Wednesday, 25 October 2017

#64 New Meadow, Shrewsbury Town

Shrewsbury Town 4 Bristol Rovers 0
Tuesday 17th October 2017, League One

Ahh, the great British midweek night game. What better chance for fans across the length and breadth of these green and pleasant isles to make those long and difficult trips into obscure parts in search of those all-important Super Fan Points™. My best effort so far was Bury away on a Tuesday night but this is paled by Gasheads I know who partook in feats such as 2015's infamous Hartlepool away on a Tuesday night. No, I have no earthly clue why the fixture people hate us so much. Although tonight's trip was indeed a Tuesday night game, a mere 2 and a half hour trip into Shopshire wouldn't be too much skin off anyone's nose and as my mate Matt (Gone for a Burton) had been given rare licence to roam due to it being his birthday, we decided to venture out. Joining us in the Burtmobile would be Gas girl wonder, Briony. 

We made a split-second decision to take the country roads instead of the motorway which turned out to be a prudent move as roadworks continued to wreak havoc across the midlands. This caused the cars full of other groups we knew getting caught up and arriving late, though in hindsight they might have been the lucky ones. Shropshire continues to baffle me by virtue of there being as far as I can tell no one living there. At no point did this feeling come to a head more than when we passed a lovely looking country pub with approximately one house within a mile radius of it. So either it has a lot of drunk driving patrons or is someone's personal pub. Now that's fancy living. 

The most scenic of roadside pisses.

Upon arrival in the town, we were advised by two policemen to park in a nearby garden center and walk to the ground from there, paying £5 for the privilege. As such we didn't have any time to examine our surroundings or look for pubs but it did look from our brisk walk that New Meadow is another out-of-town modern ground with not a lot going on around it. I stand to be corrected if I ever go again. As we were drawing close to the stadium, Briony announced that she had been in telephonic cahoots with none other than club president Wael Al-Qudi who was apparently waiting for us outside the away end. What a dark horse! It's true that El Presidente is no stranger to slumming it with us mortals on match day but this is the first time Matt or I had encountered him. He was a very polite and talkative chap who put up with our wide array of stupid questions admirably well. Fair play. 

As we chatted and waited for kick-off, the customary Weetabix missiles began sailing past, shattering into powdery, fibrous lumps upon contact with the cold concrete. As I can sense the raised eyebrows of readers that don't follow the Gas or Salop, allow me to shed some light on this strange practice. The Weetabix Derby as it is commonly known for obvious reasons refers in the modern era to meetings between Shrewsbury Town and Bristol Rovers, stretching back to when they were in their previous ground Gay Meadow. The story goes that a group of fans had saved their money for a coach up to an away game at Shrewsbury and ended up having a ton of money left over. The bulk of this was spent in a local pub having an absolute rager of a drinking session but after becoming hungry, the group equipped one of their members with £75 to go and buy lunch from a local supermarket. This chap's alcohol-impaired judgement somehow allowed him, so the story goes, to return to the pub carrying £75 worth of the wheaty breakfast item in question. This bounty found it's way into the ground and was promptly fed to a small flog of birds congregated by the corner flag by our venerable gaggle of pissheads. This wholesome activity gradually deteriorated into a mass food fight which was apparently an awesome enough spectacle for everyone to want to recreate this every time the two teams played each other, including during the 2007 League Two play-off final. 

The scale of the event has led to the frankly hilarious act of police and stewards searching attendees en masse to try and prevent any of the grainy contraband from being misused in the stands. Thankfully, supporters have stepped up their ingenuity and although a full-scale brawl is out of the question these days, a few projectiles are a staple tradition of the season calendar. Here's my friend Matt smuggling a few boxes in last season: 

Longtime readers of this blog will know I don't like covering new-build grounds as a rule because I always end up sounding like a mean-spirited football Luddite. Try as I might I can think of absolutely nothing to write about New Meadow which is made up of four identical stands plonked by a car park in the Shropshire wilderness. The only slight quirk would have been the circular banks of temporary seating in the far corners but even these have since been removed. This leaves New Meadow feeling like a distinctly identikit stadium in the main with little of the traditional charm of their previous home Gay Meadow, which is now a very fetching housing development. One thing that will soon set apart the ground from the rest is that Shrewsbury are about to install the first section of safe-standing in an English football ground. It's an exciting push for something that's been hankered after in the English leagues for a long time and will be an excellent home for the small gaggle of Shrewsbury ultras located to our immediate right, with their flags and their loud, ironic chants of "we are staying up!" 


To save putting myself through the highlights of the match, I have decided to try a different, more modern approach to reporting. Please enjoy the following off-the-cuff "vlogged" report of the action on the pitch:

With that out of the way I would also like to discuss the New Meadow pie situation, if only to fill some space. After the third goal went in I'd decided I'd seen enough and dived in to get Matt and I some vittles. In the ground they sell Wrights pastries (Wrights is a Stoke-based version of Greggs, for the uninitiated) and I settled on a pair of steak and ale numbers which went down a treat and had a pleasingly rich gravy filling. If I had to criticise I'd have to say that the pastry was, if anything, too good. As I was eating the pie in my customary fashion, bare handed like a starving jackal, I quickly ran out of structurally integral crust as it crumbled away due to it's sheer flakiness. Now I love a flaky pastry but I must admit I wouldn't have appreciated having to make a return trip to the counter to get a fork had I not been witnessing the worst half of football I'd ever seen my team play. Some constructive criticism going forward for the good folks at Wrights there.

So a particularly bad night on the road for Rovers against a side that look like they might be able to do the business this season. Ultimately you need nights like this so you can be an insufferable prick about it years later in the pub. 

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