The Opportunities Of The 4th Tier
Why League Two 2018-19 is a land of opportunity for Tranmere
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With just four days remaining until Micky Mellon's side kick-off against Stevenage, we will today focus our attentions on the opportunities presented by a return to English football's fourth tier.
New faces, new challenges, new opportunities, here are the reasons we believe League Two could prove to be the land of opportunity for Tranmere in 2018-19:
If Tranmere avoid a bottom-placed finish, which even the most pessimistic fan surely agrees is a distinct possibility, the Club has the chance to post its highest league finish for five years. Fans of other clubs will begin to refamiliarize themselves with Tranmere as an EFL club. Further to that, clubs higher in the pyramid now see Rovers as a viable destination for loan players, a perfect example being Liverpool's willingness to loan Shamal George to Prenton Park.
Rivals such as Oldham Athletic return to Prenton Park on an even footing with Rovers. With the off-field improvements, League Two presents a real opportunity to change the wider perception of the Club in a positive manner, showing clubs whose most recent interactions were the Parry/Moore/Edwards/Adams era clashes with Tranmere that they are now dealing with a different beast entirely.
It also raises the awareness of the Club's brand in the countries wherever the League Cup draw is held. This season's first round draw was conducted in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Last season, Thailand (first) and China (third) hosted individual round draws. In conjunction with the work Rovers are doing in the region, it all helps ebb away at the previous negativity, both domestically and internationally.
Even small things like being featured in the latest instalment of the FIFA video game give the Club a greater stature, particularly amongst gamers, where e-sports are a growing cultural phenomenon. Make no mistake, the EFL can provide a significant boost to the Club's status.
The increase in status and reputation is not restricted to the Club as an entity.
On a personal level, the players have the chance to enhance their own individual reputations too.
Take James Norwood, whose 111 goals in 307 games in the National League for Forest Green Rovers and Tranmere made him one of the most consistent, most threatening frontmen outside the Football League. He will once again grace an EFL pitch, locking horns with the club he left in 2011, Exeter City, at Prenton Park on 3rd November 2018 and at St. James' Park on 2nd March 2019. He can show why Tranmere were right to believe in him, and why he developed a reputation as one of the best players in non-League football.
Another example is that of Ritchie Sutton. Mansfield Town Player of the Season 2014-15, Ritchie enjoyed a solid start to his Rovers career. Unfortunately, he was loaned out to Barrow and it seemed at one stage like he may be departing the Club. However, he came back and proved what a good, reliable defender he is at National League level — easily amongst the best. Rovers' promotion will see Sutton face Mansfield on 21st August 2018 and 26th January 2019. Arguably the most improved player over the Club's non-League tenure, Ritchie can prove that the Stags' loss was Tranmere's gain.
One final example is Stephen McNulty. At Luton Town, Stephen was voted into the PFA League Two Team of the Season 2014-15 by his fellow professionals. A player who has always been known for his undoubted leadership qualities, he returns to the EFL after securing promotion from the fifth tier for a third time — with three different clubs. Whilst his image sometimes (wrongly) precedes him, he has the opportunity to silence the critics by proving he is still capable of playing at this level.
We have selected the highlighted three players as examples — each and every individual at the Club has a similar story. From the players to the boardroom, groundskeepers to the SWA, everyone has the opportunity to enhance their reputation in their respective fields.
In addition to improving the Club and individual reputations, Rovers now have the chance to affect greater change for the wider football community. With a vote towards EFL issues, the leadership of the Club has the chance to grasp the nettle and provide real leadership within the EFL too.
On the EFL Trophy, there is the opportunity to vote against the dangerous introduction of Under-21 sides. If that is unsuccessful, there would presumably be the ability to vote to scrap the competition altogether, should such a vote ever be forthcoming.
On the issue of three up-three down between the fourth and fifth tiers, Tranmere have the chance to lend another voice to the argument calling for a uniformity in promotion slots between the top five divisions of the pyramid. Having endured the struggle to squeeze through the non-League bottleneck, Tranmere can lead the way in calling for measures to ease this frustrating and unneeded disparity.
As fans, there is the opportunity to lead the way for EFL clubs' fans groups to follow. The Trust marquee is an excellent example of what attending a football match can be if the policing and organisation is sensible. The campaign to provide free sanitary products at Prenton Park is something where Rovers' fans can benefit from setting a fantastic example for the rest of the EFL.
With an enhanced profile comes the chance for everyone connected to the Club to make a greater positive impact.
Off-field potential aside, there are also numerous on-field opportunities. A return to the FA Cup first round puts the Club just two wins away from a potential mega-tie against a Manchester United or Chelsea. A return to the League Cup gives fans the chance to experience further cup runs, such as the trip to the final in 2000.
With four promotion spaces, three of which are automatic, there are twice as many opportunities to gain promotion, meaning the intense pressure of chasing a solo automatic place is greatly reduced. Indeed, Tranmere have never won the fourth-tier title, but have been promoted from that level on multiple occasions.
Alongside cup runs and promotions comes extra revenue, which may be invested in the Club to improve the chances of further success, further revenue and thus the cycle continues. The bottleneck that strangles the transition between the fourth and fifth tiers of English football simply doesn't exist between the third and fourth — in fact, a club is statistically more likely to gain promotion from the fourth tier than any other division in the pyramid.
Even the EFL Trophy, a competition that has been ruined by the introduction of Under-21 teams, remains a realistic opportunity to return to Wembley and lift silverware. Granted, we'd advocate such a final being played in an empty stadium, but for the players, the momentum of winning trophies and reaching finals would build upon a habit they have developed within the National League.
What do you think? Can you see further opportunities in the return to the fourth tier? Follow us on social media and tell us your opinions.
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Remember: Check back tomorrow for day eight of our ten-day countdown to the 2018-19 season.« 05 Days 03 Days »