Day 12 – Tranmere Rovers-Liverpool-Everton-Wigan-Bolton Wanderers!
So, I started the day off early from Liverpool Town centre towards Tranmere Rovers, which is on the other side of the mersey in Birkenhead. Had some great news when I arrived that I had a 40 minute wait for the next crossing, made even greater by the appearance of a man who introduced himself as ‘Mad Ken’. Aparently, so he told me, he’s acquired this nickname because his friends don’t like him. Much to my delight ‘Mad Ken’ kept me company for the next hour telling me about his travels on the road over the years as a pencil salesman, which generally is as interesting as it sounds. Think of a mixture between Charles Bronson and David Brent with James Cordons laugh. I’d rather spend an hour with my ex.
Finally escaping the clutches of my new friend I made my way to Prenton Park, home of Tranmere Rovers. They make a big thing about being a community club. Which is a sensible mantra to uphold, considering one short trip away with mad Ken lies the Premier League champions and a reinvigorated and well invested in club, Everton. The stadium is quite closed off and doesn’t give much away, however, their love of former manager Jonny King is evident. The former Borough Road stand at Prenton Park was re-named the Johnny King stand in 2002 and a very impressive statue of the manager stands proudly in front of the club gates. And why not? This kind of thing in football I love to see, for a small club like Tranmere, not only did he take them to their highest ever league position, he took the team to Wembley no less than 5 times in 2 stints. If I achieved that with a club a fraction the size of their neighbours, I’d want a bloody statue too.
So next, I took the swift trip back to the docks to cross the mersey. Only to find I had missed it by 2 minutes and had another hour to wait, which is a bit of a bugger when it comes to time to get to other clubs. After hiding in the corner in case Mad Ken made another appearance, I made my way back to shore to catch up with me old pal John Lennon at his old haunt, the Cavern Club, who wanted a go on my bike 👍
And so, onto Anfield, the home of the Premier League champions.
When I went to Anfield in 1996, the side of the stadium was a players car park and a wall backed onto some houses. What Liverpool have done, which I LOVE, is instead of moving grounds they bought up all the houses, rehoused the occupants, smashed the houses down and expanded the stadium. The Hilsborough memorial has been given a grand home in the walkway, such it deserves and the Shankly gates still adorn the side of the stadium.
And honestly, Anfield looks incredible. The cream of the crop, the Cheryl Cole of girls aloud, the maltesers in the box of celebrations. Lush.
Inside, I’ve never seen such a posh pre-match area. There’s even a Carlsberg lounge where guests get to vote on the man of the match and that player comes to speak to them after the game. I can only assume Salah wins this award every week, just so they can meet him.
Around the entire bar areas, the walls are adorned with pictures of former managers and players. They’ve really tarted it up nice, fair play, the most pleasant pre match area I’ve ever seen in a stadium.
High up at Anfield, it is an incredible view. In fact wherever you sit in the stadium, you get an incredible view of everything. Pre-covid anyway 🤷♂️
At this point, I’d like to thank the entire staff at Liverpool football club. Every single one of them were brilliant. From the girl who took my pictures outside, to the security guy who locked up my bike, to the girls at the counter. When they found out why I was there, they went out of their way to help me. The two tour guides, a gentleman and a lady, I apologise to them as I don’t know their names, but thank you, you were both incredible! They took me round the stadium helping me get amazing photos, let me have a pic with the Champions League trophy, the Premiership trophy, into the home dressing rooms, showed me the coveted ‘This is Anfield’ sign AND took me pitch-side. You don’t get much closer than this…
Don’t be too jealous Liverpool fans, but this was an incredible experience. Oh and yeah, where the players sit in the dressing room, they all have usb plugs.
So then, with high expectations of another Premiership ground just across Stanley Park, I made my way to rivals in blue, Everton!
And it was shut.
Well, one door was open, but a surly looking hi-vis guy was standing there and just shook his head as I tried to take a closer look. I think rival stadiums have a radar of people who approach them and they can tell if you have been to their enemies stadium. As in Sheffield, it was if he could smell Anfield on me. I might as well have rocked up with Carlsberg tattooed on my forehead. There was no room at the Inn for this welshman. Goodison Park is big, blue and full of the clubs history adorning the walls and tributes to former players and managers, which is awesome. They love a statue on Merseyside and Everton has 4. First there’s club legend Dixie Dean…
And why wouldn’t you? Born in Birkenhead, he played 399 games for Everton. And scored an incredible 349 goals. Then scored 27 goals in 30 games for his local side Tranmere as a swansong. Oh and scored 18 goals in 16 games for England in that time too. Ridiculous stats. Banging them in for fun.
Then, round the other side, they have the ‘Everton Trinity’.
An all-in-one sculpture of three more club legends, Alan Ball, Colin Harvey and Howard Kendall, who has a stand named after him.
Not a bad bit of business there Howard, fair play.
Taking all this in, I set off from Liverpool at 8am. And left Liverpool at 4pm. What an incredible city. And the scousers are wonderful people. Warm, funny and honest. Cheers Merseyside, I owe you a beer 👍
But theres still some left in the tank and I wanted 5. So I made my way to Wigan and the DW Stadium. DW standing for much revered owner Dave Whelan. Well, I always thought he was revered anyway, unless he just went and built a statue of himself.
Sharing a playing surface at the ground with Wigan Warriors, it has a huge presence from the front. It is situated conveniently on the same plot as a cinema, in case the football was that bad you did a bunk and went to watch Fast and the Furious 45, or whatever number they are on, instead.
Theres not much giving away from the stadiums outside as a whole. There’s an Italian restaurant built into the stadium though but everything was shut up with no sign of life. It was either getting late or along with their players, they had a fire sale of all the staff too and theres a load of Wigan natives now working in Bolton. Which was my next stop. 1 more stadium. I can do this I thought. I mean, I did but I’m not going to thank greater Manchester for the hills on the way there.
So I finally made it to Bolton. And the university of Bolton stadium is beautiful. Incredible. I went right around it but I’ll take more pics tomorrow morning. It does look gorgeous at night though.
Look at that ❤
5 down, now onto Manchester!
Just a few further acknowledgements. Firstly, to the staff who went above and beyond today.
Secondly, to The Football Historian on Facebook. They did a piece on the ride and what MindRUSH is trying to achieve and its greatly appreciated. We had donations off the back of it so thank you. You can find them and the post here.
And to top off todays brilliantly rewarding ride, some final exciting news! I am live on TalkSport this Sunday morning from 9am with Jonny Owen, talking about the ride!
To everyone who’s helping spread the word, donating and supporting what MindRUSH is about, I can’t thank you enough. You’re making this what it is.
And thank you