Manchopper in….Shrewsbury

Result: Shrewsbury Town 2-0 Morecambe (FA Cup 2nd Round)

Venue: New Meadow (Saturday 2nd December 2017, 3pm)

Att: 3,184

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!

Loggerheads

Three Fishes

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.

Hop & Friar

Shrewsbury Cathedral & town walls on right

Heading over the Severn

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…

Crown

Wild Pig

Approaching the New Meadow

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….

History Lesson:

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.

Today’s game

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.

New Meadow

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.

Main Stand

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.

Match Action

Match Action

Whalley nets his penalty!

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!

Match Action

Match Action

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.

Belle Vue Tavern

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….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 7

Programme: 7

Food: 7

Value For Money: 7

 

 

Manchopper in….Shrewsbury (Haughmond FC)

Result: Haughmond 3-2 Matlock Town (FA Cup First Qualifying Round)

Venue: Shrewsbury Sports Village (Saturday 2nd September 2017, 3pm)

Att: 236

With the introduction of the Step 3 clubs to the FA Cup of 2017-’18, this of course meant a good selection of interesting ties to choose from to continue this year’s cup quest. With quite a few of those in the offing, the most attractive to me came out of left field somewhat, with a sports village playing host. The venue was in Shrewsbury and the team the newly promoted Step 5 outfit, Haughmond FC and the visitors, the “Gladiators” of Matlock Town, competing two divisions higher. I will try not to include any reference to the film.

After a couple of changes, I was heading out of the shadow of Gresty Road in Crewe and onwards through the South Cheshire & Shropshire countryside, arriving into the shadow of Shrewsbury castle at just before midday. With lots of time to spare, I thought I may as well pop into one of the number of pubs near to the station and plan out the rest of my intended route.

First up was the Bull’s Head, an old-style pub complete with fireplace. Plumping for a pint of Thatcher’s to begin with, I had just began to have a peruse of the nearby area when an elder gentleman laid down his umbrella and coat on the table I was at. This was Brian and he’d go on to regale me with a tale of him courting and having to spend a few weeks wages on a suit, having come out of the army. A thoroughly nice guy, he also recommended his tobacco and ale diet, with it having done him “no harm”. It certainly hadn’t.

First sight of Shrewsbury

First pint of the day in the Bull’s Head

Pubs aplenty

After bidding goodbye to Brian (via a quick return to pick up my sunglasses), it was off next door to the Vaults, a dull real/craft ale sorta place. Thrillingly, I soon spied the familiar blue sign of Punk IPA lighting up the bar. On draught no less too! A pint of that (£4.50) was quickly ordered and from here I looked at where I’d go next. The plan I settled upon would be to first have a quick look around the town centre, though this was almost scuppered as I headed away from it somehow and found myself about to head into a new-build housing estate. It was then I knew I’d probably gone wrong. What a shock.

Once I’d righted my inner compass and found my way into town, I was given a tip by my parents to head to the Prince Rupert hotel, on account of it being “haunted”. Alas, I couldn’t find any conclusive evidence of this…nor that there was an open bar, so I instead opted to head next door and to the second Bull of the day. Bully! This was a decent enough stop-gap in the midst of the town, though I left the attractive looking Loggerheads for my return here when Shrewsbury Town will be my destination.

St. Mary’s Church

Shrewsbury (including the Bull)

After polishing off my pint, it was off onwards to the ground. With the F1 qualifying in full flow, I was ideally looking for somewhere to watch the events in Italy. My intended stop, the Old Dolphin, was shut as I headed on past, so I set my sights on one final drink in the nearby Coracle, that sits just a couple of minutes from the ground. That was until I came across the Coach and with this advertising Sky, I reckoned this was the place. In I headed, purchased a drink, only to find the rain teeming down on the TV and action non-existent (some may say this is the norm when it comes to F1, mind you). Ah.

My search would prove not to be fruitful and with the rain still falling at the track, I headed onwards to the aforementioned Coracle with the clock nearing 2pm. Arriving here, I found it surprisingly empty, imagining a fair amount of travelling fans would have been taking advantage of a nearby watering hole. This proved not to be the case, apart from around five Gladiators fans and so after a quick chat with a pair of them, it was onwards to the Shrewsbury Sports Village.

The Coach

The Coracle

I decided to follow one Matlock fan there and see where he ventured on the way in. Eventually, it seemed the entrance was gained via the main atrium and through the door at the far end of the main building, which gave entry to the ground itself. After heading past the steps, the view from which had been blocked off by tarpaulin, I arrived at the gate and handed over my £5 entry, whilst asking after my programme, which I’d reserved the day before. This duly arrived soon after, with the £1 price being waived. Cheers guys.

Haughmond’s ground at the Shrewsbury Sports Club is pretty basic, minus the large stand on the right hand touchline. Bar this, there isn’t much to report on the ground, what with it being only a two-sided venue, the far end and left-hand touchline being off-limits/non-existent (r.e. spectator areas) respectively. The near end, closest to the entrance and building, is open hard standing. The ground was nearing capacity, though this didn’t stop a few freeloaders from watching on from outside the perimeter fence. Boooo.

Anyway, with the ground being this full for a game such as today’s (meaning no disrespect to either team’s numbers), this must surely mean a move in venue would be required should Haughmond draw a club with a larger following at any point during their stay at their current home. With this in mind, here’s the story of Haughmond FC….

History Lesson:

Haughmond FC was formed in 1981, the brainchild of two brothers, Roger and Dave Ellis-Morgan. They began life in the Shropshire County League, before a move into the West Shropshire League after a sole season. Here, Haughmond would win the Second Division title in 1985, plus two West Shropshire League Cups (1987 & ’89) and a  West Shropshire League Subsidiary Cup (1991) prior to the end of their first decade.

Haughmond’s home, Shrewsbury Sports Village

1995-’96 saw a highly successful season for the club, with Haughmond lifting the League Cup for a third time, along with the West Shropshire League’s Premier League title, Premier Cup and John Davies Cup, completing a quadruple. 1998 saw a fourth League Cup arrive, before the 1999-2000 season saw a return to the Shropshire County League, where they were to immediately finish as Division One runners-up, gaining promotion to the Premier Division.

Haughmond would follow this with further cup success, winning the 2003 Ron Jones Cup and Premier Cup, and the next year would see the club go on to win the 2004 Shropshire County League title, along with the “prestigious” Commander Ethelstone Cup at the beginning of that season. After a slight lean spell, the club would go on to achieve a pair of Shropshire County Premier League runners-up placings in 2009 & 2010, prior to lifting the title in 2011, along with a further League Cup in a double winning campaign. This preceded a move into the West Midlands Regional League for the following season.

Obviously must be the most asked question!

After immediately lifting the WMRL Division 2 title in 2012, Haughmond would take this success into Division 1, where they’d finish 2014 as runners-up. Following the resulting promotion to the WMRL Premier Division, Haughmond would go on to lift the title (plus a WMRL Premier Cup) in 2017 and be promoted to the Midland League’s Premier Division for this season.

We were soon underway with the underdog home side striking early. In fact, it only took them two minutes to break the deadlock, striker Steve Hole firing beyond Matlock ‘keeper Phil Barnes, in what was to turn out to be his final games between the sticks prior to his retirement midway through this week (as I write). Sadly for him, it wasn’t to get much better, as Haughmond looked to take the initiative against their higher-ranked hosts.

They did just that. After having slightly the better of the early stages, the hosts doubled their advantage and it was that man Hole again. After forcing his way into the box, the forward was bundled over by Barnes and the referee duly pointed to the spot. Hole finished off his attack, firing the penalty convincingly high and beyond Barnes to secure his side a fine advantage.

Match Action

Match Action

The one and only stand

From then on, Matlock did begin to get a stranglehold on the tie and looked to assert themselves. After going close with a couple of efforts plus Luis Rose’s attempted overhead kick, they deservedly grabbed themselves a goal back just before the break, Rose eventually getting his goal in more conventional fashion, smartly finishing off a cross with what was the last meaningful kick of the half. With that, the first period duly came to a close and now I’d usually head for some food. But on this occasion, I couldn’t be bothered seeking it out, though apparently there was some on offer inside the main village building via a café.

The second half began in much the same way as the first, with Matlock’s Gladiators on top. Therefore, it came as little surprise when they levelled the scores just after the hour, Adam Yates side-footing home a free-kick from the flank past home custodian Ash Spittlehouse to level up the scores. From there, I’m sure most in attendance would have agreed that there was only one winner.

A goalmouth scramble and a smart chip narrowly avoided putting the visitors ahead but, as the clock ticked down, it looked more and more likely these two teams would have to go at it again back at Matlock’s Causeway Lane. Spittlehouse had to be at his best just prior to the 90 mark, tipping a fizzing effort away when it looked destined for the net, before the unthinkable happened.

Saved

Scramble

With the four added minutes almost up, Haughmond managed to achieve a rare breakaway. Advancing down the left, a deep cross found one of the attackers at the back post. However, he dallied on the ball when it looked as though he ought to have fired in his effort and the chance looked to have passed the hosts by. However, that man Hole was lurking, unmarked, at the back post and his team-mate kept his cool to feed him perfectly and Hole did the rest, shooting beyond Barnes and into the net to cue scenes of jubilation from those on the field and on the bench, though one Haughmond player was sent flying by a stray ref’s foot. Even I let out a cheer at such a moment!

The aftermath of the hosts’ late winner

Seconds later, the final whistle went to signal a cup upset at the Shrewsbury Sports Village, Haughmond were through to the next round having vanquished the Gladiators in battle. The fans of the visitors….were not entertained. This was not why they were here after all. Ah, damn it, so close…

Post match, I final pub visit was just within the time constraints, and so it was off to the Heathgates at the roundabout at the foot of the road. Not too much to report in here, before the return half-hour’s walk was undertaken, arriving back at Shrewsbury station an easy five minutes before the train back to Manchester was due. Here ends a far more interesting day than I was expecting when I set out.

Heathgates

Though I was expecting decent things of Shrewsbury itself, the ground and game were definitely better than expected and thanks to the club for giving me the free programme. They’d go on to draw Boston United in the next round at the fine York Street ground I visited last season with Altrincham. Next up, it’s a return to the 92 trail and the current Rotherham ground….

RATINGS:

Game: 9

Ground: 6

Food: N/A (was available in the SV café)

Programme: 3

Value For Money: 7