What are the odds of finding yourself in the away end of a League One Play-Off Semi-Final, cheering on a side you didn’t care about until 10 months ago? Probably about 33:1.
I will begin this week by pointing everyone towards my column from a fortnight ago, in which my spontaneous Shrewsbury Town promotion bet was (sort of) explained. In short, I put £5 on the Shrews to get promoted (at 33:1) and will win £170 if they go up. Thus, it is for this reason why, at approximately 21:30 on Thursday 10th May, I ended up in an emphatic, loving embrace with a 60-year-old man I hadn’t met until that evening.
Let’s rewind to 11am on that Thursday morning. I was sat in a lecture in Guildford, searching for inspiration for Friday’s column when I glanced at the day’s fixtures. “Charlton Vs Shrewsbury Town” glanced back at me. A search for inspiration swiftly became a search for the nearest tube station to The Valley, quickly followed by the purchase of a train ticket, and 7 hours later I was sat on the train to Waterloo eagerly awaiting the 19:45 kick off.
Upon arriving at Waterloo I headed towards the Jubilee line, which involved walking on one of those horizontal escalator things that makes you feel as if you have some form of walking superpower (admittedly low down on the list of enticing superpowers). I then walked past that bloke that plays Angus in Lovesick, a 10/10 Netflix series that I cannot recommend enough. London truly is a magical place.
Upon arriving at the Valley at about 19:30, I found my seat and took in the atmosphere. What swiftly became clear to me however, was that I was the only one in the entirety of Row C. Was this the ticket office’s idea of a sick joke? As I purchased my ticket from the Away box office, I didn’t get to chose my seat, and was thus at the mercy of fate. Soon after kick-off however, I befriended a man called Tom, who was happy for me to stand next to him and his Shrewsbury boys rather than subject me to 90 minutes of solitary support. I can safely say that I successfully adopted (almost) every chant within a desirably short space of time, thus fooling the aforementioned Tom into thinking I was a die-hard Shrews fan.
In truth, there was one chant that continued to escape my clutches. It sounded to me like “Salah! Salah! Salah!” on repeat, however the last time I checked the PFA player of the year hadn’t been snapped up on the cheap by Paul Hurst & co. Delving deeper into a host of possibilities, I was aware that Shrewsbury had a centre back called ‘Sadler’, and decided it was entirely possible that he was a huge fan favourite. Thus, I decided to direct a sloppy “Sadler” towards the centre back whenever the Shrewsbury faithful chimed in. The truth about this chant was later revealed to me by the Internet and I now feel very, very, foolish, although I’m 99% sure I got away with my version.
Immediately after the final whistle, in the midst of the excitement and relief that followed what was genuinely one of my favourite football experiences, I wrote the following paragraph on my phone:
Honestly, Nolan’s goal looked unbelievable. I’ll have to watch it back, but oh my, it looked like a goal worthy of winning any play-off leg. Regardless, it was a goal worthy of hugging a random 60-year-old man that I’d never seen before. He went for a high five. I went for more. He obliged and we hugged it out. I’ll never forget him.
If you don’t already know by now, Shrewsbury won the game 1-0, putting them in pole position to go through to the final (providing they put in a similar display at Home).
Having returned to my Guildford bedroom after a triumphant evening, I thought I’d watch the goal back to see if it was as good as I thought it was. In short, it was, however underneath the Instagram video of the goal was the hashtag #salop. Surely not, I thought; surely this couldn’t be the chant that I’d got disgracefully wrong. I googled it, as you do. It turns out salop is some sort of term for people from Shropshire, i.e Shrewsbury. I have decided that this is more likely what the fans were singing, rather than bursting into song for a centre back every 5 minutes.
And so, at the end of a long, incredible day, not only have I witnessed a fantastic game of football, but I’ve learned a chant for next time. A next time that intends to be this Sunday, for the 2nd leg of the League One Play-Off Semi-Final. I can’t wait.