The 9 Best TRFC Signings 2001-14
From front to back, we assess the best of Rovers' previous third-tier tenure
Hello and welcome to Deadly Submarine's 2019-20 League One countdown. Twelve months ago, we launched our inaugural countdown feature in preparation for Tranmere's return to the EFL. The response was incredible, and so we are delighted to be able to bring the feature back as we look ahead to Rovers' third-tier return.
With just nine days until Rochdale visit Prenton Park for the opening fixture of the League One calendar, we will bring you a new piece every day until 2nd August, with each related to the number of days remaining in some manner.
Make sure to follow us on Twitter (@DSubmarine17), Facebook (@DeadlySubmarine) and our new Instagram account (@deadlysubmarineofficial) to ensure you keep abreast of the latest releases. Each new entry will be released at 6am on the appropriate date, so you should have plenty of time to digest each.
And if you do miss an instalment, you will find links at the bottom of each day's entry to take you back to any that may have escaped your attention.
Please find below our content for day two in the 2019-20 countdown.
Following relegation from then Division One in 2001, Tranmere returned to the third tier for the first time since 1st June 1991.
Under the leadership of Dave Watson, they would mount an unsuccessful charge towards an immediate rectification in 2001-02, ultimately placing in twelfth position. In the subsequent twelve seasons, Ray Mathias, Brian Little, Ronnie Moore (twice), John Barnes, Les Parry and John McMahon presided over teams engaged in battles at either end of the League One table. The Club's eventual relegation to League Two in 2014 returned the Super Whites to the EFL's basement division for the first time since 1989.
With eight permanent managers come signings, and in Rovers' case, a lot of them. In a period defined by a descent into chronic instability, there were numerous here today, gone tomorrow faces with whom the SWA failed to connect.
On the other hand, there were a select few who brought a certain something to Prenton Park.
As Tranmere find themselves just nine days away from a return to League One action, Deadly Submarine brings you the nine players who stood above the rest as the best signings of Rovers' previous League One tenure.
The criteria to be included are simple; the player must have signed with Tranmere after their 2001 relegation and must have been a permanent member of the squad. Youth team prospects who were given professional contracts post-2001 have also been determined eligible for inclusion.
With one goalkeeper, three defenders, a midfielder and four strikers, the list highlights exceptional talents recruited across the pitch. There are also players representing four of the seven different men tasked with managing the Club during this period, John Barnes and Les Parry the only permanent managers failing to register a signing.
From skill on the pitch to influence off of it, these are the players who elevated themselves above their third-tier contemporaries at Prenton Park:
Simon Haworth (2002-2005)
With Tranmere struggling to sustain a play-off challenge in their first year post-relegation, Dave Watson was under huge pressure to improve the squad. In the days before the transfer window, he turned to Wigan Athletic's Simon Haworth, who had scored 11 goals in 29 appearances up until that point in 2001-02.
Joining in February 2002, Haworth made an immediate impact, scoring in his second, third and fourth games for Tranmere, ending the season with 5 goals in 12 games for the Super Whites.
As his former Wigan boss Ray Mathias took to the Prenton Park hotseat in the summer of 2002, Simon flourished at Tranmere. He scored 22 goals in 47 appearances in 2002-03, helping the Club to a record 80 points.
Scoring just 7 goals in 27 games in 2003-04, Haworth would suffer a career-ending injury away to Brentford on 10th January 2004, making a further 3 appearances in November 2004 before retiring in March 2005. His Tranmere career produced 34 goals from 89 games, or 0.38 goals per game.
One of the best natural finishers the Club has ever seen, Simon was a major factor in Ray Mathias' run to a record points total. Dave Watson may not have done too much correctly, but signing Haworth was undoubtedly his best contribution as Manager.
Who knows where Rovers may have gone if Simon's talents hadn't been cruelly snatched away from them?
You can read more about Simon in his profile here.
Ryan Taylor (2002-2005)
An incredibly talented young right-back, Ryan made his senior Tranmere debut at just 18 years old. Four days after said debut, he had signed a new 4-year contract and by the end of the 2002-03 season he had made 32 appearances.
First-choice right-back under both Ray Mathias and Brian Little, he quickly became a key component of the sides that brought league and cup excitement to Prenton Park. In 122 appearances for Tranmere, his set-play threat earned him 19 goals, including a free-kick in the 2005 League One play-off semi-final second leg at home to Hartlepool United.
Such was his brilliance, he earned a £750,000 move to Premier League Wigan Athletic, helping boost the Club's finances upon his departure.
Despite his youth, he is arguably one of the best defenders to ever represent Tranmere. Moreover, his value to the teams of Mathias and Little cannot be overestimated. His forward runs and delivery were key assets of Rovers' attacking play.
One of a select few 21st-Century youth players to earn the Club a substantial fee, he was certainly one of the best signings between 2001 and 2014.
You can read more about Ryan in his profile here.
Eugène Dadi (2003-2005)
Full-time footballer, part-time fashion designer.
One of Ray Mathias' best signings for Tranmere, Ivorian striker Eugène Dadi quickly became a cult icon at Prenton Park. Signed from Scottish club Livingston in 2003, he proved an instant hit for Rovers, topping the Club's scoring charts for 2003-04 with 19 goals from 49 appearances in all competitions.
His iconic dreadlocks, unique style of play and wider influence at the Club catapulted him into a leading role within Rovers' charge to the League One play-offs in 2005.
A key player for both Mathias and Brian Little, the fashion designer was also, for a short time, the Club's official tailor, whilst teammate and current Tranmere assistant manager Michael Jackson was once persuaded to model his personal clothing range — with the subsequent promotional material gaining national attention!
With 28 goals in 84 games, Dadi scored an average 0.33 goals per game and helped the Super Whites perform admirably in league and cup alike. Very few have made such an impact in such a short tenure.
You can read more about Eugène in his profile here.
Ian Goodison (2004-2014)
When Brian Little brought a 32-year-old Jamaican centre-back to Prenton Park in 2004, nobody could have envisioned the sheer scale of the impact he would have.
Initially deployed as a left-back, Goodison hardly set the world alight but his move to the centre of the defence changed everything. He was, quite simply, immense. Big, powerful, quick, intimidating, inspirational — one could continue ad infinitum with superlatives to describe Ian and still conspire to do him a disservice.
Under Brian Little and especially Ronnie Moore, Goodison became an icon, not just at Tranmere but throughout the lower reaches of the EFL. He cared not for an opponent's reputation and spared not a single ounce of his own in fighting the Tranmere cause.
As Rovers slid towards an eventual League One demise, Ian provided the SWA with a hero during times when heroes had become scarce.
By the time of his departure, he had amassed 410 appearances and was the undisputed king of Prenton Park. Indeed, his testimonial against an International XI on 5th May 2015, just days after Rovers had been relegated out of the EFL, provided one last dose of positivity at the precise moment it was needed.
To sign any 32-year-old defender and receive a decade of service has to be good business. To get a decade of Ian Goodison? Outstanding.
You can read more about Ian in his profile here.
Chris Greenacre (2005-2009)
Tasked with moving the Club on from their 2005 play-off semi-final defeat to Hartlepool United, Brian Little turned to a Stoke City's Chris Greenacre. A formidable striker for Mansfield Town, with whom he had scored 58 goals in 134 appearances (0.43 goals per game), Greenacre had found himself on the wing for much of his 3-year stay at the Potters.
Nonetheless, Little felt he could recapture his Mansfield form and brought him to Prenton Park.
It proved to be great business, with Chris topping the scoring charts in his first three seasons at Tranmere, scoring 18 goals in 2005-06, 19 goals in 2006-07 and 14 goals in 2007-08.
Upon his departure in 2009, Greenacre had scored a total of 53 goals in 162 appearances (0.33 goals per game) and had led the line with distinction throughout. An integral component of the team under both Brian Little and Ronnie Moore, he is undoubtedly one of Tranmere's best League One purchases between 2001 and 2014.
You can read more about Chris in his profile here.
Chris Shuker (2006-2010)
If ever a player embodied the phrase 'It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog', it would be Chris Shuker.
Standing just 5-feet-5-inches tall, what Chris lacked in stature was compensated by his skill, pace and ability to terrify opposition defenders. A true out-and-out winger, Shuker was one of Ronnie Moore's best signings for Tranmere, the then boss bringing the former Barnsley midfielder to The Wirral in 2006.
If he wasn't sprinting down the wing to deliver a cross to a teammate, he was shaming an opponent with a trick or even embarrassing a goalkeeper by scoring directly from a corner!
At his very best, he was arguably the best winger in League One, a theory lent credence by his nomination to the 2006-07 PFA League One Team of the Year by his contemporaries.
Suffering a serious injury midway through his Tranmere journey, he played a number of games for a post-Moore Rovers team that struggled at the bottom of the division, but he should be remembered for his glittering best.
A player who did so much to elevate the performances of his teammates yet was also capable of winning the game on his own with a flash of brilliance to either score or set up a decisive goal, he proved to be an excellent signing.
You can read more about Chris in his profile here.
Danny Coyne (2007-2009)
When Ronnie Moore became Manager, he signed veteran goalkeeper Gavin Ward, who played most of 2006-07 as first-choice ahead of John Achterberg. After just one season, Ward departed and it was to another veteran, Danny Coyne, Moore turned next.
Given his debut for Rovers in 1993, Coyne left Prenton Park in 1999 to join Grimsby Town. He had become a Welsh international and had amassed a number of appearances at Premier League and Championship level.
His return to Rovers was somewhat of a coup. He didn't disappoint.
Over his two seasons between 2007 and 2009, he was imperious in the Tranmere goal. Perhaps the most naturally gifted man to ever play as goalkeeper for the Prenton Park outfit, he brought a calm and solidity to the defence that left the SWA in no doubt about the side's ability to prevent the opposition from scoring.
In his second year, 2008-09, Coyne kept an incredible 20 clean sheets and won the League One Golden Glove award on the way to helping Tranmere build an astounding 18-match unbeaten streak at Prenton Park.
Upon his departure in 2009, he had added 80 appearances to his initial Tranmere total of 110, but perhaps more telling is his destination. He went on to make 26 appearances for Championship club Middlesbrough in 2009-10, stepping back to a level more appropriate for his abilities.
One of the very best goalkeepers to ever represent the SWA, he was an unbelievable signing for a League One club and the immediate attempts to replace him, admittedly on a budget, only served to reinforce how lucky Rovers were to have attracted a player of his calibre.
You can read more about Danny in his profile here.
Aaron Cresswell (2008-2011)
When one assesses Cresswell's career to date, it would seem daft to suggest he wasn't always destined for the top. A full England international, Premier League player for West Ham United and over 350 senior career appearances to date, it may be surprising to know that he wasn't universally popular whilst at Prenton Park.
Well, certainly intially.
There were, however, a select group of fans who could see his potential from an early age. Graduating from the youth setup in 2008, left-back Aaron was thrust into the spotlight at just 19 years old, going on the make 80 appearances over a 3-year tenure at Rovers.
Much like the aforementioned Ryan Taylor, Cresswell possessed great set-piece delivery and was a constant scoring threat from free-kicks and corners. He could also produce sublime crosses for his teammates and, by his departure in 2011, had developed into one of the hottest prospects in the EFL.
Upon his move to Ipswich Town, Tranmere received a reported six-figure compensation package from the Tractor Boys. Moreover, clauses in the deal with Ipswich saw Tranmere receive 20% of the initial £2million fee when he joined West Ham United in 2014, with further instalments each time West Ham paid any contractual bonuses.
For someone who split opinion, Cresswell rewarded Tranmere's faith in a manner very few have done since. One of just a handful of contemporary youth graduates to earn the Club significant transfer cash, he has to be considered amongst Rovers' best League One signings 2001-2014.
You can read more about Aaron in his profile here.
Ian Thomas-Moore (2008-2011)
Having departed Tranmere in one of the Club's few £1million-plus sales in 1997, Ian Moore built a strong career with the likes of Nottingham Forest, Stockport County, Burnley and Leeds United.
Son of Rovers legend Ronnie Moore, the then Tranmere manager decided to recruit his offspring in January 2008. Ian left Hartlepool United to return to Prenton Park following an 11-year absence, and he did so with aplomb.
Over the next three-and-a-half seasons, Ian would become a lynchpin of a side caught in a forming whirlpool of despair. Under his father, Moore would prove a very useful weapon in the attacking arsenal.
Under John Barnes and Les Parry, he would shoulder the responsibility of leadership. Changing his name to Ian Thomas-Moore did nothing to lessen his impact on the team. Captaining a brigade of young and inexperienced soldiers, he led the team to a famous 0-3 victory against Stockport County in 2010 that sealed an unlikely final-day escape from relegation.
He scored crucial goals at critical times and represented the Club brilliantly for much of his second spell, which admittedly ended in a sour manner with a move to Rotherham United. Nonetheless, without Ian, there is every chance Rovers would have been relegated long before they succumbed to the inevitable in 2014.
Whilst Ronnie Moore signed some brilliant players, perhaps none of his signings left as lasting an impression as his own son, Ian, who helped guide the Club through some of its most turbulent League One moments.
You can read more about Ian in his profile here.
Identifying just nine players from the plethora of signings made in the thirteen years in League One was exceptionally difficult. There are many other players for whom a legitimate case for inclusion in this list could be put forth.
It is therefore appropriate to give some honourable mentions to players who may have made your list.
Current assistant manager Michael Jackson (2004-2006) proved an inspired signing. Initially signed on loan under Ray Mathias in 2002, he completed a permanent switch to Tranmere under Brian Little in 2004, captaining the side on many occasions. A real leader, he was a pivotal player in the 2005 play-off run and was a consummate professional throughout his time at the Club.
Another returning face was that of Andy Robinson (2010, 2011-2014). With Rovers struggling for both cash and points, the SWA conducted a 'Les Aid' budget fund, the proceeds of which were used to secure the loan signing of former player Robinson. He helped the Club avoid relegation in 2010 and, after signing permanently in 2011, was a key player as Rovers dared to dream of the League One title in 2012-13. Sadly, it wasn't to be, but Andy's quality and influence at a time when Tranmere needed both should not be overlooked.
With the previously referenced signing of Ian Goodison, it would be easy to gloss over the signing of his compatriot, Paul Hall (2004-2005). Whilst his time at Rovers was short-lived, it was indeed memorable. A tricky player who got fans off their backsides whilst simultaneously putting opposition players on theirs, he provided much of the ammunition from which the likes of Hume and Dadi capitalised.
Finally, a driving force from both defence and midfield, Antony Kay (2007-2009) brought a bit of everything to Ronnie Moore's side. Height, presence, physicality, possession, set-piece threat and leadership are just some of the characteristics of the former Barnsley man. One of the main reasons why Tranmere threatened the play-offs in 2007-08 and 2008-09, the SWA coined the phrase “Superman wears Antony Kay pyjamas” in honour of his exploits. Enough said.
So, there we have it, our top nine signings of 2001-2014.
Do you agree with our list? Have we missed any players you feel are obvious candidates? Who would you replace if it was your list? Let us know your thoughts on our various social media channels.
Remember: Check back tomorrow for day three of our ten-day countdown to the 2019-20 season.« 10 Days 08 Days »