Tranmere Rovers have a rich history with end of season play-offs. This year will be the ninth time Rovers have extended their league season into the promotion lottery, the seventh in the Football League edition, so let’s have a little look back in time as we look ahead to this season’s encounters with Forest Green Rovers.
The play-off system was introduced by the Football League back in 1987, the season Rovers stayed in the League by the skin of their teeth with a vital 1-0 win over Exeter City in the final match of the season.
The reason for its introduction was simple, keeping more teams involved and with something to play for towards the end of the season and hopefully diminishing those ‘meaningless’ mid-table clashes where neither team can go up or down.
In the first half of the 1990s, Tranmere reaching the play-offs was an almost annual event. Only in 1991-92 did Johnny King’s team fail to achieve that feat.
Rovers reached Wembley Stadium for the Division Three (now League One) play-off final in both 1990 and 1991. If at first you don’t succeed, try again! Defeat against Notts County was followed by victory over Bolton Wanderers the following year and promotion into Division Two (Championship now) earned with Chris Malkin’s famous extra time winner.
Then came the ‘nearly years’ when Rovers were within touching distance of the Premier League. For three successive seasons (1992-93, 1993-94, 1994-95), King led his side to the play-offs only to be knocked out in the semi-final stage by Swindon Town, Leicester City and Reading. A place in England’s top flight so near but yet so far away.
We had to wait another 10 years for our next shot at the play-offs. Four years after relegation into League One, Brian Little took Tranmere into a post-season play-off semi-final encounter with Hartlepool United. Penalty kicks were our downfall on this occasion, having fought back from 2-0 down after the first leg to draw level in the second, Ian Sharps missed the vital spot kick in the shoot-out. Agony once more.
Fast forward to more recent times, and this season will be Rovers’ third successive play-off campaign. The previous two were in the National League, defeated by this season’s opponents Forest Green Rovers at Wembley in the final in 2017 before defying all the odds the following year to beat Boreham Wood having played 89 minutes and 20 seconds (plus a ridiculous amount of stoppage time) with just 10 men.
In a week where Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur have pulled off remarkable achievements, lest we forget what a remarkable achievement last year was. 10 men pulling together, working for each other, going that extra yard, spurred on by more than 10,000 of the Super White Army. The hairs on the back of my neck are standing up just thinking about it.
And so to this season. In our first season back in the Football League, or EFL as we are supposed to call it now, Rovers have had a very good season and achieved a play-off position once again.
At the start of the season, not too many people would have predicted that would happen, but Micky Mellon, the players and staff have worked their socks off to achieve it and deservedly so.
It brings us together, once more, with Forest Green Rovers. They got the better of us at Wembley two years ago, but this time it’s over two legs. Home and away.
If we’ve learned anything from our previous play-off fixtures, it’s going to be close, tense, nervy, exciting, edge of your seat stuff! You won’t want to miss it!