Go Away: Tranmere Rovers

A street sign for Prenton Park Road on a red background

Tranmere is located on the Wirral peninsula, which according to the Domesday Book could be found ‘two arrow falls from Chester city walls’. Notably the Book didn’t specify in which direction these arrows should fall though leading us to understand the Wirral as being a peculiarly circular entity not unlike a Mediaeval ring road round Chester.

Although the Industrial Revolution was late to reach the Wirral it made a sizable impact with the population of Birkenhead growing from 110 in 1801, to 110,912 in 1901. To help cart these extra people about, the first street tramway in Britain, a horse-drawn service, opened here in 1860. It was the brainchild of flamboyant American, George Francis Train, who was presumably saving his name for a less horse-dependent mode of transport.

Tranmere is the location of one of the largest Second World War air raid shelters in the country. Consisting of a series of tunnels that stretch to a total length of 2km, it was designed to house up to 6,000 people. However, they took so long to complete that by the time they were finished they were no longer needed as the war was almost over. You’d presume such a thing would stick in local minds, and never again would they get caught out building something for a sizable amount of people that would only get finished just as the demand for it was significantly diminishing. Anyway, the redevelopment of Prenton Park, taking its capacity up to over 16,500, was completed in 1995.

In recent years the Wirral has made the somewhat bold claims that it is the setting for prominent works of literature. Local historian John Lamb asserts that Robert Louis Stevenson set Treasure Island in Birkenhead and Wallasey, whilst councillor Alan Evans announced that Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island was also set in Birkenhead. What next? Was Narnia in CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe actually New Brighton? Is Virgina Woolf’s To the Lighthouse actually To Leasowe Lighthouse?  Is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness about a journey on the Mersey Ferry?

What’s it famous for?

Boats. A whole load of boats. William Laird began shipbuilding in Birkenhead in 1829 with his business which would eventually become Cammell Laird. His vessels, notable for their large midship humps, included the HMS Ark Royal, which was built to ensure all royal family members could escape from any future floods, albeit in pairs. Many called it a waste of money, but you name me one monarch to have perished in biblical rain in the last two centuries. Exactly.

When he was growing up, the First World War poet Wilfred Owen lived in a number of homes in Tranmere. Somewhat at the other end of a spectrum of bawdiness, Paul O’Grady (aka Lily Savage) also grew up here and attended nearby Mersey Park Primary School. The school’s other alumni include Jason McAteer and Keeping Up Appearances’ Patricia Routledge. Musically, Birkenhead is perhaps best known as the home of Half Man Half Biscuit who infamously turned down an invite to appear on Channel 4’s The Tube in the 1980s because Tranmere were playing that night.

How to blend in

Write about the futility of war, but do so whilst sporting a blonde beehive and wearing leopard print and heels. Take two bottles into the shower, and sing whimsical songs about aspects of lower league football support until you ultimately kick the bouquet.

What’s the stadium like?

Home to Tranmere since 1912, Prenton Park underwent a huge renovation in the mid 1990s to make it an all-seater ground. ‘Normally the prospect of a day out in Birkenhead doesn’t do much to heighten expectations, but the ground is in a pleasant part of town’ says the Football Ground Guide somewhat uncharacteristically, prompting the question, when did the Football Ground Guide editor’s wife leave him for a bloke in Birkenhead?

Away fans are housed in The Cowshed, which earned its name from its pre-refurb appearance when it had a corrugated roof, wooden walls, cinder floors, and 200 Friesians grazing along the back wall. The cows have gone now, in their place a load of blue plastic seats, as is modern football’s want. According to Wikipedia the stand is notable for its ‘slanted seating arrangement’, which will be a relief to anyone with a ticket for rows C and upwards.

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