Two go walkabout in Shrewsbury!

Another Bank Holiday – another jaunt for Dan and Dad to another League 1 football ground – this time, the Greenhous Meadow, Shrewsbury, for the home town club’s basement clash with Crewe Alexandra. The last father:son roadtrip had been to Molyneux, to see two sides who were then fighting it out at the top of this division, and we had witnessed a hard-fought draw between Wolves and Leyton Orient. What united the two games was the enthusiasm and volume of the away support as compared to the home fans. Crewe’s support had come in numbers and comfortably out-sang and out-supported the home fans throughout this Good Friday fixture.

Shrewsbury is the county town of Shropshire, and has been the scene of furious battles over its strategically important position in the border area between England and Wales. The town was founded in around AD800 and became a major wool trading centre in the late Middle Ages, ideally placed on the River Severn and the historic trading route known as Watling Street. More recently, the town has become an established tourist and regional commercial centre, with people drawn to the largely in-tact medieval layout and buildings of the town centre, and the retail outlets that attract customers from throughout Shropshire and mid-Wales.

Greenhous Meadow is a relatively new (2007), nine and a half thousand seater stadium located on the outskirts of the town close to the M54 linking Shrewsbury to Telford, and then onto the larger West Midlands conurbation. The stadium’s location is amongst the most genteel that I have ever witnessed for a football ground – set in semi-rural isolation amongst garden centres and on the edge of a quintessentially English, suburban housing development at Sutton Farm. It was no surprise to learn that local residents had fought a determined rear-guard action throughout the planning phase for the new ground. It is a testament to the success of their campaign that there is virtually no ‘turn up on the day’ car parking for visiting fans within about four miles of the ground (of which more later!).

The gentility of the setting was matched on our visit by the gentility of the Shrewsbury fans. True, the club was in the midst of a very poor run of form that had left them precariously positioned in the bottom four of the division, and confidence and expectation levels were clearly low. Nevertheless, Crewe were hardly better positioned at the time of this game, and a win for Shrewsbury in this classic ‘six-pointer’ would have given the Salop a major boost. In truth, however, from the moment that we entered the ground some ten minutes after the start of the game, there was a palpable sense that the home supporters were resigned to defeat. This contrasted starkly to the party atmosphere that was emanating from the away supporters’ stand behind the goal to our left.

The home team’s starting line-up included three former Cardiff City players in Paul Parry, Aaron Wildig and Joe Jacobson; and it was with some nostalgia that Dan and I reflected on the fact that the last time we had seen Wildig play was as a teenager in an FA Cup clash with Chelsea at a packed out Stamford Bridge in February 2010 (a game, coincidentally, in which Chelsea’s four goals were scored by Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack, Daniel Sturridge, and Salomon Kalou). Wildig was not at all overawed that day, and mixed it very successfully with the west London superstars. It is one of the enigmas of professional football that some teenagers are able to push on and realise their full potential (cf. another Cardiff City product and ‘Aaron’ now starring in the red and white of Arsenal), while others don’t quite manage to break through into the really big-time.

To be fair to the players of both Crewe and Shrewsbury, the game itself belied the lowly league positions of the teams, and the fatalism of the home supporters, and was actually both entertaining and enjoyable (for this neutral at least). Crewe started the brightest and were probably unfortunate not to go ahead in the early stages, but gradually Shrewsbury established a foothold and began to force the Alex onto the back foot. It was something of a surprise, therefore, when Crewe opened the scoring from a pretty straightforward corner that was headed into the Shrewsbury net by Mathias Pogba from six yards out in the 38th minute. There was always a sense that the next goal in the game would decide the ultimate outcome, and when it came (in the 51st minute) it was a moment of high quality. Uche Ikpeazu received the ball on the corner of the six yard box with his back to goal, before holding off the challenge of a home defender, turning, and curling an unstoppable shot into the far top corner of the Shrewsbury net. For all Shrewsbury’s huffing and puffing after that, a comeback never looked likely, and the final nail in the coffin came in the 89th minute when Anthony Grant ran half the length of the pitch following a Crewe break-away, before coolly finishing past a hopelessly exposed Chris Weale. There was just time for Salop substitute Tom Bradshaw to register a late, late consolation goal in the third minute of stoppage time.

Famous figures with links to Shrewsbury include Carol Decker (lead singer with T’Pau) and Charles Darwin (naturalist and author). At the end of this game, Shrewsbury Town’s ambitions to remain in League 1 looked like china in their hands, and Crewe’s survival hopes were undoubtedly the fittest.

One of the advantages of watching football in relatively small grounds is the speed with which the crowd (6,947 for the record) disperses after the match, and so it was that Dan and I were in the club shop within 15 minutes of the final whistle. Dan was delighted to add to his growing ground-hopping memorabilia collection through the purchase of an end-of-season clearance bargain, hat:scarf combination at the give-away price of just £6!

Which leads me on to the only gripe that we have about the whole day…

If you are planning on an unannounced (and to be honest, pretty poorly planned) visit to Shrewsbury Town FC, don’t (whatever you do) assume that it will be possible to find somewhere close by to leave the car. And if – like us – you eventually get to one of the designated Park & Ride car parks, don’t – under any circumstances – assume that you are guaranteed to be able to BOTH park AND ride! We left the car in the Shire Hall car park which is located on the edge of the town centre. We joined a group of about 20 other Shrewsbury and Crewe supporters patiently waiting at the designated football Park & Ride bus stop at about 2.20pm (it was a 3pm kick-off). We waited…. and we waited…. and we waited. By 2.45pm, we were in that state of nervous anxiety that on the one hand urges you to cut your losses and set out for the ground on foot, and on the other is absolutely certain that the moment you are out of sight of the car park, the bus will turn up and then sweep past you as you walk along. Eventually, at 2.48pm we decided to take fate into our own hands and began the walk to the ground. It took twenty minutes and we missed the first 10 minutes of the game. If anybody connected with the club does read this, then you might want to think about improving the information on park & ride arrangements, and making clear when they will be operating. We were lucky that it was a lovely spring day for our visit – the walk through Shrewsbury’s suburbia wouldn’t have been half so pleasant in the pouring rain!

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