For the benefit of those who might still think it is in Scotland, Tranmere is located in Birkenhead on Merseyside. Tranmere Rovers started life in the summer of 1882 as Belmont Cricket Club, a team of youths whose common connection was the Wesley Church in Higher Tranmere. The boys embraced the Victorian ethic of Muscular Christianity, a healthy mind in a healthy body, so to speak.
In 1884, in combination with another cricket team, Lyndhurst Wanderers (a team of slightly younger players also from Tranmere Wesley Church), a Belmont football team was formed so that they could play together in the winter months. Their first ground, Steele’s Field, was named after the landlord of the adjacent Beekeepers’ pub and access was gained by a short walk from the pub via the adjacent ground of Tranmere Rugby Club. In September 1885, at the instigation of local businessman, James Hannay McGaul, “father of Tranmere Rovers” and club president until it became a limited company in 1912, it was decided to change the club’s name to Tranmere Rovers, a title more fitting to an organisation with ambition and which referred to a specific and wider area.
Steele’s Field consisted of nothing more than a pitch, lacking any facilities, though appropriate for the level at which the team played at the time. However, Rovers left at the end of the 1886/87 season, when they moved to the next door field where the rugby club had played, called Ravenshaw’s Field after the owner of Tranmere Hall, the farm and all its surrounding fields. The Ravenshaw area Tranmere Rovers took was on Temple Road at the Borough Road end.
The new ground was quickly levelled and enclosed so that gate money could be taken while later improvements would include dressing rooms, the erection of a small stand and turnstiles. In 1895, what had previously been known as the ‘Borough-road enclosure’ was re-named Prenton Park even though it was still very much within the boundaries of Tranmere. Just 400 hundred yards away at the top of Prenton Road West, Prenton was by then a much sought after place to live as new desirable housing went up and the new name reflected some of that sense of superiority.
Today’s Prenton Park, on the corner of Prenton Road West and Borough Road, became Tranmere’s third ground and took its name when Rovers transferred lock, stock and barrel from their previous home in 1912 as that land was required for housing, shops and a school as Birkenhead expanded from its riverside origins up the Borough Road.
In their first years the players wore blue shirts and white shorts. Suggesting blue was inspired by the riverside location of Birkenhead may be true only in the realms of fantasy. The move to the rather garish orange and maroon halved shirts with navy blue knickers coincided with joining the West Lancashire League in 1889.
One of the local newspapers said the new outfit might ‘dazzle’ Tranmere’s opponents. We like to believe it did. The turn of the twentieth century saw the reintroduction of blue and white, and in some form or other this combination has almost remained ever since.
Almost, for in the Sixties, Rovers’ manager Dave Russell decided to change Tranmere’s strip to all-white, proclaiming that as Liverpool were red and Everton were blue, then Tranmere should be white. Over the years since then, Rovers have worn varying combinations of blue and white, sometimes the blue predominating, sometimes the white. Large amounts of green and blue adorned the shirts in the late Eighties and early Nineties, but in a spirit which Dave Russell undoubtedly would have approved of, Rovers have veered back towards a more predominately white kit as the century changed.
Whilst some may consider white shirts to be colourless, although white is actually all colours of the spectrum combined, only the most die-hard Tranmere fan could say that the nickname of “Rovers” warrants anything but a passing mention even in this book, devoted as it is to such matters. But what import? The Liverpool Echo can mention the Reds, the Blues and the Rovers, and everyone knows who they mean. What more is needed?
The club’s first badges were a short-lived players’ blazer badge in the early 1950s and then a very simple ‘TRFC’ quartered shield briefly appeared in 1958 but only on tracksuits. Tranmere Rovers did not introduce any kind of shirt badge until 1962 when Dave Russell brought in his all-white strip. Used also in programmes and on signage, this crest derived from the coat of arms of the borough of Birkenhead, founded in 1877 after the merger of Birkenhead, Claughton-cum-Grange, Oxton and Tranmere. The new borough received its arms on August 28, 1878.
The principal heraldic devices set on a quartered shield, intersected by a pastoral staff and TRFC, were taken from the seals of the several local governing bodies of the townships. The staff formed part of the seal of the ‘Extra-Parochial Chapelry or township of Birkenhead’. The lion in the first quarter is from the arms of the family of Massey, founders of the Benedictine Monastery in 1150. The oak tree was the main feature of the Tranmere local board, the star is representative of Bebington and the two lions in the fourth quartering allude to Oxton. The crescents are said to represent the Laird family, whose shipbuilding yards did much for the development of the town.
The town’s motto, suggested by Canon Tarver of Chester, is ‘Ubi Fides ibi Lux et Robur’, meaning ‘Where there is faith there is light and strength’. Any team living in the shadow of Everton and Liverpool certainly needs light, strength and an undying faith. The blue and white shield introduced in 1981 was originally a one-off design cost cutting simplification of the elaborate coloured crest but soon established itself as a significant, and still permanent, part of the club’s identity.