A Sleeping Giant Awakens – The Resurrection of Women’s Football at Tranmere Rovers
Cast your mind back to the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Tranmere’s men’s team were knocking on the door of the Premier League, but the women’s team went one better and spent 9 years competing in the top tier of English women’s football, producing international players and having cup runs that matched what the men were achieving. If you look at the early history of the women’s team they achieved four promotions in five seasons to reach the premier league, starting off in the North West Regional League back in 1990. Tranmere were a big name in the women’s game, reaching the FA Cup semi finals twice and finishing as high as 5th in the Premier League.
Let’s jump in our time machines now and land in the present, 2021. The women’s team was rebuilt ready for an attack at the 5th tier in the women’s football pyramid. It’s always difficult when you have to build a team which needs a lot of recruitment. There were players who stayed on from the covid curtailed 2020/21 season, but Marc needed to bring in new players, so along with his coaching staff he bought in 4 from the under 16’s and 5 from other clubs, all quality players to improve this Tranmere team. Marc Joyce was signed as manager following a long coaching stint in South Carolina in the U.S.A, his job initially was to try and bring these players together and create a togetherness, and instil in them the Tranmere way. There is some experience who were already signed, they were joined by a lot of new recruits, as Lindsay Smith, Rachel Rigby and of course Marc’s assistant Lynn Carter who’ve all been involved with the Tranmere set up for around 20 years. I got the opportunity to speak with Marc during the week, to try and get a flavour for where this new Tranmere Women’s side was heading. I also got to speak to centre midfielder Rachel Unsworth, one of the most committed people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. She is the coach for the under 14’s, she is a member of the playing squad and she has other coaching responsibilities outside of Tranmere too, not only that, she travels in from Warrington each time. Having had a busy day, Rachel walks in with a smile on her face that immediately gives me a good understanding of why this team have started the campaign so well (we will cover that shortly).
Let's start with Rachel Unsworth, in the short time I had with her I got the impression she was full of confidence, and so she should be after starting the campaign with 4 wins out of 4, scoring an incredible 20 goals, averaging 5 a game. Add into that a hard fought victory in the FA Cup too. Rachel was playing for Warrington but approached Tranmere and made it impossible for Tranmere to say no, with her impressive CV. I asked Rachel what she made of the start Tranmere had, her comment shocked me but also built up a little excitement for the future, she said, “We are on a high at the moment, but we haven’t yet hit our peak.” So in short, a Tranmere team who have averaged 5 goals a game still hadn’t moved into top gear. So what is top gear? How good can this team get? Rachel then backed up her comment by saying, “We should’ve scored more.” If that is the case then we could be in for an exciting season. Before Rachel went off to train in the gym with the rest of the team I asked her for a prediction for the season, “With how we’ve dominated games, I’m confident we will win the league if we continue with this form.” It’s a bold statement, but few could argue with that right now.
Marc Joyce then joined me but before we spoke he took me to the gym, my first impression was that despite these being almost a brand new squad, the team spirit was evident, it was as if they had known each other for a while. Each player had a smile on their face and were laughing together, and as a Tranmere fan myself I know that team spirit can add another level, I’ve seen it enough times with the men.
Marc joined back in April 2021, and because it was a new squad (he was still building last week so the project is far from over) he arranged a pre-pre-season, a few games before the break just to try and build that togetherness. Then there was the break before returning to play a few pre-season games before jumping into the important games. It was key to get a good start but Marc has a very different view on the teams objectives. Marc isn’t talking about promotion, he isn’t talking about making Tranmere Women a big team once again, no, Marc is talking about getting the women to fight for every ball and every point, but he wants to relieve the team of pressure as that way they play with more freedom, something that’s certainly been evident in the first few games of the season for Tranmere, the league leaders. He wants to create an environment that will attract new players to the team. It’s a challenge for Marc right now, he needs to recruit players from a higher level, and is convinced once he does that once, more will follow. There is no pressure on this team this season, at the moment it’s a project and he just wants them to enjoy their football. This approach seems to be having a profound effect on the team, they’re playing with a freedom that’s bringing in some very impressive results. Another important message that Marc puts across to his players whilst they fight for every result, is to enjoy the now. A run in the FA Cup should be celebrated each time they get a positive result, it’s experience and something they’ll need to get used to as they climb up the leagues, or right away, because of the confidence if this team, who knows how far they could go in both the league and the cup. Maybe, just maybe there’ll be the opportunity to play a big FA Cup game at Prenton Park. Tranmere vs Man City sounds a bit tasty doesn’t it? Or what about Tranmere vs Liverpool, a game at the natural home of Tranmere but where Liverpool’s women’s team currently play.
Can this team go places? Well despite there being no pressure on the team, Marc feels that promotion has to be the ultimate aim, to start mixing it with the bigger clubs. Building awareness is also a massive thing for the Tranmere Women’s team, they need the backing of the SWA if they are to go places. How many of the SWA wouldn’t want to watch a team representing Tranmere score an average of 5 goals a game in the league? Surely that has to be an attractive proposition. The more SWA that go along and watch, the further this team can go. The SWA are very important, if the attendances start to grow then they can attract further sponsorship, more money means Marc can build for the future.
This last Sunday (10th October) Tranmere are playing away at Cheadle in the league, a team who like Tranmere have started very well, with 3 wins out of 3. This was going to be a massive test of this newly assembled squad and it certainly turned out that way too. You cannot win a league title on thrashings alone, they don’t come around that often and perhaps one could say the fixture list had been kind to Rovers. What transpired was a display of those attributes which are needed alongside scoring a hat full of goals. 0-1 behind, 1-2 behind and 2-4 down with just 10 minutes to go, starring down the barrel of defeat for the first time this season. Did they crumble under the pressure, or did they show that genuine league leading spirit? Well, the team showed their resilience, they showed their never say die attitude and pulled the game back to 4-4. Yet another dramatic game for Rovers, 8 goals in 90 minutes, one certainly good for the neutrals and one that shows Tranmere really do have what it takes to win a league title. If you go away and meet another unbeaten team but you come away with a point, still leading the table and scoring for fun again, no one can complain. This team have it all and long may it continue.
So where can you watch the Tranmere Women’s team? Well currently they are playing at the Ellesmere Port Sports Village, usually a Sunday at 2pm, meaning you can enjoy a complete Tranmere weekend. The mens game at 3pm on Saturday, a few beers, a lie in, a cooked breakfast if you’re lucky, the off to support the women. If you want to see goals, then this is the place to be. A new team playing like they’ve known each other for years.
Can Tranmere be a force in women’s football once again? Personally I don’t see why not. After speaking to Marc and Rachel, plus their result this weekend at Cheadle, I think there is a bright future for this group, and Marc’s attitude of ‘just go and enjoy yourselves’ is working a treat.
Photos by: Tony Coombes