For a whole generation of football fans, transfer deadline day has always been what we see today. A media-driven circus orchestrated by the likes Sky Sports, with reporters screaming excitedly from outside the gates of training grounds up and down the country.
But to those of us a little older, it doesn’t seem that long since the world of football transfers was much simpler and involved just one deadline day.
The March transfer deadline
At the start of the 2002/03 season, English football reluctantly agreed to follow the rest of European football by implementing the transfer windows that we know today. Before that however, clubs had nearly all year to sign players.
The final Thursday in March would be the deadline for players to register with a new club. After this point, signings could not re-commence until a club had completed its competitive fixtures for the season.
Today, transfers are reported almost instantaneously, and often speculated on long before they are completed. 24-hour sports news channels and social media are at the forefront of a saturated and frenzied deadline day countdown.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s however, it was a different world differently.
Fans would primarily use Ceefax (below) to find out whether their club had managed to snap anyone up.
Signings would be listed by name, former club, new club and the type of deal or fee. That was all. As the day went on and the number of transfers increased, you’d have to sit there and wait for the pages to slip from one to the next, quickly scanning up and down for mention of ‘Tranmere’.
If news was at a premium, those fans who were really keen could call ClubCall – a premium telephone news service that would entice fans from Teletext by displaying alluring headlines. Think of it as the football clickbait in an analogue age. Only it cost a fortune!
Sadly, the final old deadline day was on Thursday 28th March, 2002. As always, deals stopped at 5pm, none of this midnight malarkey.
Three men who joined Tranmere on deadline day
March deadline day was a source of great excitement, offering clubs the chance to boost their teams for the final run-in. There were quite a few players that made their way to Prenton Park on deadline day.
Here are three players that stick in the mind as having joined on this day, however there will be more. Let us know in the comments below or on social media if you can think of any more.
1) Lee Jones – Liverpool to Tranmere, loan (March 1997)
Perhaps the most memorable of Tranmere’s deadline day signings came in 1997 as Rovers landed highly-rated young Liverpool striker Lee Jones. Jones had been talked about as a potential Tranmere target for over a year, but on the day that manager John Aldridge finally did get his man, Ceefax initially listed the signing as “P Jones” leaving many fans to ponder who they had signed.
Thankfully, it was Lee, and the pacey striker made an incredible impact in Birkenhead. He played the final weeks of the season in fine form, scoring a hat full of goals which culminated in a last-gasp equaliser against Bolton at Prenton Park on the final day of the season. It sealed a 2-2 draw, but satisfyingly for Rovers prevented their old woe from finishing the season with 100 points.
Jones made his move to Tranmere permanent in the summer for £100,000 despite interest from elsewhere, but sadly a succession of injuries limited his progress. Lee of course returned to manage Tranmere’s now defunct academy a couple of years ago.
Here’s that game against Bolton:
2) Simon Osborn – Wolves to Tranmere, loan (March 2001)
Following John Aldridge’s resignation in March 2001, caretaker managers Ray Mathias and Kevin Sheedy eagerly set about bringing in some experienced faces to try and steer the club away from the relegation trapdoor.
Simon Osborn was one of those players, an energetic box-to-box midfielder that had a very decent record in the First Division with the likes of QPR and Wolves. While Osborn did okay durig his short loan spell at Tranmere, the team did not and subsequently slipped out of the First Division (now Championship).
3) Jeff Kenna – Blackburn to Tranmere, loan (March 2001)
The same day that Osborn joined, so too did Jeff Jenna. The Republic of Ireland right-back arrived from Blackburn also on loan until the end-of-the-season. He’d struggled with injury throughout the campaign as the Ewood Park club chased promotion, and with that goal all-but sealed, Kenna was allowed to join Tranmere to aide his return to fitness.
Sadly, Kenna did not find form at Tranmere and – like Osborn – was part of the team that bowed out of the First Division, yet to return.
Let us know if you can recall any other signings that happened on the ‘old transfer deadline day’.