When Tranmere spent a decade in League One, we became a little blasé when it came to many of the fixtures that we got to play on a regular basis.
However, after a horrific season in League Two and three years in the footballing wilderness known as the National League, when promotion was won in May, the prospect of playing the likes of Colchester, Bury, Carlisle, Port Vale and even Oldham again was somewhat more exciting than it should have been.
Rovers have adapted back to life in League Two with minimal fuss. In fact, on and off the pitch, the club is arguably in better shape than it was during the vast majority of those League One years.
We had not only stagnated, but we’d regressed. We cut our cloth so far that journeymen on freebies mixed with the occasional kid on loan from WBA under 18s had become the usual make-up of our squad. Once the rot set in, there was no stopping it.
New owners, new players, new management and a new-found optimism among the incredibly loyal fans have put Rovers back firmly on an upward trajectory. Yes, our squad is still thin in parts, but this set of players – by and large – fought for this club and its right to be back in the EFL. There’s a bond and a togetherness.
So today is a fascinating one. These players of ours get to tackle what was once a bread and butter League One game. It was always a good fixture, and every few years it would tend to become more significant due to relegation or promotion scraps on either side, or Ronnie Moore.
As Rovers suffered back-to-back relegations, Oldham fans were out in force on social media and forums laughing at our decline. They took pleasure from seeing us tumble. Fair enough.
The thing was, while they laughed at and trolled Rovers fans, there was one obvious inevitability hanging in the air that they were too blinkered to see – Oldham’s days in League One, at best, were numbered.
Like Rovers, they had a succession of poor managers, ownership that didn’t always make popular decisions (the definition of an understatement) and continued to cling on to the hope that if they signed enough ‘names’ or well-travelled players, they’d remain relevant or even have a decent team.
There were plenty of news articles knocking around during the summer which hinted at how Oldham had been run, yet the club continued to try and sign players we may have all heard of. Craig Davies. Jose Baxter. Ishmael Miller. It may work, after all, they’re 12thand only six points behind Tranmere. But you can’t help but feel that there were better options in the market who were cheaper and had a point to prove at this level. An Ollie Banks-type, perhaps.
So, as we prepare to rekindle an old rivalry – of sorts – in the Football League, it feels like the meeting of two clubs heading in very different directions. Rovers, a club transformed in just about every department since the two clubs last met in league action nearly five years ago. Oldham, a club full of expensive journeymen, on the back of a (first) relegation and with a fan base not totally convinced by management of the club on or off the pitch.
Let’s hope that’s the case anyway. And let’s hope that gap is increased to nine points by 5pm and our Mancunian friends can enjoy Christmas looking nervously over their shoulders.