BY RAY HARPER
2014 was something of calamitous year for football clubs on the Wirral, with all 3 major senior teams on the Cheshire peninsula relegated in 2013/14. Tranmere Roversâ€™ final day relegation from League One may have hit the headlines, but the fortunes of Cammel Laird and Vauxhall Motors reinforced the sense of a football nadir in the North West.
Cammel Laird, a club formed by a shipbuilding company near Birkenhead, had risen from the relative obscurity of the North West Counties Football League to the Evostik North in the space of a few seasons. On a sunny May day in 2006/07, they were tantalisingly close to a place in the Northern Premier division (then the Unibond), effectively three rungs down from the Football League. They held their own against Eastwood Town for most of the match, before narrowly losing 2-1. Fast forward to 2014, and I was at Padihamâ€™s ground to witness a confident 3-1 away win by Cammel Laird, with a great chipped goal by Joe Evans. There was a whiff of doubt in the programme about their future, with rumours circulating that they would soon be resigning from the Evostik Northern set-up. For 2014/15, the reformed Cammel Laird 1907 announced their intention to start anew in the North West Counties league. To their credit they have set their new league on fire this season, claiming 50 points out of a possible 66 to date, with only one loss all year.
Further south, Vauxhall Motors have had an equally tumultuous year at Rivacre Park. Like Cammel Laird, Motors were originally a works team, playing next to the Vauxhall car plant near Hooton. I visited Rivacre Park on a couple of occasions â€“ against Harrogate in 2006 and my team Kingâ€™s Lynn in 2009.
2008/09 was actually Vauxhall Motorsâ€™ best season, when they finished 11th in a tough Blue Square North league. They arguably reached a peak when they took Hartlepool United to a replay at Rivacre Park in the FA Cup 1st Round in 2010/11. Even as the geographic coverage of the Conference North expanded, taking in the likes of Corby and Worcester, Vauxhall Motors were a mainstay of the league. They had a good innings of 10 seasons in the Conference North, and it was with sadness that they resigned from the league to join the West Cheshire league for 2014/15. The announcement from the chairman cited low gates and increased travel costs as the reasons for this decision.
Tranmere Rovers, in contrast, were relegated for football reasons, having picked up 47 points and 12 league wins all year in 2013/14. They had been in League One for years (and seemed to have found their level in the third tier), but never really challenged for promotion. A stunning start in 2012/13 (leading to 1st place after 12 games) petered out to a respectable (if unspectacular) 11th place finish. They have had a slow start to life in League Two this season, with the club firmly in the relegation quagmire. At the time of writing, they sit 23rd in the division, with 22 points from 23 games. To top it all, on December 9th they conceded a two-goal advantage to Walsall in the Johnstoneâ€™s Paint Trophy, before losing 5-4 on penalties.
Over the water, Liverpoolâ€™s major non-league clubs â€“ Marine, Prescot and Southport â€“ continue to be stable and relatively successful. More Merseyside clubs have joined the non-league pyramid in recent years â€“ Runcorn Town, Runcorn Linnets, Widnes Vikings, and now Litherland REYMCA all compete in the North West Counties League. Meanwhile the Wirral struggles on, and while Cammel Laird look like they could bounce back within a couple of seasons, sadly it may be a long road back for Vauxhall Motors and Tranmere Rovers.
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