Twenty Years Since Wembley ’93: Tranmere Rovers 3 Swindon 2 (4-5 agg)
Phil Allen made the trip to the Wirral on 19th May 1993. Here are his thoughts on that Division One Play Off Semi-Final 2nd Leg against Tranmere Rovers as we continue our celebration of twenty years since Wembley ’93 and promotion to the Premier League…
So, it’s really 20 years since the Tranmere Playoff games? I can’t believe it’s been so long and what on earth have I done with my adult life since then? Some of the memories of the 92/93 season are still as clear as the day the ball was kicked: the 6-4 thriller at St Andrews, 4 nil at Vicarage Road, beating West Ham at Upton Park, great home wins against Sunderland and Newcastle, plus taking four points off both Brizzle clubs and Oxford – for the younger Town fans, I’m not making this stuff up, it really did happen in one season. And all of this in what is now grandly referred to as “The Championship” (League Division One in those days of course).
So after a successful season and playing some great football along the way, May brought the play-offs. At the time I was at Uni in Portsmouth (ok, so I’d joined Portsmouth Poly a year before after a spectacular but less than academically successful six-form career in Swindon, but it was now a proper University, honestly – just go with me on this one).
So the first priorities were tickets and transport. Being down in Pompey, with no car and no money posed a bit of a problem on both fronts – luckily I’m from a family of Town supporters, so big brother was on hand to queue for tickets and an offer of a free trip to Prenton Park. The next issue was bunking off Uni for two days and getting back to Swindon – not so difficult you might think, but bear in mind I’d come back for the home leg a few days beforehand, and by a combination of bad timing and one extra pint too many, had managed to get myself stranded at Bath Spa station after the last train home on Saturday night. I remember it was a balmy night and the cunning plan was to kip down on the platform and get the first train out at 6am – queue knife fight between two hobo’s on Platform 2 and suddenly it didn’t seem such a great idea…..
Anyway, I’ve been trying to remember what lectures I missed that Wednesday and Thursday back in ’93 – I think it was definitely Law on Wednesdays but no idea what Thursday would have brought. Law I was ok at, so no great loss – the problem was everyone on my course knew I was a big Town fan, so the chances are my lecturers would have known where I’d disappeared off to –but I honestly don’t remember thinking twice about cutting class for two days to see a football match, even with less than two weeks before all of my end of year exams.
So, having made a note of the times for changing trains at Bath, I headed out of Fratton Station early on the 19th to rendezvous with Rob back in Swindon, before heading north to Merseyside. It’s a strange comment on my life, but in my 41 years on this earth I’ve been to the tropics of Queensland, travelled around New Zealand, as well as being a frequent visitor to many parts of the UK, but that night in May ’93 remains my only ever visit to Liverpool (ok, not really Liverpool, but close enough for my liking). When your first visit to a city was as good as mine, perhaps any return trip would always have been a major disappointment – safe to say, I’m still not planning on finding out if it actually would be.
So to the match: After the great start at the County Ground on the Sunday, the mood amongst the travelling Town fans was high – some had a few niggling doubts after the 3-1 defeat a month earlier but I remember my biggest worry was meeting the team from my adopted new home town at Wembley, who had finished third and looked strongest of the four playoff contenders – also one of my house-mates was a big Pompey fan, so it would have made for an “interesting time” at home.
Sure enough, the first goal from John Moncur confirmed my pre-match confidence and the Red and White Army were in full voice. Looking back now it’s odd – I have no recollection of John Aldridge being in the Tranmere line-up at all that day – a great striker, but I don’t remember him being a threat across either of the two games. The man who was starting to make the Town faithful sweat was Pat Nevin – he’d set up Tranmere’s first before half time and was on hand to slot home their second – at times he was running the show in the second half and every Tranmere attack was looking dangerous. Just to think, a Tranmere Swindon game included the footballing greats of Nevin and Hoddle, as well as Aldridge and my favourite Town player of the era, Mickey Hazard – heady days indeed (Hazard on the subs bench, for the statto’s amongst you).
Between the two Tranmere goals, there was the “goal” that never was – a big shout but Digby pulled it back off the line – I never did have a clear view of it from the terrace and not living in the HTV region, I don’t think I ever saw a replay of it until the dawn of the YouTube age – having watched it again recently I still can’t be sure, but anyway, all’s well that ends well!
Maskell came off the bench to combine with Mitchell for the town equaliser –and the Town fans were going crazy – Wembley looked secure again and I remember that old-fashioned surge down the terracing as we mobbed the goalscorer . What a great season both strikers had up front – another oddity for me – neither managed that same level of performance before or since the 92/93 term – if only one of them had been able slot home as regularly for us the following season.
But the drama wasn’t over (it never is with the Town, is it?) – a poor trip just inside the box by that footballing great Hoddle and Tranmere were now only one behind again on aggregate. Town had no more than ten minutes to hang on but it was nail biting stuff. I seem to remember a lengthy injury time but I might have imagined that – it certainly felt like it. So finally the ref blows for full time and the feeling of relief and jubilation was fantastic as Town won 5-4 on aggregate.
Although for me, there were a couple of moments of real concern: Firstly, the rumour went across our part of the terrace that Portsmouth had destroyed Leicester 5 nil, confirming my worst fears that Pompey were on the march. Back in ’93 a smart phone with BBC Sport App was about as unlikely as travel beyond the Sun, so you had to make do with one bloke with a radio – I’m pretty sure it was before the days of Five Live too – it wasn’t until the following morning that I had the relief of knowing we’d be meeting the Foxes at Wembley.
Secondly, the Tranmere fans poured onto the pitch and after the initial commiserations with their players they made their way to the Swindon end. 1993 was before the modern age of all-seater stadiums and wall-to-wall Sky had really kicked in and for a minute it seemed touch and go to whether some of the disappointed Merseysiders would be looking to take out their frustrations as wouldn’t have been that unusual in the era – having started going to matches in the early 80’s, I’d seen a few “unsavoury” incidents over the years and you still never quite knew when things might get ugly. But to their great credit, the Tranmere faithful were gracious in defeat, even after having got so close. Both sets of supporters applauded each other with genuine mutual respect – to be fair, I’ve not seen a response like that before or since .
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On the way out of the ground, a couple of Tranmere lads were keen to swap hats with me but it was not to be – I was as keen as the next man to enter into the spirit of the evening but you need to know it was my lucky hat that had got us through that season, so there was no way I was going to let it go before a Wembley final. Also, it was a STFC beanny hat, which back in the day of the Stone Roses et al, was the thing to have as an indie kid – it remains my favourite ever bit of Swindon clothing, although now, strangely, it seems much too small.
So the long journey home – eventually rolling back into Portsmouth the following lunch-time (no doubt having emptied the cupboards of all the tins of beans) to find after Pompey had been knocked out there was no fans love-in at Fratton Park: it had kicked off big style (as we used to say) and living only 100 yards from the ground there was still broken glass being swept up and at the other end of the ground was a burnt-out car. My housemate couldn’t have had a more different night to me. Well the rest is history – the residents of Portsmouth never seemed to worry about me walking around their city in my Town top, or the Wembley flag in the front window for the next month or so – I think they must have been more than happy with our victory over Leicester.
We had our one season in the top flight and Tranmere had another couple of pops at the Premier League but never quite made it. 20 years later, we both find ourselves in League One. Have things changed being a Town fan? Well maybe the quality isn’t quite what it was in the second tier and perhaps we now, at least in the short term, haven’t got so much to look forward to. But come May 2013 I’ve found myself travelling to a tense play-off semi-final again with my brother. Another close run thing right to the last kick of the game – maybe thing don’t change that much after all. Perhaps we had the rub of the green in ’93 which we didn’t this year: with Vickers’ gifts in the first leg, the disallowed “goal”at Prenton Park and Chalkie White’s penalty hero scenario at Wembley. Over both semi’s with Brentford this term we didn’t seem to get anything out of the officials or the opposition and managed to provide a couple of gifts of our own along the way. Come to think of it now, I guess the strongest team just came out on top then and now.
Here’s to another 20 years!
Follow Phil Allen on Twitter @chisieweirdo