Despite having spent three years living in Liverpool I’d never made it over the water to watch the Wirrall-based Tranmere Rovers. Then, the opportunity arose at the weekend to visit Prenton Park for the first time. Not only did we have complimentary tickets in the Platinum Suite, but the game would also see the visit of Chester, fierce local rivals.
The day started on the packed standing-room only 11.07 from Manchester Piccadilly to Liverpool Lime Street. Two cans and forty-five minutes later we arrived and waited for our lift in Ma Egerton’s, a pub round the back of the train station.
Our lift arrived and we headed the long way through the Wallasey Tunnel, as the Queensway Tunnel was closed due to road works. We dropped the car off at our friends house, who happens to live a short walk from the ground. On the way in we passed Mark Palios, current Rovers chairman and former Chief Executive of the FA, schmoozing what I assumed were sponsors.
We were advised by the person who kindly sorted the tickets for us that the dress code would be strictly smart, ie no jeans. We therefore rocked up in shoes, pants and shirts only to see dozens of people in the lounge wearing jeans, trainers, and even kids with tracksuits. The staff in the lounge struggled with what was the busiest day of the season in the lounge, but we managed a couple of drinks and a bit of food before heading to our seats for the game.
Tranmere started the game as favourites, lying in fourth position and looking good for a play-off place. The visitors, on the other hand, were marooned in twelfth and the gulf in class was immediately apparent. The hosts took the lead on the half hour mark through Andy Cook, doubling their lead five minutes later through Ben Tollitt. Rovers had Jay Harris, easily the classiest player on the pitch, pulling the strings in midfield. At the back, portly Stephen McNulty marshalled the defence, using all of his experience. We joked about how old he looked before realising that he is actually younger than me!
At half time we headed back into the warmth of the lounge, for the final part of our three-course meal, and a cup of tea which never arrived. The tea would’ve helped, for the temperature appeared to drop dramatically for the second half. Tranmere’s play also dropped off and the scorer of the second goal, Ben Tollitt, went from hero to villain by picking up a ridiculous second yellow card for a telegraphed dive that could be seen from the Main Stand. Chester pulled one back on 50 minutes via Tom Shaw, to set up a nervy final part to the game. In the 90th minute unlikely hero Ryan Astles struck a superb volley to rescue a point for Chester, sending their travelling fans into ecstasy and breaking the heart of the locals.
We were dropped off at Birkenhead Central station and were greeted by a heavy police presence. From what I hear, they were needed, as there was a bit of mither later on as the Chester fans sought to get home. We got back across the water before a drink in The Ship & Mitre, a firm favourite, then one in the station before catching the train back to Manchester. A decent day out: football, free food and another stadium ticked off the list.