If you are still searching for the ideal Christmas present for a Tranmere fan, then Rovers Rearguard reckons you need look no further than Riding The Rover Coaster.
The book is the second title from Rovers fan and journalist Matt Jones, who also published Back Where We Belong in August 2018.
Priced at £14, Riding The Rover Coaster tells the inside story of a turbulent decade in Tranmere’s history. It covers a period in which the club were twice relegated, therefore tumbling out of the Football League, before registering back to back promotions to restore their League One status.
It investigates why the Wirral side suffered such a fall from grace. Who was to blame? What factors led to them hitting rock bottom? How did they pull themselves out of the abyss to return to the third tier?
It does this through a series of interviews, fifteen in total, ranging from former owner Peter Johnson to legendary defender Ian Goodison, who discusses the spot fixing scandal in which he was embroiled.
Ex boss Les Parry, former players Iain Hume, Danny Holmes and Steve Jennings, as well as current squad members Scott Davies, Liam Ridehalgh and Connor Jennings and chairman Mark Palios also feature heavily.
And of course, the story cannot be told without the help of Micky Mellon, the man who has guided Tranmere to those two promotions.
The Scot talks candidly about the position he found Rovers in when he returned to Prenton Park in 2016, as well as discussing in-depth his decision making on May 25th 2019 as his side beat Newport 1-0 in the League One play-off final, as this extract reveals…
‘Micky Mellon did not like what he was seeing. The Exiles were beginning to get the upper hand. He needed to shift things back in Rovers’ favour, and to everybody’s surprise, he turned to a man who had played just once since that 3-0 defeat to Mansfield back in January.
“I know Steve McNulty really well,” says Mellon, “So I know when you come into that later part of the season, you need his kind of mentality. When it all becomes mental, people start to panic and they come off the plan. They start to revert into a safe place, instead of doing what we want them to do.
“McNulty was good at keeping people on track, because he could comfortably keep himself on track. He would never really get too flustered about what other people would say is a big game. It’d just be another game for him. He’d be quite calm, he would make sure he did his job and make sure the people around him did theirs.
“He was struggling with his knee and his Achilles in the second half of the season and Mark Ellis and Manny Monthe had built up a partnership. But even when he was injured, I kept him involved. I got him to help the back four and I had him sitting upstairs watching games, then he’d come down at half-time and tell me what he was seeing. I kept him in and among it and I kept him helping me around the place.
“There are a number of players who are good around the place in keeping the standards up. If anybody pisses around, and I don’t see it, they wouldn’t get away with it, because these guys know that if anything stops the boat moving forward and they want the boat to move forward and somebody’s not pulling their weight, they know that they’ve got to stop that. They’re very good at that. McNulty was great at that for us.
“Yes, he was a loss playing wise. But I tried to get everything out of him that I could in order to keep the thing moving forward. I also tried to keep him fit. If I needed him, I was going to use him. Thank God we did that, because on a sunny afternoon at Wembley, I looked at the game of football and I thought ‘it’s McNulty time’.
“I don’t think anybody else in the stadium apart from myself looked at that and thought ‘that’s a fantastic decision, to play a guy who’s not played since January’. But I just knew what he was like.”
‘McNulty Time’, to be precise, was in the 82nd minute. Kieron Morris came off, allowing the manager to switch to a 3-5-2 formation, with Sid Nelson and Manny Monthe playing either side of McNulty.
“I could see the momentum swinging to them a touch until I switched McNulty on,” Mellon continues. “That’s why I did it. I thought we were just coming off our running a little bit and we weren’t quite getting across the pitch to their wingbacks. There were a lot of crosses coming into the box and you don’t like that because eventually one is going to land on somebody’s head.
“I knew I needed to stop the wingbacks from getting the crosses into the box and when it does come into the box, I need us to be more commanding. I need to settle that down.
“So you think do I change the shape with who I’ve got on the pitch, or do I need to do a different thing? I’d always thought that with their three at the back, I had a three at the back in my locker with McNulty coming on.
“I knew I needed to do it now, or I’d regret it. There comes a time in a game where a manager either shits himself, and I’ve had many managers say to me before that they know when the end comes, because they can’t make a decision – they shit it. So I’m at Wembley and it’s decision time. Some managers make the decision to shit themselves. I thought McNulty.
“I turned around, I looked at him and beckoned him over. Honestly, I’ll never forget this as long as I live, McNulty looked behind him! I went ‘no, you! Come here’. He came down the stairs and I told him to go and play in the middle of the back three for me. The game was becoming stretched.
“I said ‘are all you alright with that? Can you handle that?’ He said ‘aye gaffer’, so I told him to go and put his shinguards on.
“I then turned to Mike Jackson and Steve Banks and said ‘get big Macca on’. They’ll tell you this themselves, honestly, they said ‘Big Macca?’ I said ‘Yes’. ‘Steve McNulty gaffer?’ ‘Yes!’
“Every time I meet Banksy now, he says ‘I don’t know anybody else who’d have made that decision at that time. It was unbelievable. I still can’t believe what you were doing, because he hadn’t played.’ But I was sure.”
Matt Jones will be selling and signing copies Riding The Rover Coaster in Aldo’s before Saturday’s home game against Wimbledon from 1pm. If you cannot make the game, you can also order it online from his website, mattjones90.wordpress.com