Mark Palios knows all about Tranmere Rovers’ past giantkilling feats. The man who became owner of the Wirral club last summer was once an overenthusiastic 21-year-old in the Tranmere team that won at Arsenal in the League Cup in 1974.
“There was a classic line in one newspaper – ‘Palios would have been booked inside a minute except his tackle was so late he was booked in 63 seconds’,” he recalls wryly.
Over 40 years later Palios takes a rather more measured view of today’s FA Cup third-round home tie against Swansea City. His 13-month stint as Football Association chief executive a decade ago may have informed him that this is “the type of tie the FA Cup throws up, much to the envy of all the other FAs around the world” but his priority now is halting Tranmere’s slide down the football ladder. “From my perspective, we would swap it any day of the week for three points,” Palios, whose side sit third-bottom of League Two, tells The Independent.
When Palios and his wife, Nicola, decided to buy out Rovers’ previous owner, Peter Johnson, in August, it was not for a wish to return to football. Indeed, the man whose time at the FA ended for personal rather than football reasons admits he “wouldn’t have done it for any other club” but Tranmere, where he began his playing career at 16.
It was as a Tranmere player that he earned a psychology degree and qualified as a chartered accountant, giving him the skills to shine later as a corporate troubleshooter with PricewaterhouseCoopers. Now he is back in Birkenhead, looking to instigate a different kind of turnaround.
“All my antennae told me this was a business that had potentially got in a death spiral,” he says of a club whose decline during Johnson’s long search for a buyer culminated in relegation from League One last May.
Now retired from business, Palios, 62, wants to create a “self-sustainable model” at Prenton Park. “Crewe have done quite well at it [but] very few clubs have the advantages Tranmere have based on a hotbed of football that is Merseyside. We can develop players and it is also a community club, which is important.”
So far he has “restructured the debt” to allow two years’ breathing space and agreed a deal with Wirral Council to sell Rovers’ Ingleborough Road training facility and build a new complex in Leasowe, which will bring the first team and academy together on the same site. “With improved facilities you can develop the players,” he says, adding that the sale of the old training ground will “broadly pay for the development and reduce our debt by £1.25m”.
On the field, his decision to sack Rob Edwards with Rovers bottom of the table in October and recruit Micky Adams has paid off, with just three defeats in their last 15 games. “[Edwards, appointed last May] was a young manager but we weren’t that far off a third of the way through the season and were 92nd in the league. I didn’t see the prospects of immediate improvement and, with a young side, as soon as you get into a relegation fight confidence can get hit and it gets harder.
“Micky is very good at building team spirit. With his experience he can give you confidence and he organises. He knows the league inside out and has done it before.”
Now for the visit of a Swansea side who provide an example for any ambitious Football League club owner.
“Swansea are a very well-run club and have done something we would dearly love to emulate, which is come up from the lower leagues.” Palios may prefer league points to a cup scalp, but don’t think the old fire has gone out.Reuse content