the first time since 1989.
The club’s Latin motto ‘Ubi fides ibi lux et robur’ (‘Where there is faith there is light and strength’) has rarely seemed more pertinent, and there are chinks of light starting to shine through already with last week’s appointment of Rob Edwards as manager. Edwards, a 41-year-old former defender, has learnt his managerial and coaching trade at Exeter City, working as a coach and assistant to Paul Tisdale for the last three years. He also managed Exeter’s development squad and led their under-21s team to the quarter-finals of last season’s Premier League Cup. Edwards’ experience of helping young players realise their potential will help Rovers to make the most of homegrown talent from their academy, while his knowledge of League Two should ensure they are fully prepared for next season’s opponents.
The club’s stated ambition for 2014/15 is an immediate return to League One. Rovers fans would welcome that with open arms. However, given the tumultuous events of the past 18 months, a season of relative tranquility and stability off the field, with a decent stab at the play-offs on it, would probably be considered perfectly acceptable.
Will Tranmere Rovers bounce back from a bitterly disappointing 2013-14 campaign? How will Rob Edwards get on in his first managerial role?