It’s been 10 years since I saw my team win a football match for the first time. My dad took me to the last ever derby game at the Gay Meadow as Wrexham beat Shrewsbury 1-0 in April 2007. I remember light rain made the surface ideal for a game and the sole goal by Michael Proctor gave the night equal perfection.
Also in my memories is my dad jumping on the pitch and slapping our centre-forward Lee McEvilly on his bald head as the Wrexham players celebrated in front of the away end. I’m still gutted that they cut that part out of the Sky Sports News highlights package. More gutting though, is the scene where all this unfolded.
I’ve been living in Shrewsbury for a few months now and hadn’t realised I’d been walking past the same spot countless times. That’s because the Gay Meadow is now a gated community of flats, renamed Riverside Meadow. And somewhat disappointingly, that name is the only hint of what once stood there.
So a decade on, it seems quite fitting to visit Shrewsbury’s ‘new’ ground. Sponsorship means it’s changed its name over time, with Montgomery Waters currently holding the naming rights. But for me, it will always be known as The New Meadow.
Walking to the stadium
The last (and only) time I visited The New Meadow, Wrexham were done over 3-0 as Shrewsbury claimed revenge in the first derby match staged at their shiny home. Unsurprisingly, we were relegated that season. My only glimpses of the ‘horror house’ since have come on trains to Church Stretton and one time when my mate and I decided to walk back to Telford after a night out.
Based on these experiences, I’ve always known the ground to be quite a distance away from the town centre. But it really isn’t that far. It took 30 minutes to walk it from The English Bridge – which is a stone’s throw away from the Old Meadow – and that included breaks for buying water and getting money out the cash machine.
If I’d have known that sooner, I probably would have revisited the Wrexham nightmare site before this occasion.
I was fearful that the pre-season vibe would be in full swing for the visit of another Welsh team, Cardiff City. This was to be my girlfriend’s first ever football match, so I warned her several times over that it won’t be like a proper game.
We (okay, I) chose to sit in the away end. My uncle is a Cardiff fan and I would say they’re the closest thing I have to a second team. And fair play to the fans from South Wales, they brought a decent following. As well as a decent atmosphere. Chants of ‘Bluebirds!’ were a regularity in the first half and a couple of guys next to us were particularly involved in proceedings. One of them seemed to think I was addressing him whenever I said anything to Saffron. Still, it made things interesting!
Cardiff took the lead just before half-time. Kenneth Zohore chased and outmuscled home defender Mat Sadler to set up a Nathaniel Mendez-Laing tap-in. Lee Tomlin and Zohore combined well together throughout the half as a strong line-up featuring internationals Aron Gunnarsson, Jazz Richards and Sol Bamba took a slender lead into the break. I thought things were only going to improve with Cardiff attacking their own fans in the second half. However…
This man almost single-handedly ended the good vibes amongst the Cardiff supporters in the second half. A familiar face to me from his Wrexham days, I remember him scoring a beautiful goal on his debut in 2008. Since then he seems to have grown in strength and stature. I could hardly recognise him from the player we loaned out to the division below us after six months.
First he won and scored a penalty to level the scores. Impressive enough before he played an instrumental part in Shrewsbury taking the lead, Whalley forcing opposing goalkeeper Neil Etheridge into a save just minutes after his equaliser, with teammate Louis Dodds converting the rebound to make it 2-1. It was a crazy turnaround. I don’t think Cardiff’s team or fans quite recovered from the suckerpunch.
Bluebirds manager Neil Warnock attempted to address the problem by putting Joe Bennett on for Lee Peltier at left-back but Whalley dominated the replacement in equal measure. It did dent the atmosphere in the ground as Shrewsbury’s fans only made a noise when a goal went in. Seeing Whalley again as a completely different player made up for it though.
Meeting Big Ken
After the game, a couple of Cardiff players came over to the away stand to sign autographs, pose for selfies and have a chat with the fans. Not being a Cardiff fan through and through, I only recognised Zohore.
The Dane is reportedly being looked at by Premier League newcomers Brighton as their potential star forward this season. And you can see why when he’s on the field. I really enjoyed watching him play. He’s a big and powerful centre-forward who never stops running and can hold his own against defenders. I asked my uncle if he wanted something signed when he called me to hear the score. Hopefully it took his mind off Cardiff’s defeat and, apparently, the third consecutive penalty they’d conceded in pre-season.
The Pro Vision CCTV Stand
I don’t have anything bad to say about the stand itself, nor the company that have sponsored it. It’s just a bit of a naff name really. And with fees close to £200m being reported for players in the transfer window this summer, along with sponsors taking over the names of grounds, it just makes me yearn for a line to be drawn somewhere that chooses tradition over money.
The only other gripe I have is the lack of meaningful action. I’m so ready for the season to start now. Particularly as my first game is Wrexham v Macclesfield Town on August 5th and I’m more optimistic about our upcoming season than I’ve been in a long while. All downhill from here then…
Honestly speaking, Shrewsbury Town is very nice club with an impressive stadium despite its size. They’re a family-friendly club, with ‘no swearing’ signs in and around the ground. The home support were pretty quiet, even for pre-season standards, but it was an enjoyable evening with the Shrews’ stopping a strong Cardiff team from getting into the game. And Saff said she enjoyed her first ever taste of live football. Which is encouraging.
Bring on the new season!
Shrewsbury Town 2 – 1 Cardiff City
Ground rating: 6/10