A shock meeting and a farmer's field: The loan spell at Tranmere that made Sheffield Wednesday man Liam Palmer
Liam Palmer wandered into the Middlewood Road office of Dave Jones wondering if he’d done something wrong.
It was July 2012, the London Olympic Games was about to kick into full swing and the Scotland under-21 international was a few weeks away from a season in the Championship with his beloved Sheffield Wednesday.
Having dried himself off from another gruelling preseason session, the then-20-year-old shuffled into his manager’s company and took a seat.
He’d made 14 appearances in a famous campaign that saw the Owls edge city rivals Sheffield United out of the League One promotion race and, making his name as a hard-working young midfielder, his intention was to force his way further into Jones’ reckoning. Alas.
“I had no idea, he asked me into his office one day and told me I was off out on loan,” Palmer told The Star. “I didn’t really question it at the time.
“I was quite surprised about how it all came about. I’d played a few times the season before, more than I’d expected to be honest, we’d got a promotion and I was focused on trying to nail a place down at Wednesday.
“But the manager had different plans for me, he wanted me to go out and get some more experience.”
That experience came at League One Tranmere Rovers courtesy of Ronnie Moore, an old friend of Jones’ from whom he had taken players before with success.
Looking back on what what he now describes as one of the best loan moves of his managerial career, unbeknownst to Palmer, Moore remembered going to watch him play ‘three or four’ times before agreeing to take him.
Personality and hunger, he said, were important. And he saw that in the way Palmer played the game. After a back and forth with Jones, a deal was struck.
“He was a good pal, going back to his time at Southampton he helped us out a bit,” Moore told The Star on Jones.
“I used to have a few mates in the game I’d call up and ask what was about, not necessarily from him, but people talk and you can get the word on young players. It just so happened he had an idea on Palms.”
What met Palmer, who nine years on has played over 300 times for Wednesday and has eight full Scotland caps to his name, was a young and hungry Tranmere squad blessed with talent that would, like him, go on to earn excellent careers.
Among them was young Middlesbrough centre-half Ben Gibson, now into his second Premier League stint as a key man at Norwich. But of all the youngsters that season it was the young lad from Wednesday that most impressed, playing 46 times in the heart of midfield.
“I didn’t think much about it to be honest,” Palmer remembered. “I just went, I was a kid and had no reservations at the time, I just wanted to go and play football.
“Luckily I played near enough every game with a good group of lads, a lot who have gone on to do really good stuff. You look at Ben Gibson, it’s great and you keep tabs on one another to see how we get on.
“It was a really good group of lads, they were young and hungry and the whole thing helped me massively in my development.”
Among the others to have gone on are Max Power, a former Sunderland midfielder now at Wigan Athletic, Cardiff City’s Will Vaulks and Cole Stockton, who found himself wrestling Palmer up front for Morecambe this weekend.
Some brought in from clubs higher up the football pyramid, it was a chastening experience stripped of home comforts.
Palmer said: “There was no training ground, we pretty much trained on a farmer’s field. It wasn’t pretty at all and all those home comforts were taken away. It was about grafting.
“Little things like we didn’t get our food made for us every day, you come back to a place like Wednesday and appreciate everything you’ve got. It puts a fire in your belly.”
That attitude of ‘sleeves up and get on with it’ is one that has followed the now 29-year-old to this day. But it was always ingrained in him. Moore remembers a young Palmer who he described as ‘his kind of lad’.
“He just came in and you could tell he was a proper football lad, straight from the off,” he said. “He didn’t mess about, he was bang at it straight away.
“Often you’ll have a loanee come in and they’ll be a little bit nervous, they might not strike it off with the other lads right away, but he was fine with everybody.
“You could always tell he was going to go on and do something in the game, how far was always going to be up to him. To be a proper Championship player and play for Scotland on top of that, you can’t go much further than to play for your country, can you?
“There was a lot of young kids in that team but they were all grafters and some of them have gone on to do great things. That attitude rubbed off on one another. Palms was great.”
The feeling appears to be mutual. Asked about Moore, who was present to watch his former charge help Wednesday keep a clean sheet against his beloved Rotherham United earlier this month, Palmer smiled wide.
“Ronnie was really good,” he said. “I loved working with him. He was such an easy going guy, approachable, you could go to him with anything and he made things fun.
“I’m so grateful for him that he took me there and took that risk on me. It was a very important year in my career.”