John Aldridge: Ex-Liverpool icon unites League Two play-off finalists
If there is one man who will unite everyone at Wembley for Saturday's League Two play-off final, it is Liverpool great John Aldridge.
The scorer of 330 league goals, Aldridge remains the sixth highest goalscorer in English football.
He is well remembered for his Anfield exploits, but Newport and Tranmere are effectively bookends to Aldridge's super career of goalscoring.
"I can't pick a winner," he explained about his former clubs.
'The ultimate apprenticeship'
While Merseyside and specifically Anfield is the place most football fans would associate Aldridge with, he has a deep connection with both play-off finalists.
Aldridge made his name in arguably Newport's greatest side, the team of the early 1980s that reached the quarter-final of the European Cup Winners' Cup.
The 60-year-old played 198 times for Newport, scoring 87 goals as he made a big enough impression to earn a £78,000 move to an Oxford United side showing ambition under then owner Robert Maxwell.
Aldridge says his time in Newport was unforgettable.
"Newport gave me my start in the game, the opportunity to do what I had always wanted to do which was to play professional football," said the 60-year-old.
"They signed me for £3,500 at the time from South Liverpool with Len Ashurst and I had five great years there, it was brilliant.
"In the first year we won promotion and the Welsh Cup, second year the Cup Winners' Cup where we were very unlucky in the quarter-final against Carl Zeiss Jena.
"The total experience there was great; it was like my apprenticeship in football at the lower levels.
"I met so many great people, made so many good friends in Newport and they are memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life. It was a great spot for me at the right time."
Aldridge says he went through more than a few rites of passage at the old Somerton Park ground where Newport played.
"The old Newport County was a great club, well run, they were really good people to work under, tough, not like the modern day, but the place was buzzing as we had a very good side for that level," he explained.
"We were promoted from the old Division Four at Walsall, I remember I managed to get a couple of goals and it was a great feeling for all of us, my first promotion in my first season.
"I have never drank champagne since that day! The lads filled me with champagne and I don't remember too much, I just remember getting back to Newport and some lad hugging me and I was sick all over him! I was trying to apologise, but he was alright with it!
"I lived right by the ground on Cromwell Road, my wife moved down and we were well settled in Newport."
Ending in style at Tranmere
A two year stint at Liverpool was followed by a move to Real Sociedad, becoming the first non-Basque player to play for the club, before Aldridge returned to English football and the north west with a switch to Prenton Park in 1991, repaying new side Tranmere instantly with a 40-goal return in his first season.
Aldridge amassed a total of 294 appearances for the Birkenhead club, scoring 174 goals, as they secured top-six finishes in the Second Division in 1993, 1994 and 1995, though they could not triumph in the play-offs.
In 1996 Aldridge was appointed player-manager, leading Rovers to the League Cup final in 2000.
"There is a lot of respect; I have mutual respect for both clubs, obviously for different reasons," he said.
"Tranmere is where I finished my career. I was with them for 10 years as a player, player-manager and manager, so I have got tremendous love for both clubs.
"I left every club I played for on good terms and have nothing but love and respect for them.
"Tranmere was a club I had great times with. I moved back from Spain and they sold me on the club, it was a really good football team then.
"We had fantastic times. We failed in the play-offs to get to the Premier League, but we had fantastic cup runs and then as a manager we got to the 2000 League Cup final which was a great achievement for all of us."
'My thoughts will be with the losers'
So highly regarded by both sets of supporters, Aldridge admits he is sitting firmly on the fence when it comes to picking a winner, especially as a family holiday means he will miss out on the chance to be at Wembley.
"It will be strange for me watching this one, I was due to go but I am on a family holiday. I would have loved to be there," he said.
"I follow Newport and Tranmere so it is hard for me. I am a huge, huge Liverpool fan and have been since I was six years old.
"I am backing both clubs to win, it is a huge game on a huge scale.
"I have far too much respect to say who I think will win, I am gutted someone has to lose out. At the end of the game my thoughts will be with the team who loses.
"I will be happy for the winners, but really gutted for whoever loses."