In a new series on Rovers Rearguard, we take a look at some of the big names to have played at Prenton Park down the years and surprisingly come out on the losing side – starting with former Sheffield Wednesday, Celtic and West Ham striker Paolo Di Canio.
Many players have spoken about the difficulties of playing at Prenton Park down the years. With the stands right on top of the pitch and the locals only too happy to dish out some verbals to visiting players, it can be somewhat tricky.
It shouldn’t be a surprise then that so many top teams and top players have come out on the losing side in games.
We ‘kick-off’ with former Italian striker Paolo Di Canio – a deliberate choice of words, given that he spent much of the afternoon in question doing just that.
The flamboyant Italian was rarely out of the headlines as a player – or latterly a manager – and he was certainly in them along with his team mates following an FA Cup Third Round appearance in Birkenhead back in December 1999. He did attract most of the attention due to a succession of temper tantrums and a pathetic performance.
It’s fair to say that Di Canio had been enjoying some fine form for the Hammers before that game. But a chilly December afternoon up north against a team from the division below, who were tough, tight and fearlessly committed, had Di Canio and his team mates in disarray.
A high Tranmere backline left the visitors no room to manoeuvre, pressing, pushing and kicking at every opportunity. Di Canio left to feed off scraps, gesticulate angrily to team mates, argue with the West Ham bench and get narked at fans – both home and away fans. It was a thing of beauty.
The few times he was near the ball, Rovers would make a beeline for him, and by half-time he was jumping out of the way of tackles rather than getting involved. He didn’t fancy it in the slightest, and it was great to watch as he became increasingly irate with every passing minute.
Only once did Di Canio threaten to breakaway and cause problems, only for veteran Rovers star David Kelly to somehow sprint back to stop him in his tracks. The visitors had none of that commitment. No spark, no fight. Subsequently, they had no chance of getting a result.
Rovers claimed the scalp, a stunning volley from Nicky Henry just 21 minutes in earning a 1-0 success and dumping West Ham out– they were not the first top-flight team to suffer this fate, nor would they be the last.
Despite having the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard in the team, they trundled back down to London having been well and truly beaten by a fearsome Rovers side on a day when Prenton Park was rocking like few grounds can with an attendance of 13,629.
“The Italian didn’t perform for us”
West Ham boss Harry Redknapp didn’t shy away from criticising Di Canio specifically after the game. He said:
“The Italian didn’t perform for us. For whatever reason, he had his first bad day with us and we couldn’t compete.”
Redknapp was also brutally honest about his team’s general inability to deal with Tranmere.
He added: “We just couldn’t come to terms with the way they played – we just couldn’t handle it.”
Opposite number John Aldridge meanwhile was left beaming with pride labelling his defence as “tremendous”. The defence that day was Alan Morgan, Dave Challinor, Reuben Hazell and Gareth Roberts.
Di Canio could have wiped away some of the memories from that day back in 2013, but instead he quit as manager of Swindon just hours before his team was due to play at Prenton Park.
As it happens, his former team ran out comfortable 3-1 victors on a night that sticks most in the memory for Paul Black nearly scoring an own goal from the half-way line. Life as a Tranmere fan hey.
Tranmere Rovers (4-4-2): Murphy; Morgan, Hazell, Challinor, Roberts; Parkinson, G Jones, Henry, Mahon; Allison, Kelly (Taylor, 88). Substitutes not used: Black, Koumas, Frail, Achterberg (gk).
West Ham United (4-4-2): Hislop; Potts (Kitson, 46), Ruddock, Ferdinand, Minto; Lampard, Foe, Cole, Lomas; Sinclair, Di Canio (Wanchope, 74). Substitutes not used: Keller, Byrne, Forrest (gk).