The FA Cup has come in for a fair bit of criticism this season from many quarters, including a barrage or two from me. However, when the draw was made for the last eight and we had the prospect of a tie over the river at Prenton a few prayers were offered up in the hope the hope that it would happen. When Tranny were three down to 'The Saints' I thought that Godly Glenn Hoddle had more sway upstairs than I did and I wasn't relishing the prospect of a game down at the 'The Dell.' Then came the miracle that was the Rovers recovery and somebody up there did like us and instead of a trip to the Solent, all that was needed was a 'Ferry Cross The Mersey!'
The FA Cup, so tarnished in recent times by those who have sold its traditions for a palm full of TV silver had finally thrown up 'one of those ties!' Mind you, in fairness Tranny had already had 'one of those ties' when they had made their way over the Mersey to put an end to any lasting Evertonian dreams that this season might be any different to previous ones!
We Reds had enjoyed a good laugh at the Blues expense as our old hero Aldo had put one over on the Blues. The fear now was that this tie could leave them laughing at us and we would have egg all over our faces. It was a tie that had all the ingredients of a major upset. Tranny bottom of the first division looking for all the world as if this season might see them fall through the trapdoor of relegation. A Liverpool side that might be showing a few signs of wear and tear of a season that has been dominated by two games almost every week. A pitch that might not be described exactly as a 'Bowling Green.' A Liverpool side that had been involved in a demanding UEFA Cup tie only a couple of days before that had seen the side play ninety minutes of football in conditions that were not all that favourable. The small ground would be fulland the home support would be whipped up into a frenzy in the hope that David could once again slay Goliath! More than that, it was in so many ways, a local' derby!'
Outside the ground the Tranmere fans were giving us the eye in the way that the fans of the smaller clubs do when you go to 'their place' for a Cup-tie. To them this was the Prince and the Pauper, the Hare and the Tortoise and we were the team with nothing to win and everything to lose!
On Saturday little Wycombe had gone into the big boys garden in Leicester and sent the home team spinning out of the FA Cup [more of what the Cup used to be about, a fairy tale as the press would like to say] but as I entered one of the home Stands at Prenton Park I was comforting myself with the knowledge that lightning doesn't strike twice - well not often anyway! I was amongst the Tranmere supporters courtesy of a Tranny season ticket holder who managed to get me a 'spare' and thanks to him for that.
Then as kick off approaches the nerves begin, the doubts surface and every other thought seems to be accompanied by "What if?" I even started to regret the laughs I'd had at the expense of the Evertonians because if we fell on our faces the sound of guffaws from Goodison would, despite their season so far, have been deafening.
The game started in typical Cup style with the Rovers going for it but also in typical Cup style they gave us a couple of openings and we were in the comfort zone with a two goal lead. Our second looked a class goal regardless of the opposition. Tranny were split apart by some superb pass and move stuff right out of the Melwood Coaching manual. I relaxed and at half-time I even treated myself to the rare luxury of a coffee and hot dog - now for me that is pushing the boat out inside a football ground! Then as I took my seat again it suddenly hit me. This is how Tranmere want it. Two down, down and out, now for the comeback. The old FA Cup history books are full of such fancy tales. Yes, and Tranmere had read them as well. Almost on cue they score and at that moment a shiver went down my spine as I thought about all those TV and Radio commentaries that would now be telling the watching and listening world that the comeback was now on!
Thank God for Steven Gerrard. Not just for the fact that he soon restored the two goal advantage but thank God Steven Gerrard plays for us anyway! Back to the comfort zone and I looked at the home fans around me, they had suddenly taken on a look of "We're gonna get stuffed here!"
Back to the Melwood Coaching manual and I think that our Robbie might be given the chapters on defending as his homework this week. Either that or he'll be banished from our half of the pitch for future matches. Actually I didn't blame him all that much because I thought he'd done brilliantly to get the ball in the first place, and we don't blame defenders for missing simple chances when they stray up front do we?
So now it's 3-2 and the faces around me have that "It's on again" look. I can see in my minds eye the headlines in the morning papers or I'm thinking about how the hell do I sort out tickets for the replay? You have to ask yourself now and then "Why do we let ourselves be put through this?"
For a while the ball seems to spend an eternity in our penalty area and the home fans are shouting for everything. The bottom lip starts to get bitten and every minute or less the watch is viewed to see how much time we've got left. Then we get a penalty and I look away as usual this time at our fans in the wonderfully named 'Cowshed!' Yeah, even that has a touch of what the game used to be all about! The reaction of the fans tells me we've gone 4-2 up and a glance at the watch tells me we're heading towards the final countdown.
To be fair Tranmere never stop having a go. They won't lie down and they still do their best to make life uncomfortable. Then it's all over and the strains of "We're going to Cardiff twice" roll around Prenton Park.
It had been a battle and that's how it should be. That was what the FA Cup used to be about. Tranmere had done Aldo proud and they'd done themselves proud and we had survived another banana skin. There was a collective "phew" from the Reds, a nod of the head that the business had been done and we wished the Tranmere fans all the best.
If the game had been what the Cup used to be about and should still be about the FA then showed their greedy side and in keeping with the downside of football they go ahead and make the draw for the semi finals whilst we are still coming out of Prenton Park and even dafter whilst the final sixth round tie is just starting, as if a couple of hours would make too much difference. If the game we had just watched and the one that we now have to overcome was what it should be all about and why the Cup still retains a shred of romance, the draw was why it is so badly tainted in this age of greed.
The cheers from our supporters were a clear indication that we would be meeting Wycombe Wanderers for a place in the Final. The romance of the FA Cup was back on the agenda once again. Little Wycombe versus the might of Liverpool, and of course, there is also one Laurie Sanchez. I think we remember him from 1988. Prepare to put your heads under the blankets as the 1988 FA Cup Final is revived and replayed and the printers ink is used by the barrel load as they all remind us what the Wycombe manager once did to us!
But there is no time to dwell on the past or the future because of the present and the fact that we've got another tasty titbit for our tired troops to overcome in the form of FC Porto on Thursday. I just can't wait to get down to Anfield on Thursday and put my nerves through the emotional mincer once again!