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On This Day Thirteen Years Ago

February 13, 2012

Saturday 13th February 1999: a day when a young boy would go beyond the realm of the terrace to stepping on the hallowed turf.

The emotions, all racing at break-neck speed in the mind of a boy just two months shy of his tenth birthday. A small lad yet to develop a social consciousness riddled with adult desires was in awe of those around him. The machinations of football business had yet had the opportunity to corrupt the innocent child’s mind. These giant men who he was to lead out appeared to transcend the role of a mere mortal for ninety minutes at a time.

The game to be contested was between Shrewsbury Town and Scarborough, a Football League Division 3 fixture. Shrewsbury, managed by Jake King, sat in 17th position with 36 points to their name from 30 games. Meanwhile, Scarborough were at the foot of the table, picking up 24 points from 29 games. Yet despite the indicators of distinct mediocrity, it’s a game that has an emotional resonance for particularly one person who was there. That person happens to be me.

I’m sure you’ve added two and two together, made four and therefore realised that the nine year old child indicated in the first paragraph was me. If not, well there you are I’ve done it for you. I would like to go into a great eulogy about the game, the profound impact of the occasion and all that but the truth is that I cannot remember. I’ve tried. Unfortunately my memories of the occasion are scattered at best.

I remember it all coming about from the pre-season opening day at the Gay Meadow where my father signed me up for mascot placement. I don’t remember much else about the whole signing-up process other than afterwards, going into the club shop (back then, simply an after-thought of a building, small and cramped with clobber offerings crushed together on some pegs nailed into the walls and one solitary cash desk at the far side in front of the one window) and being disappointed at what was on offer.

Of course, in between that point and my mascot appearance mid-February, I was a regular attendee with my father at games played at the Gay Meadow.

The day eventually came I remember doing something all those who’ve been to a football match have seen: the mascot kickabout. However, mine was different. I was the only mascot at the game. I was meant to be one of three but illness caused the other two to pull out. I had to make do with stray passes from Steve Jagielka and toe pokes from Lee Steele. I do recall at one point kicking a ball with someone dressed formally but it was those small interactions with the footballers that I recall most.

Yes, the footballers. My favourite Shrewsbury Town players at the time were Gareth Hanmer and Brian Gayle (see above photo), at least that’s according to the matchday programme. Hanmer was a roving left-back who would regularly put in excellent crosses only for them to be too high for Lee Steele or too low for Devon White. Brian Gayle was a beastly centre-back who was solid but no dirty. For me, he was like a Shrews equivalent of Marcel Desailly. For my junior team, I happened to play as a centre-back so it was simple to come to the idea that I should look up to those who play in said position.

My memories of the day itself are limited to areas more than anything eventful. I remember having to wait for the players to exit their changing rooms in what was dubbed the “fitness room”: a primitive small space with one dumbbell press, a treadmill and a small collection of handweights.

That’s pretty much your lot on the image recollections. This is where the blessed matchday programme saves the day. Just a quick look over the images brings back thoughts of the Gay Meadow which is sadly no more. Clubs and times move on but it is a rare moment when there are no thoughts hankering back to those days.

Speaking of clubs moving on, the complexion of Division 3 at that time makes for very interesting reading. Sadly Scarborough FC would become extinct in 2007 but as with all good football clubs, a phoenix emerges from the ashes and I sincerely hope that the new incarnation, Scarborough Athletic, find their way up the divisions.

Contrast Scarborough’s fortunes to that of their relegation rivals at the time, Hull City who of course enjoyed a short spell in the top-flight not so long ago. There are quite a few names you would expect as well as another extinct club in the form of Chester City (reincarnated now as Chester FC, another phoenix who are quickly moving up the ladder to the delight of many). There is one more club who are no longer in the form they were in 1999: Halifax Town. The club were fighting for a play-off place back then but they folded a year after Scarborough did. Their phoenix club, FC Halifax were not so long ago in a publically-televised FA Cup game so it would appear they too are on an upward trajectory. Other names that might interest who graced the lowest rung on the Football League ladder back then were both Welsh clubs, Swansea settling in mid-table while Cardiff sat proud at the top of the league. Fighting Cardiff for promotion were the likes of Cambridge United, Mansfield Town, Brighton & Hove Albion and Peterborough.

One note to finish on is the programme notes from Jake King, the then-boss of the Shrews. This short excerpt feels somewhat apt given recently goings-on in the football world.

“Much has been written recently about football and its “bad” side, especially with regard to the comments of certain people. All I can say is that football by its very nature demands comment and opinion, and so long as the comment and opinions of those who talk about and write about the game are restricted to football itself, then all should be well.”
– Jake King, matchday programme notes, Shrewsbury Town v Scarborough, Saturday 13th February 1999.

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