Former Shrewsbury Town defender Trevor Challis discusses with Ryan Hillback play-off success, Ray Wilkins, and how Arsenal rejected the chance to sign Joe Hart.
Life at Shrewsbury Town
He played alongside David Beckham, and counts Dennis Bergkamp and Ruud Gullit amongst his toughest opponents; but Shrewsbury Town fans are more likely to remember Trevor Challis for netting the winning penalty in the 2004 Conference play-off final against Aldershot.
Duane Darby cancelled out a strike from former Hull City and Peterborough United striker Aaron McLean.
With the scores deadlocked after 90 minutes plus extra time; the dreaded lottery that is the penalty shootout unfolded.
Jamie Tolley and Jake Sedgemore dispatched their relative spot-kicks at the Britannia Stadium, and Challis was tasked with sending Shrewsbury into the Football League.
Speaking exclusively to Shropshire Live, he recounts the event: “It obviously helped with Scott Howie saving the other three opposition penalties (from Tom Sills, Chris Giles, and Jamie Gosling) and I had practiced the same penalty religiously in the build-up to the game, so I had confidence in my strike.
“Speaking to family and friends after the game, they seemed more nervous than me as I walked up to take the penalty.”
A certain Joe Hart and Dave Edwards were in the squad on that occasion, and despite both being unused substitutes, Challis is clear in his assertion that he knew the duo would go on to play in the Premier League and on the international scene.
He stated: “I can always remember our goalkeeping coach Dave Timmins would push Joe so hard for a 16-year-old; looking back it was tough for Joe.
“But I can remember Dave (Timmins) talking about how talented Joe was but he needed constant work as he could be borderline arrogant, which I believe every keeper has to be.
“I was injured with a hamstring problem sitting in the stand with the Arsenal scout Steve Rowley among others who were watching Joe at the time, and he asked me my thoughts.
“I told Steve I thought Joe had everything needed to be successful, and Steve’s words were “I’m not sure” – two weeks later Joe signed for Manchester City.
“Dave (Edwards) and Joe were best mates, and did everything together. (Dave Edwards) was quiet and unassuming, and I thought he had very good technique and could run all day – calm temperament also.
“It was obvious to all that both would be successful in football, and I was really surprised when Gary Peters did not play Dave in the play-off final against my old club Bristol Rovers – due to a contract dispute, as with Dave I believe they would have got a result that day.”
The Paddington born former left-back recalls an enjoyable period as a Town player: “I enjoyed my time there – a good club with a good set of fans.
“I picked up little injuries (namely hamstring) and a change of manager meant the last six months or so became more difficult, but on the whole really fond memories of the club
“I always remember the smell of chips in the dressing room at Gay Meadow, must have had the fat fryers next to the dressing room!”
Leading the club out onto the Britannia Stadium on the 16th May 2004, was former Northern Ireland International Jimmy Quinn. The Belfast born ex striker, was known for his goalscoring prowess for the likes of West Ham, Reading, Bournemouth, Leicester, and Blackburn. Quinn had a highly successful career – winning three promotions as a player and two as a manager.
Recounting his relationship with his former boss, Challis stated: “I really liked Jimmy, he played the game correctly and was a calm and assured manager who had very good attention to detail.
“I feel it was unfortunate when he lost his job, as we had players about to come back from injury such as Sam Aiston, and we were just starting to get to grips with the division.”
Premier League R’s
The now 43-year-old began his career at QPR – playing alongside former England winger Trevor Sinclair.
“I speak to the young boys that I coach now about enjoying every minute of it as I probably did not appreciate the game at the time, I remember being fearless and just wanting to play and compete.
“I had some unbelievable experiences during that period which also helped get me selected for England U21’s with players such as David Beckham (in the squad.)
QPR were relegated from the Premier League that campaign, and Challis would go on to make just 13 league appearances for the London outfit.
This was owing to a serious knee injury picked up in a match against Norwich City, that kept him out for almost two years.
Speaking about this period on the treatment table, Trevor said: “It was the hardest period in my footballing career.
“I was in the team against Norwich and one tackle nearly ends it all. Surgeons advised me to think of other career paths – but football is all I know.
“I think it’s helped me to be calmer with the boys (at Bristol City) and understand injuries, and how they affect you physically and mentally.
“We have had a few boys with long term injuries, and I try and help them focus on something which occupies their time; it could be the gym, studying etc.”
After hanging up his boots in 2010, following a 16-year career which also saw him turn out for Bristol Rovers, AFC Telford, Weymouth, and Eastleigh – Challis moved into coaching and is current boss of the Robins’ U18 side.
In fact, at the time of our conversation, he was travelling back to the South West of England, after Bristol City lost 1-0 against Burnley – where his side conceded a last-minute goal from a corner.
Speaking of his current position, Trevor added: “I love the role. The boys are old enough where we can help them develop for the professional game, whether it be tactically, technically, or mentally.
“The set-up is good but is going to get better with a new training complex about to be built in the summer.
“We currently have our centre-forward from last season, Antoine Semenyo doing very well – he spent the first half of the season at Newport County, but is now back in the first-team squad.”
Last Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the sudden and tragic death of one of the game’s greats. Ray Wilkins, capped 84 times by England, had a glittering career and featured for some of the world’s greatest clubs including AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester United, and PSG.
He achieved many honours as a player, was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2013, and achieved great success on the coaching staff at Chelsea.
Paying tribute to his former QPR boss, Challis said: “Ray was the best people person I have ever met and worked under – his standards and the way he made everyone (play) who he met was unequal.
“Unfortunately, Ray could never quite understand why a player could not consistently do what he could do on the pitch. This grew to frustrations for Ray as a manager.
“Ray would spend hours passing with us younger players, always giving his time to help us with tips on striking the ball.
“One memory of Ray sticks out. We had just played and got beaten by Wimbledon at Selhurst Park. I had a particularly tough afternoon competing with Mick Harford, John Fashanu, and Adrian Clarke.
“We had got beaten 2-1 in a relegation six pointer, and on the following Monday, I got out at Ealing Common tube station and spotted Ray’s car coming up the road.
“As a young pro, I didn’t want to face him and so I stepped back inside the station until he had passed.
“As I exited the station Ray was parked up the road, he opened the car door and asked me to get in.
“Ray then said: ‘Don’t worry about Saturday, these games will help shape you as a footballer and as a person, but you must learn from them.’
“He immediately made me feel better about myself after a poor game.
“We used to do pre-season training in Tuscany where Ray used to do pre-season with Milan.
“One afternoon whilst eating dinner on the terrace, a helicopter landed not far in front of us and out came Silvio Berlusconi.
“He met Ray said something in Italian and off went Ray in the helicopter, saying ‘have fun boys’ as he walked past.
“I was absolutely shocked and saddened to hear of his passing, and everyone’s eulogies and kind words were so true.”