By Joel Lampkin
Former Tranmere Rovers midfielder Jason McAteer missed out on promotion through the playoffs 13-years-ago and hopes his former club does not experience the same for the second consecutive season.
The retired midfielder featured 81 times for The Super Whites after arriving on a free transfer in 2004 in what he dubbed ‘coming home’.
McAteer’s greatest triumph at Prenton Park came in the form of the captain’s armband – almost skippering Rovers straight to promotion into the Championship.
The side managed by Brian Little crashed out on penalties with the defeat something that the former Merseyside born man regards as a big disappointment due to his close connection with the club.
“Not winning that play-off semi-final to get us to Wembley was a big, big disappointment because the team deserved to go up, we worked really, really hard,” said McAteeer. “I did not take it personally that I did not get there, I did not feel that because I was from the area it hurt anymore, I don’t think it could hurt anymore.
“When you lose in a semi-final to get to Wembley it is extremely disappointing, you are in touching distance, it does not matter if you are from the area or not – it hurts.”
Having featured on the International stage and in the Premier League for almost a decade, the level of expectancy was high for a man dropping down a division to sign for Rovers.
Adorning the captain’s armband saw an increase in expectancy for McAteer who was tasked with leading his local club to success while taking on more responsibility – something he felt he was more than ready for.
He said: “I had captained Sunderland and Ireland in a game so I was not alien to being captain, I think obviously because of the experience that I had playing for my country, and for Liverpool, to go Tranmere who were in League One at the time, who had a lot of kids and stuff it was a great honour to be asked.
“It was probably the right decision because I had all that experience to offer, and I was at a stage in my career were I had played a lot of football at a lot of different levels, played with a lot of different players, so I had a lot to offer in that role.
“As much as it was an honour it was a big responsibility for me, [in my] first season we lost on penalties to Hartlepool [in the] playoff semi-final which was extremely disappointing, I felt we had a team and a squad and manager that was good enough to go up.”
Boasting years of experience at the highest level, McAteer was tasked with the role of leader and motivator and when things went pear shaped he was the man to stand up and take charge.
Following the play-off heartbreak, the then 33-year-old had the duty of picking up his teammates, a part of the job a lot harder than others.
He said: “You take on that responsibility when you lose, you have to do a lot of the press, you have to talk to people about where it went wrong, and you are mixing with the manager a lot more – that is just part of it.
“I had been captain before, I was not new to the job, I knew what it entailed, I felt we handled it really well, it is always hard having to pick the lads up after a defeat, it is great when you are winning and the captain’s job is a lot easier when you are winning.
“It is a lot harder when you are losing and you have to pick the lads up – you have to rally the troops”.
Stay tuned for PART TWO of our exclusives with Jason McAteer describes his relationship with Ronnie Moore and breakdowns what went wrong in the John Barnes Managerial Experiment.