Stuart Dye is a reporter and editor for the Herald on Sunday

Stuart Dye: Crazy fan's mad dash across the globe for 90 minutes of football

Stuart Dye is flying to the UK and back in a long weekend to watch the footy. Photo / Getty Images
Stuart Dye is flying to the UK and back in a long weekend to watch the footy. Photo / Getty Images

'What if your team loses?" This is the second thing people say when I tell them I am flying to England to watch a football match then flying straight back home again.

That's a round journey of, give or take, 36,648km and about 55 hours travel time, in exchange for fewer than 55 hours in London. All to watch 22 men kick a ball for 90 minutes.

And this isn't the national side, nor a top Premier League team. It's not even a team you're likely to have heard of. It's Tranmere Rovers. Yes, I know: "Who?"

Tranmere play in the fifth tier of English football - think, perhaps, whatever is below the Heartland Championship. It's the semi-professional division below the actual league - a footballing Hades.

The game on Sunday at Wembley Stadium is Rovers' chance to win promotion to the professional ranks, the heady heights of League Two.

They earned the right to this game with a victory confirmed last Sunday at 1am NZ time. By 1.01am I was searching for flights online.

Since then, that ear worm has been playing a constant loop in my mind: "What if your team loses?"

Strangely, it's to the tune of The Final Countdown by Europe.

The first thing people say - often eyeing me with a mixture of fear and sympathy - is: "Are you mad?"

Football with Mum

The only thing more boring than listening to other people's obsessions is listening to their dreams.

So here is an extremely potted history of me and Tranmere Rovers: Club formed in 1884, me formed in 1975. We met in 1987. Rovers were a gutsy, unglamorous club in the shade of their Merseyside neighbours Liverpool and Everton. But they were on the up and I was an impressionable tween - long before the word existed.

My mother insisted on taking me to my first game for safety reasons. She, a Methodist minister's wife, and I were intoxicated by the sweaty, heaving mass of fans; the singing and yelling; the industrial language. I was hooked.

Mum's safety concerns must have been allayed. She certainly never came to another game.

Tranmere were just out of administration, which proved a turning point, and over the next few years went from bottom of the pile to the brink of English football's top league.

Thirteen-year-old me was convinced my presence had played a part in that. Actually, 41-year-old me still believes that.

Football at that time - and for many years to follow - was more important than family.

Moving to New Zealand in the early noughties did little to diminish my support. I couldn't go to the games, of course, but followed avidly online. In the middle of the night.

The slump years came soon after I left the country. Again, can't help but think my absence played a part.

Appalling managerial appointments and more money troubles and The Mighty plummeted. In 2015, the club dropped out of the Football league for the first time in 94 years.

Two years on they are poised to escape Hades.

Spiritual and tribal

I own 13 Tranmere Rovers football tops (3 signed). My car registration is TRFC. My twitter handle is @tranmere10. All my passwords are ... hmm. Better change them.

Football is often described as a religion in the UK - like rugby in New Zealand. But it always struck me as something more fundamental, spiritual and tribal.

Fans show incredible dedication. My global dash, ludicrous as it is, does not mark me out as unusual. A Sydney Tranmere fan has fundraised online to make a similar journey to mine. Others are coming from Memphis, Hanoi, Thailand and Perth.

I am not alone

Booking in the early hours was frantic. It doesn't take a maths wizard to figure out one delay would bugger up the entire plan. So, no pressure Cathay Pacific.

Franz Kafka wrote of obsession: "Don't bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly."

Does obsession fade as one gets older? Of course, life gets in the way.

But Kafka also wrote: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Actually, that was Ferris Bueller.

And if Tranmere lose? It'll still be a dinner party story for years to come. Or perhaps I'll never mention it again.

• Follow the journey on Twitter @tranmere10

- Herald on Sunday

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Stuart Dye is a reporter and editor for the Herald on Sunday
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