Date: 30th March 2007 at 5:45pm
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Shrewsbury Town Football Club are an English football club currently playing in Football League Two, the fourth tier of English football. They are the only Shropshire team represented in the Football League, and during their history have played in every league in the Football League bar the Premiership (formerly known as the ‘First Division’).

The club was promoted back to the Football League in 2004 at the first attempt, when they won the Conference playoff final. They had previously been relegated into the fifth tier from what was then called the Third Division (fourth tier) in 2003.

The reserve squad play matches in the Pontin’s Holidays League Division One West.

Early History

Shrewsbury Town were formed in May 1886, indirectly following the demise of the successful Castle Blues team. Despite being successful locally, the Blues were known as a rather rough team, eventually leading to their demise after several of their games were marred by on and off field violence. The new team hoped to be as successful as the Blue, without the notoriety. Press reports of the time differ as to the exact date that the new club was formed, The Eddowes Shropshire Journal of 26 May 1886 reported the birth of the club at the Lion Hotel, Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury. Meanwhile, the Shrewsbury Chronicle reported the club being formed at the Turf Hotel, Claremont Hill, Shrewsbury. It may be possible that both accounts are true, with an early get-together at the Lion being finalised at the Turf (or that the club was formed on a pub crawl!)

After playing friendlies and regional cup competitions for the first few seasons, Shrewsbury were founder members of the Shropshire & District League in 1890-91, later being admitted to the Birmingham League in 1895-96. Many of the teams Town faced in the early days have since faded into oblivion, however Shrewsbury were to meet many of today`s Football League and Conference teams, including Crewe Alexandra, Coventry City, Stoke City, Kidderminster Harriers and Stafford Rangers. Shrewsbury`s Birmingham League days were mostly spent as a mid table side, with a few seasons challenging near the top of the table, and the club being league champions in 1922-23.

A move to the Midland Champions League in 1937-38 saw the club enjoy one of its most successful seasons ever, winning a league and cup treble. Shrewsbury were crowned league champions, scoring 111 goals in the process. In addition, the Welsh Cup was won following a replay, the team enjoyed a run in the FA Cup, and they were also winners of the Shropshire Senior Cup.

After an run of good seasons in the immediate post war years, Shrewsbury were admitted to the old Division 3 (North) of the Football League in 1950, after being crowned Midland League champions in 1949-50.

Football League History

Shrewsbury Town were elected to the Football League Division 3 North in 1950 following the decision to expand the league from 88 to 92 clubs. Shrewsbury were then promoted to the Third Division in 1958-59. They were to remain in the third tier for 15 years, eventually slipping back down to Division Four at the end of the 1973-74 season.

This era of Shrewsbury’s history was probably best remembered for Arthur Rowley. Still seen by many Shrewsbury fans young and old as being the club’s greatest ever player, he arrived at the club from Leicester City in 1958, becoming the club’s first player/manager. During his playing and managerial career with Shrewsbury, he was to break Dixie Dean’s goalscoring record, scoring his 380th league goal against Bradford City at Valley Parade on April 29, 1961. Retiring from playing in 1965 he remained as manager until July 1968, establishing Shrewsbury as a force to be reckoned with both in the Football League and FA Cup.

Shrewsbury were promoted back to the Third Division in 1974-75 as runners up, before another successful season in 1978-79, when they were crowned league champions under firstly Ritchie Barker and later Graham Turner. Over 14,000 fans packed Gay Meadow on May 17, 1979 to see Shrewsbury seal promotion with a 2-1 win over Exeter City. In addition, the club had an exciting FA Cup run, which included a famous 2-0 win over Manchester City at Gay Meadow in the third round, eventually being beaten 3-1 at home by Wolverhampton Wanderers in a sixth round replay.

The most successful manager to take charge of Shrewsbury Town is Graham Turner, who won the Third Division Championship in 1978-79 – his first season in charge – and took the club into the Second Division for the very first time. They remained there for ten years against all the odds, although Turner departed for Aston Villa in 1984.

1980s & 1990s

The club enjoyed its greatest FA Cup run in 1981-82. The fifth round saw them face Ipswich Town for the second year in a row. (Ipswich previously winning 3-0 after a fifth round replay). Ipswich were, at the time, one of Europe’s top teams, however a spirited performance from Shrewsbury saw them pull off a 2-0 win, with goals from Steve Cross and Jackie Keay. Following this famous win, Shrewsbury faced Leicester City at Filbert Street in the quarter final stage. With the game 2-2 at half time, Shrewsbury were potentially 45 minutes away from a semi-final appearance, however the Leicester side, including a young Gary Lineker, eventually ran out 5-2 winners.

The 1980s are seen as the ‘golden age’ for Shrewsbury Town. Often seen as a small club punching above their weight, many ‘big name’ teams were to be defeated in the league by Shrewsbury, whose period in the old Second Division coincided with some of the current Premiership clubs’ darkest days. During the 1980s, the likes of Fulham, Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers and even Chelsea suffered league defeats by Shrewsbury Town. Middlesbrough F.C. were famously defeated at Gay Meadow at the end of the 1985-86 season, with Shrewsbury winning 2-1, securing their league safety and relegating Middlesbrough, who sadly, would later go out of business and almost out of existence. The match was marred by crowd violence from angry Middlesbrough fans, with many Teessiders later having to return to Shrewsbury for court appearances.

It was during the early to mid 1980s that the club enjoyed it’s most successful Football League run. After ‘finding their feet’ in the early years, the club was to enjoy a successful number of seasons between 1982/83 and 1984/85, where they were to finish no lower than ninth in the League. Despite still being smaller than many of the clubs in the league, Shrewsbury often survived through the sale of players, with some of the notable names to have played for Shrewsbury including Steve Ogrizovic, David Moyes, John McGinlay and Bernard McNally.

After a couple of relegation scares, Shrewsbury’s Second Division life ended at the end of the 1988-89 season after ten years, after a season marred by poor club discipline. Whilst in the Third Division, on 22 December 1990, Gary Shaw scored the quickest Town hat trick – 4 minutes and 32 seconds from first goal to last – against Bradford City at Valley Parade. At the end of the 1991-92 season, just three years after relegation to the Third Division, the club was relegated to the Fourth Division ? the first time since 1975 that Shrewsbury would be in the fourth tier.

However, two seasons later Shrewsbury won the new (fourth tier) Division Three championship under Fred Davies in 1993-94, and remained in Division Two (third tier) for three seasons. Unfortunately, Shrewsbury were not to rise any further up the Football League, remaining as a mid-table team before slipping back down again at the end of the 1996-97 season – after a drastic loss of form in the final weeks of a season which had begun with a promotion challenge on the cards.

The 1990s era also saw Shrewsbury make their only appearance at Wembley as finalists in the 1996 Auto Windscreens Shield final (now known as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy). However, the day was to be a disappointment, a below-par Shrewsbury team losing 2-1 to Rotherham United; Nigel Jemson, a player who would later feature prominently in Shrewsbury’s history, grabbing both Millers goals.

The Wembley final is often seen as marking the beginning of the end for Fred Davies, who was sacked at the end of the club’s 1996-97 relegation season. Amongst other things, dwindling crowds meant Shrewsbury didn’t have the finances to compete with their rivals, and it was in this backdrop that Jake King arrived, following a successful reign at local rivals Telford United. A successful Shrewsbury player during the 1980s, King was well regarded by fans, and the club’s chairman, Roland Wycherley. For Wycherley, the immediate priority was to assure Shrewsbury’s financial future and finally to ensure the club’s move to a new ground. However, with this some years in the future, Jake King was forced to work as best he could on one of the smallest playing budgets in the league. He worked tirelessly with the club’s youth set-up, also bringing in some promising non-league players. However, with the pick of the transfer market finding better offers elsewhere, Shrewsbury were to see out the 1990s in mediocre fashion.

Kevin Ratcliffe era

In the 1999-2000 season, Shrewsbury endured a poor season, with the manager, former Town player Jake King being sacked in November. Former Everton captain and Welsh international Kevin Ratcliffe was appointed manager, and was able to steer the club from relegation on the final day of the 1999-2000 season. With the club facing relegation to the Conference, a 2-1 victory away to Exeter City was enough to keep the club in the league, after rivals Carlisle United and Chester City both lost, Chester being relegated. After Shrewsbury’s ‘Great Escape’, Ratcliffe worked on improving the Shrewsbury side. Luke Rodgers emerged as a regular goalscorer, and with many ‘big names’ arriving at Shrewsbury, the team looked to be on the up, narrowly missing out on the league playoffs in 2001-02. At the start of the 2002-03 season, Shrewsbury looked to be a side on the up, with a youthful team strengthened by established names such as Ian Woan, Nigel Jemson and Mark Atkins. However, after an encouraging early start, league form began to suffer, including humiliating away defeats to Boston United, Rushden & Diamonds and Cambridge United, Town conceding an embarrassing aggregate of 16 goals across the three matches. A sideshow to the poor league form was an impressive FA Cup run, which temporarily took thoughts back to more successful days. After easily dispatching non-league sides Stafford Rangers and Barrow F.C., Shrewsbury were drawn at home to high-flyers Everton in the third round. A packed Gay Meadow saw Town emerge unlikely winners. A first half free kick from Nigel Jemson gave Town the lead at the interval, however an equaliser from Niclas Alexandersson appeared to send the tie to a replay at Goodison Park. However, with minutes left, an innocuous looking free kick was well taken by Ian Woan, Jemson heading in the cross to give Town a famous 2-1 victory. For Shrewsbury fans, a notable point from this match was the performance of Shrewsbury’s Peter Wilding. A former Sunday League defender from the local leagues, Wilding had the game of his life as he kept Wayne Rooney well and truly marked, Rooney having an awful match at the Meadow. Wilding was also one of the names who was to escape intense criticism later in the season.

Chelsea were the fourth round visitors, in a televised match on BBC’s Match of the Day. A plucky Town side lost 4-0, with Gianfranco Zola easily the man of the match.

A capacity crowd of 7,800 fans turned up for the Chelsea game, but from then on the league form seemingly disappeared with the glory hunters. The team were to win just twice in the league thereafter, with many fans questioning the team’s desire and commitment. Jemson, a player who split opinions amongst Shrewsbury supporters was a scapegoat, (Jemson was once notably caught up in an argument mid-match with an irate Shrewsbury fan), with Ian Woan another player who was often singled out for criticism, being booed off the field after being substituted in his final Shrewsbury appearance. That was against Carlisle United, a 3-2 defeat relegating Shrewsbury. Seven points adrift at the bottom and having conceded 92 goals, a season that had promised much had left the club contemplating the end of their 53 year stay in the league. Following angry demonstrations from fans, Ratcliffe resigned, and Mark Atkins took temporary charge for the club final League game, a 2-1 defeat to Scunthorpe United, who were coincidentally the first League opponents for Shrewsbury Town back in 1950.

Conference Days

After some speculation, Northwich Victoria manager Jimmy Quinn was appointed Shrewsbury manager in May 2003, with the aim of getting Shrewsbury promoted back to the Football League at the first attempt. For the first time in many years, Shrewsbury were seen as the ‘big fish’ in the league, with many experts predicting a league victory. With most of the previous year’s players released, Quinn assembled a whole new squad, with experienced non-league players such as Darren Tinson and Jake Sedgemore being joined by Colin Cramb, Scott Howie and former League Cup finalist Martin O’Connor.

Shrewsbury were easily the best backed team in the 2003-04 Conference season, with Shrewsbury’s away attendances at some of the smaller Conference teams actually outnumbering the home support!

On the field, a new-look Shrewsbury side seemed to have the desire that the previous side lacked, but at times lacked consistency. Thrilling matches, such as a 4-1 home victory over Hereford United, were tempered by some embarrassing results, including a 5-0 away defeat to Dagenham & Redbridge and two away defeats to local rivals Telford United, both in the league and the FA Trophy. However, as the season went on, the side were able to grind out some decent results. The league title went to Chester City, but with 74 points, Shrewsbury finished third in the league, comfortably qualifying for the league playoffs, the first time the club had ever qualified for a playoff competition.

In the semi-finals, Shrewsbury faced Barnet over two legs. The opening leg at Underhill saw Shrewsbury lose 2-1, with Barnet scoring an injury time winner. Over 7,000 saw the return match at Gay Meadow, a match that was televised live on Sky Sports. Shrewsbury drew level on aggregate following a Luke Rodgers penalty. With the teams level after extra-time, Scott Howie saved a penalty from Barnet’s Simon Clist, and Darren Moss scored the winning penalty, setting Shrewsbury for the Conference playoff final against Aldershot Town, at the neutral venue of the Britannia Stadium, home of Stoke City.

The final against Aldershot, on Sunday 16 May 2004 saw 19,216 fans visit the Britannia Stadium, two third of those being Shrewsbury fans making the short journey up the A53. In glorious sunny weather, the two teams played out a rather dull 1-1 draw, and after both teams blew their chance to win the match in injury time, the game went to penalties.

Striker Luke Rodgers, seemingly a banker to score a penalty stepped up, but inexplicably blasted his shot high over the bar. With Shrewsbury fans anxiously looking on, Shrewsbury goalkeeper Scott Howie earned himself a place in Shrewsbury folklore as he saved three consecutive Aldershot penalties. Shrewsbury converted their remaining penalties, defender Trevor Challis scored the winning penalty and began the celebrations, which began at Stoke, and continued in Shrewsbury for weeks. It may not have been glorious, but by sheer hard work, Shrewsbury were back in the Football League

For many supporters, the Conference season splits opinion. Many remember it as somewhat of an exciting ‘adventure’, one of the few seasons in recent years where Shrewsbury have been one of the bigger teams in the league, plus a memorable final victory. Others however, whilst grateful of the success, see the Conference season as something of an embarrassment, feeling that the club should never have been relegated in the first place.

Football League Part 2

Unfortunately for Shrewsbury, the optimism from the play-off final victory soon evaporated. An opening day 1-0 defeat to Lincoln City was an indicator of what was to come, as Shrewsbury were to flirted with the relegation places and were defeated in the FA Cup first round by Histon. Jimmy Quinn was not up to the job, and departed after just 14 league games, being replaced by Gary Peters, who succeeded in preserving Shrewsbury’s football league status in the 2004-05 Coca-Cola League Two campaign.

Since preserving Shrewsbury’s league status, Peters has looked to strengthen the side, transforming the side from one that was favourites for relegation in 2004-05, to one that are seen as realistic promotion candidates.

Towards the end of the 2005-06 season, assistant manager Mick Wadsworth departed and was replaced by Leroy Rosenior. At the end of the season, Rosenior became manager of Brentford and John McMahon became the new assistant manager.

Peters’ reign has coincided with the emergence of some bright young Shrewsbury players, the now departed goalkeeper Joe Hart and pacy midfielder David Edwards. Many fans have commented that the current squad is one of the best for many years and fans are now hoping that after many years, Shrewsbury can begin to journey up the Football League, and that they can end their final season at the historic Gay Meadow ground with promotion.