As Tranmere fans prepare for life back in the Football League this weekend, one man has transformed life as a member of the SWA.
When Tranmere tumbled uncontrollably through the bottom two divisions and in to the non-league abyss a few years ago, life as a Tranmere fan arguably felt worse than it ever had done previously.
Sure, we’d nearly lost our club completely several decades ago, a time that should never be forgotten, but the way in which our beloved club was seemingly crumbling in front of our very eyes was having a catastrophic effect on those who loved it most. The fans.
Loyalty was never questioned, we continued to turn-up in numbers, but to say morale was hit was an understatement. We’d seen a catalogue of players pass through our doors within the space of 18 months or so, players who – for the most part – couldn’t care less about what happened to the football club. Yes, there were a couple of exceptions.
We’d had managers who didn’t get it, one in particular who appeared to put his own ego above that of the club. He found fault in the fans, in the journalists that questioned him and, in his players, the ones who he himself had signed.
We fell, and we fell hard.
The toxic mix created by the the circumstances above contributed to consecutive relegations. These seemed to compound a slow decline that had been on the cards for the best part of a decade.
It tore fans apart. Sure, we still turned up, but there was a constant undercurrent of negativity. Anger was always bubbling just beneath the surface, while it’s fair to say there was a significant amount of embarrassment that we found our club outside of the Football League after 94 years.
As we embarked in to the unknown, Gary Brabin came in and did some serious rebuilding. The relegated squad was thankfully dismantled, a new collection of experienced non-league winners brought in ready for a fight.
We started life in non-league with a dramatic late win against Woking, a huge positive greeted with scenes of jubilation. It felt like our first league victory in years.
However, if we were to sum-up Brabin’s reign in just a few lines, we’d say his team certainly stopped the rot and were capable of grinding out results. He had a great eye for players, signing some players who would eventually become heroes.
However, the style of play, the post-match interviews and the general handling of the club had just not pulled the fans back together again.
We were told we should learn to enjoy the National League, just as Wrexham’s fans did when they triumphed at Prenton Park. The next lacklustre performance would have fans at loggerheads again. It felt like we were still on the brink of a meltdown at any time. It was better than it was, but it still didn’t feel like any progress was being made, other than halting a decline.
And so, Brabin left the club in September of 2016. The following October, Micky Mellon left League One Shrewsbury to come back to Prenton Park as manager. On the pitch matters improved significantly, but it was as much his work off it that transformed the SWA.
He regularly spoke of expectations being rightfully high, of an expectation to win games of football in a Tranmere shirt. He demanded that if the players couldn’t handle it, they should move on. We were no longer being told to accept the sub-standard, instead the pressure was put back on to the players.
Micky’s first act before every match was to greet the SWA, home and away. At full-time, both he and his players would always go to the fans to applaud and thank them. The divide that had existed for so long between fans and players finally began to close.
When Rovers fell behind in key games, no longer was it a feeling of impending doom. Fans knew Micky would do everything to get his team firing, and he often did.
The style of football was effective. When possible, it was all about fast wingers, passing football and exciting play. When required, it was direct, measured and devastating.
Perhaps the biggest test of both Micky and the fans came early in the 2017/18 campaign. Tranmere had started poorly, and the highly-anticipated title challenge looked dead in the water by late September.
Home defeat to Wrexham proved a turning point. As their fans once again enjoyed success at Prenton Park, neither Micky nor the SWA accepted it. A few fans began to whisper about a potential change of manager, but the majority could not bring themselves to call for Micky’s head.
There were no anti-Mellon chants, no calls for the Chairman to wield the axe. We knew, deep down, that we had a man who knew the club, loved the club like we did, and also just happened to be the best manager we could hope of attracting.
Micky brought in new players, swallowed his pride in moving on signings he had made, and the transformation began.
He once again kick-started a failing season and somehow got Rovers back in to the title race. It would end at Wembley Stadium again, another cruel second place finish. Last year Rovers were soaked in tears and sweat after defeat against Forest Green – this year it was champagne and rain that soaked them as they celebrated hard.
That win at Wembley was a 90-minute snapshot of what Micky has brought back to Prenton Park. The fans were incredible in the face of mind-boggling adversity. The players battled like few in white shirts had ever battled before. Micky even nailed the subs and tactics.
When the full-time whistle sounded, it was fitting that Micky abandoned the post-match niceties of handshakes and instead sprinting, arms spread, toward his adoring fans. Throughout the night and days that followed, players were partying, drinking and enjoying promotion in bars and clubs alongside fans.
His affinity with the club and with the fans has given us our pride and positivity back. He had achieved promotion. Above all else, he had united fans and players for the first time in years.
We all know that this new season will be tough, but whatever happens, we will never forget how Micky led us back to the Football League with minimal fuss. There’s nobody we would rather lead us in to this new era, and when 3pm arrives on Saturday, he can rest assured there will be a healthy following ready to roar the team on again.
Let’s hope the journey continues.