22 December ~ It’s a rare event for a player to move on and still be regarded as a hero by fans of the club he’s left. But you would be hard pressed to find anyone who follows Shrewsbury Town who would say a bad word about the latest England keeper, Joe Hart. Unlike others who have moved on and upwards, Joe has retained a soft spot in the hearts of Shrewsbury fans. He even caused many to do the unthinkable – cheer on Birmingham City for a season.
There is a longstanding resentment among Town fans for the way we were treated at St Andrew’s in the season when the "mighty" Birmingham were schlepping around the third tier. Being spat on from a height and stewards who laughed at it don’t make you think kindly of your hosts. But when "our Joe" was playing for them, during that 15-match unbeaten run in 2009-10 that caught the attention of the media, even hardened haters like me were rooting for Birmingham.
The "Joe Hart effect" means I keep an eye out for Manchester City’s results too. I know that what’s happening at Man City represents everything that is wrong in the game at the moment – oodles of money and very little class. I should despise them but I don’t. I can’t. Because standing between the sticks is the lad who still looks pretty much like the 16-year-old we all thought was amazing for his age at Shrewsbury.
He’s the boy who went to the comprehensive that I went to, and who pulled on a jersey for his hometown club like we all dreamed of doing. Joe wasn't sure he wanted to play football. He turned down academy offers because he preferred to stay in school with his mates. Then someone who knew someone suggested he try out for the Shrewsbury youth team.
When Joe made his full competitive England debut recently, it activated a bonus clause in the contract with Man City that gave Shrewsbury a much-needed financial boost of £500,000. Cynics will say that Joe’s success is the nearest thing Shrewsbury fans will have to mixing with the big boys again, that we are doomed to be a lower-league club who might unearth a diamond talent once in a generation. Well, they may be right. But you don’t support clubs like Shrewsbury for the glory. You only believe because of the occasional miracles, like Joe. Jon Matthias