I’d been slowly increasing my circle of Blues supporting mates, We’d made the lounge in The Wrexham (It stood where the entrance to Morrisons carpark does now) the head quarters, I used to get there not long after the pub opened its doors on a Saturday, and our merry bunch used to leave with just enough time to make kickoff. (I was bothered about making kickoff in those days) It had become widely known that Shrewsbury was a good day out, the ground was on the edge of the town centre, so was the train station, and there was an abundance of pubs in between, and all were in a short walk of each other. The police had become wise to this, and the pubs that did still decide to open, were required to have a door policy. I lived in Wellington, the last station on the Birmingham to Shrewsbury line, before Shrewsbury itself, it’s only a 10 minute train journey in between Wellington and Shrewsbury. I’d told all the lads that it would be better to drink in Wellington, and then get the last train to get to Shrewsbury for kickoff. It wasn’t a new idea, and the police had got wise to it, by turning anyone who had got a ticket to Shrewsbury, back on the train (There wasn’t, and still isn’t, electronic barriers in place at Wellington station). I told everyone to buy returns to Wellington so the police couldn’t prevent people from exiting the station. Knowing the fixture was coming up, and would prove popular, I enquired around the Kop to see who was going, always revealing the Wellington trick. The train touched down just after 11 o’clock in the morning, it had been standing room only on it. Spotting my mates, I greeted them, tickets checked, the ticket clerk recognising me, meant I was fine, the police were powerless. and we walked up station approach, looking behind as I got to the top, I was amazed to see what looked like half of the train had got off, word had got around. What the Saturday shoppers of Wellington thought when they saw this Brummie invasion flood Market Square, I don’t know, but it made me feel proud to be Blues. At the time, there was a pub in Wellington owned by a Blues fan, (Later he sold it, and it became an Indian restaurant) as the mob of Brummies split up in search of a beer, a good sized mob followed us before diving into The Raven, me and my mates headed for The Queens. In all, there was me obviously, Walshy and Pughey from Bromsgrove, Spen and George from Wombourne, Daz and Sid from Willenhall, Sean, an Irish lad from Balsall Heath, and two lads, Paul and Bucky from Bearwood. Not enough to completely take over the pub, but still a good contingent. Like I’ve said, I drank any old rubbish in those days, though it was of the variety that masqueraded as cider that I’d gravitated towards. The Queens had a pool table, and along with the alcohol and the eschewing banter that went with it, easily kept us occupied. Getting on the last train to Shrewsbury was to prove interesting, as it was pretty much standing room only even before it arrived to an unusually large amount of passengers waiting to board, the station had been reverberating with ‘Keep right on’ before the train arrived, most of the inhabitants of the train were already in good spirits and voice, joining them, somehow we squeezed on and later than advertised and probably a lot less safer than what should’ve been permitted, the train made it to Shrewsbury. The train breathed a huge sigh of relief when it got to Shrewsbury’s grand old station, as the vast majority of its contents burst onto the platform. Coming out of the station entrance, we were shepherded back into another entrance, up the steps to a platform that wasn’t normally used, herded along it, and down the bank to the ground. The new ground is on the very edge of town, and not nearly half as much fun as the old Gay Meadow. Due to the recommendations of the Taylor report into Hillsborough, capacities at all grounds had been drastically slashed. To accommodate the interest shown by the away support in this game, the home club had split the riverside terrace, giving Blues just under half of it, and with it, 4,000 tickets.
‘No barcode, no hologram, no booking reference. Just a number to indicate how many sold, and yes, it really was THAT cheap’
I was is in the side bit that had been fenced off for us, gaining entrance by a fantastic, rarely used, Victorian turnstile. If it was today’s me, with my all singing and dancing mobile phone, I would have taken photos, but me of then, gave it no more than a cursory glance. Oh how youth is wasted on the young.
Blues have had an awful playing record with Shrewsbury Town over the years, especially in Shropshire’s county town. We couldn’t score let alone win. Going into this game, we were riding high at the very pinnacle of the league. That attacking, flowing football Terry Cooper had wanted us to play, was baring fruit, it was also enjoyable to watch.
‘Glass house, Greenhous, don’t throw stones’
Our old manager John Bond had pitched up at the Gay Meadow, and had been spouting off in the local press on how he hadn’t been impressed with anyone in the league. He was never short of an opinion or two. He was still sore at the perceived treatment on his departure from Blues and the brickbats had been aimed at us. The fact that the owners had changed since he was in charge at Blues didn’t come into it, he felt there was a grudge to be held, and nothing was going to stop him holding it. The game started, and Blues after an initial scare, settled, playing some good football. We looked a cut above Shrewsbury for a change, the chances were coming our way and instead of looking like we’d been forced to play in wellies, looked comfortable for once. It shouldn’t have been a surprise when Blues took the lead, but all those frustrating games versus Shrewsbury came to a head, I went barmy. I wouldn’t have to put up with the smug, pitying looks I’d grown to expect whenever I admitted to being a Birmingham fan. “I see the Shrews beat your lot again” leading to me seething in silence, the words yokels and upstarts were never far from my thoughts. Halftime came with Blues still leading through Nigel Gleghorn. For those 15 minutes, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face with a Brillo pad. I saw a group of Telford based Blues lads that I knew from seeing them regularly on the matchday commute to or from Brum. Needless to say, they were feeling just as I was. Second half brought an equaliser after a bit of pressure, but after that hiccup, we settled down again. Just after the hour mark, a lithe figure with the now, long, flowing blonde locks, was introduced to the fray, accompanied by a huge roar of appreciation, “Taity Rave on” emanated from the whole of the travelling support. Paul Tait was back. I’d been at Orient the previous season when he’d snapped his ligaments. At one point, it looked like he wasn’t going to be coming back, two different doctors had written him off. Could he complete the fairy tale and get the winner? Could he? Nope, none of them did, but it wasn’t for the want of trying. So it finished 1:1, but to me, it felt like a win. I wouldn’t have to put up with the Mickey taking and Blues had been far more the dominant team.
The rest of the lads stayed on the train, but Walshy and Pughey got off with me at Wellington, we weren’t the only ones, nowhere near as many that had had outfoxed the local plod at 11 o’clock that morning, but around a dozen or so. Me Walshy and Pughey took in my local at the time, The Pheasant, then The Barley Mow before one last pint in the Dun Cow. We then parted ways, Walshy and Pughey went to catch the train, I latched onto the usual suspects I hung around with at the time on the tried and tested Saturday night Wellington pub circuit.
FOOTNOTE:- Three days later, we beat Luton 3:2 in the 2nd leg, in the 2nd round of the League Cup, thus securing a place in round 3. In today’s money, that doesn’t add up to a lot, but back then, Luton were in the First Division and Blues were Third Division. A comparable would be Premier League Bournemouth being beaten by a cross between Sunderland and Ipswich from League One. There were none of these namby pamby excuses for ‘resting’ players in 1991. None of the underlying financial cynicism that Sky sports has nurtured with its Premier League. The top clubs still played their top players regardless of the opposition or the competition. ‘Resting’ players was seen as immensely disrespectful if not distastefully immoral. Since then and now, Luton have been as low as the National League and Blues have played in the Europa Cup. Nothing stays the same, even when you’re desperate for it to.