For Ninety-Four years from founding the Old English 3rd division to that fateful day in April 2015 where our fabled club faced its greatest humiliation and most fearful dread – the loss of its status as a Football League Team – we had remained blissfully unaware of what dangers lay beneath the trapdoor in the basement.
We stand now battle-worn with our eyes fully open. We know what lies beneath and the cost of escape. We’ve seen the lowest ebb and the most exquisite relief. But the job is not yet complete.
Having lifted the trapdoor we must now climb the basement steps to regain our place on the ground floor, on that stable footing well known to us, with a buffer between us and the sewers and catacombs, the Salfords and Wrexhams, that crisscross below in the dark abyss.
‘Back where we belong’ was the cry that rang out from beneath the famous arch one year ago. I know that irked some of our number in the SWA. Adding the sub-clause ‘by which we mean the football league, not league two, as we’ve only spent 1 year in the past 25 in that division’ would not have been sufficiently pithy of course.
But the sentiment is still relevant, in a sense victory over the Exiles would feel like a return to normality, and to our old stomping grounds. Fans younger and older may not feel this way, but for the majority, the air of complacency built up over more than a decade in the third tier has always been hard to shift over the tumult of the past 5 seasons. That’s where we should be, that’s who we are. Form is temporary, class is permanent we would tell ourselves, sooner or later, time will tell.
Except that’s not how sport works, it’s not how life works really. Nothing is ever guaranteed. Whether in a true meritocracy or a corrupted one, sometimes your status changes so much that identity and the history that informs it become fractured beyond recognition. Those fissures between what we once were and what we are now can open up slowly by increments, or they can come fast and sharp like blows from the sword, and whether they mend is often up to fates beyond our control.
Which is why I was struck by the poetry of something our chairman said the other day: We are the only club in the football league managed and owned by our former players. We rediscovered our identity through our history. We mended the wound between what we are and what we once were with the skilled hands of our own forebears.
And now we must apply that last suture, we must climb that last step (107 of them to be exact). To mend the wound, to reclaim what was lost and stand tall having reached even footing at last.
Once we get there, we may find that those who helped us along the way will move on to pastures new. And that is fine. We will bear no grudge nor ill will to those men who fought with us to see us restored. There will be glory spare to share with them too. These few, these happy few, this band of brothers will be in our flowing cups freshly rememberèd.
Then we can look to build on what we have made anew. To grow greater than before atop firmer foundations.
But first to the task at hand. Our foe nears. The familiar battleground awaits.
So, Stiffen up the sinews. Summon up the blood.
Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide; Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit to his full height. The game’s afoot:
On, on, you noble Tranmere!