Result: Shrewsbury Town 2-0 Morecambe (FA Cup 2nd Round)
Venue: New Meadow (Saturday 2nd December 2017, 3pm)
Continuing on the quest of ticking the “92”, my next stop was decided by whom was drawn out of the famed FA Cup hat. The second round draw threw up little in the way of really interesting ties, but the one that did catch my eye more than any was Morecambe’s trip to Shrewsbury’s New Meadow (no sponsorships here!). Having visited the town during the competition’s formative rounds, seeing Haughmond overcome Matlock Town at the Shrewsbury Sports Village, it was back into Shropshire I was thusly headed, as the town team took on the Shrimps in the Second Round.
Setting off at a little before 10am, a quick transit through Manchester saw me headed southwards through a damp Cheshire countryside, eventually arriving in a slightly sunnier Shrewsbury at a little before midday, having been slightly delayed en route. I know, shock, horror. Exiting the station, I made haste towards the town centre and, more specifically, towards my first planned drinking hole of the day, Loggerheads. Loggerheads, which stands opposite the famed Prince Rupert hotel and is named after the town’s coat of arms (as seen on the club’s crest), was one I’d bypassed during my previous visit to the town, but it was one that I’d also kept in the memory banks for my eventual return back for a game at Salop. As such, I had no hesitation in deciding that this was where I’d begin my tour. A quick pint of Thatcher’s cider in the old gent’s area within was had whilst creating an itinerary on the fly, before I headed off around the corner to the, slightly obscured, Three Fishes. And what a place!
The wooden beam-clad Fishes, the self-proclaimed first “smoke-free public house” was definitely the popular point during the early morning/late afternoon period, with the place being probably more full of eaters than those partaking in the game of drink. Regardless of standing room only, I remained in for a further Thatcher’s cider (cider would prove to be my ever-present drink of choice for the day) before heading back out onwards down a back street and onto the ‘Town Walls’. And when I say “back street”, it certainly isn’t in the same grain as I’m used to! Anyway, having navigated my way along the walls, past the “cathedral” and over the River Severn, I arrived at stop number three, the Hop & Friar.
The Hop & Friar did still have the scent of the newly bleached toilets wafting through as I entered, though this soon subsided (or I got used to it). A further apple-based tipple – Stowford this time – was had whilst watching the early part of the Chelsea-Newcastle game on TV, before it was time to continue to crawl ever closer to the New Meadow, or the Oteley Road Stadium, as the club seem more inclined to call it on their site. Up next was the Crown, a seemingly recently renovated pub where the original plan was to have a drink outside near the moored up boats alongside it. Sadly, the weather had begun to take something of a turn and so this was put on the back-burner, with me instead settling for the consolation prize of the remainder of the Blues-Magpies first-half.
Soon enough, it was time to walk up towards the ground. Heading around the school opposite, I continued on past a few further watering holes en route (making a mental note of each for a possible post-game drink, of course), before eventually arriving some fifteen minutes later at a large roundabout/mass of junctions, at which stood the newly renamed Wild Pig. The former Brooklands Hotel still holds clues as to its former identity, with a few posters on the interior walls alluding to the former racing circuit in Kent. A final Strongbow in here amongst the mostly Shrews following fans was finished up, with only a short walk over the road to the ground to complete.
The ground is easily visible, set back alongside the railway tracks leading into Shrewsbury from Hereford and further afield, so no chances of getting lost today….I hoped. After purchasing a seemingly full issue programme for £3, I headed onwards to the away ticket office to purchase the piece of paper that would allow me entry. Soon £15 lighter, I contacted Shrimps fan Paul, who had previously informed me he was around the “Fan Zone” to ask as to where that actually was, before I reckoned I might be better served heading into the ground then and there and grabbing something to eat instead. A good call, even though I say so myself…
A Steak & Ale pie was had for £3, which was your standard Wright’s affair, prior to the kick-off. Arriving ever so slightly earlier also gave a little extra time to take in the Meadow with little in the way of distraction. The ~10k seater stadium is comprised of four all-seated stands currently though, as many will be aware, this may change in the future, with the “safe standing” discussion focussing on an area of the railed seats being fitted at the ground. Still, this is in the “in theory” phase. As it stands now, the New Meadow’s stands are all covered, single-tier affairs with all standing at a similar height and being almost indistinguishable from each other, bar the fact the stands at both ends are shorter in length, than their neighbours. The Roland Wychery Stand (named after the chairman) serves as the Main Stand and houses the boxes etc. and runs down one side, with both it and the West Stand opposite featuring short floodlights protruding from the roof. A scoreboard is located to the rear of the away end, with the stand opposite being almost a replica, minus said electronic feature. As for Shrewsbury Town F.C….
Shrewsbury Town F.C. was formed in 1886 following the demise of the first Shropshire Wanderers club and, albeit more indirectly, the Castle Blues, who were apparently a side on the rougher end of the spectrum and had several games marred by violence. The current club was said to have, by some accounts, formed in the town’s Lion Hotel and others say it was in the Turf Hotel. Who knows, but what is certain is that the Shrews did come into being and began playing friendly contests and regional cup competitions during their formative years, before becoming founder members of the Shropshire & District League in 1890, though they would join the Birmingham & District League after five seasons. Their first major honour came in 1891, in the form of the first of their eventual 6 Welsh Cups (1891, 1938, ’77, ’79, ’84, ’85).
1910 saw the club begin to search for a new home, having played at a few venues since their inception but spending most of their time at Copthorne Barracks. They eventually settled on Gay Meadow and would call the ground their home for the next 97 years, prior to moving to their current site. The club were largely a mid-table side during their stint in the Birmingham League, though did win the 1923 title before moving into the Midland League in 1937. This preceded one of the club’s more successful years, with the coming season seeing the Shrews win a league and cup treble, with the League title being joined by the Midland League Cup and Welsh Cup, before the outbreak of WWII put a stop to most footballing activity.
Returning to the league post-war, Salop would later be admitted to the Football League’s Third Division (North) in 1950, following a good run of seasonal results that saw the club lift both the 1946 & ’48 Midland League titles, following the league’s expansion from 88 clubs to 92. Their first promotion followed in 1959, when the club were promoted to the now nationalised Third Division from Division Four.
1961 saw Salop reach the semi-finals of the League Cup. After defeating Everton in the quarters, the club eventually lost out 4-3 on aggregate to Rotherham United. This era saw Arthur Rowley (the club’s legendary player-manager) arrive at the club and he’d go on to break Dixie Dean’s goal-scoring record, netting his 380th career league goal in 1961 in a game against Bradford City at Valley Parade. He’d remain as manager through to 1968, with the club remaining in Division 3 through to 1974 when they were relegated back to the bottom division, ending a fifteen year stint in the third tier. However their stay back in Division 4 would last just a sole season, the Shrews finishing as 1975 runners-up.
1979 then saw the Shrews take the Division 3 title, a 4-1 win over Exeter City sealing their promotion in front of over 14,000 fans at the Gay Meadow. The club also reached that season’s FA Cup quarter finals. The club would remain in the Second Division for the next decade, highlights of their stint here being a second FA Cup quarter-final appearance – the run included victory over UEFA Cup holders Ipswich Town – and wins over future Premiership winners Blackburn Rovers and Chelsea. Following the relegation back to Division 3 in 1989, a second drop followed in 1992 which saw the club remain in Division 3, but now playing in the fourth tier, following the creation of the new top division, the Premiership.
Two seasons later, Shrewsbury would win the Third Division title but would remain for just the three seasons before slipping back into the bottom division in 1997. However, 1996 did see the club make their Wembley bow, competing for the Football League Trophy in the final against Rotherham. However, this ended in a 2-1 defeat, with future Shrews striker Nigel Jemson netting both the Millers’ goals. The turn of the millennium almost saw things enter a new low for the club, when they just about staved off relegation to the Conference by beating Exeter on the last day of the season.
Things soon began to look up for Salop, the club narrowly missing out on the 2002 Third Division play-offs before going on a famed Cup run the next season, which featured the defeat of Premiership outfit Everton at the Gay Meadow. But fortunes dipped as quickly as they rose and the close of the 2002-’03 season saw Shrewsbury enter the non-league ranks for the first time in 53 years. A sole season in the Conference followed, with the Shrews finishing up third, defeating Barnet in the play-off semis prior to achieving promotion back to the League with a shoot-out win over Aldershot Town.
After reaching the League 2 play-offs, 2007 would see the club leave Gay Meadow and move into their current home. 2009 would see the club again in the play-offs, but would again lose out at Wembley, this time via a 90th minute winner to Gillingham. 2011 would see a third Shrews appearance in the League 2 play-offs but it was third time unlucky, so the club would have been happy to bypass them completely the next year in finishing as League 2 runners-up and thus taking a spot in League One for the following campaign. A two-year stint was all that followed prior to the dreaded drop again being suffered, but only a further season in League Two was competed in prior to the club being promoted once more to League One. A late season upturn in form saw Shrewsbury clear danger last season, eventually finishing up 18th.
In addition, the club have also won numerous “minor” honours, including a record 66 Shropshire Senior Cups, three Herefordshire Senior Cups and three Walsall Senior Cups, along with seven Shropshire Mayor’s Charity Cups and two Keys Cups.
The game got underway with Shrewsbury quickly gaining the initiative in the contest and asserting their authority over their lower-ranked opponents. The League One promotion chasers saw Alex Rodman’s shot strike the upright only a couple of minutes into the match. However, despite their overall comfort in the game, the Shrews never looked like they were going to run riot against a spirited Morecambe outfit.
Stefan Payne then went close for the hosts, firing an effort wide of Barry Roche’s upright, before the home side finally took the lead just after the half-hour, when Shaun Whalley fizzed a low ball in across the front of goal and Rodman arrived at the back-post to slot beyond the helpless Roche. One-nil to Shrewsbury and you felt that any chance of an upset, however slight they were to start with, had subsided fully now.
Indeed, this feeling became cemented just a couple of minutes later when, from the concourse of the stadium, I heard a roar go up and something of a cheer. Now intrigued as to just what was going on, I swiftly returned pitch-side to find Whalley placing the ball on the spot. Penalty. As Morecambe fan Dom would later tell me during the second half, this was for a trip by Roche on a Shrews forward (latterly found to be Jon Nolan). Up stepped Whalley and he calmly sent the Shrimps glove-man the wrong way to surely give the orange-and-blue-clad hosts their passage to the third round. Half-Time, 2-0.
A couple of half-time substitutes were sent on at the break as Morecambe sought to test the former Harrogate Railway loan stopper Craig McGillivray. However, McGillivray would have little to do for the majority of the half, though his opposite number would also see threats to his goal recede too. However, he did have to pull off a spectacular save to deny a Louis Dodds effort. From there, I proceeded to rekindle my apparent role as “Laurence Wilson doppelgänger”, at least in Dom’s eyes anyway!
From then on, Shrewsbury looked to accept their comfort a little too much and they almost allowed Morecambe to get back into the game. First, McGillivray saved from Morecambe’s Garry Thompson, before they had a golden chance to get back into the contest with around ten minutes left on the clock, when Callum Lang intercepted a loose ball and found himself advancing towards an unguarded McGillivray. Alas for him and the travelling support around me, his finish was a disappointing one, allowing the ‘keeper – standing in for on-loan Manchester Utd stopper Dean Henderson – to get down well to save with a strong hand. That was that for the second round, as the Shrews advanced into the hat and an eventual tie with former Shrews player David Moyes’ West Ham, whilst Morecambe were left to focus on their league campaign.
After finishing up my chat with the now Mohican-less Paul, it was onwards through the darkness and back towards the town, along with Dom and his fellow Shrimp follower Jake , who were also on the train back to Crewe. But, I was soon sidetracked. I mentioned the Belle Vue Tavern in passing and Dom remarked how it looked a decent boozer. This was all I needed to hear and, after a moment’s hesitation, I was no longer heading to the station and was instead enjoying a pint of Strongbow in the company of some fine birds….of the avian variety.
Upon overhearing the great news of United having gone two up at Ashburton Grove, it was time to head onwards. After bidding farewell to my newly found feathered friends (whether they wanted to be or not, I don’t know), I continued on my walk back towards Shrewsbury station and the castle standing proudly over it. However, it was on my return here that I made a grave mistake. I decided to head into the Station Hotel over the way. Now, that wasn’t a mistake in itself as the place was pretty lively and a decent place overall, but deciding on a pint of Rekorderlig was, setting me back around £4.60, whereas everywhere else had been around the £3.50 mark. Ouch. But, to be fair, it was a decent pint and if that’s as bad as a day gets, I don’t think there can be too many complaints!
After milling about in the station for a while for my delayed – again, shock, horror – train back to Manchester (I couldn’t get a signal in the bar), it eventually rocked up and a problem-free trip back followed, with all connections going well, though I did contrive to almost miss my train home somehow. Disaster was averted, however, and so there ends my (second) visit to Shrewsbury and first to the New Meadow. All in all, it had been a decent day. Shrewsbury is a fine town and the ground was decent enough too. The game was ok for a slightly cut-price cost and there was no overall big travel problems. Next week sees a return way back down into the amateur ranks, with a visit to the shadow of Old Trafford. Hopefully anyway, though the snow could yet play its first role of the winter….
Value For Money: 7