To celebrate the start of the FIFA World Cup in Russia kicking-off today, we look at some of the names that link Rovers to the greatest football competition on the planet.
Poland at Mexico 86
Let’s start off with one that is a little left-field, and that is a player who featured for Poland back in Mexico ’86. He was just 22 at the time, playing his club football in Poland for Legia Warsaw. In 1992, he would join Aston Villa and embark on a path that would eventually land him at Prenton Park for a few months.
We are talking, of course, about right-back Dariusz Kubicki.
He played 25 games for Villa and was part of Ron Atkinson’s squad in the 1993/94 season that beat Tranmere in the League Cup semi-finals and finished third in the Premier League.
His real success in England was at Sunderland where he appeared more than 130 times, helping the club gain promotion to the Premier League in 1997.
He was on the brink of surpassing Sunderland’s club record for the most consecutive post-war league appearances when he was inexplicably dropped by boss Peter Reid. It was the beginning of the end for Dariusz with the Black Cats, and he would join Wolves in the summer of 1997.
He struggled for game time at Molineux and joined Tranmere on loan in 1998 as John Aldridge looked to bolster his squad. He played 12 games for Rovers and did pretty well, looking solid and unflappable.
That said, he was now 35, and his descent down the Football League would begin with brief spells at Carlisle and Darlington before he hung-up his boots.
Incidentally, Kubicki is a well-known character in his native Poland having managed a host of clubs, including Legia Warsaw.
Northern Ireland at Mexico 86
Another ex-Tranmere man at Mexico 1986 was prolific strike Colin Clarke. Clarke had spent the 84-85 season with Tranmere and had formed a lethal strike-force with John Clayton. Clarke netted 22 goals for Rovers as the club narrowly missed out on promotion and he ultimately left to join AFC Bournemouth.
By the time the World Cup in Mexico arrived, Clarke had forced his way in to the starting line-up for his country. He played in all three of Northern Ireland’s group games, scoring the consolation goal against Spain in a 2-1 defeat, the legendary Emilio Butragueno on target for Spain.
England at Italia 90
The closest England have come to winning the World Cup since1966 was back in Italia 90, a classic tournament that featured the likes of Lineker, Gascoigne and Platt. There was one player in England’s squad that would go on to sign for Rovers four years after the tournament, and that was right back Gary Stevens.
He was a Rangers player at the time, but Stevens would go on to make over 120 appearances for Tranmere in the old First Division (now Championship) as John King’s star-studded team chased the Premier League dream.
The other link to Rovers within that Italia 90 squad was sadly as a manager, rather than a player. One John Barnes. We will leave that there.
Stevens also represented England at the World Cup in 86, coming up against Diego Maradona is in his prime.
Republic of Ireland at USA 94
Tranmere have never had quite an era for notable players as they did during the 1990s, and even post 2000, there were still household names from this era making their way to Prenton Park.
A look at the Republic of Ireland squad in 1994 will see no fewer than five players who did, or would go on to, play for Tranmere.
Perhaps the most notable is John Aldridge, the prolific striker, former manager and all-round legend that spent 10 years with Rovers. Aldo is perhaps most remembered in terms of USA 94 for a bust-up with match officials as he tried to join the action as a substitute against Mexico.
In the searing heat of Orlando, Aldo lost his rag altogether as a FIFA official refused to let him enter the field of play despite the player he was due to replace already having left the pitch. The argument, in all of its audible glory, lives long in the memory, and can still be relived on YouTube.
Aldridge was the only current Tranmere player in the squad at the time, however, there were a few other more than familiar names.
Striker David Kelly, at the time a Wolves player, was also in the squad and would go on to become a Tranmere legend himself six years later as he scored in every round of the League Cup as Rovers reached the final.
A 22-year-old Jason McAteer was also in the squad alongside two players who had brief stints at Tranmere, forward Tommy Coyne and defender Phil Babb.
Coyne joined Tranmere from Celtic in the year previous to USA 1994, but failed to settle owing to tragic personal circumstances. He returned to Scotland signing for Motherwell in November of the same year, and managed to find enough form to force his way back in to the Eire squad for the World Cup.
Babb would spend a month at Tranmere, playing four games, in the lead-up to the 2000 Worthington Cup Final to cover for the injured Dave Challinor.
Incidentally, McAteer would score a historic goal for Eire against Holland that secured a spot in the play-offs to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, which they successfully progressed through. Two years later, he joined Rovers.
Jamaica at France 98
France 1998 was one of those World Cups you look back on with a smile on your face. Packed with world greats, colour and memorable moments, it was a great tournament.
It was also one that, while we may not have known at the time, included someone who would go on to become a Tranmere legend of the highest order. In fact, there was one team that had a trio of players that would pull on the white Rovers shirt.
We’re talking of course about the iconic Jamaica team of 1998 with the fresh-faced Ian Goodison at the heart of the defence and Theo Whitmore as historic goal scorer.
It was the first time the Reggae Boyz had qualified for the FIFA World Cup and they were keen to enjoy the experience. Coached by Brazilian Rene Simoes, they were drawn in a group that included Argentina, Croatia and Japan.
Jamaica started with a 3-1 defeat against Croatia, who themselves would spring to worldwide prominence as Davor Suker inspired them to a third-placed tournament finish.
Their second game was a 5-0 thrashing by Argentina courtesy of a Gabriel Batistuta hat-trick and a brace from Ariel Ortega. However, when Simoes’ side played their final group stage against Japan, the Reggae Boyz became legends back home.
Ian Goodison was given the captain’s armband for the game while Theo Whitmore scored twice to inspire Jamaica to a historic 2-1 win, their first ever World Cup victory. Many of the stars of the squad would become Football League regulars in future, including of course our very own Goodison and Whitmore, of Pepe and Tappa to give them their Jamaican nicknames.
One player we have not mentioned yet is Paul Hall. He played all three group games for Jamaica and was an established first team player at Portsmouth at the time.
It was not until 2004, six years after France 98, that these three players found their way to Prenton Park, but all are fondly remembered. Goodison is the stand-out; he played a staggering 366 games for Rovers over 10 years, and has well over 100 caps for Jamaica.
When Goodison was awarded a testimonial at Prenton Park in 2005, many of the Jamaican squad from 1998 were on-hand to help celebrate with the likes of Marcus Gayle, Frank Sinclair, and Deon Burton pulling on their boots again, along with Hall and Goody.
The game also saw long-serving president of the Jamaican FA, Captain Horace Burrell, fly in from Jamaica to honour Goodison. Sadly, Captain Burrell passed away a year ago last week.
World Cup trialists
There are a host of former World Cup players that have had trials at Tranmere going right back to Johnny King’s era.
Names include Daniel Amokachi (Nigeria, 1994 World Cup), Cornell Glen (Trinidad & Tobago, 2006 World Cup) and Pascal Chimbonda (France, 2006 World Cup).
Which others can you name? Comment below or tag us in your posts on twitter @roversrearguard