FOOTBALL rivalries tend to boil down to geography while others can be pinned on weightier concepts like religion or nationalism.

Occasionally, however, you come across a game between two clubs who simply rub each other up the wrong way, as seems to be the case between Bolton Wanderers and Tranmere Rovers.

There is no great history between the two sides, separated by about 40 miles and the River Mersey. Their first-ever competitive meeting was 48 years ago in the old Division Three when Wanderers were newly-led by manager Jimmy Armfield and under the captaincy of veteran, Warwick Rimmer – a true Birkenhead gent whose achievements on and off the field have earned him cherished status at both clubs.

There was nothing remarkable about the 15 games after that in league and cup, two of which were in Bolton’s solitary season in Division Four. A crowd of just 3,979 gathered at Burnden Park to see Steve Thompson and John Thomas earn Phil Neal’s side a 2-0 win under the Tuesday night floodlights in March 1988 – one of the lowest home gates of the season.

Then, in 1991, the gamesmanship began.

Neal’s side had looked pretty unstoppable going into the play-off final. Tony Philliskirk was the pin-up star of the terraces whose goals against Bury in the semi-final had propelled the team to Wembley.

In the event, the two sides cancelled each other out over 90 minutes, and Chris Malkin’s 98th minute effort in extra time was enough to secure Rovers – who had finished six points behind Bolton in regular season – into the second tier for the first time since the thirties.

What would stick in the craw of Neal, and anyone else of a Lancastrian persuasion, was the over-zealous celebrations on the day. That would become a running theme over the next decade, when the rivalry took a very dark turn.

Fast forward to May 4, 1997. Colin Todd’s Wanderers had swaggered to the title, breaking all manner of records in the process.

Scott Sellars’ solitary goal had settled the game at Burnden – where the players and fans had bid a tearful farewell a week earlier as they prepared to move to a brand-new stadium. The final game would be about whether the team could achieve a mythical 100 points.

The Whites reached a ton of goals – John McGinlay (of course) and Jamie Pollock putting the club on the verge of a significant benchmark, but Lee Jones’ injury time leveller saw them forever stranded on 98 points.

Tranmere manager John Aldridge, who had scored with an earlier penalty, irked Todd with a gesture towards the Bolton fans after the final whistle.

"If Tranmere had been as committed as that all season, they'd probably have made the play-offs,” McGinlay wryly remarked afterwards.

"It just shows you how far we have come when they treat this game as their cup final.

"You'd have thought they'd won the league when that goal went in ... but they haven't. We have!"

Worse was to come in 2000 when the two sides met in a two-legged Worthington Cup semi-final.

Tranmere had beaten Bolton 1-0 at the Reebok, thanks to Clint Hill’s far post poke, but the return leg at Prenton Park turned out to be a nightmare.

Much had been made of Rovers’ defender Dave Challinor’s missile-like long throw and the fact Tranmere had specifically pushed back their advertising hoardings to allow him maximum leverage. Just six minutes in, the centre-half hurled the ball in from half-way, Bolton half-cleared, and Nicky Henry smashed in the opening goal.

Alan Mahon scored from the spot before David Kelly wrapped things up at the end. Aldridge, hardly magnanimous in victory, celebrated in front of the Bolton dugouts again.

Allardyce, not one to forget in a hurry, told FourFourTwo magazine in 2005: "If I'd been a lot younger I probably would have reacted differently – but not on the pitch, maybe in closed quarters after.

"Every dog has his day, but you don't ever forget. John Aldridge was way, way out of order jumping around like he did in front of us.

“They deserved to beat us over the two legs but there was no need for that. The year after that, we went back and turned Aldridge over then got promoted. Now I'm managing in the Premiership and he's doing Merseyside radio, so I think we know whose management style's the best."

The last league meeting between Bolton and Tranmere, now 18 years ago, saw Allardyce get a measure of petty revenge.

Billed, rather peculiarly as a “dirty protest” by the headline writers of The Bolton Evening News, Big Sam refused to let his players get changed at Prenton Park.

The team bus arrived just 35 minutes before kick-off with the players kitted out and ready to start their warm-up.

Mike Whitlow scored the only goal of the game but Allardyce herded his players immediately off the pitch and back aboard the team bus seconds after the final whistle blew.

“We didn’t want to spend too long there,” he said. “I suppose we put ourselves on the line again by arriving late. . . but I really wanted the players to be up for this one because I knew it would be our biggest test of the season – not from a football point of view but from the mental aspect.

“It was all about getting the players motivated and not about winding Tranmere up. We went there to do a job and we did it.”

The teams have met in knockout competitions in recent years, Tranmere knocking Bolton out of the FA Cup in 2004 and the Coca Cola Cup in 2013 via a penalty shoot-out.

We even saw a few pre-season friendlies, rather taking the sting out of the bitter narrative. Benik Afobe scored a hat-trick in a 3-1 victory in 2012 and Zach Clough grabbed a late winner four years later in Warwick Rimmer’s testimonial.

Whether we will pick up where we left off at the turn of the millennium today is debateable. Wanderers’ own problems have been well-documented and have attracted widespread sympathy from around the footballing fraternity.

But the appetite for the game is clear, with more than 1,700 Wanderers fans heading for Merseyside intent on creating another memorable atmosphere for one of football’s oddest rivalries.