Manchester City beat Fulham to return to the top of the Premier League on Sunday as Erling Haaland scored his 50th goal of the season in all competitions.

Haaland converted a third-minute penalty, after Julian Alvarez had been fouled by Tim Ream, to become the first top-flight player to reach a half-century of goals in one campaign since Tom 'Pongo' Waring did so for Aston Villa in 1931.

With Haaland scoring more than a goal a game to this point, if he keeps up his season-long rate and plays every possible game, he could hit an astonishing 63 goals taking him past former Everton striker Dixie Dean’s all-time record for an English season in 1927-28.

It is a statistical quirk that two of the three players standing in the way of Haaland and the record were both born in Birkenhead within a year each other and both began their careers at Tranmere Rovers.

Dean's exploits are well known but Waring's career is rather forgotten in comparison.

Thomas Waring was born on 12th October 1906 at 4 Chapel Place in Higher Tranmere. 

The third of four children to Henry Arthur and Charlotte Waring, Tom was born three months before William Ralph Dean and was baptised at St Catherine’s Church -  the Waring family home was at 15 Walker Place, a ten-minute walk from Tranmere’s ground.

Tranmere Rovers historian Ryan Ferguson takes up the story.

He said: "Tom appeared for a number of junior teams in the local area before catching the eye of legendary Rovers scout Jack Lee who also discovered Dean a few years later while playing for Tranmere Celtic in 1926.

"In those days of the fleeting youth system at Prenton Park, Lee offered Waring a place in the Tranmere reserves plus a casual job helping out on first team matchdays. Waring accepted the proposal and soon began his journey to professional stardom."

Waring would sell cigarettes and chocolate to fans in the stands as well as helping prepare the ground for matches before he was handed a professional contract and made his debut on August 29 1927, away to Rotherham United.

'Pongo' (the nickname came from a popular cartoon dog 'Pongo the Pup') was soon banging them in for Rovers and he bagged a hat-trick at home to Wigan Borough in December. To the astonishment of all, he doubled that output against Durham City a month later, scoring six times as Rovers won 11-1.

In his first season, Pongo scored 23 goals in 24 appearances for Tranmere and perhaps inevitably word began to spread through the footballing world about this new goal-scoring machine from Wirral.

Rovers manager Bert Cooke was determined to sell Pongo outside the local market, and for that reason he ignored the serious advances of Liverpool. Interest was also shown by Arsenal, Bolton and Manchester United, but finally, on 13th February 1928, just 168 days after his Rovers debut, Tranmere sold Pongo to Aston Villa for £4,700.

A crowd of 23,000 saw him play on his Villa debut in a reserve game against local rivals Birmingham City, in which he scored a hat-trick and Pongo quickly broke into the first team combing his football with a job working  for The Hercules Motor and Cycle Company in Aston.

On April 21 1928, Dean’s Everton hosted Waring’s Villa before 39,825 at Goodison Park. Pongo scored one, but Dean notched two as Everton ran out 3-2 winners.

"This was undoubtedly a proud moment for Tranmere and Birkenhead," said Ryan. " Without the town instilling certain values in those players, and without this humble club plucking them from obscurity and giving them a chance to succeed, the world may never have known their names. 

"While cynical points can be made about Tranmere being unable to keep these brilliant players, it’s still a source of pride that two of the finest forwards from football’s gilded age were first nurtured by our club."

Pongo scored 32 goals in 42 games as Villa finished third the following season and he became a firm fan favourite helped by his habit of enjoying a pint or two with supporters after the game. 

It was the 1930-31 season though which was to cement Pono's legendary status with the Holte End when as Villa finished second, Waring scored 50 goals in just 40 games across all competitions. His tally of 49 league goals remains the closest anyone has ever come to breaking Dean’s record.

Ryan said: "The local press dubbed him The Birkenhead Bombardier; Aston Villa fans lauded him as a hero; and the subsequent momentum saw Waring make his England debut on May 14 1931 during an end-of-season tour.

"France were the opponents and their Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir was the backdrop. England lost 5-2, but Pongo scored in the seventy-first minute, completing his rags to riches story."

The following season he scored 30 goals in 38 games and enjoyed his finest moment in an England shirt when he scored the first goal in a 3-0 win over Scotland in front of only 90,000 fans at Wembley. Bizarrley that would be his last game for his country despite scoring four goals in his five apprearances. 

Wirral Globe: Tom 'Pongo' Waring in his England shirt Tom 'Pongo' Waring in his England shirt (Image: public domain)

Pongo remained at Villa Park until 1935 finishing with 226 appearances and 167 goals, including 10 hat-tricks, before he moved to Barnsley and Wolverhampton.

In October 1936, aged 30, the prodigal son returned returned to Prenton Park  and the experienced striker quickly transformed the fortunes of Rovers on the pitch, scoring 15 goals in 25 matches to finish the 1936-37 season.

The following season, Pongo's goals help Rovers win the Division Three North title as they reached Division Two for the first time - it remains Tranmere's last title win. 

Pongo's second spell in Wirral ended with a move to Acrington but a taste for indisicpline and bad behaviour saw him begin a nomadic end to his career taking in Bath City, Ellesmere Port Town, Graysons, Birkenhead Docks and Harrowby.

He died in December 1980 at the age of 74. His ashes were scattered in the Holte End goal mouth before a game against Stoke City but little is known of Pongo's later life as Ryan admits.

 "Some say he dabbled as a plasterer and settled back on Church Road," he added. "Many claim he watched Tranmere from the Paddock as a fan, enjoying a laugh with friends. Others tell homespun stories of poverty and even homelessness, which again cannot be confirmed.

"What we do know is that Pongo Waring was a fantastic goalscorer who made Birkenhead proud."

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