Each week during term time, Giles Bell - teacher of Philosophy and Theology, Admissions Tutor, Housemaster of School House for 14 years, Football and Cricket coach, Brighton FC fan and general sports enthusiast - turns both his spotlight and his wit on a different sports team within the School.
His reports give a good flavour of the wide range of sports at Shrewsbury and the huge enjoyment that pupils derive from playing them, whatever their level of skill and achievement.
This week, he's been out watching the 1st XI football team.
I hope you have all enjoyed the summer break and holidayed well. In case there are any Manchester United fans who are yet to get away, apparently you can’t beat Brighton at this time of year!
The 1st XI and Under-15 squads have just returned from a successful tour of Spain despite being afflicted by a nasty bug, which Senior Assistant Coach Mr Hughes told me had radically changed him. “I am half the man I was,” he claimed.
I caught up with the senior footballers as they trained prior to a trial match with Thomas Telford. With a new President of the Club arriving at the start of September in the form of Arsenal fan Mr Leo Winkley, there has been a period of uncertainty in terms of the transfer market. Although unlike Mr Mourinho, Mr Wilderspin has been able to bring in a new centre-back from King’s School Chester, in the shape of talented new Sixth Form entrant Owen Jones.
Head of Football and 1st XI Manager Mr Wilderspin is optimistic about the team’s chances this season. “I am optimistic about the team’s chances this season,” he told me. Indeed, at the start of every season optimism abounds. Ed Hague Saunders is optimistic that he will establish himself as the 1st XI goalkeeper.
Ed was unable to go on the tour owing to illness, but having been inspired by his beloved Wolves team’s early season form he feels confident he can handle anything that comes his way. “I am good with my hands” he told me. He will have to be, as he will face stiff competition from Archie Eyre, Ben Coulson and Lewis Evans who are also good with their hands. 1st Team Captain Toby ‘I’ll take your legs’ Pegge is impressed by the ability of the goalkeepers. “There is not much to choose between them,” he told me. “It is important to have good goalkeepers, especially if I continue to concede penalties,” he added.
It is not just in the goalkeeping department where there is optimism and strength. Fingal Dickins played for the 3rd XI last year but is very much hoping to be selected for the 1st XI this season. “I am hopeful of making an impact in the trial games,” Fingal told me. Fingal has been training hard with his inspirational father Tom throughout the summer. “Dad has recently remembered he is a Watford fan and has been teaching me to dance like a butterfly and sting like a hornet. He has built up my confidence as I can get past him and score regularly now."
Fingal, like many aspirational footballers, has been preparing carefully for the new season. This will be music to the ears of Mr Wilderspin and Head Groundsman Andy Richards, who are both great believers in careful preparation.
The pitches are in fabulous condition….
… Although I did point out to Andy that there were areas on Top Common not fully covered with a ‘fine head’ of grass. He pointed out to me that in time the grass would grow, unlike the hair on my head.
Mr Wilderspin has even taken time to consult with Andy Richards about the new style of corner flag. It was flagged up as an issue towards the end of last season, but both are very happy with their new purchases.
Having been impressed by the level of preparation put into the pre-season, I was excited at the prospect of watching the new team in action.
A good crowd had gathered to watch the newest brand of Shrewsbury school football being released, including Shrewsbury School fans Tavy Riggall and Libby Hedges, who told me they think that there should be a dance camera, to capture dancers in the crowd. They were trying to teach me to ‘floss’ in case a goal celebration was required.
I am still struggling with parts of this manoeuvre.
I enjoyed the attacking brand of football played by the team and was surprised to find out that we lost the match 3-0. At least that’s taken the pressure off trying to go unbeaten through the season.
The new President of the Club was pleased with the style of the football. “As an Arsenal fan, I am used to watching an attacking display that invariably ends in defeat,” Mr Winkley told me. He added that he felt the Shrewsbury team had created some good opportunities and that there were many positives to be taken from the game. He particularly enjoyed their crisp passing. “I am a fan of crisp passing, and not just at drinks parties,” he intimated. He made it clear that just because he was standing next to the Chaplain, he had not been calling for a miraculous comeback. The Reverend Andrew ‘Coolman’ Keulemans admitted that after Brighton’s miraculous comeback against Fulham last weekend, it might be too much to demand another in such quick succession.
After the game, the team went for a stretch with new strength and conditioning coach Sam Mitchell. It was good to see that their body language suggested they were not too downhearted by their defeat.
My new friend, ex-England cricket captain Andrew Strauss, who recently came to visit me and watch his son play cricket at the school, told me that he thought it was important to maintain a positive body image even when victory might be escaping from one’s grasp.
I hope that Straussy’s words of wisdom will be taken to heart by all our teams. It was very pleasing to see that the optimistic Fingal Dickens was not showing his disappointment that he had not made it into the 1st XI. “We have an even better 3rd XI than last year,” he told me.
His Housemaster Mr Matthew Barrett was doing his best to keep Fingal’s spirits up. “Fingal is only about 15 injuries away from a 1st XI debut” he told us both.
It was a good game of football played in good conditions on a beautiful pitch. The game is in safe hands at Shrewsbury, and my former English teacher at Lancing and Old Salopian Ken Shearwood would have enjoyed everything about the day apart from the result. Ken played at Wembley in front of 100,000 people in the Amateur Cup Final in 1951 and 1953 for Pegasus (the combined Oxford and Cambridge side) and he sadly passed away during the summer. The present group of Salopians should always dare to dream.
It was perhaps rather apt, given that I have mentioned Ken, that a member of Ken’s House at Lancing where he was a Housemaster for many years, Richard Cowley, was present to enjoy a cup of tea after the game. Richard and Louise had been enjoying watching their son Ben playing for the 4th XI. There is almost always a cup of tea to be enjoyed in Quod after a game, as well as some excellent sandwiches and cakes and the staff: parent ratio is surely higher than at other comparable schools!
Well done to the teams that battled bravely on Wednesday, and I remain optimistic that the Shrewsbury side are going to have a good season. With experienced coaches Steve Wilderspin, Will Hughes and Calum Wright to offer words of wit and wisdom, what could possibly go wrong? I can always give my friend Andy Strauss a ring for words of motivation.
...And have I told you about the time I met David Gower…? (No more! - Ed.)