‘Where are they now?’
Barrow 3 Tranmere 4
Saturday 9th January 2016
National League (5th tier).
One of Tranmere’s most memorable games, between 2015 and 2018, was when the Whites travelled to Cumbria to face Barrow A.F.C. Gary Brabin was manager of the club at the time and a win was needed as Rovers searched for promotion. Many had made the journey to witness that league encounter, quite a few left with regrets. The Whites trailed 3-1 in the 90th minute and considering that the supporters had seen little to believe that a positive result was possible, quite a few left to catch the early train or to get on a warm supporters coach and wait for the engine to run. On the pitch, the Merseyside club’s engine began to run. Louis Maynard and Jeff Hughes brought the scoreline level by the 92nd minute. The search for another was sealed by a strike from academy product forward Jake Kirby. ‘Scenes’ …
So, who was involved for Tranmere in that fixture and what ‘bluebird’ faces would soon continue their careers in a positive manner at Prenton Park? This article aims to answer all.
Rovers’ manager at the time was of course, Gary Brabin. This league encounter took place halfway through Brabin’s first season. He would be given more time, even though he failed to guide the Whites to the play-offs in his first campaign. However, this time was cut short as in October 2016 he would be replaced by Micky Mellon. Mellon would guide the Merseyside outfit to back-to-back promotions, both times giving credit to Brabin who he claims ‘put the club into a comfortable position and signed the players to build around’ including James Norwood and Andy Cook. Brabin is now, I believe, assistant manager of Luton Town.
The only squad member to remain at the club is goalkeeper, Scott Davies. The miraculous comeback came in Davies’ first season at the club, after signing from Fleetwood Town. He has since been made Rovers’ captain and throughout his five seasons at the club he has been in net for two promotions and an unfair relegation in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Iain Turner was the keeper on the bench that cold January afternoon, the former Everton shot-stopper signed for the Whites in 2015 and would spend two years at the club before departing to join fellow non-league club Southport. I believe that the 36-year-old can still be found at ‘The Merseyrail community stadium’ as a goalkeeping coach.
Six defenders were named in the squad that would travel to Cumbria. Full-backs Lee Vaughan, Matt Hill and Martin Riley. Centre-halfs Steve Mcnulty, Micheal Ihiekwe and Ritchie Sutton. All of these players were relatively successful at Tranmere, no one was more successful at the club than Steve Mcnulty. The liverpool-born veteran defender was signed on loan in 2015, being named captain for Tranmere’s promotion season to the football league in 2017/2018 after signing a permanent deal. He spent another year at the club, Micky Mellon being manager and although the 37-year-old would struggle with injuries and a lack of match fitness, a pivotal part for the club’s promotion to league one was played by him. McNulty can now be seen at Witton Albion.
Lee Vaughan – 32 years old – Currently at AFC Telford.
Matt Hill – 39 years old – Currently at Stafford Rangers.
Martin Riley – 34 years old – Currently at Stourbridge.
Michael Ihiekwe – 28 years old – Currently at Rotherham United.
Ritchie Sutton – 34 years old – Currently at Altrincham.
A wide range of experience and quality was found in the Tranmere team that could be found at Holker Street that day. Lois Maynard, Jeff Hughes, Adam Mekki, Jake Kirby, Steve Jennings, Jay Harris. I believe that the two most successful Rovers players in this period were Jeff Hughes and Jay Harris. The Northern Irish midfielder Hughes joined the club in 2016 and would return home to Larne F.C, after sealing promotion at Wembley in the summer of 2018. Strong tackler Harris joined Rovers a season prior to Hughes, he would leave a year later as well. Harris played a pivotal role in the Whites’ promotion to the football league, he would find himself away from the team more often than not in the season that the club would get promotion to the third tier. The 33-year-old now plays his football at Wrexham, the club that he would leave when he signed for Tranmere.
Lois Maynard – 31 years old – Currently at Stockport County.
Adam Mekki – 28 years old – Currently at Ebbsfleet United.
Jake Kirby – The Rovers academy product is now 26 years old – He announced an early retirement due to his bad experiences with many lengthy injuries, breaking his leg in an FA Trophy game at home to Barrow in 2017. His most recent club was Stockport County.
Steve Jennings – The Rovers academy product is now 36 years old – Across the course of his footballing career he appeared for the Merseyside outfit around 250 times, three different spells at the Whites – His most recent club was Warrington Town, he did feature for Barrow in the 2018/19 season. Jennings is now retired.
Cole Stockton and Ben Tomlinson were the Tranmere forwards that day. Looking back, the team lacked quality up top.
26-year-old Stockton is a Tranmere academy product, signing a professional deal in 2011. He spent six professional years at the Whites, making 97 appearances and scoring 14 goals. However, across these years he had two loan spells at Morecambe which is the club he currently plays for. Mellon would re-sign the club’s academy product in 2018 when there was an evident need for a striker, in the aim of finding the form of when he had linked up brilliantly with Norwood in the later stages of the 16/17 season. However, this form couldn’t be found. One goal in sixteen appearances, according to Wikipedia.
Ben Tomlinson – The 31 year old forward currently plays for Alfreton Town, this season he is on loan at Frickley Athletic. During his time with the Whites he made ten appearances and failed to score, he would spend one year in Merseyside. The year was the 2015/16 season, Brabin’s first as Tranmere manager.
Former Tranmere promotion winner Andy Cook has featured for both clubs.The Bishop Auckland born forward signed on a permanent basis for Barrow in 2011, following two loan spells. He would spend a season at the club, scoring just under 20 goals before signing for Grimsby Town. He would re-sign for the ‘Bluebirds’ in 2014 and would have an amazing two campaigns, scoring 47 in 87 appearances according to Wikipedia. This would please the Tranmere manager at the time, Gary Brabin, who signed the forward to partner James Norwood up top. This is easily the best strike partnership I have seen. He scored 49 times in 85 encounters and would fire Rovers up to the football league. Great times for the Merseyside club. He would resign for the Whites in the winter of 2020, he didn’t play much as James Vaughan excelled and earnt his place in the team alongside Morgan Ferrier.
Thank you very much for reading,
All the very best for the new year,