Rough guide to
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Rough guide to... Shrewsbury Town
27 July 2006
Shrewsbury Town? Who might they be?
My memory is telling me that in the mid-eighties, when I first started watching Town, every match was against Shrewsbury. They were up there in the second division, punching well above their weight, just like us, for ten seasons. For that reason I have some small affection for them. But since then it's been mostly downhill for the Shrews with a progressive slide, only briefly halted by promotion in 1994, culminating in relegation to the Conference in 2003. I for one wasn't sad to see them bounce back at the first attempt. Shrewsbury Town will forever be the plucky underdog to me, a plucky underdog with a biscuit named after the town, and a national schizophrenia. Are they in Wales? Are they in England? Who knows? I think it depends which way the wind is blowing.
A strange one. They got off to a decent start and sat in eighth after ten matches, dreaming of the play-offs. A run of only 11 points from the next possible 39 soon put paid to that. The second half of the season was spent recovering from that dip in form, and they were never really any more than an outside shot for the play-offs at the end of the season. A 10th-place finish was an improvement on the previous season's 21st though, so most Shrewsbury fans were satisfied, especially given that they sat 21st again at the halfway point.
Against us they were unbeatable, although big thanks for that must go to Joe Hart. The young keeper was without a doubt Shrewsbury's star last season, and if I could find any articles about it I'm sure they'd confirm that he ran away with most of Shrewsbury's awards last term. A £600,000 move to Manchester City was just reward for the youngster's great season. He'll be sorely missed at Gay Meadow in 2006-07.
Anticipate with relish
Well, for starters there's no Joe Hart. That's a big relief.
Also, I think it's worth looking forward to the away match. It's the last game of the season, but the football's incidental really. Until doing a bit of research for this rough guide I never realised how lovely Shropshire and Shrewsbury are. Well worth a trip for the long May Day weekend. Take the family. Supposedly Scrobbesbyrig (which is its Saxon name) is a stunning historic town with over 660 listed buildings. That's enough history for everyone. And biscuits. The 'Shrewsbury' is still being made in the town today, many to Mr Palin's original recipe, dating back to 1760.
Anticipate with dread
The 2006-07 season is the Shrews' last at Gay Meadow, the ground where they've played since 1909 (or 1910 depending what you read). The ground oozes charm and character, is located in a scenic setting and is a throwback to the good old days of terracing and tasty pies. But they're pulling it down and building flats on the land instead. Boo!
The Shrewsbury officials would cite the regular flooding as the reason they're relocating to New Meadow from 2007-08. They'd cite a lack of opportunities at Gay Meadow for redevelopment and income generation too. New Meadow will be a 10,000-capacity all-seater new stadium, replacing the 8,000-capacity characterful real stadium. The 2006-07 season, then, marks the death of one more proper ground.
The way forward
Last season's top scorer was Colin McMenamin with 11 goals. That's one area that will clearly have to improve should Shrewsbury want to push on and launch a realistic play-off charge. Manager Gary Peters has brought in a few exciting youngsters as well as some experienced old heads and will be hoping that they blend well with what's left of last season's squad.
One player it may well be worth keeping an eye on is Andy Cooke. The local boy, once prolific with Burnley and then Stoke, has just been released by Bradford and is on trial at Gay Meadow, scoring in friendlies. He's 32 now but signing for his home-town club might be the final swansong this natural goalscorer needs. If Cooke and the Shrews can come to an agreement he may well be just what they're missing.
Let's presume he does sign (as is looking likely at the time of writing). This season is Shrewsbury's third back in the Football League: 21st, 10th... I foresee further improvement and the play-offs next May.
Beyond that they'll be in front of over 6,000 empty seats every week. I don't want to think that far ahead.