As years go, 2018 turned out pretty well from a Tranmere perspective. From dramatic Wembley glory in May to a League Two promotion push – there’s even a money-spinning FA Cup tie in the offing as we approach 2019.
It’s been a pretty remarkable 12 months in many ways, so we asked Tranmere club photographer Richard Ault to take us through some of his favourite images of 2018 and explain why he chose them.
27thJanuary, Wrexham away (2-2)
“By the time we got to the game at Wrexham in late January, we were right back in the promotion race. As always, there was a great following from the SWA and the atmosphere was brilliant.
“While we didn’t win this one, it was still a great game. The first photo I have chosen is the celebrations after Ritchie Sutton put Tranmere 1-0 up early on. I think the photo shows just how much these derby games mean to the players.
“The second and third photos are from the same game. Wrexham had quickly turned the game around to lead 2-1, but with half-time looming, that man Andy Cook held off all challenges and smashed a header home to level it up. He then hurdled the hoardings to celebrate beneath the adoring SWA”.
24thMarch, Eastleigh at home (Won 3-1)
“There is one photo in particular that stands out from this game, and it’s big Andy Cook again. The game was live on BT Sport and Rovers had led since the ninth minute through Ritchie Sutton. With 12 minutes to play, Tranmere broke and Andy Cook scored one of the goals of the season.
“He controlled the ball on the run and unleashed a sensational half-volley over the keeper from 35 yards or more. These photos show the moment he struck the ball.”
Saturday 7thApril, Chester away (Won 2-0)
“Another derby game but this one had a totally different feel to it. Rovers relegated Chester with a comfortable 2-0 win. Andy Cook put Rovers 1-0 up and celebrated by attempting to wind opposition fans up, as is the norm. Not that there were many to wind-up, nor did they seem too bothered.
“From the same game, I love the intensity and commitment to winning a ball shown by Adam Buxton and Jay Harris in this photo.”
Tuesday 10thApril, Gateshead at home (Won 4-2)
“Rovers found themselves in all sorts of trouble in this game, 2-0 down with 43 minutes played. However, Andy Cook would soon take Gateshead apart, scoring all four as Tranmere eventually secured a resounding victory. Cookie was on fire at this point and his celebration was simple and brilliant.”
Saturday 5thMay, Ebbsfleet play-off semi-final (Won 4-2)
“What a game of football this one was on a baking hot day. Rovers trailed twice and at one stage I think we were all thinking that it wouldn’t be our year. However, Josh Ginnelly would equalise to get Tranmere back to 2-2 and send it to extra-time. It was a great strike and the celebrations show the passion from the fans and players.”
“In to extra-time, I was hoping for a fourth goal after Nors had brilliantly made it 3-2 because my view of his free-kick had been obstructed by players. Thankfully, Larnell Cole smashed home a fourth. Both the strike itself, and the celebrations that followed, are among my favourite photos of the year – you can see the relief in the celebrations!”
Saturday 12thMay, Promotion Final versus Boreham Wood (Won 2-1)
“A day which nobody will ever forget, a day that was typical of Tranmere in so many ways and secured our return to the EFL. So many photos tell a story from this day, either from pitch side photographers or fans. I’ve picked the following.
“I didn’t want to include this photo, but it gives the rest much more context. It was an astonishing start to the game, a nightmare start. But in the end, it somehow made the ending even more remarkable and memorable.”
“Within a few minutes of that red card, Andy Cook nodded Tranmere in front. The celebration on this goal was brilliant – right in front of the Boreham Wood fans too (unfortunately for Josh Ginnelly!).
“Even better, look at the carnage in the Tranmere end as the SWA celebrate that first goal.
“I had to include this photo as well. It was taken with the score at 1-1.
“Connor Jennings had been in a coma a few days earlier and now here he was fighting for every loose ball along with his team mates. What commitment.
“That tackle came during a spell when Rovers needed every ounce of energy, and Micky Mellon sensed the SWA had a big part to play. Here, the gaffer encourages the Tranmere fans and they react with an unbelievable roar. Sheer unbridled passion from manager and fans. One of the many unforgettable images of that day.
“And then of course back to Connor, he produced the cross which led to a moment which will forever be remembered by us all…
I was sat in the exact same section of Wembley 12 months earlier to capture Connor Jennings’ celebration after equalising against Forest Green, so it was fitting that a similar celebration would occur in the same place again, but this time it was huge.
This photo will forever be one of my favourites. Micky Mellon sprints to the SWA on the full-time whistle – look at Ollie Norburn and team mates in the background, desperately trying to catch him.
“Following the defeat against Forest Green at Wembley, I took photos of the Tranmere players as Forest Green lifted the trophy. Most were in tears, but it felt right to capture the full story. A pic of Scott Davies stood out and I couldn’t get it out of my mind for months. He was distraught.
“What a difference 12 months made…”
I’ve narrowed the rest of the Wembley selection down to these.
Sunday 13th May, 2018, Promotion Presentation at Prenton Park
“The afternoon after the day before. Hangovers galore, and most of the players still in celebratory mode! I hardly looked back at these photos at the time the Wembley ones took precedence, but these would be my favourite.”
Sunday 1stJuly, 2018, TRFC Open Day
A new season and a new chapter approaches.
Saturday 4thAugust, 2018, Stevenage away (2-2)
“And so, our return to Football League action arrived in August and it was a day nobody wanted to miss. I remember the day was incredibly hot and despite going a couple of goals down early on, we were exceptional for much of the game.
“Capturing this photo of James Norwood scoring Tranmere’s first goal back in the league was great…
“…but it was eclipsed by the equaliser. I love the carnage on the goal line as Nors forced the ball home and then the celebrations in bright sunshine, in the wonderful new away kit. What a day. And we should have won it!”
Saturday 11thAugust, 2018, Cheltenham at home (Won 1-0)
“This was our first win back in the Football League and so is memorable for that reason. This is the aftermath of James Norwood’s brilliant finish which turned out to be the winner.
Saturday 6thOctober, Morecambe away (Won 4-3)
“This photo isn’t for the photography purists, but I love the absolute carnage that Harvey Gilmour’s late winner instigated. Connor Jennings is being hugged by jubilant fans while trying to stretch Zoumana Bakayogo’s cramp out of his leg. Zoum is in agony, Connor and the fans are loving it, and as for that’s steward…!”
Friday 12thOctober, 2018, Macclesfield at home (Won 1-0)
“Back under the floodlights for a Friday night game in the Football League. It was a horrible night in terms of the weather, but a great goal from Harvey Gilmour late on grabbed all three points. I love the knee slide celebration with the rain falling, as well as the photo of the fans cheering behind the players.”
Monday 17thDecember, Southport FA Cup replay (Won 2-0)
“I’ve included this one for two reasons. Firstly, the fact that it secured a significant pay day for the club when we play Spurs in a week’s time. But also, what a hit by Connor Jennings. I was photographing from the side line and happened to be square-on to Connor as he volleyed the first goal. Brilliant technique.”