Just before Christmas, I put a suggestion to my friend at work that we should go see a Shrewsbury Town game on the road. Toby is a big Salop fan but is also a fellow football nut. We’re always discussing goals, games, news and results at work from all kinds of different leagues and clubs.
Shrewsbury Town has been a particular hot topic this season since they’re doing so well in League One. There’s a real feel-good spirit around the club and town at the moment, so it made sense to go and see the Shrews play a game.
And what a game we chose to see. Shrewsbury were in second place before the match, five points clear of Blackburn in third. A win for the away side would see them go eight points clear of their promotion rivals and in with a chance of going top. Meanwhile, a home victory would put Blackburn firmly in the hunt for automatic promotion and maybe even the title as well.
A massive club
Just being around Ewood Park gives you a sense of the history that Blackburn Rovers has and how massive the club is. The stadium itself is huge. Towering. A capacity of just over 31,000 makes it the biggest in League One and the second largest outside the Championship (only Coventry’s Ricoh Arena at 32,500 eclipses it). Also, in a nice touch, the stands are named after leading figures in Rovers’ history. Such as Jack Walker, who owned the club during its Premier League title win in 1995.
Elsewhere, the main road nearby is called Alan Shearer Way and the roundabout connecting that is also named after the Premier League’s all-time record goalscorer and Rovers legend. Shearer’s Island is not much to look at admittedly, it’s just an average-looking roundabout. I was expecting some kind of monument considering his goals helped them become one of just six teams to win the Premier League title.
But it’s a nice gesture nonetheless. It does make you wonder though, how such a prestigious club became the only side to have been relegated to the third tier of English football after securing the Premier League crown. (More on that towards the end.)
An action-packed game
The match lived up to the hype. Blackburn were right at it from the off and could have taken the lead through Bradley Dack’s effort that was well saved by Dean Henderson.
Rovers weren’t to be denied though, as Charlie Mulgrew hit a beautiful free-kick into the bottom corner from 25 yards out soon after. Toby and I were sat behind the goal at the time and I thought it was going in as soon as it left the Scottish international’s boot. It was so precisely hit.
Blackburn deserved the lead. They were dominating midfield and Dack was proving a handful going forward. However, Shrewsbury were given a lifeline out of the blue when Carlton Morris was taken down by Rovers goalkeeper David Raya in the area. Jon Nolan scored the spot-kick and I celebrated with Toby in front of the away fans. A really good moment.
That was as good as it got though. Blackburn didn’t back down in the second half and Danny Graham deservedly put them back in front. Dack initially hit the post with a great turn and shot but former Premier League striker Graham followed up to score the rebound.
Soon after it was 3-1 as Mulgrew tucked away a penalty for his second of the game. Henderson was judged to have taken out Dominic Samuel for the spot-kick but the ref took a while to give the penalty. I must admit, I initially thought Samuel had run into the keeper and made the most of things. Particularly as his chipped effort went nowhere near finding the net. But if a keeper manages to stay on his feet after colliding with an opponent, it’s difficult to argue that it isn’t a foul.
Interestingly, that penalty made Mulgrew Blackburn’s top goalscorer in the league with 11. Crazy to think when he’s a defender by trade! It was also Shrewsbury’s biggest defeat so far this season. Having conceded a league-best 15 goals before kick-off, Town let in a fifth of that figure in just 90 minutes. Which probably gives them more reason to be optimistic if anything. Chances are this was just a rare off-day. But it will be an interesting end to the season for both sides.
I must be honest and say I had more reasons to be disappointed than satisfied after the game. One of the reasons for this is because of my quick entrance and exit.
Normally I like to head to a ground early and take in the surroundings. But about an hour before kick-off, I was in a bar. I don’t drink alcohol so I rarely venture into pubs before a game but I got to see Cardiff beat Sunderland on the TV so I didn’t particularly mind. Plus I was with a decent group of Shrewsbury fans consisting of Toby and his friends.
However, we didn’t leave the pub until twenty past two and when we eventually arrived, I tried to take some photos of the ground but everyone I was with headed straight to the away end. We also had to rush out the stadium at full-time to catch an early train back to Shrewsbury. Which turned out to be pointless anyway because Toby missed it while he was taking a piss and I had to wait for him in Preston.
You might have been able to guess from Toby’s train debacle that the lad was quite bladdered for most of the day. He’d already drunk six or seven cans on the trip down, had carried on drinking at the pub and continued to do so in the ground. And unfortunately, it seemed like a lot of other Shrewsbury fans had done the same. Which also hindered my experience.
When we entered the away end, instead of being in their seats, many Salop supporters stood on the steps between them. Toby and I joined them because he wanted to be where the passionate fans were. I can’t blame him for that. I just wished they’d been more sensible and stood in the seating areas.
Luckily for me, we were soon told to move to the front by stewards and I didn’t have to contemplate the prospect of breaking an ankle falling down the stairs. That was until Town got the equaliser and Toby moved back to the spot where the standing fans were as they were all allowed to re-congregate on the steps. That was our vantage point for the rest of the game. I didn’t like being there at all. All the fans around me were pissed up, swaying side-to-side, nudging me down the stairs. It was like being in a bar.
I was desperate for Blackburn to score because if Town did, I could see myself falling down the stairs. Shrewsbury were attacking the goal below us and if they’d have scored, their fans would have gone berserk and ran straight to the front. Thankfully Graham put Rovers back in the lead to settle the boisterous activity and then Mulgrew scored from the spot to put the game to bed.
That saved me from being caught up in a drunken stampede but it didn’t keep me away from the bad attitude the Shrewsbury fans were displaying. For instance, when I questioned Blackburn’s penalty being awarded, I got a mouthful from a Shrews supporter who turned around and yelled in my face: ‘how do you think that’s not a penalty?’.
His attitude angered me. He was so matter-of-fact. Rude. Considering the referee took a while to call it, I thought I had some ground to my questioning. But apparently I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion.
Later on, I wasn’t surprised to see him and his gang banging on the train roof, climbing into the overhead baggage stands and breaking one of the lights during our journey home. However, I can’t just bemoan the minority of Shrewsbury fans for bad behaviour, as a section of the Blackburn fans can’t be excused either. They threw all sorts of stuff at Henderson during the second half of the game.
All of this just left me feeling exhausted and kind of fed up with football when I got home. Which never normally happens.
One other disappointing thing to note was the lack of home fans at Ewood Park. A lot of the near 1,400 Shrewsbury supporters ridiculed Blackburn for the low attendance of 13,579. But for me it seemed like the result of a boycott rather than the home side’s lack of fans.
The club’s supporters have been against their owners, a business group called Venky’s, for many years. Since their takeover of the club in 2010, Venky’s have brought in seven different managers and have overseen two relegations.
A website called VenkysOut.com highlights the fans’ displeasure and I think this is why the game was so poorly attended by home fans. Which is a sad scenario.
I’m sure there are thousands of fans across the country who do football trips the way Toby and the other Shrewsbury fans around me did. Which is obviously fine if it’s not taken too far. I think standing up at games is okay. I like standing, I prefer it. But not when it’s on a flight of stairs that aren’t designed for watching a game from.
I should also point out that I was with the same bunch of fans for most of the day. I saw plenty of other Town supporters who were enjoying the game with their kids, friends or partners. Even other drunk fans at the front of the stand were getting up and geeing the crowd. One guy kept whispering to the players when they were on the far end of the pitch. A true maverick that I enjoyed watching more than the game at times.
I’m sure Toby and I will attend more matches together in the future. When we were in Preston and he’d sobered up a bit, we talked over seeing a game at Wrexham or heading to another ground nearby. Next time, I’ll try and incorporate some of my own matchday rituals.
Blackburn Rovers 3 – 1 Shrewsbury Town
EFL League One
Ground rating: 7/10