When the final whistle sounded at Wembley on Saturday, Tranmere boss Micky Mellon led the beautiful and chaotic celebrations as he sprinted up the pitch toward the jubilant SWA.
Arms spread, screaming his delight, emotion etched all over his face. Micky had just delivered like very few have ever done so for TRFC.
To the casual viewer, it was a manager celebrating promotion. To Tranmere fans, it was so much more.
The full and stark reality was, he had produced a personal performance during the 90 minutes that would rival any ever given by a player, or custodian, of our unique club. And any other club for that matter.
Rovers were reduced to 10 men in the blink of an eye. Our hopes and dreams began to crack again. The national stadium felt as vast and unwelcoming as it had 12 months ago.
However, what followed on the pitch was utterly, utterly remarkable, expertly mapped out and orchestrated by the Glaswegian that has fallen hook, line and sinker for this club.
You see, ever since he joined the club as a player, Micky understood. He got “it”. He got what Rovers were about, what fans demanded, what Wirral needed from its flagship football club.
He departed for Burnley but jumped at the chance to return to the trenches to try and help an inevitable relegation from the Championship. That team was relegated, but for Mellon, the pain perhaps remains a key driver to this day.
He’s seen where we have been, seen where we should be, and played alongside international thorough breds in the white shirt.
From the day he left a job two divisions higher to come back to Prenton Park as manager in October 2016, he has hammered home what this club is about to every player that stepped out with that famous crest upon their chest.
In nearly every press conference, he’d state the importance of winning games of football for Tranmere.
“This club expects to win games of football” he’d state with a steely determination. We’ve also heard since Saturday how he constantly explains to the players what this club means to its fans, to him and to the community.
And so back to Saturday, to when a group of players were so focussed on hauling this club back out of oblivion that James Norwood said they would have died for each other on the pitch. They simply were not leaving without getting the job done, whatever it took.
That attitude and togetherness comes from the top. Mellon, along with the brilliant Mike Jackson and legend Eric Nixon, has forced this squad to get “it”, to understand what this was all about.
Adversity that few teams would survive
Saturday kicked-off to the usual roar from the SWA. The ball bounced around a bit in our half, McNulty and Monthe winning aerial challenges before Tranmere broke up the left.
Liam Ridehalgh was so determined to get off to a good start that he overran the ball and lunged in to try and retrieve it.
It was probably a red card, but the ref steamed in to the thick of it, hand already in his pocket when he was still 10 yards away. Desperate to flash the red card; another big decision against Tranmere that officials are so keen to make in this league.
Off trudged Rides, hands around his head.
In the blink of an eye, everything changed. In the blink of an eye, the spirit of TRFC greats was rekindled. Yozzer, Higgy, McNab, Henry, Kelly, Aldridge, Nevin et al would be proud.
As the SWA contemplated 89 minutes with 10 men, our leader was already deep in conversation with his trusted assistant.
There were no rash decisions. None of those knee-jerk, animated, Mourinho-esq make-a-statement subs. Not a shred of panic.
No, our management team continued dialogue for several minutes while Jay Harris was sent to warm-up.
Jeff Hughes was deployed at left-back and Tranmere got in to shape to keep it tight until the new battle plan was complete.
Or maybe not keep it tight. Take the lead and ram it right back down the throats of the Boreham Wood fans that celebrated Liam’s dismissal with such gusto? Much better.
Hughesy kept possession on the left, dinked it to Nors who left the full-back for dead and spotted his partner in crime arriving at the front post.
There was only one outcome as Cookie planted a header inside the post. Textbook Cook-Norwood.
The SWA erupted, players celebrated passionately, but in many ways it was reserved. This was a small step in a huge race. One early move in a relentless game of chess.
It turns out that Micky had actually discussed with the players last week about the possibility of being reduced to 10 men. No doubt as confident in the officials as we are. A demonstration of the detail he went in to – this wasn’t being left to chance.
The new plan was put in to effect. It was young Eddie Clarke who came in at left-back for the desperately unlucky Larnell Cole.
The hurdles continued to be thrown at Tranmere. Ginnelly – who had been hit with a bottle during the celebrations of the goal – was replaced by Connor Jennings. Talking of warriors; Connor, words fail us.
Two weeks ago he was in hospital on a drip with suspected meningitis. Now he was thrust in to the midst of a battle like no other.
The knocks carried on coming – Ritchie Sutton forced off with injury shortly before half-time. On came that man Harris, a man you certainly want on your side when the going gets tough.
Obviously the officials wanted to stay front and centre. Six minutes stoppage time turned to nine. The opposition equalised to the delight of their sparsely populated section of seats.
And then came half-time, and a team talk that will forever define this part of our club’s history.
Mellon told his players to “believe”. Believe that they could achieve something truly special, a one-off. He reminded them it was 1-1. Despite everything, we’re level.
The BT Sport pundits questioned Micky’s decision to use the first two subs as early as he did. Watch and learn, boys.
The second half was a thing of beauty. Boreham had lots of possession, but they had no tactical nouse, no guile, no leadership. It was Boredom Wood as they passed sideways constantly, not a clue how to get past the wall of white.
As time passed, it was becoming clear that a single goal could win this.
As the hour mark came, Micky turned to lift the SWA as he had his team. He waved his arms, pumped them skyward. Eric Nixon joined in.
Tranmere’s 10,000 followers had possibly begun to question whether it was going to happen for us. Micky’s instruction brought them alive, and how.
It was hard to keep the tears at bay at that point. Our leader needed us, he showed the passion we demand. And we reacted by lifting the roof off the iconic stadium. The noise was remarkable – the pundits in TV, matchday stewards and others all commented that it was incredible.
It lifted our Wembley warriors. They flew in to tackles, every single 50/50 roared as if our lives depended on it. McNulty, the skipper, seemed to win a succession of headers. Nors chased everything. Every single one of them were intent on leaving every last sinue of their being on that pitch.
And then, Micky’s master plan, his inspirational team talk, his cheerleading – it all paid off in one beautiful, historic moment.
Cookie nodded a ball down to Connor. Jennings’ first touch was sublime – watch it back (again). It left the Borehan Wood defender standing. He carried the ball wide before sending a looping cross in to the box.
Lord Norwood arrived. Leaped high above the Wembley pitch and nodded the ball firmly down toward goal.
The keeper saves….oh no, he doesn’t.
He cannot get a good enough hand on it.
The ball trickles in super slow-motion toward the inside of the post. As if sucked in by the SWA, it touches the inside of the net.
Ecstasy in the stands, absolute delirium. Strangers hugged, people fell down rows of seats, and perhaps most strikingly, men and women of all ages began to cry. A breathtaking outpouring of emotion, the likes of which I’ve never seen at a football match.
Micky celebrated, but not wildly. This was not ‘job done’, there were 10 minutes left to negotiate with tiring legs, a soaking pitch and 10 men.
We needn’t have worried. To a man, the lads chased, kicked, harried and challenged everything. The Rovers fans upped the volume still further.
If Boreham Wood were going to do this then it was going to have to be beyond special. Fans have chatted in recent years about potential curses left on the club, the Tranmere “luck”, the endless craziness of how things somehow always crashed and burned.
It was all blown away, right there. The footballing world was rebalancing itself; a seismic shift. The Whites were not going to give this up.
The final seconds saw the opposition get a free kick somewhere around halfway. The keeper slung it in the box, that man Jeff Hughes got something on it to clear it around 15 yards out of the area.
And then, one of the sweetest moments I’ve ever experienced. The first milliseconds of the referees whistle pierced the air. The rest was drowned out.
Within a second, our man Micky was sprinting down the middle of the pitch in ecstatic fashion. The man who truly understands this club knew that what he’d just achieved was huge.
It was meteoric. Behind him came his battle hardened troops. Thanks to Micky, they understood what they’d done, the magnitude of it all. Every single one of them will forever be remembered by us – they’re in our history books now, they’re heroes, every bloody one of them.