YOU can’t go to a Tranmere Rovers match without encountering the Rockford legend. At every home game, Tranmere’s players run out to the theme tune to The Rockford Files, the 1970s US TV show about a private detective who lived in a caravan (well, OK, a mobile home).
This has been a Tranmere tradition for something like 25 years. Apparently, it started back in the 1980s when Tranmere used to play virtually all of their home games on a Friday night. And The Rockford Files was on TV at the same time as the kick off.
Legend has it that a blast of the 1970s synth classic was a jokey reminder to Tranmere’s fans that they could have been in the warmth of their home watching Jim Rockford shuffle his way through another investigation rather than watching Rovers shuffle their way to a home defeat by Newport.
Thanks to the wonders of digital television, you can now watch The Rockford Files pretty much any time you want, even without Sky Plus or a DVD recorder. Tranmere now play most of their home games on Saturdays. But tradition is tradition. And so as the players of Tranmere and Hereford emerged on to the Prenton Park pitch for this afternoon’s FA Cup third round tie, The Rockford Files theme tune blared out over the public address system.
I find these little quirky touches matter more as I get older, especially as football’s corporate branding juggernaut at the top level now even standardises the music played as the teams prepare to kick off.
Not so bad in the Champions League, which does have a stirring theme tune which adds to the sense of occasion. But all Premier League games are now prefaced by its own official theme tune, an instantly-forgettable rock-lite dirge that sounds is if it was belched out by committee.
By contrast, Tranmere’s individual touches can’t help but be endearing. It also helped that its arguably the friendliest club I have come across all season.
When, due entirely to my own incompetence, I managed to miss Tranmere manager Ronnie Moore’s post-match press conference, then bumped into him outside the directors’ lounge, he very kindly stopped and gave me a short interview. Not all of his fellow managers would have been so accommodating.
And the game itself? Well, it came to life after a sluggish first half. Hereford impressed me when I saw them at Stockport two months ago; they pass the ball around well and counter-attack with speed and confidence, and really ought to go up automatically from League Two this season. They were certainly a match for League One Tranmere.
What’s more, Hereford have Superman in goal. No, they really do. Rarely does a Bulls game go by without their fans rising to a chant of ‘Wayne Brown is Superman’.
Brown is a half-decent goalkeeper. But he doesn’t look like Superman. He’s not faster than a speeding bullet. He’s not stronger than a locomotive. He doesn’t even get changed in a phone box, for Christ’s sake.
Like a lot of the more unusual football chants, this one appears to have developed entirely at random. A coachload of Hereford fans were en route to a Conference game at Morecambe a couple of years ago when it was called off at late notice. So the coach rerouted to Turf Moor, where Burnley were playing Reading.
So taken were the Hereford fans with Reading’s song about defender Ibrahima Sonko (“Sonko is Superman”, if you hadn’t guessed), that they decided to apply it to one of their own players. And they chose their goalkeeper. Now there are T-shirts and everything.
Hereford’s fans made most of the noise at Prenton Park this afternoon. When Ben Smith put them in front with a fierce volley into the top corner, I felt the game was theirs for the taking. But then the match went a little bit mad, with three goals in four minutes.
First Tranmere midfielder Steve Jennings, who had a spell on loan at Hereford last season, equalised in the 74th minute. Hereford almost immediately charged up to the other end, and Trevor Benjamin – now on the 16th club of a wandering career that make Nicolas Anelka look dull – fired in a cross shot to make it 2-1.
Two minutes after that goal, Gareth Taylor – once of Manchester City – headed in Paul McLaren’s right-wing cross from close range. 2-2. Replay at Edgar Street a week on Tuesday.
Moore was philosophical about the draw, and predicted a match against his last club should Rovers get through. He said: “If we win the replay, I think the chairman wants Manchester United or someone like that. Knowing our luck, we’ll probably end up with Oldham.”
You can bet they won’t play The Rockford Files at Old Trafford or Boundary Park. Or, for that matter, at Edgar Street.