Quartet face great escape or greatest humiliation

The theme from The Great Escape is played at most football grounds, especially ones which have nothing particular to escape from. It is a peculiarly inappropriate tune as nearly all those who tunnelled out of the Stalag Luft camp were captured and nearly all were shot. Even Steve McQueen returned to The Cooler.

It is a fair bet to be played at Shrewsbury's Gay Meadow tonight and Kevin Ratcliffe's team will need every source of inspiration. Unless they win their final two games of the season, against Carlisle this evening and Scunthorpe on Saturday, a team which in January humbled Everton and which performed minor heroics against Chelsea will be relegated from the Football League. One other side, probably Exeter City, will join them. For the first time, there will be two teams suffering what is thought of as professional football's greatest humiliation.

Swansea, who managed to attract more than 9,000 to the Vetch Field to see them lose to Exeter, have been given some breathing space by a 2-1 victory at Rochdale on Saturday but, should they lose to Hull, that might see the downfall of a club which in 1982 finished a couple of points behind Arsenal.

There is something horribly appropriate about the fixture list; Shrewsbury's first league fixture in 1950, was against Scunthorpe and it might be their last. They have been here before. Two years ago on the last Saturday of the season, Ratcliffe took his team, who were bottom of the Third Division, to Exeter. They won 2-1 and Chester, who lost 1-0 at Peterborough, were relegated instead of Carlisle by virtue of having scored fewer goals. Had the measure been goal difference, as it was to be the next season, then Carlisle would have lost their league status.

Ratcliffe admitted this task is more difficult. Shrewsbury have won none of their last 13 fixtures and have been mired down by nerves and there have been reports that Ratcliffe's health has suffered.

"I've looked at myself every Saturday night I've got home," said the Shrewsbury manager in the wake of the 3-0 defeat at Hartlepool that took his club to the brink. "Somebody said to me: if you put a mirror on the door and you look at it when you go out for a match, can you look at it when you come back in? I can but the results say that's not the case with too many of my players."

Carlisle are usual suspects for occasions such as these. In 1999 they were within seconds of losing their league status when Jimmy Glass, an on-loan goalkeeper, scored in the 95th minute to condemn Scarborough to the drop and save Carlisle's chairman, Michael Knighton, from a possible lynching.

Knighton had been refused police protection but braved the demonstrations, although the two elderly stewards assigned to stop the mob getting to him had quietly slipped away when Glass scored. Knighton was soon addressing the television cameras saying he believed in "aliens, flying saucers and goalkeepers who score in the 95th minute." True to form, Glass never played again for Carlisle.

Despite a change of ownership, Carlisle have continued to struggle. Their manager, Roddy Collins, prepared for Saturday's vital 3-2 victory at Torquay by throwing one of his on-loan players, Stuart Green, off the team bus, claiming he had been attempting to negotiate his transfer back to Hull. "How can you ask a man like that to run through a brick wall for you?" Collins claimed by way of explanation.

Shrewsbury have also seen their preparations hindered when their leading scorer, Luke Rodgers, was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and fined £5,000 after a 16-year-old girl was struck in the face by a firework.

It is perhaps significant that, Swansea apart, the three other clubs in the relegation mire have all had impressive cup runs. Carlisle reached the final of the LDV Vans Trophy while Exeter made it through to the third round of the FA Cup. It may be coincidence that all are at the geographical extremities of the Football League.

Some are at the financial extremities. Exeter may simply cease to exist if they lose to Southend on Saturday. They are £1m in debt, most of it comprising a £580,000 bill from the firm which built two of their stands, and their chairman, John Russell, is a convicted fraudster who is in grave danger of becoming the first man ever to take two clubs out of the Football League – he was previously chairman of Scarborough. Theirs would not be a relegation but a mercy killing.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments