Meeting the opposition – Walsall.

Walsall – meeting the opposition.

The opening day of the Football League Two campaign will see Micky Mellon’s Tranmere Rovers play host to Walsall at Prenton Park. 

This same game was played last December, as fans were able to return to the ground for the first time in nine months. The Whites would go on to lose that game 3-1. However, much has happened since and as the likes of Manny Monthe and Ash Taylor brace themselves for a return to Merseyside I had the great pleasure of talking to @BescotBanter about the experiences they’ve had supporting the club and the threats that they believe they will pose in a game that may or may not be a sign of what’s to come throughout the next ten months. 

How long have you been a Walsall supporter, and how did you first come across the club?

We’re lifelong Saddlers. Born and bred in the town, we’re duty bound to follow them up and down the country, as well as the leagues.

Having a look back at last season, how would you say that it went in terms of expected success, and how will this upcoming campaign be any different? What are your expectations/predictions/ambitions for the next ten months?

Last season was a disaster. A worst-ever finish coupled with fans’ Covid-enforced boycott saw us slope through a season we’d all happily forget.

This season is a bit of an unknown. A new manager, squad, and backroom set up have breathed new life into the club and fanbase as a whole. However, until the team plays some competitive games, we’d be silly to offer a prediction to how the campaign will play out. The chairman has insisted he’d like to see the team challenging towards the top of the table, and, as fans, we’d like to see that happen too.

What are your thoughts on new gaffer Matthew Taylor? This will be his first time in a permanent manager role. What were your thoughts on the dismissal of former manager Brian Dutton?

The appointment of Matthew Taylor seems to be a shrewd bit of business. An experienced former player, Matthew brings a wealth of knowledge to the club and, along with First-Team Coach Neil McDonald and Technical Director Jamie Fullarton, has already begun to reshape the club.

We’re optimistic, but will always be weary of any so-called new era, as there have been so many false dawns over recent years. But there appears to be a new attitude both inside the boardroom and at the training ground, so, for now at least, we can continue to look ahead with a positive mindset.

Former assistant Brian Dutton’s days were numbered as soon as he replaced Darrell Clarke at the helm. Regardless of how the team performed he was part of another failed regime at the club and, even if his stay had been extended, he would have struggled to win over the doubters, especially as the performances were nothing to write home about.

What are your thoughts on the way that the club is run, the owners in particular? Who owns the club?

Our chairman and majority shareholder is Leigh Pomlett. A local lad, Leigh loves the club as much as the most loyal of supporters and, despite getting off to a rough start with the failed Darrell Clarke era, has always been upfront with fans and seems to be keen to keep on closing the gap created by former chairman Jeff Bonser, who preferred to keep supporters at arms length.

Whilst the issue of the freehold of the club’s Banks’s Stadium home is yet to be resolved, we’re happy with how Leigh has done since he took his place at the head of the table and are keen to see if his latest appointment pays off.

What players will pose the greatest threats to Tranmere in the opening game of the season? Are you worried about any of the hosts’ men? If you did have any, what were your thoughts on the dismissal of Keith Hill at Prenton Park? From afar, what do you think Mellon will bring back to Merseyside from his time in the SPL?

With an almost completely rebuilt squad to select from, it is difficult to pick a danger man outside of the strikers, new signings Conor Wilkinson and Kieran Phillips, or pre-season stand-out Emmanuel Osadebe and hopefully soon to be fit Rory Holden. We expect one or all of them to give a few defences a headache over the coming campaign.

As with the Saddlers, Tranmere have been busy in the transfer market over the summer, signing some experienced heads as well as a few unknown quantities. As no-one likes a player to have a good game against their former employers, we’d hope that Kieron Morris is kept quiet during the match, as there’s always a small chance that one of his regular long-distance efforts may actually hit the target!

Not really sure what to make of Keith Hill’s dismissal. Despite helping the team into the Play-Offs, their form was pretty poor towards the end of the campaign, so you can see why the board opted to press the panic button. Can’t help but feel it also left room for plenty of ‘what if’ scenarios after the team ultimately failed to win promotion.

The return of Micky Mellon seems to be the board opting to press the reset button after last season’s managerial strife. Micky, who had been linked with the Saddlers during our various manager-less spells, should have a point to prove after hardly setting the world alight whilst in charge of Dundee United.

What is your score prediction, and how do you believe your manager will address this game?

Always poor at predicting games, so we’d avoid laying any money on this. But you’ve always got to get behind the team, so we’ll go 2-1 Walsall. Hopefully, the gaffer will send the team out with an attacking mindset. For too long, we’ve approached games with a desire to secure the point we began the game with, rather than battle for all three.

Random fact about Walsall?

Last season we gave you the fact that we’re joined as Saddlers supporters by the likes of Pop Idol judge and train aficionado Pete Waterman and aren’t sure how to top it…

What are your worst and greatest experiences as a Walsall supporter?

The last few seasons as a whole have been dismal. With relegation, managerial merry-go-rounds, and players quite simply phoning it in, it’s hard to see how the club will be able to convince the younger generation to ignore the trappings of local Premier League and Championship sides with so little to cheer.

In recent times, the greatest memory has to be the trip to Wembley for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final – a game which may have ended in defeat but saw the Saddlers faithful make a welcome visit to the home of English football.

Sadly, a first in a lifetime event for many modern fans has now been tainted by the EFL’s desire to take what small amount of money the Premier League offered to allow their oversubscribed ‘youth’ teams into the competition.

The game will see a return to Prenton Park for three newly recruited players: Joss Labadie, Ash Taylor and Manny Monthé. What are your thoughts on the club’s recruitment this summer, would you have wanted to do anything differently?

Happy with the club’s recruitment as a whole. After ending last season on such a low, the board, chairman and management team have acted quickly to not only fill in some of the gaps but improve the team overall.

We’d welcome another attacking addition, but overall are happy with the recruitment that has been done, especially as there is still an apparent desire to land a few more players before the window closes in a few week’s time.

You can find great Walsall content via @BescotBanter on Twitter, I’d like to thank them for their time and answers as both are greatly appreciated!

Lux Et Robur – The interview.

Lux Et Robur

Throughout the course of the pandemic, I’ve documented the struggles that Tranmere have encountered as the club and it’s supporters try to navigate themselves towards a positive future. Through a League One demotion in an unprecedented time of a health pandemic and a couple of managers who didn’t really bring the success or the unity to the club that they thought they would’ve been able to achieve and bring. However, something that has continued to deliver is ‘http://www.luxetrobur.com/’ as the saying (‘where there is faith there is light and strength’) has never been more relevant and the shirts that the brand has made have kept fellow supporters in high spirits. 

Before the start of the new campaign, I caught up with the man behind it all as he went into depth with me about how the business operates and his feelings ahead of a new start with the return of Micky Mellon at the helm.

To start the conversation off, could you tell us a little bit about the person that you are. Have you always been a Tranmere supporter and have you always been interested in clothes designing?

‘All of my friends in school would support Liverpool or other clubs but I didn’t have a team at that time. I spoke to my dad about it all and he told me that if I did choose to support Liverpool or another Premier League club I’d only be able to get the shirts and not go to the games but if I was to support Tranmere I’d get the shirts and the chance to go to the games. So, I got the shirt, went to an Anglo-Italian game at Prenton Park and fell in love with the club from there. Tranmere has been one constant in my life from that moment onwards, even if my head was slightly turned by other things when I was in my late teenage years’.

‘I haven’t always been interested in clothes designing. I don’t really know how to describe how my love for that grew. It was at a moment in time where I didn’t have a job and I noticed that I could make money by making and selling shirts. That idea came about when I saw that Liverpool had similar brands and fan designs. I thought it would be cool if Tranmere had something similar but I didn’t think anyone other than me would be interested in starting anything so I saw an opportunity. It was around the time of the 2018 world cup, I made a website for it and it really got my creative juices flowing. One of my friends is really good at graphic designing so he made pictures for the site and from there people started to ask for different shirts etc. It caught fire from there really and it was helped massively by the club’s form and the positive atmosphere. It’s not my full time job, it’s something that I enjoy and I like engaging with others through it as no one’s really interested in negativity and I try to make my clothes as positive and humorous as possible’ 

In terms of the brand’s success, do you think it’s gone as well as you thought it would have been when you first wanted to formulate your idea?

‘There was nothing to really base an expectation off when I first had the idea because it was something that hadn’t been done before at the club. You may have seen the odd bit of tat on ebay but something with a good knowledge of Tranmere wasn’t really out there, there were no shirts that if you weren’t a Tranmere supporter you’d look at it and go that’s a Tranmere shirt. There was no real expectation at the time,  I’m not even too sure what my end goal was. There’s a little bit of pressure on me now, I’d say, to create something when something significant has happened but it’s what I enjoy. I’ve had many compliments about my work as well which is something that keeps you going, people saying that they wouldn’t have similar shirts if it wasn’t for me. However, I also don’t want to be in competition with anyone like the likes of the Trust and the club itself because everyone is doing great work. Some people have misunderstood my intentions at times but I just try to do stuff that maybe the club wouldn’t and couldn’t do, for example the EFL shirts. However, I’ve also tried to help the club at times. For example, I helped produce the Rover and Out shirts which are still available to buy in the club shop. To answer the original question, I didn’t really have any expectations but I’ve certainly noticed the growth’. 

I was just thinking from a business perspective, as we’ve touched on expectations, how would you address something which hasn’t sold well which you thought would? If that’s something that you’ve experienced thus far.

‘No, I think something which has been made evident over the past two years is that I have no idea on what will sell well and what won’t. There are some items that I’ve paid an artist to do or I’ve spent my whole day working on and it’s only one had like when I put it out on social media and I go on to sell three. However, I see the positives in that as it’s at least been noticed by someone. I try to make stuff that I’d wear as well and I like to keep everything simplistic in a way. 

The shirts stay relevant as well, for example the EFL one’s and they’re still able to be bought. However, I’ve made some for players that have still gone on to leave like the Otis Khan Boss one. I couldn’t quite make the font right on that, I may have been done for copyright if I perfected it!’

We started our conversation off by talking about how your dad bought you your first Rovers shirt and that you’d go to the games in the 90’s. What are your thoughts on the new home shirt and does it pay homage to kits of that era?

‘The first shirt I had was the one with the stripes over the shoulder. The new shirt, I think is a brave move to change the manufacturer to a lesser recognised one. I had a meeting recently with Christine from the club shop and she was saying how important it was that the kits sell, so to take a risk in that area is really brave. With old kits, I don’t think that they should be kept in the past. I think they should be left there because there is a market for them and it’s always great to look back on them. I like the new crest though, it’s not really new as it’s the one that we had in the past but it’s a great badge and it’s in Oxton Village as we all know! I get on with the artist behind that painting, Paul Curtis, as I’ve produced shirts for him for his website in the past’.

Touching on people who have purchased your shirts, have you ever been surprised by someone wanting them. For example, I’m just wondering if Mike Dean has one!

‘Scotty’s bought a shirt, Nors has requested one after Wembley which I duly obliged, Mark Ellis had one. Simon Howarth, he bought a couple and we played against the team which he manages the other day. He was a great striker for Tranmere’.

I’d just like to place your attention on the upcoming season and the return of Micky Mellon, someone who certainly acts and behaves like a Rovers supporter. Where does he rank in terms of your greatest Tranmere managers and what are your thoughts on his return? Also, what will it be like to actually go to games instead of watching it behind a screen via iFollow?

‘I think he’s the greatest manager in my lifetime, I experienced some of the Johnny King games but I was too young so I didn’t really get a feel for how great he was. I feel a bit gutted that I wasn’t aware of how good King’s tenure was. However, it’s not even Mellon’s results it’s the way that he builds a togetherness around the club and if you had to give a microphone to anyone to talk about the club you’d want it to be him. He understands and knows that everyone needs to get on board and I can’t imagine anyone else managing us and building the same feeling that he continues to create. When everyone gets into the stadiums it can go one or two ways but I think we’ll all just be happy to get back, results are put under more scrutiny and more excitement with fans back I think because that’s where supporters can gather to talk and express their feeling. It’s a stroke of genius to get Mellon back I think, the club wants promotion and Mellon is someone who can, as proved in the past, show our ambitions. There is what seems like a perfect storm of positivity, with awaydays back, great signings and we have played well in the friendlies we’ve had so far. I feel that there is some recruitment left to be done though’.

Are there any new player names that have given you ideas for new shirts?

‘I’ll be honest it seems like they all leave or drop in form when I make shirts for them so I don’t want to jinx anything before the new season starts! At the moment, I’m making us a German team T-shirt. Don’t ask me why! It’s got German writing on it which translates into English as ‘Rovers above everything’. Maybe it’ll gain the club some German followers!’

Has there ever been a player or a moment that you look back in hindsight and feel like you’ve missed out on creating something for?

‘Probably not, there’s none that I can think of. There’s a subbuteo T-shirt that I wanted to get the 1991 Wembley team printed onto, I wanted to get that done for the 30th anniversary but I completely missed the deadline for that. I was disappointed not to get that out in time but it could be out in time for the 40th anniversary!’

To finish this conversation off, where can people come across your work and what recently made item should they be placing their attention to?

‘Every Tranmere fan who’s on social media knows what my Twitter username is (laughs), it’s @luxetrobur. Also, my website is http://www.luxetrobur.com/. The shirts that they should be placing their attention towards? I’ve got this Jurassic Park shirt out which has ‘Prenton Park’ in its place and Johnny King instead of a dinosaur. I quite like that one!’

Thank you very much for your time!

No worries mate, there were fewer questions than you originally made out there was (laughs)!

Tranmere v Sunderland – PSF Preview.

Tranmere v Sunderland preview.

Tuesday 27th July 2021

Pre Season Friendly

@PrentonPark

Micky Mellon will once again lead his side out in front of Tranmere supporters at Prenton Park as the new League Two season draws closer, this Tuesday night. 

All in all it’s been a successful summer for the Whites as players of great quality, a quality that may have lacked at times last season, have been brought in and on the pitch Rovers are unbeaten in all of their friendlies thus far. However, the upcoming challenge will pose a greater threat than they have faced in their last two times out as Lee Johnson’s Sunderland come to Merseyside a few months on from the last meeting in which the Black Cats beat Keith Hill’s men 1-0 at Wembley. 

Since Rovers last played in front of a home attendance, only a couple of players have been brought into the club thus a massive influx of new recruits still needs to continue with around ten days left on the clock until the first game of great significance. This is something that Mellon has commented on a number of times in his meetings with the press. However, match fitness and momentum is another vital part of pre-season and it’s evident that some players have grown in confidence under the return of their Scottish manager. Emmanuel Dieseruvwe scored two goals in the last two games, Kieran Morris also netting to add to his tally after scoring the winning goal against Rangers.

It’s quite surreal that Steven Gerrard’s Gers have beaten Real Madrid at Ibrox after drawing against Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal following on from their game on the Wirral. However, this shows that pre-season is a test of mentality as well as ability as the previous campaign which was unprecedented to say the least arguably tired athletes out like no other. Tuesday’s game against Sunderland will be a final chance for the players to show what they’re capable of before fixtures grow in importance. 

The visitors are managed by Johnson and have been since last year, the newly recruited gaffer winning the Papa John’s Trophy in March to break the club’s Wembley ‘hoodoo’ as they hadn’t won there since 1973. The Stadium of Light outfit being relegated to League One in 2018, which is well documented on Netflix hit-series ‘Sunderland Till I Die’, leaving a lot left to catch up on as they aim for a positive and successful future. 

Just like Tranmere, they have had to oversee a great amount of transfer business in the past month or two as top striker Charlie Wyke left the North East for Wigan Athletic. However, they still have young and old attacking prospects who are capable of causing any level of opposition trouble. A prime two examples being Jack Diamond and former Everton forward Aiden McGeady, leaving no wonder why they are tipped for promotion this year.

However, the hosts have players of flair and strength littered throughout their squad and it’ll be good to see Sam Foley, Mark Duffy and Callum McManaman in a white shirt for the first time amongst others. Full backs Calum MacDonald, Joe Maguire and winger Kieron Morris all need to be assessed to see if they can feature.  

You can find more about Sunderland, in a greater depth, in my ‘meeting the opposition’ piece. I had the great pleasure of talking to Malcolm Dugdale from Roker Report about a range of relevant subjects from the game itself to who the club is managed and owned by. The link to that feature? https://ethanhoijord.com/2021/07/26/sunderland-meeting-the-opposition/ 

With attacking talents like Aiden McGeady in the Sunderland squad it’s no surprise that they are tipped for promotion back to the Championship this campaign.

Sunderland – Meeting the opposition.

Sunderland – Meeting the opposition.

Tranmere’s last preseason game, where supporters will be allowed to watch, ahead of a campaign which kicks off on August 7th at Prenton Park against Walsall will be played in the very same stadium this Tuesday evening. 

It’ll be a test as the visitors, who are managed by Lee Johnson, are one of the best sides in the division above Rovers and will be looking to keep their gaffer’s minds ticking as they also look towards the August kick off. Tranmere manager Micky Mellon has described this friendly fixture as a challenge similar to ones that they will expect in the upcoming months after victories on the road against Warrington and Stalybridge Celtic. 

I had the great pleasure of speaking to Malcolm Dugdale, from Sunderland’s biggest and best fansite and podcast Roker Report, who told me all about his experiences as a fan and answered a range of questions relevant to the game itself.  

How long have you been a Sunderland supporter and how did you first come across the club? 

I was born and raised in Sunderland for most of my youth, so I have always been a fan, though I first became actively interested in the club and its fortunes in the late 70s and early 80s. I was a schoolboy goalkeeper myself, so my early heroes were Barry Siddall and Chris Turner, as well as of course Jimmy Montgomery, hero of 1973. Stan Cummings and Gary Rowell were my early idols at the other end of the pitch.

As a Sunderland fan you must’ve experienced a lot of highs and lows, the club has spent some time dining in the Premier League! However, what are your best and worst moments whilst following the club and how does this current period fare with others?

The best times I recall were between 1999 and 2001 when we finished 7th in the Premier league two seasons in a row (and were very unlucky to not get a UEFA slot, as many did back then with that kind of performance). The days when Kevin Phillips was a rampant and unstoppable scoring machine alongside Quinny and co, winning the European Golden Boot with 30 goals…great times. The worst moment has to be the confirmation of our double drop in spring of 2018. Continuing to be an SAFC fan through all that has been challenging, but where I was born, you follow your team through thick and thin. Lets just say the last 3 seasons have been pretty hard going, but there are some reasons to be cheerful starting to emerge, so hopefully this current period is soon a time of positive change after a real lull.  

Random fact about Sunderland? 

Sunderland is home to the National Glass Centre, as the city has had significant involvement in the glass making industry for many generations past. You can go in and see glass blowing demonstrations, and learn all sorts of stuff related to the craft. Just like ship building and coal mining, the region is very proud of its industrial contributions to the nation’s economy and its working class history (as are places like the Wirral and the wider Merseyside), and it’s nice that things like the glass centre celebrate those past industries and the contribution Sunderland made to it.

Going into this upcoming campaign, what are your current expectations and how do they fare with those of last summer? 

Last summer we had a manager who I did not really believe in, in Phil Parkinson, and a team who didn’t seem to click. Right now, we have a man in Lee Johnson who at least seems to have a good coaching approach and a set of tactics and strategies that he wants to try to establish and run with, alongside his football leadership team. My hopes are top two, as I am a little fed up with the whole playoff experience, and those hopes are the same as last season. I hope we fare better than last time, maintaining a push for the top two, as we dropped off badly at the end of last season. 

Lee Johnson is the current manager of Sunderland, he was appointed last year and has since went on to bring the Papa John’s Trophy back to the Stadium of Light after beating Tranmere at Wembley. What are your thoughts about him and how do they compare to those of others? Do you think he is the man that will take the club back up to the Championship? 

Johnson did well helping us break the Wembley hoodoo (we hadn’t won there since ‘73) but is yet to prove himself as the coach to take us up. He is a step up on Parky, but he didn’t manage to hold on to a good chance of promotion late last season. He did inherit most of the squad from past managers, so he got a bit of a hall pass there from some. That challenge and the short period of transfer limitations from the salary cap approach limited Johnson somewhat to build the side to push on. He has no excuses this season, so hopefully he can now build his own squad and really make it work. I do think he will make a decent championship coach too – he has worked there before.

Who are the owners of Sunderland and what are your thoughts on them? 

The majority shareholder is Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, son of Robert, who was the majority shareholder of Olympic Marseille from 1996, up till his death. Kyril is a very wealthy but quite young club owner at 23-24 years old, but since he has come in he has really made his mark. He has brought in a director of sport, a head coach (Johnson) and other key appointments such as heads of sports data and analysis, recruitment and other areas. He is way more present around the club than previous billionaire owners like Ellis Short, and I personally am hopeful he is here for the long term, hoping to take us back up the leagues again. Time will tell but initial signs give me optimism.

Although they may not play given that this is a friendly in which there is a difference of qualities coming up against each other, who are your danger men and potential one’s to watch? How do you think the management team will approach this game? How has the club’s summer been this far? 

The coach has mentioned that he will be giving some players the night off – we go again against Hull on Friday, so he will want to avoid any injuries, and in his approach he will want to see more of some of the lads with less pre-season minutes before the season starts. Elliot Embleton has been great since his return from Blackpool. He helped seal promotion for them (through the play offs) last term while on loan from our squad, achieving something the rest of the SAFC squad didn’t. Jack Diamond has been showing great signs pre season too, using his great pace with a little more control than in the past. If McGeady plays, he will hurt any team at this level, but I would be surprised if he got more than a half. Gooch has looked sharp too but is protecting a slight hamstring tweak so may be rested. If Kimpioka plays, your defence will have a nightmare predicting what he will do next (I am not sure he knows). Ross Stewart is up front, and will get goals soon, though he hasn’t scored yet in the friendliest so far. His movement is way better than Wykes was last season, but he needs to get a few in during pre season, for confidence purposes if nothing else. The summer pre season has gone OK so far – 2 wins and one draw, 7 scored and one conceded. It probably doesn’t mean a lot, but getting into winning habits is a good way to go.

Having a quick look at your recruitment, it seems that there has been a massive summer in terms of outgoings and incomings, a noticeable outgoing being the transfer of striker Charlie Wyke to Wigan Athletic on a free transfer. What are your thoughts on this summer’s transfer business and what else is needed to do? 

The summer started with a major exodus, which was a ballsy move by Johnson. Inbound it has been quieter than most fans wanted, but there are signs of more players to come in, and what we have brought in looks a step up in quality from the released list. I’d like another 4 players in before we face Wigan first game out. Not sure we will achieve that, and to be honest 5-6 or more would be ideal. We need some full backs, and we need another striker. If we get those positions covered off pre Wigan I will take that, but I fully expect transfer business to carry on till the window closes. Johnson knows this is a marathon not a sprint, and we know all too well that lots of decent players do not automatically make a good team.

What are your thoughts on Tranmere as a club in general and opponents on Tuesday? Who do you think will be the key men throughout the friendly fixture? 

Tranmere are a good club, who play decent football and deserve respect. The final was close, with only a very well created and well taken goal making the difference. I don’t think the performance on Tuesday night will reflect how either team will do in the league, but I hope both coaches learn a lot about squad members and tactic options, to prepare them for the season. I have some good friends in the Wirral, and I spent a few good nights out there with them in the past, on away day weekends. I wish them well with the league, and hope they continue to build towards the top half of the table, maybe more, as the style of football they are trying to play is way better than a lot of sides in this division. I’ve touched on the key Sunderland players above, and I have no idea who the Tranmere team will be, but I would like to see the SAFC midfield run the show, and Stewart to break his pre season duck.

This summer Lee Johnson has oversaw and completed a great amount of transfer business at Sunderland as the club aims to reach promotion back to the Championship. 

Amongst those that have been kept at the Stadium of Light? Jack Diamond, a 21-year-old winger who has ‘used his pace with a little more control this pre-season’ and is ready to cause problems to all manner of opposition in the upcoming season.

Rangers (H) report.

Mellon’s men beat the Gers on his return to Prenton Park.

Tranmere Rovers v Rangers – Match report

Saturday 10th July 2021

Pre season Friendly @PrentonPark

It was great to be back at Prenton Park, for the first time since we lost against Morecambe in the Play-offs with interim gaffers Ian Dawes and Andy Parkinson in the dugout. The sun was shining, the pitch looked great and is a true credit to the hard work that the groundsmen have put in over the course of the summer and there was a decent atmosphere created by the many CH and L postcode havers and the Gers fans that sneaked in somehow. 

Rovers ran out eventual winners 1-0 and there were so many positives that you could take from the ninety minutes that was played out on the Wirral, from a Tranmere perspective. The whites were deserved winners, defending and attacking as a pack when needed and the performance epitomised exactly what I have been describing as the sense of unity that I believe Micky Mellon has brought back to a club that looked to be in relative disarray under the managerial leadership of Mike Jackson and Keith Hill.

I know it was a friendly and thus it’s quite unfair to heavily criticise any team or player, especially one which has just won the league for the first time in a decade. However, I thought that Tranmere’s opposition would have performed better than they did and it came across in Mellon’s post-match interview that he went into the game with the same mindset that I did. ‘I was a bit scared about the quality of opposition we were up against because it’s our first game back, we had to do something that I didn’t really want to do and gave some players more gametime than I wanted’. Goalkeeper Joe Murphy played the full game and that was subject for discussion, youth players such as Max Fisher coming on with five minutes remaining. Steven Gerrard’s men looked promising at times but lacked the clinical edge to their performance that saw them win the league last season, James Tavernier being one man that impressed me today simply due to his ability of trapping and crossing the ball.

So other than the sense of unity, why am I greatly pleased with a win against the side who I thought would’ve played better than they actually did? At the end of last season, I put a piece out in which I said that I wanted some players to leave the club as they hadn’t shown their true potential. I said that I’d refrain from naming any of those names who I thought hadn’t reached the levels that I thought they could’ve but after watching today’s game I want to praise the club and praise the man himself for the improvements that I believe he’s made in his game. In truth, the ability was there and always has been.

Liam Feeney is a prime example. The forward put a beautiful ball into the pathway of what I believe was a trialist, I may be wrong as it’s somewhat difficult to tell who new players are when they haven’t got their names on the back of their shirt. He tracked every ball down, helping and communicating with the recently turned pro Elliott Nevitt and he put in two spectacular crosses which landed on the heads of Peter Clarke and Nat Knight-Percival. 

In my honest viewpoint, I think this season is one in which will test a few of the lads that have something to prove such as the man above. I thought it would’ve been a mistake to keep him on for an extra year but like I’m usually done, I was proved wrong. If he can keep showing the same attacking and leadership capabilities he may even stake a claim for player of the season. 

Elsewhere, I thought plenty of our new recruits showed what they can bring to the team ahead and throughout the new campaign. Jermaine Defoe will tonight be emptied out of the pockets of Tom Davies, Knight-Percival made many clearances but none were as great as his on the line block, Josh Cogley put in an exceptional performance in and it showed exactly what a naturally gifted right back can do. Genuinely I was pleased with so many of the players as the workrate that was lacking last season shone, there is still more to be added in terms of signings etc but Micky knows that more than anyone and has in the post-match interview that he is in regular conversations and working hard with owner Mark Palios to do so.

The club and the team are in great hands, the talent and chemistry is there and will improve .. starting with five days away somewhere where they will gel together strongly ahead of pre-season fixtures against Warrington and Stalybridge Celtic. Jay Spearing, for one, is looking forward to the next week as he stated in his personal media duties with the press.

I’ll be keeping you up to date with the latest Tranmere related interviews, articles, ‘meeting the opposition features’ and news ahead of the new campaign on ‘www.Ethan Hoijord.com’. There is a lot to look forward to and the excitement, just like the team’s chemistry, is certainly growing.

Talking Italia with Joe Roberto.

Talking Italia with Joe Roberto.

As a devoted football supporter but one who doesn’t know too many national teams in great depth, the success that Italy have had throughout this summer’s European Championships have surprised me. Maybe it shouldn’t be done as they have great players and a man who has a great CV to lead them. Roberto Mancini guided Manchester City to their first Premier League title and has worked wonders since his appointment as national team manager. On the pitch they are blessed in talent also, young goalkeeper Gianliugi Donnarumma being a certain credible name to prove that. 

Italy are through to this summer’s semi finals where they will play Luis Enrique’s Spain at Wembley, thus I spoke to supporter Joe Roberto to get his thoughts and further information on all things Italia.

What are your earliest memories of being an Italy supporter and what is it like to be an Italian fan living in England?

I vividly remember my grandad showing me – videos of Napoli games from the 80’s when Maradona played for them, and Italy playing at World Cups. I had Italy kits growing up, along with Ireland, Everton, and even England!

As British TV mainly focuses on either England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland games, watching Italy on TV was never a thing for me as a kid. The only time I watched Italy was when there was a major tournament on. I remember bits of Euro 2004, but the 2006 World Cup was the first full tournament I remember.

You wouldn’t tell I had Italian in me by looking at me, instead of having that beautiful Southern Italian olive skin, I’m pale and get sunburnt instead of getting tanned! But the surname definitely gives my Italian roots away. I get the odd look when I tell someone I support Italy, but after they find out the surname and have a good chat about Italian football they completely understand.

Are you a supporter that is greatly invested in international football and what football club do you support on a domestic level?

I’d say I’m invested enough. If there’s an Italy game on, I’ll either find a stream to watch it or at least keep up to date with the game. But I’m definitely a club over country person. Italy losing doesn’t impact on me like an Everton loss does unless it’s a big game like the loss to Spain in the Euro 2012 final, getting knocked out on penalties by Germany at Euro 2016 and the playoff loss to Sweden which meant we didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Domestically, I support Napoli. As said before, I grew up watching videos of Maradona’s Napoli and after you’ve seen that footage it’s pretty hard not to fall in love with it. I’ve also been told stories from uncles about watching games at the San Paolo so it felt like the most natural thing to do.

I’ve been over to see the family twice but frustratingly, they’ve played away both times I was there. But luckily, I was able to see them when they played Manchester City at City’s ground. I was able to get a ticket in the home end and did my best not to celebrate when Napoli scored.

Additionally, there’s a lower league team I keep an eye out for as well, Juve Stabia. I actually went to see them play back in 2016. The locals were all shocked to see two English tourists turn up to one of their games and took pictures with us because of it.

Following your nation brings a lot of travelling, have you been to many Italy games and have you experienced many different tournaments? If you have been to a tournament game, how does the World Cup differ from the Euros in terms of quality and everything that surrounds it?

Due to money and so on, following Italy has never been an option. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but it’s not an option currently. Saying that, I went to watch them play a friendly against Argentina at City’s ground just before the 2018 World Cup. As it was a friendly, it wasn’t the best of quality, but it ended up being Gianluigi Buffon’s last Italy game before retiring from international football which is a pretty nice story to tell people.

Your best and worst Italy 5-a-sides with a manager alongside them? 

If we’re going by players in my time,

Best: I think the team explains itself. You’ve got Buffon in goal who’s arguably the greatest ever goalkeeper to play for Italy, Cannavaro in defence who, although small for a defender, is a brick wall, one of his nicknames was literally ‘The Berlin Wall’. I’d be surprised if anyone got past him. You’d have Pirlo in the middle dicating play and Totti would have free reign around the box to do what he wanted to do. Then Inzaghi up top would do what he was born to do, stay on the edge of the box and finish any chances that came to him. They would be managed by 2006 World Cup winner Marcello Lippi, of course!

Worst: Federico Marchetti, Andrea Ranocchia, Alberto Aquilani, Antonio Cassano, Simone Zaza – Gian Piero Ventura

There has been a lot of talk throughout the course of the summer about how Roberto Mancini has transformed the national team. What are your thoughts on him and the current coaching set up? How well do you think Italy has done this summer and how does the current regime differ from previous one’s?

He’s been an absolute revelation since he came in. I’m quite surprised how quickly he’s been able to turn things around as we were a shambles on and off the pitch when he was appointed. His predecessor, Gian Piero Ventura, didn’t have a clue what he was doing and was the main reason why we failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

But in a weird way, it seems that Mancini taking over after ‘that’ Sweden shambles was a blessing in disguise. Because he came in after the Sweden game in 2017, he’s had three years to prepare for this tournament. Since he took over, he’s played over 60 different players so he knows which players fit his style. You could say we play more like a club than an international team.

We’re currently unbeaten in 32 games, this is the longest unbeaten run we’ve ever had. Before this run, it was held by Vittorio Pozzo, a man who won two World Cups and an Olympic gold medal as coach. But as he’s said himself, these types of records are great, but if there isn’t a trophy to show for it, has it been worth it?

To reach the final of this summer’s competition, Italy needs to get past Spain in the Semi Finals before they face England or Denmark in the Final. Both games will be played at Wembley. What challenges do you think Spain will bring in the upcoming week, who would you rather face in the final and are you confident?

Spain’s a weird team to understand. In parts they look really good and then in others they look dreadful. I think they’re better than what some are saying but they’re not what Spain used to be. This doesn’t mean the match is a foregone conclusion. It’s pretty easy to get ahead of yourself in tournament football, but in all honesty, I can’t see anything but an Italy – England final which sends shivers down my spine.

Denmark in the final would be more ideal but they aren’t any pushovers themselves. The amount of strength in the squad and staff to be able to battle on after seeing a teammate dead for a few minutes are incredible. It would’ve been understandable if they had pulled out of the Euros after that, but it seems they’ve become even more united, it’s amazing to see. For that alone you could say they deserve to win it.

I hate to tempt fate, but if it is an England – Italy final, it has the makings of a great final. – It being at Wembley with mostly England fans in the ground is an obvious worry. But I would say that Italian players won’t be easily affected by an intimidating atmosphere

What is the current state of Italy, away from football and sport in general? Following on from that, how does football galvanise Italians?

If you thought British politics was a nonstop roller coaster, just have a look at Italian politics. It’s crazier than here! Since 1945, Italy has had 66 different governments which is crazy when you compare it to the UK which have only had 16.

I think unfortunately for the UK, most European countries have taken note of our handling of COVID and made sure they haven’t turned out like us. For the fact it was one of the first European countries to suffer, they’ve done quite well to bounce back. But saying that, in February, a new Prime Minister was appointed so who knows how they feel.

Like here, Italy’s run in the Euros has really given the country something to shout about in a gloomy time. I’ve kept up to date with my family and all of them are enjoying this run as much as I am.

How would you describe the current Italian footballing system on a domestic level, between the different leagues and the news of the Super League etc? What are the current challenges that football faces in Italy and does anything need to be done to improve the game in your country?

Currently, I don’t think Italian football is in a great state. The stadiums aren’t great and as most are owned by their local council, it’s harder for repairs to be done. Just look at what’s happening to the San Siro at the moment.

Teams going out of business or in debt is still a common occurrence not just for small teams, but for big teams as well. It was reported that Inter Milan, current Serie A champions, were in talks over borrowing €275 million to get the club through their current financial difficulties.

Like most places in Europe, racism in football is rife. I’m sure everyone remembers Moise Kean celebrating in front of Cagliari ultras who had been racially abusing him all game. Unfortunately, scenes like this aren’t one offs. I hope the problem stops soon, but I doubt it as the inequality in Italy is horrifying.

Like everywhere else, the reaction to the European Super League was negative, especially from the fans of Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus. But it seems that the chairman of Juventus, Andrea Agnelli, isn’t taking no for an answer and is still finding ways to make the Super League happen.

‘An absolute revelation’.

‘The Big Step’ combating a life changing societal issue.

‘The big step’ tackling the unhealthy and life damaging societal issue which is sports gambling.

As a football fan I’m interested in a lot of subjects that surround the game, not merely just what happens on the pitch. I’m interested in the histories of different teams and stadiums, the kit’s and their creators and broadcasting is something that interests me also. The list is ultimately endless. However, I’m also interested in the way in which the sport makes people behave and act as supporters have, arguably rightly so, been challenged for the way in which they react and act when something that they love is considered. These attitudes can be seen in acts of hooliganism but it can also be seen in gambling as even those who you wouldn’t believe would develop related problems .. can. Thus, I wanted to talk to an organization with a clear message for the present and the future. A message which is being taken on by more and more sports clubs on a day-to-day basis. A message which has, is and always will be greatly significant.

Content and communications support member Tom Fleming took time out of his day to answer the various questions that I placed towards him.

Who first came up with the idea to create ‘the big step’ and why did they believe that this was important? Did they think that it would have a great impact on the lives of people across the country or is the group’s ambition regionalised? When was the group created and what was its first interaction with others?

James Grimes founded the Big Step back in 2019. He came up with the idea of fundraising walks to football clubs with gambling sponsors to raise awareness about gambling addiction and gambling harm, and to highlight the role that football plays in facilitating addiction. The first walk in 2019 attracted a handful of people, most of whom were recovery addicts themselves. 

Later in 2019, James partnered with Gambling with Lives, a charity set up by bereaved family members who have lost their son to gambling-related suicide. GwL have been instrumental in establishing the link between gambling and suicide – there are between 250 and 650 gambling-related suicides in the UK alone each year. 

Since then, there have been 4 more walks, with each growing in size and scope. We held a remote walk in March, where people could join in from their local area due to COVID and contribute steps. Over 300 people joined in on this walk, including people with no direct experience of gambling harm or addiction, and collectively walked over 1,000 miles.

In June, we organised a walk from Scotland to Wembley, which attracted a lot of media attention – we walked 300 miles in 10 days! Alongside this, we encouraged people to join in remotely from around the country. Remote walks contributed over 3,000 miles this time – well over 11 million steps!

We have a community of people up and down the country who are engaged on Twitter, which is growing all the time, and pushing for reform in gambling. This includes both individuals and other organisations.

What methods of advertising do the group do to branch their message out and how many people have been helped thus far?

As we are a small charity with limited resources, we don’t offer direct support or treatment for gambling addiction. Gambling with Lives do offer support for bereaved families who have lost loved ones to gambling-related suicide, as they are well placed to provide this. They currently support around 20 families. 

Of course we can point people to different services for addiction, but our main aim is to affect and influence legislation, which we do via campaigning. Our belief is that if we can do this, there will be less people struggling with addiction, so we look to prevent rather than react – if that makes sense. 

Our main communication methods are mainly social media, but we also spend time reaching out and contacting journalists, especially before one of our walks as they tend to garner quite a lot of interest, both locally and nationally. 

I’ve seen across social media platforms that ‘the big step’ complete and undertake many different fundraising charity walks to raise awareness of gambling. How do these ideas come around and what are the main reasons behind the different walks and activities? How important do you believe an active mindset is when it comes to combating unhealthy addictions and obsessions and have you had any success through putting on these events etc?

Some of my answers to question one will be relevant here, but broadly, although we think that walking is positive activity, it’s not a substitute for treatment, and people struggling with addiction should always seek treatment. That being said, the walks can often serve a therapeutic purpose – they can be long and gruelling, so you need a cause to sustain your effort. It’s also therapeutic to walk with people that have similar experiences to you with gambling, and it’s a space where you can talk freely and you know you won’t be judged and that others will understand your struggles better than most. 

If you could give me a story or an example of a life that you have managed to change around or a case in which you have helped out in any such manner, could you? Say if someone wanted to join ‘the big step’ to change their relationship with gambling, how would they go about doing that and how would you address their case? 

Refer to question 2 for this one, as we don’t offer professional support. However, people have got in touch with us via Twitter, and we’ve been able to use our experience of gambling harm to provide peer support, which includes things like providing informal support, pointing people in the direction of services like GamStop – an online tool that blocks access to all gambling sites – or toward a service like Gamblers Anonymous or an NHS-led treatment. Twitter is often where people reach out to the community. There are between 430,000 and 1.2 million people addicted to gambling currently in the UK.

Do you believe that football clubs and the wider community could do more to shape the perspective of gambling and what club/sport is currently the best at combating social issues such as gambling? Do you believe that neutral’s perspective of a club changes if they are successful off the pitch in addressing issues that have a negative impact on lives?

Absolutely. 

Football needs to do much more and is complicit in allowing gambling to flourish. Current legislation allows gambling companies to sponsor football, but football clubs also have a choice in whether or not they decide to accept money to promote a dangerous product. We understand that money is important to clubs. However, when you weigh up the harm that gambling causes vs the money it brings in, we believe that it’s a no brainer. Clubs can find alternative sponsors too, ones that reflect the club’s values and are not just all about exploiting people to make money. Gambling can ruin lives, but we do not believe it should be banned, but we do believe that it has no place in football.

Clubs like Forest Green Rovers and Edinburgh City FC have recently publicly supported our campaign, and refused gambling sponsorship money. I would say that this has definitely shown them in a more positive light than clubs who just take gambling sponsorship money with no regard to the harm that the industry causes to fans.

This is a slightly different question to one that I have asked before and one that you may have not had to think of before but can you see the positives and enjoyment within gambling and if so, why do you think it goes on to have a negative impact on lives?

We’re aware that many people enjoy gambling, and to reiterate, we do not want to ban gambling. We’re not anti-gambling, we are anti-gambling harm. To achieve this, we are calling for proper regulation, much like with alcohol and cigarettes.

It’s important to realise that gambling isn’t a single homogenous activity: there are lots of different products, with different risks. A story we hear all too often is of people beginning gambling on football, as the marketing and advertising has merged the two products together, then getting cross sold addictive products by the industry, like online casino games – essentially an algorithm that will always win. These most dangerous products are available 24/7 online, with no stake limits. Products such as these carry addiction rates of up to 50%, much more than betting on a horse race or the outcome of a football match (not in-play).

It’s also important to realise that the gambling industry actively relies on addiction. They make around £14 billion profit in the UK each year, and of that profit, between 60 and 80% comes from just 5% of gamblers. Addiction is integral to their business model, which is why they are so resistant to regulation.

Have you had the support of many others since the group’s creation, such as well-known footballers etc who have told others about yourselves and how do you think your work has been viewed by the greater community, awards and suchlike?

Our campaign has been endorsed and supported by several MPs including Dawn Butler, Zarah Sultana, Ronnie Cowan, Margaret Ferrier, Carolyn Harris, Paul Blomfield. Peter Shilton, who holds the record for most appearances for England, has supported and shared details of our campaign. Our petition to end gambling ads and sponsorship in football was signed by Gary Lineker. 

Going forwards, what are your hopes for the social issues of gambling and the group’s collective ambitions?

We are campaigning for a public-health focussed approach to be taken to gambling, much like we see now with smoking. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, smoking was advertised and marketed, and tobacco companies used to sponsor sports like F1 and snooker. However, that was banned in 2005. People can still smoke if they want – I’m sure you know where to buy a packet of cigarettes from, but I’m also sure you won’t have seen a cigarette advert in years. To protect future generations and reduce gambling harm, we want to return to a time when gambling was tolerated, but not actively promoted.

You can find ‘The Big Step’ on various social media platforms and areas, their twitter handle being @the_bigstep. Check out the great work that they do, if nothing else!

Will Roscoe talks England.

Will Roscoe talks about England.

On Tuesday evening England progressed to the Quarters of the European Championships as they beat Germany at a knockout stage of a tournament for the first time since becoming World Champions in 1966. Gareth Southgate’s men will go on to face Ukraine at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Saturday night. Thus, I thought now was a perfect time to speak to someone who I know has had many great experiences as an England supporter about a range of differing subjects including his thoughts and feelings on the man that is currently leading England on their travels across the globe. 

Tranmere and England supporter Will Roscoe spoke to ‘www.EthanHoijord.com on Thursday afternoon.

How long has your love for the England national team been there and what are your great earliest memories? What is it about watching England that you love above everything else?

From as early as I can remember, England games in our family were always a family occasion. We would gather round the TV and watch the Three Lions. My mum would always decorate the outside of the house for every major tournament, a tradition she still does today at the age of 81. My earliest memory was Italia ‘90. I cried just as much as gazza that night. The most vivid tournament would have been USA ‘94 which England didn’t qualify for and the Euro ‘96.

When was your first England game and how long have you been following them on a regular basis? What are your greatest and worst experiences of watching the national team?

My first game was at the Euro’s in Portugal. Me and four other lads at the age of 21 packed our bags, grabbed our tents and booked the obligatory cheap Ryanair flight to Lisbon one way. We were youthful and full of energy and without a care in the world. It was also the tournament that a certain Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene. We didn’t have any tickets for the group games so we just followed them around the country and watched in fan parks. We managed to get tickets for the round of 16 against the hosts Portugal. Despite losing on penalties and that “ronaldo incident ” from that night on I was sold. This was me. 

International football means that you’ve had to travel across the globe to go to games. Where are the best places and football experiences that you’ve tasted and how does a World Cup differ, in terms of experience and novelty, to the Euros? 

I’ve only missed four away games since 2006. The best aways are ones where you would never normally go. Israel, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia etc. My favourite European city is Ljubljana, Slovenia, as for tournaments the best one was South Africa 2010. I’m not normally one for being a tourist but we saw some lovely places including Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.  We went to Pretoria and Johannesburg also.  Cape Town is most definitely the best city I’ve been to in the world and I’d definitely go back for a holiday.  There’s not much difference between the Euros and the World Cup. The majority of world powerhouses come from Europe, besides the likes of Brazil and Argentina, thus I’d say it’s just as hard to either.

Since you’ve been following England regularly, if you had to come up with a best and worst 5-a-side with a manager to manage them .. who would make your best and worst teams?  

Best 5 a side: David Seaman, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Gazza, Brian Robson and Shearer. They’d be managed by Gareth Southgate. 

Worst 5 a side: Rob Green, Wes Brown, Danny Mills, Nigel Reo Coker and David Nugent. The manager? Steve McClaren 

This summer, England have managed to get to the Quarters where they will play Ukraine in Rome on a Saturday night. How well do you think that manager Gareth Southgate has done? What has he done better than other managers or do you think that these successes are solely down to having a great team? 

Gareth Southgate gets a lot of criticism for his tactics, team selection etc but the one thing that stands out for me is the way he blocks the actual football from the outside noise, media, pundits , general public etc. He has his own beliefs and he sticks to them. The criticism he gets for me is beyond a joke. Nations League semi finalist, World Cup semi finalists, currently in the quarter finals of the euros and the way he has connected the nation with the team over the last four years is unbelievable.  I’ve never felt so close or connected with an England manager and team in the 30 years I’ve been following.  

Everyone has been shouting for Jack Grealish to start each and every game this summer as he is certainly one of our best players. Touching on the previous 5-a-side theme though, who would make yours from the current team and how do you think we would fare to other nations in a court game, are we as technical or as strong as other nations on the pitch at the moment? 

Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire, Kalvin Philips, Phil Foden, Harry Kane. Jack Grealish, for me, is a good player and is only going to get better but as previously stated Gareth is his own man and used him a lot less than people have been calling for and this may be part of the masterplan. The team wore down the Germans on Tuesday then he unleashed Jack just at the right time and well the rest as they say is history.  

The other side of the tournament draw is looking very tricky at the moment. If England do reach the finals they will face one of Italy, Spain, Belgium or Switzerland at Wembley. Who would you rather come up against on the greatest stage?

I don’t allow myself to even think about potential final opponents. It’s a question that managers and players bat away time after time. The old cliche one game at a time mentality but that’s how it’s got to be. There is no such thing as an easy game at this level and certainly at this stage in a tournament so we underestimate the Ukrainians at our peril. However, to answer your question without my manager’s head on, probably Spain out of the three. Italians look like a well oiled machine and Belgium aren’t world number ones for nothing. Any team with Kevin De Bruyne in is always hard to beat. 

England is currently a relatively frustrated country, given the Brexit scenario and the many differing opinions on different societal issues and this is something Southgate has commented on various occasions. How would you describe the national team’s role in combating some of these frustrations and how does the country differ from its being under different national team managers such as Capello etc?

This tournament is just what the country has needed especially with it basically being a home tournament. Tuesday night especially has galvanised the country and it’s a two way street. The players and manager said as much. They’ve missed that atmosphere and the feeling of winning a big game with a crowd and a nation backing them just as much as us and that’s what I mean about a special connection that I’ve never felt before with the England team. When they speak they sound like a fan in the pub.

They are as desperate to succeed as we are. I never had an issue with the foreign managers getting the England job. I quite liked Sven even though he never quite cracked it. At the time we appointed Capello I wasn’t against that either. A serial winner who takes no messing but the football ultimately turned out to be boring and the noises inside the camp was there was a lack of understanding translation wise and the rigid discipline approach ultimately failed. Especially in S.A 2010 when the players said they felt like they were in jail. Roy Hodgson was and is a nice guy but I think he was still paying for the previous regime’s faults and found it hard to motivate players like Rooney, Gerrard etc who had ultimately been worn down. Southgate openly admits he changed the whole ethos and setup: connecting with fans, putting the responsibility back onto the players and treating them like grown men not sporting puppets. Despite two semi finals and a current quarter final I’d say reconnecting the nation with this great team is his biggest achievement.  

How do you see the current system of football clubs in the country, given that there were some top flight clubs in the proposed European Super League. What do you think needs to be done, if anything, to create a fairer and more respected game across the nation?

I think enough water has gone under the bridge regarding the Super League and enough has been said on that. Fans unite when they need to and that’s exactly what happened. Clubs at all levels are businesses but no more so than at the top end I get that, what they don’t and didn’t get is the power of the people they see as customers. They are supporters not customers. If we and they have learned one thing from all of this is that fans have a bigger impact on the game than they actually think. When you hear managers and players say that the crowd are the 12th man and help to drive us on, I’ve always been like ‘we are not though are we?’ You should be able to perform in front of 1 person or 90 thousand. But what I’ve seen since being back in the ground is that it’s 100% true. How can you really play with passion and determination when the grounds are empty. I now get it. They feed us and we feed them. So hopefully now these owners of the so called big six and twelve have realised that they shouldn’t be biting the hand that feeds them.

Will enjoying a pint before an England game at the Russian World Cup of 2018!

‘Meeting the opposition’ – Rangers F.C

‘Meeting the opposition’ – Rangers F.C

It was announced recently that Micky Mellon’s first game back in the Prenton Park Home dugout would be against Rangers on the 10th July, after two solid weeks of Pre-season training. It doesn’t seem like too long ago that the Whites were knocked out of the play-offs by Derek Adams Morecambe but a lot has happened since. I had the pleasure of talking to Rangers supporter Graeme McMillan, @graememcmillan, on what has happened at the home of the Scottish Champions this summer for the first Meeting The Opposition of the new campaign!

How long have you been a Rangers supporter and how did you first come across the club?

I’ve been a supporter since birth, which is just over 31 years. My Dad followed the team and so did his Dad so it’s part of our family. I went to my first match when I was six years old, and got my first season ticket when I was 14. I started following home and away later that season and went abroad for the first time when I was 17.

There is a certain particular moment that many will be familiar with that you may want to mention whilst answering this question, the club’s gigantic financial troubles which saw them playing in the Scottish Fourth Division. However, what are your best and worst moments as a fan?

When I think of best moments I will mention two. My best overall moment so far was winning last year’s league title. It was disappointing not to be able to follow the team last year and go to the matches but the significance of the title makes it the best moment. It was our first major honour for ten years and during that ten years there were many, many dark days where I thought we might never win a league or a cup again so to win the league in the way we did last season was something every Rangers fan will never forget. The scenes on both the weekend we won the league and the day we were presented with the trophy will live long in the memory.

My best moment as a fan while attending a match was probably the UEFA Cup semi final in 2008. We drew 0-0 at Ibrox with Fiorentina then drew 0-0 again in Florence and won 4-2 on penalties. The euphoria in that away end in Italy that night when Nacho Novo scored the winning penalty is something that will be hard to beat.

As you alluded to in your question, the worst moment was going into administration then liquidation. The months from February to late July in 2012 were horrendous, with so much uncertainty surrounding the situation that the fans preferred bidders for the club kept being blocked by the administrators and we ended up with a cowboy in Charles Green. There were many, many bad moments on the pitch as well from 2012 to present, the worst probably being a 5-0 defeat to Celtic at their place which confirmed them as champions for the 7th time in a row. That day we were so far off them, it felt like we would never beat them again. For us, us being the board, management and fans as a collective, to turn that around and be invincible champions in the space of three years is quite remarkable to be honest. Obviously the management team deserve most credit, but the board who put him there and backed him and the fans who bought and sold out season tickets in their thousands deserve credit also.

Random fact about the Bears? (Something that I’d like to know is why you’re called the Bears but I’m sure there’s a better random fact somewhere!)

I believe the Bears comes from rhyming slang. The Rangers, the gers, the teddy bears. Would be happy to be proved wrong if that’s not correct!

A good random fact is that when we won the European cup winners cup in 1972, our only European trophy, we actually got ‘knocked out’ on the way to winning it. We played Sporting Lisbon and both ties finished 3-2 so the second leg went to extra time. We were away for the second leg and AET the game finished 4-3 but the referee wasn’t aware of the newly introduced away goal rule and took the game to penalty kicks where Sporting were successful. It wasn’t until the players were in the changing room after the game and a member of the Scottish press entered the changing room to tell manager Willie Waddell that Rangers should be through, that they realised the penalty kicks should be void!

Going into this upcoming campaign, considering the successes experienced in the last, what are your current expectations and how do they compare to last summer’s?

Last summer we went into the season with hope rather than expectation but this summer I’d imagine 99% or more of our supporters will expect to win the league again. We have a settled squad and have progressed every year under Gerrard so hopefully with a few more additions we can kick on and have another great season domestically. We have yet to win a domestic cup competition under Gerrard so I’d say it’s fair to expect at least one cup as well. On the European front it would be unbelievable to qualify for the Champions League but as long as we get into the Europa league group stages that would be OK. We will have two tough ties to get to the Champions League but Gerrard’s record in Europe has been superb so I wouldn’t put it past us making the group stage and that would be considered a massive success.

Liverpool legend and scouser Steven Gerrard is the manager at Ibrox and has been since 2018, he’s a young and emerging manager but his qualities have shone in Glasgow thus far. What are your thoughts on him and has he played a significant role in turning around the feelings and hopes surrounding the club? Where does Gerrard rank in terms of your favourite Rangers managers?

I have already mentioned him a few times and that is because he has had an unbelievable impact since coming to the club. He is now a Rangers legend after delivering the league title last year. My own thoughts on him probably couldn’t be higher. He is a young, energetic, vibrant manager backed up by superb coaches and as a management team they have got us competing at the highest level in Europe and just guided us through a 38 game league season unbeaten. They have all played a major part in turning round the fortunes of the club and as a fan base we honestly cannot thank them enough. 

In terms of ranking, I’d say he’s second only to Walter Smith who had two very successful spells as manager in the 90s then most recently 2007-2011. If he continues to be successful though he may well overtake Sir Walter.

Who are the owners of Rangers and what are your thoughts on them?

We are backed by wealthy businessmen – we don’t have one outright owner, it’s several different wealthy businessmen who are also fans who own the majority of our shares. Through our rise back to the top division they put their hand in their own pocket and continued to fund the club when there were gaps in finance. We aren’t quite there yet in terms of being self-sufficient and the guys are continuing to make up the shortfall so as well as the manager and coaching staff, the fans are very very grateful to the current board because if it wasn’t for them then who knows where we would be – certainly not in the position of strength that we find ourselves in this summer anyway!

Although they may not play given that this is a friendly in which there is a difference of qualities coming up against each other, who are your danger men and potential one’s to watch? How do you think the management team will approach this game?

This will be our second game of pre-season so I would imagine we might use a full pool of 22 players with 11 playing a half each. The ones to watch who will hopefully feature are Ryan Kent, who we signed from Liverpool for £7 million two years ago. Ianis Hagi (Son of famous Georghe Hagi) is also technically an excellent player, and Joe Aribo is also very gifted – we signed him from Charlton Athletic two years ago. New signing Fashion Sikala may also feature in the forward areas. Our most used striker is Alfredo Morelos but he probably won’t feature as he has been at the Copa America with Columbia recently.

Rangers and Tranmere have never faced each other before. However, the Scottish champions faced Shelbourne at Prenton Park in the 1990’s. Do you have any memories of that game and what are your opinions of the Whites?

I was only 8 when the game was played. I remember watching it on Eurosport and don’t think I realised at the time how much a shock it would’ve been if Shelbourne had beaten us but the team managed to turn it around.

I don’t have a massive opinion of Tranmere but they first came to my attention when they had a cup run round about the year 2000.

From a personal perspective, one of a Scottish football fan, how big do you believe the difference is between the SPL and the lower ebbs of the EFL, Leagues One and Two and what makes the SPL special to you, if there is anything in particular that does?

I think apart from ourselves and Celtic there won’t be much between league 1, 2 and most of the SPFL Premiership. Possibly Hibs and Aberdeen would maybe be too strong for most teams in league 1 and league 2 but in the main I’d say the two leagues aren’t that far apart in terms of quality.

There is absolutely nothing that makes the SPFL special to me apart from winning it! For a county our size to have 42 professional clubs is far too many, and they are currently discussing increasing that which I find farcical. Each league plays each team a minimum of three times and if you draw a team in the cup or even both cups, you can end up playing the same team 6 or 7 times a season which becomes boring. Unfortunately, the TV deal is dependent on 4 Rangers Celtic games, and the smaller clubs also rely on several home matches against the big teams to stay competitive therefore I don’t see the format changing anytime soon.

In terms of standard I think it’s a decent league that maybe gets downplayed down South. Many players have said don’t knock it till you try it after coming up here and being surprised at the standard.

‘I was only 8 when the game was played, I remember watching it on EuroSport. The team managed to turn what would’ve been a shock result around’.

The rebuild continues as training starts at the Campus!

Training has started at the Campus!

Following a few weeks rest after a frustrating and exhausting 2020-21 campaign, the pitches at Solar Campus have finally been put to good use as new, ‘old’ and emerging Tranmere talents lace their boots for their first training session as they were overlooked by a man who holds the trust and love of many a Tranmere fan.

It wasn’t just Solar Campus that held activity as there came some more news over the club’s respective social media channels, Rovers would capture the services of striker Emmanuel Dieseruvwe from Salford City on a one-year-contract and, to the delightment of many, four academy youngsters, who are what I described as emerging talents, put pen to paper as they extended their contracts on Merseyside. Those young but raring stars are: Ben Jones, Kyle Hayde, Jake Burton and Ryan Stratullis who is by no doubt making Mark Palios smile with a surname like that. 

As there always are, there have been some worrying words said about new recruit Mani. Wikipedia is some people’s best form of gathering what a player is like when they sign at lower league level, I used to fall into this trap but have since become accustomed to hearing what those who know the man best have to say instead of looking at shady stats and it’s fair to say that there is an element of excitement after some glowing reports. Unlike what we did when club servant Liam Ridehalgh made the move back to Yorkshire as he donned a Bradford City shirt following eight years of service, the Moor Lane outfit put a YouTube goals compilation of what he had offered in a Red’s shirt as the 26-year-old provided a source of goals for their rise to the Football League where they would eventually go on to win the Papa John’s Trophy. 

Dieseruvwe is tall, he appears to have a strong physique and I believe that, if used correctly, he will be a success. Thus, that’s another name I can add on to the men who I’m happy that the Palios’ have been able to bring to Merseyside this summer. We need talent and Mellon needs players that he understands will give their all as he undergoes a rebuild of what was a failing, not blazing, squad. There is a mighty task on the Scotsman’s hands.

The above has been addressed by recruiting the services of promising and experienced qualities, a list which is yet to be completed. Ahead of the upcoming Football League season, a back line has been sorted out and there is no more space at the inn for a keeper. The back line: Cogley, KnightPercival, Clarke and MacDonald. I can’t wait to see the strengths of a Nathaniel KnightPercival and Peter Clarke combination, the two alongside them will provide pace on either flanks. 

Like I say and like I will keep saying, there is still so much to do before a ball can be kicked and a chant can be heard from the Kop, or any other stand in the next couple of weeks as the 7th of August draws closer. The first friendly of the summer has been announced today and it will be Steven Gerrard’s SPL table toppers on the 10th July at Prenton Park. However, just a few photos of our coaching staff for next season undertaking their roles at the pristine training ground on a refreshing summer’s day topped off with a signing was enough for me to say that I’m excited regardless for what the next year will hold.

Up the whites x