The Top 10 Tranmere Managers Of All Time
Deadly Submarine compares the best bosses from Rovers' history
With the start of the 2018-19 League Two season just ten days away, Deadly Submarine will be counting down to the big kick-off with a series of pieces relating to both Tranmere's heritage in the Football League, and the specific number of days remaining in the countdown.
For the next ten days, we will produce new content every day that tips a hat to the achievements of the past, analyses the present or scrutinises the future as Tranmere Rovers prepare for their return to the EFL.
It's unquestionably our most ambitious release schedule to date, yet we believe that we can provide both the volume and quality of content required for such a landmark occasion in the history of the Club. Check our site every day, or follow us on social media, to ensure you don't miss a piece. And if you do, don't worry — they will be in our Originals section where you can catch-up with any you may miss.
In that spirit, let's get started.
As you may be aware, earlier in the summer we launched our Managers section — a comprehensive guide to every manager in the history of Tranmere Rovers. Of course, there were the familiar names that most, if not all, Rovers fans will be familiar with, but the research also lifted the rock on some of the more obscure faces from throughout history.
To date, Tranmere have had thirty-five managers. Some had long tenures, some had short. Some were successful, others were not. If you would like to read about them all in greater detail, please visit our Managers and Timeline sections.
Here, we will be ranking, in reverse order, Deadly Submarine's top ten managers of all time. Management is a multi-faceted role, with tactics, man-management, finances and squad building combining to give a rounded perspective of an individual's success or failure. To compile this list, we have taken the following into consideration: win rate, trophies won, non-trophy achievements, length of tenure and any further influence over the Club.
We have also limited the list to one term per person, so an individual with more than one tenure cannot appear twice. Instead, what we consider to be their most successful period will be taken as their entry onto the list. Please remember, this list is a subjective issue and it is perfectly fine if you disagree, perhaps entirely, with our choices.
Here is our top ten:
10. Ronnie Moore 2006 — 2009 (Win Rate 41.1%)
A former Rovers player, Ronnie Moore is the only individual to have had three separate solo spells as the Club's manager. A brief tenure in 1987 was followed by periods at various clubs such as Rotherham United and Oldham Athletic, before he eventually returned in 2006. Whilst Moore would return again in 2012, his second, and longest, spell in charge was also his most successful.
With three successive top-half finishes in League One (who wouldn't accept that in 2018?), Tranmere were in contention for the play-offs in all three seasons under Ronnie. He signed exciting players such as Chris Shuker, Antony Kay, Bas Savage and the excellent Danny Coyne in goal and, at times, the side played some excellent football.
Moore was desperately unlucky to see his side come within two minutes of the League One play-offs in 2009, but he had successfully built some momentum and fostered an atmosphere that would not be seen again for the better part of a decade following his departure.
Moore's loyalty, both as a player and a manager, to Tranmere Rovers is also unquestionable.
9. Peter Farrell (Win Rate 38.4%)
An Everton stalwart as a player, Farrell's arrival at Prenton Park was considered a major coup in 1957. His impact was immediate, winning twelve of his first eighteen games as Rovers shot up the Division Three North table.
Finishing the season eleventh, Farrell qualified the side for the new Third Division — a de facto promotion — and followed that up with a seventh-place finish the following year. Due to the exciting nature of the football employed by Peter, he holds the Club Football League attendance record (19,615) and the Club Football League average attendance record (11,815).
Nobody prior nor since has attracted as many people to matches as Farrell.
8. Ray Mathias 2002 — 2003 (Win Rate 43.9%)
The Club's record appearance maker (637) as a player, Mathias was also handed a brief spell as Interim Manager in 1985. Despite performing admirably in the face of the Bruce Osterman boardroom circus, Ray was passed over for the job on a permanent basis.
Having experienced success as a manager at Wigan Athletic, Ray would return to help Kevin Sheedy guide the team in 2001 following John Aldridge's departure. That particular spell was a disaster but it is his second solo term that earns him his place on this list.
With the atmosphere around the Club fraying due to the tenure of Dave Watson, Mathias was asked to take the reins on a temporary basis. He performed so well that he was given the job permanently, guiding the side from the bottom half to the cusp of the play-offs. The momentum built during the second half of the 2002-03 campaign has rarely been replicated and Mathias' charges would post a Club Football League record eighty points — yet would not qualify for the play-offs.
Whilst he didn't produce a trophy, Ray's side played some of the best football ever seen at Prenton Park and the excitement generated by his team set the foundations for his successor, Brian Little, to build upon. The decision to sack Mathias after just one season remains one of the most ludicrous ever taken by a Tranmere board.
7. Brian Little (Win Rate 41.5%)
Perhaps the most qualified person to hold the role of Tranmere Manager, Little was a hugely talented player. Following a career-ending injury, he started his managerial journey at an early age, racking up huge experience at clubs such as Aston Villa, Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion.
At Tranmere, he took the Club to their first play-off semi-final since the John King era by finishing the 2004-05 season third in League One. Whilst it would ultimately end in disappointment, qualifying for the play-offs was a major achievement for a Club that had experienced a relegation four seasons prior.
In addition, Brian took the Club on its best-ever FA Cup run, starting in the first round and going right through to the quarter-finals — a replay against Millwall meant they were in the semi-final draw for the first time.
Little also brought some of the Club's greatest servants to Prenton Park, with players such as Chris Greenacre and Ian Goodison making a massive impact long after Brian's departure.
6. Dave Russell (Win Rate 44.1%)
When Tranmere convinced Bury Manager Dave Russell to drop two divisions to take the Prenton Park job, it caused quite a stir amongst contemporaries. Nonetheless, it proved to be an astute signing.
On the field, Russell achieved a promotion from Division Four in 1966-67. For most managers, that would be enough to earn a place in the good graces of a club. However, for Dave Russell, the on-field progress was just the start.
Pivotal in revolutionising the youth and scouting systems at Tranmere, Dave was also a visionary businessman. Recognising the need to differentiate the Club from its Liverpool-based rivals, he introduced the all-white kit for which the Club has become famous. He was also the driving force behind the construction of the Main Stand which still stands at Prenton Park in 2018.
His eight-year, one-week-and-a-day reign is also one of the lengthier tenures at Tranmere, although he also went on to serve as General Manager for the best part of a further decade until 1978.
There are various reasons why Russell had a lounge named in his honour at Prenton Park. He's one of the most influential managers in the Club's history.
5. Micky Mellon (Win Rate 56.5%)
As Gary Brabin was watching the final minutes of his tenure slip away during a televised defeat at Sutton United, the relationship between the Club and its fans was perilously close to breaking point. Having failed to mount a serious promotion challenge in their first season in the National League in 2015-16, Brabin's team appeared to be repeating costly mistakes.
What the Club needed was a manager who knew the Club and could repair the damaged relationship between fans and players. Enter Micky Mellon.
A former Tranmere captain, Mellon instantly galvanised the Club, winning nine of his first eleven matches. He took the side to the FA Trophy semi-finals, second place, a Club record points tally of ninety-five and the 2017 National League Play-off final.
The following season, he went one better, again finishing as runners-up with eighty-two points (the second-best-ever tally) before winning the 2018 National League Play-off final. He and his team had also produced an absolute miracle by playing since the first minute with ten players.
Mellon will forever be remembered as the man who returned the Club to the Football League, doing so with the second-highest win rate in the Club's history (56.5%). He is only the third manager to lead the Club out at Wembley, and the second to do so on multiple occasions.
The exciting thing about Mellon is that he can continue to add to his reputation, hopefully starting in 2018-19.
4. Bert Cooke 1912 — 1922 (Win Rate 58.3%)
The Club's first, and combined longest serving, manager, Bert Cooke was responsible for taking a regional, non-League Tranmere Rovers into the Football League. He steered the Club through the horrors of World War One, guided them to the current location of Prenton Park and helped lay the foundations for the likes of Jack Carr and Jim Knowles.
With a short two-year period away from first team duties between 1922 and 1924, Cooke was in charge of the Tranmere Rovers football team for the majority of the period between 1912 and 1935 — an astonishing length of service. He remained employed by the Club throughout his two-year hiatus and was fundamental in securing many talented players.
It is as Tranmere's first-ever Football League manager that Cooke will be best remembered. His vision for the Club saw it climb the regional leagues, playing exceptional football and becoming one of the best non-League sides in the country. His 58.3% win rate is also the best the Club has ever seen and for it to be maintained for over a decade reveals exceptional consistency.
Even though his second term (1924-1935) was statistically less rewarding than his first, his 41.1% win rate during that term puts him thirteenth on the all-time win rate table. He is therefore the only man to have two tenures in the top-half of that table.
3. John Aldridge (Win Rate 34.6%)
The Club's best-ever player, John Aldridge made the transition to the dugout in 1996, following the departure of the legendary John King. The man with perhaps the hardest job in Tranmere Rovers' history, 'Aldo' had huge shoes to fill both on and off the field of play.
Whilst the Club would not reach the heights of the King era in the league, he would provide the SWA with some of its best cup performances. Indeed, Tranmere became famous during the late 1990s and early 2000s for cup upsets, chalking up multiple memorable victories against higher-tier opposition.
They produced one of the best-ever FA Cup comebacks in beating Southampton 4-3 after a 0-3 half-time deficit. They humiliated neighbours Everton 0-3 at Goodison Park in a performance that would be dubbed 'St. Yates' Day' by Rovers' fans. But the undoubted jewel in the crown of Aldridge's tenure is the 2000 League Cup final against Leicester City, where he became the first manager to lead the Club to a major domestic cup final, and only the second to take the Club to Wembley.
In addition, he maintained Tranmere's second-tier status for a further four seasons despite having far fewer resources than his predecessor.
It's hard to comprehend the amount of pressure on his shoulders in taking over from John King. That he performed so admirably says a lot about John as a person, his cup runs carving his own place amongst the Club's greatest managers.
2. Jim Knowles (Win Rate 38.8%)
A somewhat uncelebrated name in the Club's history, Jim Knowles produced one of the Club's greatest achievements. A hugely private man, little is known about him, although his performance as Tranmere manager is more than enough to warrant his second-place on our list.
Appointed in 1936, Knowles was the youngest manager in the Football League at the time, yet he proceeded to outperform his more experienced contemporaries. In winning the 1937-38 Third Division North title, he became the first manager to win a Football League promotion with Tranmere Rovers, whilst he remains the first and only manager to win a Football League divisional championship for the SWA. Do not be fooled by his 38.8% win rate, which is hugely hampered by an awful showing in the Second Division. His win rate in the title success was 54.8% — simply outstanding.
Yes, he massively underperformed in the second tier, but as a club Tranmere were simply not ready to compete at that level. It says everything about Jim's achievement that it would take fifty-three years for the Club to return to the second tier. There is only one other person who can say they led the Club to such heights.
1. John King 1987 — 1996 (Win Rate 43.2%)
Is there anyone reading this who didn't know who would be number one?
The only manager to achieve a promotion with Tranmere in each of multiple terms in charge, it is for his second, and longest, tenure that John King is THE Tranmere managerial legend. His achievements are well documented — two promotions, five trips to Wembley, three consecutive second-tier play-offs — the list is endless.
So, too, is the list of legendary players recruited by King, with John Aldridge and Pat Nevin the stand-out performers. Sean Teale remains the Club's record signing at £450,000. The fourth-place finish in 1992-93 remains the Club's highest-ever league position.
King's way with words led to many legendary quotes, words that continue to reverberate through the corridors of Prenton Park to this day. Fans dream of a second 'Trip to the Moon'. Even this website is named after a famous King quote comparing Tranmere to a 'Deadly Submarine'.
In 2002, the Borough Road Stand at Prenton Park was renamed the Johnny King Stand, whilst in 2014, the fans paid for a statue of John to be sited outside the main gates of the Stadium.
Nobody is thought of more highly that John King.
The reason for that?
He is the Club's greatest manager.
So that's the list. What do you think? Do you agree with our choices? Have we missed anyone out? Let us know your top ten on social media — we'd love to hear your thoughts.
Remember: Check back tomorrow for day two of our ten-day countdown to the 2018-19 season.9 Days »