||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (February 2010)|
Crowd at the Gay Meadow on 25 February 2006
|Full name||Gay Meadow|
|Capacity||8000 (3639 seated)|
|Field dimensions||114 x 74 yards|
|Shrewsbury Town F.C. (1910-2006)|
The Gay Meadow was the former home ground of Shrewsbury Town FC, a football club in England. It was situated just outside the town centre of Shrewsbury, on the banks of the River Severn and it opened in August 1910.
Because it had only one entrance/exit road, in the years following the Taylor Report, the capacity of the ground was reduced from its original 16,000 to around 8,000 which, depending on the nature of the match, was distributed amongst the various areas of the ground accordingly. The official record attendance is 18,917, gained on 26 April 1961 against local rivals Walsall. However, local legend says that over 22,000 were estimated to be inside the stadium in the league match against Wrexham A.F.C on 21 August 1950 which Shrewsbury won 2-1, although the official figure is actually given as 16,000).
Early history of the Gay Meadow
Centuries before Shrewsbury Town were to occupy the site, Gay Meadow was known locally as a recreational site, with fairs, carnivals and circuses often taking place on the site. The origins of the name 'Gay Meadow' are not entirely clear, although it is widely believed to be related to the site's continuing use for entertainment purposes. An alternative origin of the name exists, stating that the land was originally owned by the 'Gay' family in centuries gone by.
The site had already played a part in Shrewsbury history, when in February 1740, stuntman Robert Cadman, a 'steeple-flyer' attempted to 'fly' across the River Severn using a rope attached to St.Mary's Church at one side and a tree at Gay Meadow (some two hundred feet below). Tragically for Cadman, the rope broke, and he plunged to his death.
Some 160 years later in 1910, one of the town's top football teams, Shrewsbury Town, were looking for a new site to play football matches, having been told they could no longer play at the Army owned pitch at Copthorne Barracks. A consortium bought the site and leased it to the club. Despite objections from the local hospital, who feared crowd noise may disturb patients, the first official match took place on 20 August 1910, when a crowd of up to 1,000 watched a pre-season practice match between the 'Reds' and the 'Whites'.
The first league game at the Gay Meadow was a match between Shrewsbury Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers Reserves, on 10 September 1910. Shrewsbury lost the match 2-1, with 'Shinton' scoring the first league goal for Wolves, and Billy Scarratt scoring Shrewsbury Town's first ever goal at the ground. Shrewsbury's first ever win at Gay Meadow would occur two weeks later against Halesowen, sparking a run of six consecutive league wins.
The ground did not see major improvements until the mid-1950s, when trees which lined the road to Gay Meadow (The Narrows) were felled to improve access. It was around this time that the club's supporters launched a floodlight committee in order to raise £12,000 for the installation of floodlights. On 25 November 1960, a crowd of 5,448 saw the historic occasion when Town beat Stoke 5-0 in a match to mark the installation of the lights. The previous Saturday, over 10,000 witnessed the turning on of the lights during the game against QPR which was a 3.15 kick off. The floodlights were to prove a good investment, they were to stand the test of time and form part of the Shrewsbury skyline for almost 47 years.
1965 saw new offices built at the club, with the 'Riverside' terrace being built in the early 1970s. This terrace would gain legendary status amongst home fans in years to come.
In the early 1980s the club promotion to the old Second Division required further improvements, the old 600 seater Station Stand was demolished and a new 4,500 capacity centre stand built. Until the ground's demolition in 2007, this was to be the last major building work to take place at the ground. Minor changes in the 1990s included a new Executive Suite, the controversial demolition of the ground's wooden scoreboard, and following the Taylor Report the removal of perimeter fencing (with the exception of the away Station end).
In its latter years, Gay Meadow was seen as a picturesque 'traditional' football ground, with three sides of the ground being terraced, standing areas and with little change to the ground in the final 25 years of its existence. It was also arguably one of the most picturesque grounds in the Football League.
Situated on the banks of the River Severn, the ground was surrounded by trees and parkland, with the town centre towering above the ground on the hilltop behind the ground. A number of the town's landmarks, including Shrewsbury Castle and Shrewsbury Abbey were visible from the ground.
For many years, Shrewsbury coracle maker Fred Davies achieved some notability amongst football fans, by a unique service he and his coracle provided. He would sit in his coracle during Shrewsbury Town FC home matches, and retrieve stray footballs from the River Severn. Although Mr Davies died long ago, his legend is still associated with the club.
Due to the ground being rather small and cramped, being situated between the river and a major railway junction, it meant that there was little scope for expansion or renovation at the ground. Access to the ground was via a small side street (known as 'The Narrows'). The poor access was one of the main reasons the ground's capacity was reduced following the Taylor Report, with poor scope for evacuation and access for emergency services in the case of emergency. This was one of the main reasons cited by the club for moving to a new ground.
The Station End - So-called due to its proximity to the town's railway station. A partially covered terrace, normally allocated to visiting fans, although it was also a home terrace until the 1970s. Its capacity, depending on the away allocation, ranged from 1,500 to 2,000. Unusually it kept the bottom half of its perimeter fencing right up until its final game, most other stadia in the country having removed theirs following the Taylor Report. It was also notable for housing the oldest working football turnstile in the country, although this was only used on rare occasions. With the ground closed, the old turnstile sold for £3,050 at an auction staged at the ground on 17 June 2007, to a local Shrewsbury Town fan.
The Riverside Terrace - So-called due to its position on the bank of the River Severn. The Riverside was a partially covered terrace running the length of the pitch, with a refreshments bar situated halfway along the terrace and roof mounted TV gantry (used only occasionally for high-profile matches). This part of the ground was where the most lively element of the home crowd were to congregate, with the most vocal of home chanting and support coming from supporters from 'The Riverside' who frequently exchanged in banter with nearby away supporters. Famously, stray footballs were often kicked over this stand into the Severn.
The Wakeman (or Tech) End - So-called due to the Wakeman School (formerly a technical college) being directly behind it. It was an open terrace, with the windows of the school overlooking the pitch. This side of the ground along with the Riverside Terrace formed one large standing area for home fans, with movement unrestricted between the two. This often resulted in home fans congregating behind the goal on the Wakeman End when Shrewsbury Town were attacking in that direction - leaving the north part of the Riverside Terrace practically empty. The combined capacity of the Riverside and Wakeman Terraces was between 3,000 and 3,500 - depending on the size of the away following.
The East side of the ground was a covered, all-seater section. Limited seating for away fans was also available. The stand also boasted executive seating for VIPs, sponsors and guests, a TV gantry, and press offices. The east side of the ground was also adjacent to the club's offices, function rooms and official player's/supporter's bar. Although consisting of a single stand generally referred to as the 'Main' stand, it was split into four enclosures, as follows:
The Wakeman Stand - So-called due to its proximity to the Wakeman School. A covered, all seater stand for 1,000 home supporters.
The Centre Stand - So-called due to forming the central part of the seated area. A covered, all seater stand for 1,000 home supporters. It also housed the directors' box.
The Family enclosure - This was a designated area for families consisting of 700 seats, with admission via designated 'family' tickets.
The Station Stand - A seated section for away fans, holding roughly 250 away fans
The move to New Meadow
Whilst Gay Meadow was well regarded by fans, and traditionalists within the English game, the ground was in a cramped location, being situated between the River Severn and a major railway junction. In addition, access to the ground was restricted to a narrow side street (known locally as 'The Narrows). The poor access (and poor scope for evacuation in the case of emergency), meant that the capacity of the ground was cut to 8,000 by the early 1990s following stricter ground safety regulations that followed the Bradford City stadium fire of 1985 and the Taylor Report which followed the Hillsborough disaster of 1989.
In addition, the ground's proximity to the river meant the ground often suffered with flooding during autumn and winter months. This often caused the football club problems, especially in later years. Shrewsbury has suffered from some severe flooding in recent years; this led to matches being postponed, with the pitch being literally under the River Severn. The flooding also caused damage to offices and changing rooms.
Shrewsbury had been considering relocation since 1986, when plans were drawn up for a new stadium to the north of the town, with Sainsbury's being lined up to build a supermarket on the site of the old stadium.
However, with Shrewsbury later being relegated from the old Second Division in 1989, and with Sainsbury's developing elsewhere in the town, the plans were abandoned. During the 1990s, plans were made to redevelop Gay Meadow; however, with the poor access, capacity could rise to no more than 10,000.
In 1999, recently elected chairman Roland Wycherley released plans for a new stadium, provisionally titled the New Meadow, a 10,000 all-seater stadium situated on the southern outskirts of the town, between the Meole Brace and Sutton Farm districts of the town.
Amongst other things, considerable local opposition from residents delayed the planning and building process until Summer 2006, with the ground being completed in July 2007. The New Meadow boasts a 10,000 all-seated capacity, with the scope to expand to beyond 40,000 if necessary. In addition, the ground has far better transport links, more car parking, and, being well away from the river, is unlikely to suffer from flooding.
End of Gay Meadow
To fund the move, the Gay Meadow site was sold to property developers, with the final season at Gay Meadow being the 2006-07 season.
The final League game to be played at Gay Meadow was against Grimsby Town on 5 May 2007. In warm sunshine, Shrewsbury played out a 2-2 draw, with Grimsby equalising in the final minute. To commemorate the day, a parade of former Shrewsbury Town greats was organised, with commemorative T-shirts being handed out to fans free of charge (with donations for local charities instead). Defender Kelvin Langmead took the honour of being the final Shrewsbury Town goalscorer at the ground, although Grimsby's Nick Fenton scored the ground's final professional goal.
The final senior competitive match held at Gay Meadow was against Milton Keynes Dons on 14 May 2007, the first leg of the League 2 Play-offs. The game finished 0-0.
Before demolition, fans were given the opportunity to play on the pitch, in specially arranged friendly matches, and an auction was staged at the ground on 17 June 2007, where over 200 items from the old ground were auctioned. In addition, 500 unsold seats were purchased by League of Wales side Caernarfon Town, to be used in the construction of a new stand at their ground, The Oval.
The final football match ever to be staged at Gay Meadow was the club's annual friendly fixture between Shrewsbury's 'Away Supporters' team and the Shrewsbury Town backroom staff on Friday 22 June. Alan Roberts, the club's police liaison officer, scored the only goal of the game, and thus the last goal at the ground.
In September 2007 demolition of the stadium began, and by October 2007 the ground was reduced to rubble. The site has been earmarked for residential building, with 150 apartments scheduled to be built on the site. Initially, it was believed building work would commence in early 2008. However, no development work has taken place on the site yet, which remains empty.
With the ground almost completely demolished, a charity zip-wire event was held on 14 October 2007. Over 100 townspeople 'flew' from the St.Mary's area of the town centre, over the River Severn to land on the Gay Meadow pitch, emulating Robert Cadman's heroic attempt in 1740. In addition, sections of the Gay Meadow turf was sold for a small fee for Severn Hospice, the organising charity. This was the final public event to ever take place at Gay Meadow before the re-development of the site.
- Gentlemen of the River by Phyllis Blakemore. Stenlake Publishing ISBN 978-1-84033-473-9
Website for New Meadow
Website for Goodbye Gay Meadow book including 360 panoramics by Matthew Ashton