Fan's Eye View: Hope of progress of a kind: No 59 Shrewsbury Town

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The Independent Online
'WHERE is Shrewsbury?' Ronnie Corbett once asked the other Ronnie. 'Half-way up the Third Division,' came the reply.

So we who support Shrewsbury - and there are not that many of us, indeed at one turnstile it is said that the gateman knows all his customers by their first names - often start with the difficulty of explaining exactly where we reside. 'Half-way between Birmingham and Liverpool and a little bit to the left, towards Wales,' seems to satisfy the intelligentsia who follow the beautiful game.

Once located, you expect even more abuse than usual - given the macho image which visiting supporters bring with them - because the ground is called Gay Meadow. However, when that abuse is exacerbated by unfounded allegations of activities with sheep, chanted fortnight after fortnight by those who eat our sheep, you can understand why we few are a little different from your usual supporter.

For Shrewsbury, the old Third Division championship and then 10 years in what was then the Second Division - and once or twice not really having to be too concerned with the threat of relegation - was not merely a success but a miracle. In those years (the Eighties) we had our days: victories - and good ones - over Leeds, Chelsea, Manchester City, West Ham, and Newcastle (when Chris Waddle was a lad), where we outplayed, not out-booted, them.

Over the years, too, we have had our cup runs, with Manchester City and Ipswich (twice) among the victims. Sometimes, though, defeats are remembered more than the wins. At Chelsea, we were robbed by a bald Welsh referee who allowed an offside goal and refused a penalty so obvious that a Chelsea supporter sitting next to me apologised.

We tried to stay in the old Second Division by spending what little we had on a Scottish manager, Ian McNeil, who bought some fellow countrymen - good-humoured, hard-working, classy players whose departure brought sorrow to the local publicans - and finished up broke in what was then the Third Division.

Then came Asa Hartford and John Bond - and the Fourth Division. We nearly reached the play-offs last season - we would have done so had we not thrown away a two-goal lead on the last day of the season at home to, of all teams, lowly Northampton. So, exit Mr Bond.

We live in hope; progress so far this season has been better than we dared dream, after losing three and drawing three of the first six games. Since then we have progressed up the League to fifth place, spurred by a six-goal thrashing on the Preston plastic.

Can we make it to a promotion place? Please, not a play-off - my dear old dad's heart would not stand it. Out of the Coca-Cola Cup with glory, of a sort, 4-3 to Blackburn after a 0-0 draw at Ewood, following a win against Southampton. How many Premiership teams have scored three against Dalglish's millionaires? We have had seven away wins, five on the trot, so it's still going well.

The caretaker-manager, Fred Davies, has done a first-class job in a decent, caring way, but there are rumours that the board are waiting for Graham Turner to leave Wolves. He was our manager when we won the old Third Division title, and we respect him, but why change a winning team?

As to the team of today, they try to play football in a division which, perhaps surprisingly, has few of the 'boot it up in the air' teams. A mixture of youngsters, cast-offs and has-beens - but then it is better to be a has-been than a never-was.

We sold Carl Griffiths to Manchester City recently, to pay a few bills, but we cannot see any more transfers of potential stars. All we ask is for the ball to be played on the ground, no Welsh or London referees, and results that enable us to look at the League table on a Sunday morning in hope rather than despair.