Chester v Tranmere Rovers: The North West's forgotten derby game

Chester were still a third tier Football League club when they moved to Bumpers Lane in 1992
Chester were still a third-tier Football League club when they moved to Bumpers Lane in 1992

It will be another big day for the north west of England when Liverpool meet Manchester City in the League Cup final at Wembley on Sunday.

But, four and a half hours earlier, there will be plenty at stake when two of BBC Radio Merseyside's other clubs - Chester and Tranmere Rovers - meet for a noon showdown at Bumpers Lane.

The two clubs have met regularly since November 1931, the season after Chester entered the Football League. Yet, until Chester's trip to Prenton Park in September when Rovers comfortably won 2-0, they had not played each other in 24 and a half years.

This will be Rovers' first West Cheshire derby trip to Chester since the Deva Stadium first opened in 1992 - and it will, in fact, be a third successive different venue for a Tranmere away game with Chester.

The last time they played an away game against Chester, it was during the club's two-year exile in Macclesfield, at the Moss Rose in March 1991.

Prior to that was a 2-2 draw at Sealand Road, in what was Chester's penultimate game at their home of 84 years.

Form guide to Sunday's game

After coming from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Kidderminster Harriers on 20 February, having won 3-0 at Altrincham four days earlier, Chester appear to be back on an upturn.

New signing James Alabi came off the bench to hit a brilliant equaliser at Aggborough, which hints at more to come.

Chester, 15th in the National League, are 15 points behind Tranmere, who are sixth and just one point adrift of the play-off places.

Their 1-0 home defeat by leaders Cheltenham was a first defeat for Gary Brabin's experienced side in six games.

Burr on Chester's 'other derby'

"If you can't get up for a game like that you might as well not be playing," Chester boss Steve Burr told BBC Radio Merseyside. "It should be a fantastic atmosphere.

"I wouldn't say it's as big as the Wrexham game because I know how much the Wrexham game means to the Chester fans, with all due respect to Tranmere.

"But Tranmere are still a big club who have aspirations of getting out of this division, with a very experienced squad. And it's still a great one for the fans, with all the bragging rights and all that.

"If I was a player I'd have spent the week getting in the gaffer's face saying: 'I want to be in that team, I want to be out there playing in front of a sell-out 6,000."

Wirral connections

Tranmere manager Brabin is a former Chester player, from the old club's last time in English football's fifth division.

Chester captain Ian Sharps is a former Tranmere Rovers favourite, having started his career there.

There are also a host of connections to Merseyside's two main clubs:

  • Ian Rush, Liverpool's all-time record scorer, started his career at Chester, shortly after Michael Owen's father Terry was the home centre-forward.
  • John Aldridge finished his career at Tranmere, also becoming the manager.
  • Everton boss Roberto Martinez ended his playing career at Chester (in the same team as Stoke's Jonathan Walters), prior to starting his managerial career at Swansea City.

Bumper gate at Bumpers Lane?

Estimates vary for the sort of crowd that Chester might expect on Sunday, but club secretary Tony Allan, first associated with the club a quarter of a century ago, says: "Let's just say it will be a bumper gate."

Tranmere had their season's highest crowd of 7,433 (not far off 3,000 up on this term's average gate) when they beat Chester 2-0 at Prenton Park in September.

Having already sold all their tickets at the away end, Chester expect to pass their season's best gate so far - 3,741 for the Wrexham game in October.

Local rivals Wrexham also attracted 4,326, the biggest Conference gate yet attracted to Bumpers Lane since Conference football returned to the city in 2013 for the reformed club.