I hold an ambition to follow the trail, from preliminary to final, whether I actually get to do it, remains to be seen. However, this was my fourth F.A.Cup game of this season. I might be an absolute cad when it comes to the majority of my relationships but when it comes to the F.A.Cup, I’m still an old romantic. I remember a time when the F.A.Cup used to bring everyone out. An F.A.Cup game, any F.A.Cup game, used to put extra fans on the gate. It was a coveted trophy. The top managers at the top clubs put out their best side. It had the glitz and the glamour that the Premier league has now got. I could waffle on about how the competition has become devalued but I won’t. What I will say, is my love affair with the cup, the proper cup, isn’t showing any signs of ending. I have to gratefully thank my ground hopping Nephew Dave for the use of his previous booking history for this one. Him and also my Brother in law John for getting the ticket. So a huge thank you to both. A big thanks to my Sister Val for putting up with me sitting/standing next to her too. New Street was still relatively quiet when I got there. There was a few Midland based West Ham fans on the first Shrewsbury train out of Brum. A couple got on at Wolverhampton, as did a Shrews fan resplendent in club colours. Telford Central and a few more Shrewsbury got on. Also what appeared to be a family of West Ham. I had a brief thought, that they might have stayed there. I quickly dismissed the notion. Telford is not a place you would stay unless you really really had no option. like it was for work and the hotel had already been booked for you, without your input. If you haven’t been to Telford, then don’t. There’s no point. More Shrewsbury and one West Ham got on at Wellington. I was hoping a Shrewsbury lad I used to know called Greg would be getting on. He didn’t. Shame, I would’ve enjoyed a catch up. We arrived in Shrewsbury and because I knew him, I said hello to the West Ham fan that got on at Wellington. I think he was trying to keep incognito. Sorry mate, blew your cover before your accent gave you away when you went in your first pub.
The local plod were there to welcome the happy Hammers to Shrewsbury. Taking a video of their day out for them to take back home to Essex.
It’s always good to know where you’re heading when there’s Ol Bill around. Puts them off the scent. I was in the Salopian and served before the Shrewsbury fans in the know and on the same train had dawdled along the riverside and passed the newly positioned doorgirl. I should say door woman, but she just looked so young. (Yeah yeah, I’m getting old) The Salopian is something of a Shrewsbury real ale institute. It’s got a modern feel to it but it’s a place where you can get good beer and watch the sport on the telly in comfort. I had to smile when I heard the barmaid ask one of the regulars at both the pub and the football, if they could get a half and half scarf to put up in the pub. I abhor half and half scarfs. They should be banned. First of all, like my Sister Val pointed out later when I related the story, they are only ever sold unofficially outside the ground, so neither club receive any of the proceeds. I’m not against street hawkers, because they sell the more “edgy” gear. The stuff that the club wouldn’t get away with selling. What I dislike, is these half and half scarfs are aimed at the tourist market. The once a season fans. The once a lifetime visitors. Not your diehards. A diehard fan of any club would not be seen dead with one round their neck. It’s a wear once item. Unless you’re one of those that will wear it to your local for months after, just to show that you’ve actually been to a game. Even then, if you’ve lost the game, It’s a permanent reminder. Strangely, they’re never produced for a derby game. Why? What football fan wants a scarf with your biggest rivals colours on? Did the regular that she asked get the scarf? I don’t know but I certainly know he would’ve bought it under duress. His face fell, when she asked and his mates were in stitches. The next place I wanted to do was a new one for me. I’d drank in Shrewsbury many times but never visited the Royal Oak. It’s now a Black Country Ales pub, hence the reason for the visit. I was to be disappointed. It wasn’t their usual standard. They had their full range of ales but only two guest ales. My accent was spotted by the Barman. A young Wolves fan. We had a really good conversation about our respective clubs and the F.A.Cup. we differed on one thing though. Sat here writing this, if someone was to offer me a semi final place but be relegated, I would take it. I was only six, the last time Blues got that far. I was too busy playing with Lego and toy cars. I didn’t know what football was, (Some would say, I still don’t) let alone Blues. This is where the Barman showed his age. He wanted to be in the circus, that is the Premier league. The older I get, the more appealing, lower league and non league football becomes. I finished my pint, and bid him farewell. With time kicking on, I really had to put a wiggle on to get to the final pub before the game. The Prince of Wales is a pub, that if you didn’t know was there, you wouldn’t know it was there. That’s probably why I hadn’t been in it before. Given the bumper crowd, and the fact that the pub put a coach on for the relatively short (Compared to Reading, Doncaster, Coventry) distance to the ground, the place was busy. The stressed barstaff looked like they were just about holding it together. Pint drunk, I headed for the ground. Val answer on the second call. They were on their way. I thought I cut things fine at times, especially as they’d still got to collect the tickets.
A fortifying drink before the game officer? And what will your horse be having?
Val and John arrived, parked up, and we headed for the ground. Since the last time I attended a game here, they’ve altered the roundabout to make it easier for fans on foot to negotiate. Someone had decided to erect a homemade sign with the legend “Paul Hirst Way” on it. Genius little touch. The council are allowing it to stay till the end of the season. I suggested that they should make it permanent once Shrewsbury get promoted.
West Ham had only made four changes. From the previous game v Spurs. Joe Hart being one of them. It was a nice touch from David Moyes to make him captain. Back where it all started. This was a strong West Ham side. They didn’t play like first teamers though. Shrewsbury started brightly and got better. It’s no exaggeration to say that Hart was West Ham’s stand out. He needed to be. Shrewsbury had had a slight wobble in the league recently. There wasn’t any sign of that wobble in this game. I was very impressed with how they had played at Gillingham, earlier on in the season. They’ve got better. They should’ve gone in at half time, winning. Had it not been for Hart, they definitely would’ve been. 0:0
An impressive bit of artwork, in what is otherwise, a shoebox of a ground.
A full shoebox. Soon to be a shoebox with safe standing.
Unless something happens, like a glut of injuries, or (Hopefully not, for Shrewsbury’s sake) Paul Hirst gets poached, Shrewsbury are going to be changing places with Blues at the end of the season. Second half and except for a few lack luster sorties over the halfway line by West Ham, it belonged to Shrewsbury. They’ve added an intelligence to their game. How Shrews, or Salop, (As their fans kept singing, I won’t tell you what it means in French) didn’t score, I don’t know. They not only should’ve won, but should’ve won comfortably. If I say that a 3:0 scoreline wouldn’t have flattered Shrewsbury, it’s not to appease Val, John and Dave.
The little fellow and his minders, will be doing a tour of championship grounds as from next season. He does sign autographs, if you ask him nicely.
So 0:0, but I certainly don’t think Shrewsbury will be steamrolled down at the London stadium. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Shrewsbury finish the job. I just wish I was going, because I need the ground still. Unfortunately, I won’t have the money or can spare the time off. If West Ham get relegated, I’ll do it with Shrewsbury next season. Val and John very kindly gave me a lift back to the Salopian, where I watched Nottingham Forest go 2:1 up against Arsenal, before heading back to the station to get the train home. One of the inhabitants of the car back down south would have been cursing. At least Shrewsbury’s still in the cup our Val.