THIS is a good week for Tranmere fans to remind themselves that promotion chasing at Prenton Park is invariably a bumpy ride.
While supporters are betraying varying degrees of anxiety about the team’s slide from top spot in the League One table on the back of six defeats in nine games, enthusiasm is unrestrained about a plan to honour Johnny King, the most successful manager in the club’s history.
The Tranmere Rovers Supporters Trust want to erect a statue of King at Prenton Park by next season. They’ve commissioned no less an artist than Tom Murphy, creator of the Bill Shankly statue at Anfield and the John Lennon statue at Liverpool airport, to do the work.
They have secured the enthusiastic approval of King’s family and hope to persuade the club to agree to locate the statue in a prominent position at Prenton Park so all fans can enjoy it.
The Trust say they are confident of raising £50,000 from supporters to cover the cost of the project.
Chasing promotion was King’s stock in trade during two spells as manager, from 1975 to 1980 and from 1987 to 1996.
He took Tranmere teams to the division above on three occasions, in 1976, 1989 and 1991, missed out in the play-off final in 1990 and reached the play-off semi-finals in the division now known as the Championship in three successive seasons from 1993 to 1995.
None of those journeys was a smooth one and he will probably advise anyone suffering the symptoms of a faint heart about Tranmere’s current form to keep the faith and hold their nerve.
A number of King’s teams made the play-offs from less promising positions than the one currently held by Ronnie Moore’s class of 2012/13 with 10 games remaining.
Tranmere historian Peter Bishop describes the Trust initiative as “a wonderful tribute to wonderful man.”
Bishop, co-author of “Tranmere Rovers – the complete record” and the club’s programme editor during the 1990s, points out that one of King’s most important qualities was in resisting the urge to change course when the going got a little rough.
Bishop said: “Among Johnny King’s many attributes as a manager was his theory about picking his best XI and then sticking with it.
“He would resist the temptation to change or tinker.
“A lot of modern managers are tinkermen. Johnny King was the opposite and it was that consistency of selection that helped to build success and took the club on a journey from the old fourth division to the Championship. Perhaps it would not work for every manager but it worked for him.”
Bishop remembers being given an insight into King’s skills as a manager by Warwick Rimmer, the youth development officer who brought dozens of talented young players into the professional ranks at Prenton Park.
“Warwick reckoned Johnny King had a special knack of picking the right team to win a match,” said Bishop. “He saw it happen time after time.”
Bishop added: “Ronnie Moore, the manager now, is a link back to Johnny King’s time. He was a centre forward in King’s team in the 1970s and his assistant manager between 1987 and 1996.
“I think some of the ideas have rubbed off on Ronnie. He’s not one for making changes for change’s sake either. He’s been doing an excellent job on limited resources since he came back to manage 12 months ago.”
Trust chairman Ben Harrison said the idea behind the statue is to “create a legacy, something for supporters to relate to in years to come.”
He added: “The generation of supporters aged 35 and over, who watched Johnny King’s teams play, are showing a lot of enthusiasm for this project. It is hitting the mark.
“You don’t find many signposts celebrating Tranmere’s history around Prenton Park, save for the Borough Road stand being renamed the Johnny King Stand a few years ago.
“This is something we would like to do now with a view to the longer term.”
King, London born but an adopted Merseysider, served Tranmere as a player (more than 240 appearances between 1960 and 1968) and a coach before succeeding Ron Yeats as manager in 1975.
Rovers won promotion from the old fourth division to the third in King’s first season in charge, with Moore contributing 38 goals. Moore became assistant manager when King began his second spell in charge in 1987.
Backed by the financial clout of chairman/owner Peter Johnson, King created and developed teams that took Tranmere from the old fourth division to the division now known as the Championship within four years. King brought international players such as John Aldridge, Pat Nevin and Gary Stevens to Prenton Park as Tranmere hammered on the door to the Premier League by reaching the play-offs three times in the mid-1990s.
Prenton Park was redeveloped during that time, becoming an all-seater stadium with a 16,000-plus capacity.
King was relieved of his duties by chairman Frank Corfe in 1996, towards the end of Tranmere’s first indifferent season in nine years. He then headed into a quiet retirement with his family at their Wirral home.
Bishop said: “John was sickened by losing his job. He felt he had unfinished business and wanted to do more. The chairman who sacked him, Frank Corfe, acted on a rash gut reaction.
“With the benefit of hindsight, we can see Johhny King’s second spell as the club’s halcyon days. Young fans talk about getting back to the Championship, where the club belongs. But Tranmere area a small club who have spent most of their history in the bottom two divisions. That’s our natural home. Johnny King, making prudent use of Peter Johnson’s financial investment, took the club onto a different level.”
The Trust plan to announce more details about the Johnny King statue at their annual meeting at the Belmont Suite, Prenton Park on Saturday lunchtime (12.30pm), prior to the home game against Oldham Athletic. Trust members and supporters who would like to join are welcome.
Fans who want to make a donation can find details by visiting the Trust’s website (www.tranmereroverstrust.co.uk) or by calling at Glory Hunters sporting memorabilia store in Borough Road, close to Prenton Park.