Throughout the past year and going even further back, the work that Tranmere Rovers’ trust and those volunteering elsewhere have done has been nothing short of exceptional.
Delivering food to those in great need, giving support to those whom a pandemic has brought lonely and relatively vulnerable and ensuring that Prenton Park is as safe as ever for supporters to come back to and cheer on their beloved Whites.
Thus, It’s only right that this has gone noticed in the form of Mark Randles getting nominated for an unsung hero award. I caught up with the man himself to talk about his involvement at Rovers and to see how far back his support of the club goes, plus much more.
Hello Mark, just to start our conversation off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and the time you’ve spent supporting Tranmere. When did you first start following the club, who were your first real Rovers stars and why did you make the decision to join the Trust Board circa 2006?
Hi Ethan, I was born and still live in Birkenhead, about 10 minutes walk to Prenton Park. My dad first brought me to Tranmere in 1967 or ‘68 for the opening of the main stand, I think it was against Northampton. My earliest memories of players I liked were Paul Crossley, Ken Beamish and Clive Allen.
I was approached to join the Trust about 15 years ago, by Ben Harrison. I can’t really remember why, but, I guess I just thought “why not”. So I joined.
Since you have been involved since 2006 you would have worked under the guidance of owners Peter Johnson and Mark/Nicola Palios. Touching on the Palios’, Tranmere’s current owners, how would you say that they’ve done their job of transforming the club in a more positive light?
Mark and Nicola have had a hard job of turning the club’s fortunes around. The first major problem was that the club always seemed to have losses of about £1 million year on year. In the days of Peter Johnson, the club would just turn to him and he would write a cheque to cover the losses. Once Mark and Nicola were on board this was the first thing they had to eliminate. As you can imagine, not an easy task. I think they soon realised that these losses couldn’t be turned around purely on matchday income. Savings had to be made throughout the whole business and money needed to be generated from other sources. This is why they dabbled with concerts, the Riverhill Hotel, etc, etc.
Unfortunately the pandemic and the demotion of the club back to league 2 hasn’t helped and has put the club backwards. I’m sure over the next 12 months or so, we’ll be back to where we should be. Promotion would be a massive boost.
In a quick message to me you stated that your role is Trust Secretary, for anyone that doesn’t know what that entails, what are some of your responsibilities and how important is your role to Tranmere amongst other clubs at this level?
As Trust Secretary, I like to think I’m the linchpin to the other board members. Most queries from Trust members come to me, I then delegate these to the relevant board member, whether it be a membership issue, or community issue. Even dealing with shares and the club. The role of Trust Secretary doesn’t have a direct effect on the club. Although I did represent the Trust for the last three years as an associate director on the club board, mainly to represent the Trust membership. As an associate director you have an insight to the full workings of the club, on a daily basis.
Something quite fun that you have had the opportunity to lead is the Fan park, as you have overseen the running of it for around five years. What has it been like to have this role and mix with fans in a range of good and bad times and what are your thoughts on the very interesting and picturesque new fan zone?
We (the Trust), were approached by the club, in the first season of the National League. At the time we were approached we looked at the fixtures and they weren’t the best, as we thought, for a “grand opening”. So we looked and saw we were going to play Chester in February, so said to the club we’d take it over from then. It was our thought that if we sold decent beers, at decent prices, had early kick off matches on a big screen and had enough staff, so customers could be served as quickly as possible and be served by fans. It worked. From day one we were busy and it took off so much that before long we realised the marquee wasn’t big enough, so we added another 30% to its size. We’ve re-built the bar, then extended it even bigger.
The one big issue we have is noise. We tried to hold a couple of parties, but ended up getting complaints from neighbours over the noise being generated. We therefore made a joint club and trust decision not to hold any events outside of match days. The other issue was that we are basically operating from a “Tent” and it will only have a certain lifespan. We therefore decided we needed a more permanent structure. We have had discussions with the club and architects and have come up with the design for Fan Park 2 (as we call it). As you say, a very exciting prospect. There are still a number of hurdles to get through, one being getting planning approval, but hopefully it won’t be too long, before we get this and we can move on to the construction stage.
Touching on your role through the past year, a year in which you’ve had to hold your role in a time of a global pandemic. What tasks have you completed that you maybe thought you’d never had to do and how would you describe the work that the club has done in the surrounding community and beyond?
I suppose the main thing that has been achieved during the pandemic is the procurement and delivery of the food parcels, to those in need. This has been done by working in conjunction with Tranmere in the Community.
It has been a very strange time. The club was basically mothballed, with most of the staff furloughed, or working shortened hours. As a Trust we carried on although all meetings were held via Zoom. We are now just about getting back to normal and it’s been great to see fans being able to get back into seeing live football.
The start of this summer’s work commenced with the re-appointment of Micky Mellon as manager, someone who beds into the message of the club and what it stands for perfectly. What are your thoughts on the team, the manager, his coaching staff and overall the club’s chances of success this summer?
I think the timing of Keith Hill’s departure and the release of Micky from his role at Dundee Utd, meant it was the perfect fit for him to come back. The only other manager I think we could maybe have gone for would have been Dave Challinor. Maybe that’s for another day? We know the coaching staff are well thought of by the fans.
We have made a slowish start to the season, but the last couple of results (Salford and Forest Green) have been encouraging. A couple of weeks ago, we would have probably thought we’d be looking at two defeats. But to come away with four points is good. Maybe now we can move on, move up the table and be challenging for promotion.
For anyone that wants to vote for you and are hearing about your work for the first time via our conversation, how much do you appreciate the votes of people and how would they go about doing it?
I must admit, I was completely shocked by the events of the last couple of days. I didn’t even know I had been nominated. At the end of the day it’s not about me, I’m just a cog in a bigger wheel. A big thanks must go to the other Trust board members and the staff in the Fan Park, including my wife Cathy and my daughters, as well as the other staff.
I’m not sure that you vote. I think the votes are for the player and manager awards. I think the likes of the unsung hero award is chosen by a panel.
Mark Randles has been nominated for the ‘North West Football Awards’ unsung hero award. It has been a crazy year for everyone, it’s great to see that the work the Trust have done hasn’t gone unnoticed!