THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

17 July ~ As the season looms there’s an air of resignation among many Shrewsbury Town fans. It’s the feeling of being stuck in a division you can’t get out of. It could have been so much different. Five years ago the last season at Gay Meadow was unexpectedly prolonged by a play-off campaign that saw Shrewsbury beat MK Dons to play in the first League play-off final at the new Wembley. Defeat to Bristol Rovers meant that the inaugural season of the ground everyone refers to as the “New Meadow” was played in League Two.

Two seasons later under a different manager, Paul Simpson, Town were back at Wembley, losing to a gut-wrenching last-minute goal against Gillingham. The following season, without talismanic striker Grant Holt, who this year will be playing in the Premier League with Norwich, the team faltered and Simpson was sacked. Any negativity was dissipated at the start of 2010-11 by the arrival of “living legend” Graham Turner, who as player-manager took Shrewsbury to the old second division in 1979. Never mind that season ticket sales were markedly down or that during the course of the season attendances at New Meadow dipped below 5,000 for the first time. Surely, with the messiah back, this was going to be our year.

Wycombe’s unearned point against us – when they had a goal awarded when the ball didn’t cross the line – gave them a one-point advantage over us at the end of the season and meant they occupied the final automatic promotion spot. Still, Turner had guided the club to its highest league position in 15 years – fourth in League Two. But capitulation in Torquay and a dire performance in the return leg meant the Gulls got to travel to Old Trafford to play Stevenage in the play-off final.

At the moment it seems Turner is safe in his job, but if the recent cycle of play-offs followed by a mediocre season continues he may not be comfortable. Town fans are starting to moan about how a club with a large fanbase like ours belongs at a higher level. It’s a ridiculous thing to claim, but that sense of entitlement is really only an expression of disappointment with the not-quite-boom-not-quite-bust of the last few seasons. Disappointment has already led to some desertions.

There are other pressures on Town this year as well. The return of fellow Salopians AFC Telford back to one division below the Football League means there is definite competition for floating fans. A good season for Telford, or a very bad one for Shrewsbury, and the two clubs could be kicking off in the same division for the second time within a decade. Telford, arguably, also have more attractive fixtures. Any Town fan wanting to boo Wrexham this year need only travel the 15 miles down the road on Boxing Day. Already I imagine West Mercia Police have cancelled all leave. With that game destined to sell out, Town have an away trip to Cheltenham. It’s a short trip, but not exactly a rivalry. I know where I plan to be instead.

With fans still sore at the play-off failure last year, and the external pressures of local rivals coming good, those repeated missed opportunities may prove detrimental to Shrewsbury in numerous ways. We realise we are lucky – fans of many other clubs are living with awful crises. But the pessimism bred by near misses is hard to shake off. Jon Matthias

Comments (8)
Comment by Zorg the Leveller 2011-07-17 09:32:47

At the risk of fanning flames... whilst it must naturally be tempting to regard the non-goal against Wycombe as the critical point which denied the Shrews promotion, it's neither balanced nor particularly healthy. Every spurned opportunity by a Shrewsbury forward in a tight game, or similarly a defensive error that cost a point, was equally culpable.

Comment by Liffrok 2011-07-17 12:15:47

It's a good point - presumably Shrewsbury were awarded a couple of dodgy penalties over the course of the season, like all teams are. Still, I would imagine that anyone who finishes above Shrewsbury this season will probably be promoted.

Comment by Antepli Ejderha 2011-07-17 17:39:12

I wonder what our two resident STFC fans think of this.

Comment by NickSTFU 2011-07-17 18:29:53

I’m not resigned, we’re quietly going about our business while other teams spend money or pay big wages for this division. We are trying to build a team within our means and despite increased revenue streams from the move the Club remains prudent; I and many other Town are happy with this even if it means being stuck in the bottom tier for the foreseeable future.

Five years ago we might have gone up, but we’d have been straight back down again as the core of that team was workmanlike at best. Under Simpson we only got to the play-offs due to the point deductions suffered by Darlington and Rotherham, if those point deductions hadn’t been awarded then we would have finished 9th and we played like a 9th placed team in the final.

I’m sick of hearing about Wycombe. Zorg the Leveller is absolutely right. A goal keeping error allowed Wycombe to equalise at Adams Park (or whatever it’s called these days), Dean Holden’s mistake allowed Barnet to equalise at Underhill and we switched off at home to Southend to let them equalise; and there’s the problem from last season, too many home draws. We weren’t quite good enough to get automatic. It was fun though, some excellent away wins 11 in total against the 3 under Simpson and that ‘talisman’ Holt who was a disruptive influence on the team and a bit of a cock, allegedly, in that teams play-off season.

Last season we even looked to play some football with two out and out wingers actually able to beat a man and deliver a cross. I expect the same this season and even if we don’t make the play-offs we’ll have the consolation of watching a team who tries to play the game as opposes to the Peter’s and Simpson method of piss poor and not to mention boring percentage football.
A couple of other points. We’ve had sub 5000 gates before last season, in fact last season our average gate was up by a couple of hundred. Season ticket sales have remained the same give or take a hundred, but there are not “markedly down” and even if they were it would be more to do with the current local economic climate. Also only supporters of a certain age really give a toss about what Telford are up to; those under 20 usually. The pressure this season will be from Crawley, Bristol Rovers, Oxford, Rotherham et al, not whether Telford will steal our support. Those fans who believe that a “large fan base like ours belongs at a higher level” is found on B & A are not representative of Salop fans as a whole, even though most on that site believe they are.

Finally any Town fan (or any other fan who would rather boo old rivals than cheer their own team on) that would rather go to Telford and boo Wrexham is frankly weird, but each to their own.

Comment by Jongudmund 2011-07-17 20:07:33

The thing about the Wycombe goal is that it's about the only time I can ever remember one incident in one game leading to a differential in points that separated Town from another team, so blatantly.

With three games to go and sitting in third place, Town could only blow automatic promotion themselves. They duly did. But at that point the goal/non-goal wasn't an issue. I think that's why many people fixated on the incident, because it felt better than thinking we blew it.

I've spoken to a few people who watch Town regularly who also go and watch other local football instead of travelling to away games. True they won't choose Telford over home Town games yet, but I don't think Town should rest on their laurels and assume fans are just going to turn up game in, game out. (No club should, really.)

Comment by madmickyf 2011-07-18 05:28:52

"Telford, arguably, also have more attractive fixtures", Yep they get to play Luton Town!

Comment by bangsection 2011-07-18 09:33:43

Talking of the Shrews' local rivalries, can I ask whether any STFC fans feel there's a rivalry between their team and Walsall any more? Our paths haven't crossed much in the last few decades but I know that some Saddlers still see Shrewsbury as their "local rivals". Probably a function of the fact that we are the runt of the West Midlands litter and have never been able to manufacture a convincing rivalry with any of the Blues/Villa/West Brom/Wolves axis.

I genuinely hoped you'd get promoted last year because I've got family in Port Hill and fancied a trip to the New Meadow this season.

Comment by robccfc 2011-07-18 14:57:34

"With that game destined to sell out, Town have an away trip to Cheltenham. It’s a short trip, but not exactly a rivalry. I know where I plan to be instead."

Some fan you are!

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