The dismissal of Keith Hill and what key attributes must a Tranmere manager have to be successful in their role?
In the past week, Tranmere Rovers have dismissed Keith Hill of his duties ‘despite’ reaching the play offs and the final of the Papa John’s Trophy – where they would lose 1-0 to League One promotion fighters Sunderland. This has sparked, some, controversy as we are in an era that is deemed too harsh on managers. In my opinion, that is probably the right judgement. I’ll use Antonio Conte’s dismissal from Chelsea and plenty of Salford City sackings as examples. However, I thought it was important to delve into the reasons for why Hill was dumped ahead of a playoff semi final against Morecambe. I also wanted to talk about what makes a ‘perfect’ Rovers gaffer, in my eyes, as the Palios’ embark on their journey to making their SIXTH hot-seat appointment since they took over in 2014.
From an outsider’s perspective, those who don’t follow the Whites too closely, Hill being sacked may make no sense. Tranmere were ‘struggling’ when he took over, they got into their first Trophy final since 2000 and finished in the playoffs. However, if you ask the majority of the club’s fan base they will say that they are now more excited than they have been in ages that he has gone. That is because they have had the tough task of living through the past two months, watching dire performances on iFollow whilst watching a heavy defeat away to Cheltenham on Sky Sports. There were even supporters who were contemplating how successful a promotion would’ve been with him at the helm, if a miracle did happen, because that would mean the Mancunian boss would have kept his role. That was how bad it had gotten.
From the start, there were skeptics. Although this was greeted with an impassioned response by the club’s co-owner, Nicola Palios, who stated that she was ‘sickened by some of the comments and was going to sign off Twitter’. I don’t think that this is a campaign that she should be too proud about as some of the comments made have really puzzled the loyal Rovers faithful but considering what her and her husband Mark have done on the whole, I’ll let it slide. There were skeptics because Keith had an affiliation with Bolton, his previous club. There were skeptics because of what they had heard about him from Wanderers fans, there were plenty who said that he didn’t do a great job of building a relationship with supporters and there were skeptics because of the way he looked .. it had gotten that silly in some aspects. However, I was one of those who were happy and excited about what was to come. He had always got into the playoffs when guiding a League Two team, which was described by Nicola Palios as ‘success’ and he could provide managerial experience to those who seemed to need it in the form of Ian Dawes and Andy Parkinson .. the men who were the interims that steered Prenton Park into a place of optimism following a run of fighting wins and displays of sheer quality, beating Port Vale away 4-3 and Grimsby at home 5-0.
The appointment followed that Grimsby game, on 21st November 2020 and the first few months weren’t too bad on the whole. In the FA Cup, we got past Accrington Stanley and Brackley Town before getting knocked out in the 3rd round against Barnsley. However, that defeat in South Yorkshire showed what we were capable of as it finished in a narrow manner .. 2-0. The Tykes eventually finished in the Championship Play Offs. In the Trophy, the ‘Super Whites’ beat so many teams who were expected to go through. You think of the likes of Peterborough United and Oxford United, who Rovers beat 2-1 and 2-0 respectively and ultimately it was much better than the short run of results throughout Mike Jackson’s time in the hot-seat following on from Micky Mellon’s move to the Scottish Premier League.
In League Two, between 19th January and 2nd March, Rovers won eight out of ten games including victories against Forest Green Rovers, Harrogate Town, Carlisle United and Leyton Orient where three goals were scored by Hill’s men in all. Also, he had beaten Bolton twice relatively comfortably.
So, where has it all gone wrong and are fans expecting too much from their team and whoever is in charge of them considering the high turnover of managers? In my opinion, Hill lost the fanbase after a great performance at Sunderland as what followed showed that he had failed in his role of galvanising a squad and guiding them to where they needed to be considering the level of quality it held. His comments throughout meetings with the press also showed that what previous fan bases had said about him was probably true. He divided the fanbase and the club itself as he used rhetorical questions such as ‘how fickle is that?’ whilst constantly bringing up his family and his relationship with his wife, which had no reflection to what was being shown on the pitch. After plenty of dire performances, we probably aren’t going to care that you ‘didn’t force my wife to marry me’.
He seemed to hold a grudge with club managerial legends such as Micky Mellon, who guided the club from the National League to League One as he stated ‘the club got relegated last season because of how many games they had lost, not because of PPG’ amongst other quotations and the final straw was when he threw his players ‘under the bus’ following a ‘congratulations for reaching the playoffs’ from the interview’s host. Although most of the players had let themselves down, I’ll name the likes of Liam Feeney and Peter Clarke who have both seemed to drop their standards of late, saying that ‘it has been difficult to get the squad of players over the line, it has been hard to manage them’. The relationship with fans had been fractured, all good work from the owners seemed to be dwindling as they seemed to hold blind faith and a level of stubbornness to not do what the fans wanted and Rovers had gone from fighting for an automatic position to clinging on to seventh. It wasn’t good enough and that was of course reflected in awful and boring performances every matchday between mid march to may. Thus, to anyone that doesn’t understand why the dismissal finally came, I have to challenge them to either experience what it is like to have their club being managed by the man himself or to try and watch any Rovers game in the past two months. The final day of the season and 2nd April 2021, both ring a bell.
I, amongst the rest of the fanbase, have now grown in confidence ahead of the playoffs following Tuesday morning’s news. Ian Dawes and Andy Parkinson know how to direct the style of play that fans, of any club, want to see and ultimately the squad holds the standard of players to perform in this manner. You take away James Vaughan, you then have to get the best out of David Nugent and Kaiyne Woolery. You can’t manage them, you have to consider the likes of Keiron Morris and Corey Blackett-Taylor. Why not try Charlie Jolley and Danny Lloyd? There’s more, the list is ultimately endless and it is about time that we have men in charge who can get the best out of their squad. A squad that seems to hold so many professionals with strong mentalities, you look at the backline and there lies the likes of Jay Spearing and Peter Clarke.
I was ecstatic when the news broke, I had just woken up so that bowl of cornflakes that I poured was the happiest of bowls that I have poured in a while. However, if we look past the upcoming week and the next, possibly three, games we have entered a period of further speculation and rumours. McGreal, Challinor, Barton, Adams and Dawes are just some of the names mentioned .. who may be the sixth appointment?
This is what I’d like, not who.
For me, there is a Tranmere way. There is a Tranmere tradition and a way that I want to see us play. An attitude that I believe should always be held, an attitude instilled by the likes of Johnny King and Micky Mellon. An attitude instilled and upheld in games that have seen Rovers beat the likes of Everton and Southampton in famous FA Cup games and an attitude that shone throughout the course of 12th May 2018. Those who know, know and however distant you think a tradition is for a lower league club that have won no major honours is .. if you ask fans what they want to see rather than who .. they’d probably reply with someone like Micky Mellon.
A manager that plays on the front foot, whenever possible, a manager who knows what it takes to win and a manager with great man-management skills with everyone involved in the club. We know that we aren’t going to win every game but a quote that whoever comes next needs to adopt is an iconic one used by Mellon. ‘We’re Tranmere Rovers, we’re here to win and not just take part’.
Thus, when considering the next appointment I want someone who wants to be here just as much as we want them.
I’ll be keeping you updated with more stories, information and features about the club throughout the course of the summer and beyond. There are some really interesting times ahead.