Mum knitted this little bear for me when I was a kid. It fits in the palm of my hand and it’s worn the Tranmere Rovers crest for as long as I can remember. Today, the bear (it has no name) sits on a purple chair in front of the TV, waiting for the Non-League playoff final to start. Tranmere Rovers v Forest Green Rovers. Best seat in the house?
I’m on a train to Wembley Stadium to watch the match. The bear is one of very few physical connections I have with our Mum. It’s staying at home, too small, too easy for me to lose. I first saw Tranmere play in 1974 when my Dad took me to Selhurst Park to watch Crystal Palace. Tranmere were the away team, and they lost 2-1. The naïveté of youth prevailed, and though I returned to Selhurst Park a number of times, I pinned my allegiance to Tranmere, and much like the badge was pinned to the bear, it stayed put.
The occasional away game sufficed for a long while, and after I learned to drive, the 500 mile round trip to see a home game began to feature in my life. As I trundled up and down motorways, I cursed my younger self for choosing a team based so far from home.
Things shifted up a gear when we enjoyed a few seasons of success in cup competitions. This, coupled with the emergence of internet chat rooms, meant I began to know some of my fellow supporters better. I encountered lots of good humour and kindness. As I travelled to more games, home and away, people would offer a place to stay. This generosity helped break up many a long journey, and meant we got to know each other better too. The kindness of strangers became the kindness of friends.
Over the years Dad and I returned to Selhurst Park together whenever Tranmere and Crystal Palace played. We took it in turns to sit with each other’s supporters so that we could be together. I have fond memories of these games, lots of laughs with the occasional bit of watchable sport thrown in.
I held a Tranmere Rovers season ticket for a while. It used to get used by friends when I couldn’t make the long journey. I was at Tranmere when the Football Supporters Trust was founded, and served on the board for a few of the early years. I once rode my bike 306 miles from home to the ground (the journey took five days) to raise money for the club and British Heart Foundation.
Fatherhood came along, and this great privilege took me away from football, though before it did, I recall Carole being kind enough to endure an awful home game while pregnant so I could tell our kid there first football match was at Tranmere. Sorry Carole!
I’ve not seen the team play in a long time, and I feel a little awkward turning up for a big occasion after such a long absence. But hey, whether we win or lose, I get to see some lovely people and watch an important match. Did I mention I’ve got a front row ticket? Best Seat In The House.