Tranmere Rovers and Bolton Wanderers – a history of rivalry sparked between John Aldridge and Sam Allardyce.

When you think of the great football rivalries, you tend to think of: United v City, Everton v Liverpool, Rangers v Celtic. There are plenty of clubs that don’t like one another, yet there are a lot more clubs who’s rivalry with another isn’t greatly known about. For example, Tranmere Rovers v Bolton Wanderers.

Tranmere and Bolton don’t have much in comparison. Bolton has tended to be the more attractive club, well in terms of league positions that is. They competed in Europe a little over a decade ago, getting to the last sixteen of the UEFA Cup in 2008. However, the rivalry between the Whites and the Trotters started many years previous.

The 1991 third division play-off final could be seen as the game that sparked a rivalry between two Merseyside and Greater Manchester clubs, the two cities not liking each other too much. Even though Tranmere isn’t in Liverpool, the two areas have some similarities. If you aren’t willing to admit that, it adds to the view that this rivalry really is peculiar. 

Anyway, in 1991 there was a playoff final played at Wembley Stadium between John King’s Whites and Phil Neal’s Wanderers. This match was very closely contested. In fact, the game would go to extra time for an additional thirty minutes of playtime. Chris Malkin scored the goal that would promote Tranmere to the second division. Those were the club’s glory years.

The Tranmere team was accused of celebrating too much by the Greater Manchester club, the celebrations were understandable from a neutral or even a Rovers fan’s point of view. There was too much on the line that day as King had built a fantastic squad and a ‘trip to the moon’ soon followed. The Rovers faithful were ecstatic and for good reason too.

Skip forward nine years, the two clubs met again. This time around, John Aldridge had replaced John King and Phil Neal had been replaced by Sam Allardyce. To this day, Allardyce is a man that is despised by many of the Rovers’ faithful… I don’t think that Aldridge is held too highly in the thoughts of Bolton’s fans either. This is why …

In 2000, the two clubs came head to head in the league cup semi-final. At that time, Dave Challinor played his football at Prenton Park and his throw-ins caused every opposing defence problems. In an attempt to prevent these struggles, Allardyce blocked up gaps in the advertising boards at the ‘Reebok’ stadium. Needless to say, the Whites progressed to the league cup final winning 4-0 on aggregate after two games. This made Aldridge give Allardyce a personal dance, emotions weren’t hidden and emotions of happiness for the home team made the emotions of the visitors ‘sour’.

In the post-match press conference, Allardyce gave his thoughts on his side’s defeat and had a dig at the club that he had been beaten by. ‘Every dog has its day, but you never forget’. 

This certainly wasn’t forgotten … Bolton traveled to Prenton Park the following season for a league encounter. Allardyce remained as the Trotters manager and to show that he had been hurt, refused his player’s the chance of getting changed or showered following a difficult contest in which Bolton won.

On top of this, there has been numerous cases of fan trouble. For example, it has been reported that after the play-off final mentioned above Bolton fans were caught attacking vulnerable Rovers fans including women and children. This is of course ‘cowardly’. However, there have been plenty more occasions like this. I’d prefer to talk about the on-pitch rivalry yet there is a strong sense of resentment between the two sets of fans.

To this day, that isn’t forgotten and the rivalry between the two clubs remains. Despite the club not meeting much, due to Bolton’s successes, the Wanderers recently experienced great financial issues. This meant that they would be relegated, back to back to the fourth division and the rivalry was revisited last season and again in this campaign. 

In the midst of these encounters, Rovers appointed ex-Trotters manager Keith Hill and the reaction due to him supporting the Wanderers wasn’t a great one at all. Hill has only ever had success in the fourth division. However, his name is on Bolton’s relegation last season. I think this was a relegation that was inevitable though, given the lack of fundings available towards a depleted squad. 

Last season, when Bolton struggled to afford the ability to field a strong side they visited Prenton Park and were defeated 5-0. Rovers fans will live in hope that this scoreline can be repeated this upcoming weekend, that will be a great struggle…

I was in the midst of getting fan’s opinions. However, to keep this write-up available for people of all ages to read … I’ve decided not to.

  • Chris Malkin celebrates his goal in the 1991 third division play off final. Rovers would win this game, 1-0 against Bolton, after extra time. A great period of success for the Whites, Johnny King was manager then.  

Thank you very much for reading, 

Stay safe,

Ethan Hoijord

Join the conversation


  1. Great read that let’s hope it’s a great win for tranmere we need it more so does hill

  2. Nice to revisit a few memories of this rivalry.

    A couple of points though:
    The rivalry was pretty strong in the 80s too. A lot of ill feeling was caused by Bolton fans attacking a mini-bus full of Tranmere fans in the mid-80s.

    Phil Neal’s bitterness carried over to the 1st day of the following season, with him moaning that it should have been Bolton playing at Brighton.

    Also, Challinor’s long throws caused Allardyce to block up gaps in the advertising hoardings at the Reebok. The perimeter boards at Prenton Park are brick, so couldn’t be moved.

    The following season, Bolton arrived in their kits on the coach and ran straight onto the pitch. After winning the game, they ran straight back to the coach and went to a hotel to get showered and changed!

    1. Thank you for this, I’ll make some slight changes to what I have already written so people can get the information you gave me.

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