This week it's time to have a look at the junior echelons of the Shrewsbury community. For a young footballer full of ambition to ply his talents on the marvellous pitches of Salopia, what can he expect?
Firstly, excellent coaching. The Under-14A squad is being coached by Sam Mitchell (no relation to Grant or Phil, as I have been reliably informed they are fictitious characters, which may come as a surprise to adherents of The Square), who is the newly appointed strength and conditioning coach.
Sam has a strong footballing pedigree having won trophies (including the ESFA cup) with Steve Wilderspin, the Mourinho of Shropshire, whilst he was a pupil at Thomas Telford. Sam is a self-confessed disciple of ‘Wilderinho’. "I have always admired the brand of football that Steve likes us to play and he selected me for the 1st XI team at Thomas Telford," Sam told me. Sam was working at Shrewsbury Town last season and was with the squad at Wembley, which I am guessing was quite an event. “It was quite an event,” Sam admitted.
It’s not just coaches who want to come to Shrewsbury. Josef Rooney has heard of the Wilder’s way and has joined the School from Liverpool. Josef was in Rochdale's Academy but felt that a chance to play the game at Shrewsbury was too good a chance to miss. "I don't miss many chances," Josef told me. “Who hasn't heard of Steve Wilderspin and his total football? I wanted to be part of the football revolution at Shrewsbury.”
For those strikers of a ball who are not quite at the highest level but aspire to greater heights, Ian Graham will be preparing them for footballing success with his Swindon Town-inspired football techniques. “The Swindon way is seldom talked about, and that's as it should be,” Ian told me. “Otherwise everyone will be adopting it and we won't be able to surprise our opponents.” Ian is keen to see a Shrewsbury School boy join Swindon midfielder Michael Doughty, who went to Harrow. “Swindon need a few more high-class footballers,” Ian told me.
Tyler Ibbotson is a Shropshire lad but felt that he learnt a lot on the playing fields of Durham University, where he played for University College. Tyler and I must have just missed out on being at Durham at the same time, as Tyler in his late twenties now. He is very keen to develop his C squad into players who will enjoy their football and play with a flourish and a smile. “It's not about winning but playing the Shrewsbury way,” he added.
The D team squad is being coached by Giles Bell. I told myself that I was looking forward to coaching some players who were nearly the finished article but just needed a little fine-tuning if they are to play the Brighton way. I like to ensure that my players think about the game, and Caesar Supple and Rufus Thornhill were clearly thinking deeply about what I had told them.
Jonty Roberts is very keen to play rugby but thoroughly enjoys tackling both the opposition and his own teammates. Jacky Chan wants to be a TV film star.
A few young, talented sportsmen have indicated that they might wish to leave the Under-14D squad. There are rumours of discontent in the playing style. “I am a Fulham fan,” Johnny Fielden told me. I sense the Brighton mantra is not to everyone’s taste but I am sure that I can win them over. Archie Collings was very upbeat about my coaching. “If I wasn’t in the A squad, I would revel in the way of the Seagull,” he told me. Archie finished a close second to Ben Western in the New Pupils’ Race. He is hoping his superior fitness will gain him a regular place in the A team. “I have always wanted to be in the A team,” Archie admitted. (So have I, and some people think I look a bit like Mr T. I should add they are my partially sighted friends.) I wondered where his natural ability and fitness came from. “I think I get my passing ability from my father. He is a very fast driver,” Archie stated confidently.
There was a further chance to shine in the Third Form Six-a-Side competition.
Radbrook were crowned this year’s champions, defeating a talented Port Hill team 1-0 in the semi-finals and then overpowering a valiant Ingram’s side in the final.
It is a competition that attracts spectators from all round the world.
Mrs Corson had flown in from Texas to watch her son Nick, only to discover he had picked up an injury.
Joumana Salman was looking forward to watch Karl, having flown in from Dubai. “I live for football,” I think I heard her say.
Shelley and Will Powell had flown in from Tanzania to watch Sebastian see if he could retain the trophy his brother Oliver helped Ingram’s win last year.
I asked them what had encouraged them to make the trip. “Obviously it is great to see our sons, but I think the standard of refereeing makes this tournament what it is. To be able to see everything from a stationary position in the middle of the pitch is quite a remarkable feat,” they both said at the same time.
I have had to develop this style of refereeing on the advice of my doctor who is worried about possible burn-out, which I must guard against given my importance to world football.
It was clear from my close vantage point that many young footballers were thoroughly enjoying themselves and this generation of Shrewsbury footballers look full of promise and enthusiasm.
Upon my return from a school recruitment fair in Hong Kong, I was eager to see how this year’s Under-14D team would start the season. My week away meant that it had been difficult to instil my brand of football upon them, but I was hopeful that a quick chat before the game would give them all the necessary information required.
With the team 4-0 up at half-time, it was time to impart some more detailed tactical awareness for the second half as I rotated my keen and enthusiastic squad.
Captain Buster Read led by example, as he covered almost every blade of grass on the pitch. “I am a big fan of grass,” he told me.
Play-maker Tom Hughes controlled the game from the middle of the pitch. “My dad has been very influential in my football career,” he admitted, “and he was coached by you, Sir.”
It was good to see a second-generation player completely immersed in a particular style of play and, yes, I did feel very proud. With a final victory tally of 7-1 it was a good start for a team that will continue to improve – although sometimes a team can peak too early.
The under-14Ds have been busy, as in the space of the next few days they played another two matches. Fixture congestion is not something I worry about, as the squad’s fitness regime is always intense. “Sometime Mr Bell makes us jog to the pitch,” Ben Rough admitted.
Ben was captain for the tough away fixture at Prestfelde to play their 2nd XI. A team well drilled by enthusiastic Prestfelde coach Simon Sowdon, (who has connections with Senior Management at Shrewsbury), was always going to be a tricky fixture. Rumours abound that Mr Sowdon had access to my team tactical awareness document by using Miss Peak’s school computer. I was happy to believe Mr Sowdon when he told me he does not know how to use a computer. “I don’t know how to use a computer,” he said, Mr. Sowdon is Head of IT at Prestfelde.
I too had insider knowledge, as captain Ben Rough (ex-Prestfelde) talked me through the type of football Mr Sowdon likes his teams to play. The score at half-time was 1-1 with Prestfelde scoring twice! After a brief but I like to think inspirational half-time chat, the picture changed, courtesy of two goals from James Chen and Boris Petukhov, and we ended up 4-1 victors.
I was able to tell the gallant Prestfelde team that if they come to Shrewsbury next year they will be able to benefit from my half-time talks. They seemed elated by that prospect.
Next stop it was Packwood, where we found ourselves 2-0 down at half-time. The disappointed team needed a lengthier chat this time, as I reminded them that I had been to ‘the mountain top’ and seen the final score. Two goals by man of the match Tom Hughes, who was delighted to be in a victorious team playing against his younger brother, and well-taken strikes by Eddie Williams, Dan Stockley and Freddie Wells, saw us to a 5-2 win.
On the other pitch the under-14Cs were held to a 1-1 draw after a last-minute equaliser. Manager Tyler Ibbotson was not happy. “I am not happy” he told me.
The under-14As have been busy winning this week, with coach Sam Mitchell purring after wins against the Priory and The Shewsy.
The A team and the Shewsy
Bradfield await us on Saturday. Let’s hope they have not hacked my half-time talk document!