Travelling to Birkenhead for the derby day clash between Wrexham and Tranmere, I envisaged several scenarios taking place. The pessimist in me thought Tranmere would thrash us. On paper, they have some of the best strikers in the whole National League. And yet, so far this season, Rovers have struggled to score. A story that’s familiar with Wrexham fans. So I figured either Tranmere would turn up for the derby game – always an occasion that throws the form book out the window – or both sides would play out a dour 0-0 draw.
However, what panned out on the day I had no inclining for.
Visiting a big club
This was my first visit to Prenton Park and I found it very impressive. Much like Wrexham, their fans believe they should be playing in a higher division and it’s easy to see why when taking a look around the stadium.
Just being down the street from the ground, the huge Kop stand dominates your viewpoint and even their club shop matches up with some top-tier sides.
Another thing that dominates is the name Johnny King. One of the stands is named after the Tranmere legend whilst a statue of him also welcomes fans at the front gates. In a marquee set up outside of the club reception, where fans of both teams can have a pie or a pint before the match, a wall of scarves and shirts with messages for King is on display. He died last year and is considered to be one of the greatest managers in Tranmere’s history, having took them to the brink of the top flight over a nine-year spell in charge – his second stint in their dugout.
Prenton Park is where England Ladies’ football team play their home games. The Lionesses beat Russia 6-0 a few days before the derby game in Mark Sampson’s last game in charge before he was dismissed in the midst of an alleged racism scandal. Apparently the FA covered a slogan reading ‘Super White Army’ during the game, in reference to the home side who play in white. A little oversensitive if you ask me – so entering the stadium and seeing the sign on display in the opposite stand was quite amusing.
A crazy, crazy game
I’ve watched several highlights back of the game and none of them have addressed everything that happened in the match. It was mental… for reasons on and off the pitch.
On the pitch, the sending off of Wrexham’s Sam Wedgebury after 13 minutes proved to be the catalyst for a phenomenal defensive display. It was a silly red card from Wedgebury, who scored a last-minute equaliser in Wrexham’s previous match. Having just been booked minutes before, he went charging for ex-Dragon Jay Harris, who managed to jump out the way before any real impact was made. How ironic that it used to be Harris who got sent off like that for the away team.
As our hero from last weekend walked off the pitch, you could feel how gutted everyone associated with Wrexham felt, including Wedgebury. It was going to be a real struggle to win now. That thrashing prediction by Tranmere popped into my head. Surely this was the perfect circumstance for them to end their goal drought in style.
Having been singing for much of the game so far, Wrexham fans went silent, coming to terms with the task ahead of them. It’d been pretty even between the sides until that point but Tranmere then went on a wave of attacks. James’s Alabi and Norwood were looking dangerous for the home side, as was another ex-Wrexham face in Connor Jennings.
Somehow we managed to get to half-time with the score goalless. Suddenly we went from being frustrated with two 0-0 draws in the last three games to desperately wanting to have another.
The second half commenced and the same pattern continued. We sat back and let Tranmere come at us. A long 45 minutes was in store but Wrexham fans began finding their voice again. As we held firm and frustrated the home side to long range shots, something happened that we weren’t at all expecting.
On 58 minutes, a goal. For Wrexham! Chris Holroyd ran onto a loose ball from a corner and hit a shot that must have deflected through at least two Tranmere bodies but ended up hitting the top corner of the net. Cue absolute bedlam in the away end. I celebrated with my girlfriend, a woman next to me and hugged a man in the seats below. I still get chills when I replay that goal in my mind. From the sight of the ball finding the net to the look of ecstasy on the fan’s face before I jumped on him. My uncle also called me during the ruckuss and I celebrated with him and my dad. Absolutely amazing stuff.
In that hysteria, the rest of the game followed suit. We cheered every tackle by the Wrexham players. They all sat behind the ball and put in a monstrous shift. Akil Wright did the job of himself and Wedgebury, I swear. Whilst Luke Coddington in goal took everything in his stride despite being lambasted by the home fans in the Kop (more on that later).
As our players tested the patience of the referee to the limit by slowing the game down – something I wanted to see Wrexham do more of since seeing eventual league champions Lincoln do that to us last year – we became more and more edgy as the minutes ticked by.
In a concerning incident in which play was suspended, a Wrexham fan had to be taken out the ground on a stretcher. Everyone in the stands applauded as the medic team took the supporter across the pitch. Thankfully it’s been confirmed since, that the man is out of hospital. So full credit to the staff at Tranmere for their good work on that front.
It added to the surrealism of the day and as the remaining minutes of normal time continued, Wrexham fans roared their support even louder. Most of the action was taking place on the other side of the ground, so we were often confused as to what was happening. A few times the game was stopped for injuries, with Coddington having a cut under his eye after the match.
With time running out for the home side, Tranmere had the ball in the net. However, the celebrations were cut short for offside. Soon after, the board went up for 10 minutes of added time. I’d never seen double figures for stoppage time before but given the amount of breaks in play, it seemed justified.
Wrexham players seemed to find even more in the tank during those 10 minutes, putting in blocks, chasing down white shirts and hoofing the ball out of danger countless times. Substitutes Jack Mackreth and Ntumba Massanka took the ball into the corner for us in the last few minutes and provided a beautiful display of game management, keeping the ball next to the flag and winning throw-ins, corners and free-kicks from a frustrated Tranmere team.
At this point, Wrexham fans sung in high number and ferocity. They knew the three points had been won. The referee then blew the whistle on a game which ended up featuring a virtual 90 minutes of 10 v 11 football. And somehow, amazingly, the team with a man down won!
‘We only had 10 men’, sang the away following as the Wrexham players and staff celebrated in front of the 1,500 travelling fans. That was derby football at its finest.
Fans throwing objects
When Wrexham scored, one of the fans in the away end threw a lit flare onto the pitch. I had a feeling someone would bring one in, as we’ve had it happen away at Chester last season. What’s ridiculous is my girlfriend had her bagged searched before the game and couldn’t take in a small can of deodorant. Understandable in this day and age but the fact a flare could get through instead makes a mockery of that whole process.
Still, at least it was only the one and it wasn’t seemingly aimed at a player. Turning to the other end of the pitch and Tranmere fans have been seen throwing missiles at Coddington in the second half. From the footage I’ve seen, one is clearly an open can of some sort of drink. Fair play to Coddington though, he reacted well, kept his head and didn’t make a meal of things.
Make no mistake, any fan who throws stuff onto the pitch is an idiot in my eyes. There’s no need for it. And it’ll probably result in both clubs getting fined. But hopefully it can come out of the perpetrator’s pockets instead of the clubs’ accounts.
If I hadn’t gone to this game, I would have been so disappointed. It was a proper derby away game, full of passion from fans and players alike.
Before the match, I just wanted a good atmosphere with no over-exuberant fans causing trouble. This used to be a fixture that would kick-off early or on a Sunday to deter crowd violence. For it to be on at 3pm on a Saturday was risky.
On the whole though, I think both sets of fans conducted themselves in the right manner. There were a few people (mostly kids) shouting a few things post-match but they were soundly dealt with by the police. The objects getting thrown on the pitch were also unsavoury moments but praise should be given to the stewards and police for making a normal kick-off time work.
Because of that, it will go down as one of my all-time favourite matches I’ve been to.
Tranmere Rovers 0 – 1 Wrexham
Ground rating: 7/10