Play on the Meadow
‘We don’t know what we’re doing’ is the title of an excellent book by broadcaster Adrian Chiles, which I was reading on my way up to Shrewsbury on Friday 9th May. This got me thinking why we follow our football clubs up and down the country week in week out. One reward of such fanatical support is the opportunities only the hard-core fans get. So when there is a chance to play on your home team’s pitch every able bodied fan would jump at the chance.
This brings me to why I was travelling to Shrewsbury on a day off from work. It was of course the chance to play on a league club’s pitch thanks to a message from an old university friend whose team was short. ‘Play on the Meadow’ is a scheme run by Shrewsbury Town FC at the end of each season that is open to local teams to hire out the first team stadium, complete with full home and away kits. It allows the fans of the club to recreate their favourite player’s goals, feel how a professional football feels and simply take in the grandeur of the day.
In the past my home team have done the same with Bath City allowing their supporters team to play Yeovil Town supporters team with Bath running out 3-1 winners. There has also been a game involving two first team players captaining the two sides which included all Bath fans at Twerton Park, which is a day which will live long in the memory of those who played. These events create more togetherness between fans and the club; with the supporters going into the long summer days on a high. Bath certainly experienced an increase in vocal fans in the following seasons; which in turn the players respond to when they are on pitch.
However back to Shrewsbury; the weather was perfect for the game in an early evening kick off, after a little walk around in the town with my roommates for the night. A short taxi ride took us to the outskirts of town where the newly built The Greenhous Meadow stadium (built for the 2007/08 season, still new to me) and we were greeted by a smartly dressed club official who was very polite and showed us to the club house. This is where we met the rest of the team, The Saddlers, with the bench made up of former ATFC Lions players. Everyone was in good spirits and we entered the changing rooms with 16 full kits laid out just how it would have been for a league game. Then we entered the pitch through the players’ entrance.
Now this is where it hit home that we were playing at a League One club’s pitch (well League Two next season unfortunately). The ground was enclosed with all an all seater lay out with the grass freshly rolled after England’s Women’s team played on it the night before. The PA played the Champion’s League music as we came out for the game and had our line up. Every now and then in the game there was noise from a crowd, not that you couldn’t hear the odd shout from the 60 strong crowd, to add to the occasion and celebration music for when a goal was scored.
The game itself finished up 3-3, with the obligatory penalty shootout, which went against us. Both teams had one dominate half each and were very evenly matched; with both trying to get the ball down to play it round their opponents. There was also a good mix of abilities in both sides too with every player feeling included for each moment they were on pitch. It was also a game of very few fouls too as it was played out in the right manner with the local ref not having to be called over too often. A player from both sides deserves a mention though, with The Saddlers giving a 16 year old lad a go from the bench with the youngster scoring two goals, whilst number 23 was providing a constant threat from the opposition.
Shrewsbury Town also had first aiders on hand (thankfully not needed) and stewards on site to help get the balls back and keep an eye on any overzealous parents. There were plenty of pictures being taken and one or two of the coaching staff/former players enjoying the game too. The professionalism of the club made it very memorable for the local lads who support the club and for the Lions that travelled. So a big thank you must go to the staff of the club for the day, I’m sure everyone is looking forward to next year!
One thing was missing from the game though which shows a certain beauty in the world of social football. I asked Paul Coyne, who had organised the day from The Saddlers, who we played:
I’ve been asked this question for weeks now mate, and even after the game my answer is the same. I don’t know!