A New Meadow – Visiting Shrewsbury Town

At the weekend, for my birthday, I went to Shropshire with my family. As I have noted in other posts (see, for example, Favourite Poems – “A Shropshire Lad” by A.E.Housman, A Visit to Attingham Park, and Book Review: “The Lucky Ones” by Mark Edwards), I was born in Shrewsbury and grew up in Shropshire. Part of the weekend visit was so that I (together with my son) could go to watch Shrewsbury Town play their final match of the season. These days, my main football team is Sheffield United – but I always keep a close eye on Shrewsbury’s matches… but this was my first visit to their new (at least to me) stadium.

When I was growing up I used to go to the Gay Meadow to watch Shrewsbury from time to time. But, as a glory-hunting kid in the late 70s, when I first got into football, I settled on Liverpool as my main team. By the time I was in my mid to late teens, I turned back to Shrewsbury, but upon leaving Shropshire when I went to university in Sheffield, I decided that I would take the opportunity to finally support a large team that I would be able to go and watch on a regular basis. Back in those days there was no internet and with no relations living in Shropshire, it was hard to follow Shrewsbury and I couldn’t imagine going to watch them again.

I have very happy memories of the Gay Meadow. I remember going to see Town beat Newport County in the Welsh Cup and I remember a 3-3 draw against QPR in 1981, which I went to see as a birthday present. Those were the days when Shrewsbury were in what would now be the Championship. I also have a less happy memory of seeing football hooliganism by the visiting Bristol Rover ‘fans’ during one match. My favourite memory was actually a match I didn’t get to – when Town bean FA Cup holders Ipswich Town. I remember the match highlights and the amazing goal from a free kick (still never managed to track this down on YouTube as I’d love to see it again). By the time I was leaving Shropshire in 1989, the signs of things to come were becoming evident. I remember going to a dismal 3-1 defeat at home to Hull – that may even have been the last Shrewsbury game I went to before this weekend (although I think I did once see them play at Bramall Lane, perhaps in a cup competition) – and they were relegated at the end of that season.

Shrewsbury Town left the Gay Meadow in 2007. The new stadium, the New Meadow, is currently known as the Montgomery Waters Meadow – which is a nice coincidence since Montgomery Waters has a plant near to where I grew up (there was a tap from which we could get the water for free – the tap is still there, but closed off due to COVID-19 restrictions from what I can tell) and my son is called Montgomery.

I’m not going to discuss the football match itself (Wigan won 3-0 to win the League 1 title in the process), largely as doing so would lead to a rant about poor refereeing, and it’s probably not fair for me to comment on aspects of the team and other things as it could have been a one-off performance. Instead, I just want to comment on the stadium.

Having got used to Bramall Lane, the difference in scale of going to the Meadow is evident. There’s so many things that I like – it’s so welcoming, easy to get into, very spacious, and very welcoming (although getting a customer ID was an interesting experience as they were trying to ensure Wigan fans didn’t get tickets in the home section – which led to me having to explain me supporting the team as a kid and sending a copy of my driving license and passport!), and great views. I also like the signs of some of the former greats – such as Ken Mulhearn who I remember (I also went to school with his son and we played on the same 3-a-side ‘Yard football’ team).

It was also great to be so close to the pitch to be able to see the team warming up…

and the mascots walking by…

I love the family atmosphere – so many generations represented (no doubt helped by the great policy of tickets being free for under 12s, something I’ve wanted to see at United for decades now). I find it amusing that there is a ‘family section’ as virtually the whole ground seems like being for the family.

But, in the end, there is one thing that I could not escape from. The ground doesn’t have the character of the Gay Meadow. It could be almost any (new) stadium in any town. I don’t know what the answer is (if there is one). Obviously you can’t replicate the River Severn going by or the need to have someone with a coracle to rescue balls that go out of the stadium (never really understood the need for this – balls aren’t that expensive), but it would be nice if there was something visible in the ground that gave it more identity. Perhaps for those who go more regularly there is something about the stadium that does the trick for them and my words just reflect the musings of someone who misses the old ground and are unimportant since I’m not likely to make many visits (things were nearly very different, which could have seen my son and I becoming season ticket holders for a few years).

Regardless of my views on the stadium, I wish Shrewsbury Town all the best going forward and hope that they will make it back up to football’s second tier again.

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