28 April ~ Shrewsbury Town face Dagenham & Redbridge today looking to secure their first promotion since returning to the League in 2004, when they won a penalty shoot-out at the Britannia Stadium. At this point only a run of catastrophic results will deny them automatic promotion and a place in the third tier for the first time since 1997. They need to win to make absolutely sure, although a draw would probably be good enough. A defeat would not be the end of the world, but it would be the end of an unbeaten home record that stretches back into the tail-end of last season. And it would set up a nervy final game at AFC Wimbledon on the last day.
Shrewsbury's home form has put them in this good position. The unassuming New Meadow on the outskirts of the town does not look like a fortress. It lacks the bear-pit atmosphere of some of the other League Two grounds, yet here, under a vista of low hills, Shrewsbury have beaten some very good teams in a strong fourth division.
It has taken character to get this far. In Marvin Morgan, the gangly striker with his own clothing range, rugged club captain Ian Sharp, and Jermaine Grandison, the rampaging young defender who induces panic in opposition midfielders when he runs the ball out of defence, the Shrews have a team with the attributes needed to get out of this league.
Every fan has a favourite. The wingers Jonny Taylor and Mark Wright; the cueball-headed midfielder Matt Richards, who looks like the world’s angriest Hare Krishna; and strikers James Collins and Terry Gornell are all names that will appear in the future "best STFC XI" discussions that crop up regularly in the fanzines and message boards.
These players stand on the cusp of becoming Shrewsbury legends. They have been moulded into a fluid team by a club hero, Graham Turner. The old coach returned last season to the club he took up to the second division in 1979. This is his swansong. There were doubts among many fans whether this was a good move, but if he gets Shrewsbury promoted he will become nigh-on untouchable in the pantheon of Town heroes.
It is not a certainty, however. Although they sit in the lower mid-table, Dagenham have pulled off some unexpected results this season and could postpone the promotion party. Shrewsbury fans won’t breathe easy until they know, absolutely and definitively, that the Town are going up. Jon Matthias