In a highly revealing interview, former Shrewsbury Town winger James Caton lifts the lid on his two years at the club.
In preparation for joining Shropshire Live in September 2014, I attended some Shrewsbury Town games for much needed research.
One of the first fixtures I witnessed was the dramatic 2-1 victory over Tranmere Rovers, in which last gasp goals from Mickey Demetriou and Andy Mangan turned the game on its head.
With Tranmere leading by a goal to nil, Micky Mellon opted to bring James Caton on for his debut at the expense of Ashley Vincent.
I’m a huge fan of traditional wingers, especially ones that can beat a man, demonstrate excellent ball retention, and supply ammunition for strikers to do the rest. I thought James ticked these boxes.
He arrived at Town in June 2014 with a credible reputation. Having spent nine years with Bolton Wanderers, Caton penned a two-year deal, with Championship outfit Blackpool.
The now 25-year-old made his Tangerines debut in a 1-0 win against Watford, and subsequently spent time on loan at Accrington and Chester.
It was hoped that following his Blackpool departure, Shrewsbury would provide him with a platform to reach the upper echelons of the English game.
But it never turned out that way. In an exclusive interview with Shropshire Live, James Caton spoke of his frustrating spell.
He said: “(I would summarise my time at Shrewsbury) as very disappointing. After leaving Blackpool in the Championship, and having an extremely gruelling off-season to get myself ready, I was so excited to play for Shrewsbury Town.
“I won most of the pre-season fitness drills, played well in the pre-season games, but then found myself out of the first team due to us playing 3-5-2, yet being signed as a winger and told I would be one of the main players.
“The first year, was very, very frustrating, as I had moved to Shrewsbury to hopefully give me a platform to get back to the higher levels and I was never really given an opportunity.
“I continued to work hard in training, do everything I needed to do, I even went out on loan and came back and lifted the Shropshire Senior Cup with a man of the match performance.
“But none of this ever seemed to warrant a chance. I relocated for the first time in my career, to give myself the best chance, but unfortunately, I had to sit (and watch on) from the side-lines as the club got promoted.
“One of the hardest things in that first year, was not getting a medal, but this was because I wasn’t used enough during the season.
“Following the end of the season, I had a meeting with the manager who explained that I would be needed next season so don’t worry about this season.
“So, despite all the disappointments I had from the current season, I felt slightly optimistic. However, two weeks later, the manager changed his mind, and told me I was surplus to requirements.
“I went into that second season knowing I needed to leave, and was under increasing pressure every day to leave.
“The manager wouldn’t include me in training sessions, which left me to do fitness work on the side with the fitness coach or simply watched as others trained.
“I would be asked every day, are you leaving yet? I was called into the office numerous times, and told to leave. After loans at Mansfield and Wrexham, I arrived back at Shrewsbury and was thrown into a behind closed doors game against Walsall, and playing at right-wing back, I got three assists and had a really good game and the players were raving about me.
“Unfortunately, nothing I ever did was good enough to get a game. I played further reserve fixtures, scored multiple goals, however, away from the club, I secured my most successful move to date in Lincoln.
“It went better than expected, scoring three goals in my first four games, and I had a really successful period there.
“However, not once was the manager in touch to say congratulations or well done, and when my loan expired he told me not to come in. This is the brutality of football, and my time at Shrewsbury never got a chance to flourish.”
Caton was only given the opportunity to demonstrate his capabilities to the fans on five occasions.
Therefore, it is no surprise that his relationship with Micky Mellon was strained. He added: “I remember before I signed, I went and met with Micky Mellon, and I was so impressed with his vision but more in particular his knowledge on myself and how he saw me fitting into his team.
“Throughout pre-season we seemed to get on, however, the turning point for me was before the pre-season game against Watford.
“The assistant manager had me outside for an hour after a tough training session crossing balls and I felt my groin go, so I stopped and hoped for the best in the game.
“I was due to start the game, but in the warm up I was in agony, so I had to pull out. The management thought I was faking it, and it turned out I had a grade one tear, but the way they treated me during that time was laughable.
“At this point, we never saw eye to eye, and he never really had a desire to play me or even show an interest.
“This is the nature of football unfortunately, and as we are now seeing at elite levels with Zidane’s treatment of Gareth Bale, there is a side to football that most people don’t see.”
During his time at Shrewsbury, James had four different loan spells away from the club. “I got much needed game time at Southport, however, the team were in a relegation battle, so it wasn’t easy, but it was very worthwhile.
“Mansfield was unsuccessful, as I only played one game for reasons I cannot seem to understand. Wrexham I was unfortunate in that I joined a winning team, so the manager didn’t really change much. Lincoln was the breath of fresh air I needed, and as I said prior is the best career move I made.”
Despite James’ documented difficulties at Shrewsbury Town, he did take some positives from the experience.
“Despite my lack of chances at Shrewsbury, I must say it’s a great club with good people behind the scenes. The fans were brilliant with me, and the town itself it really nice. I just wish I could’ve made a name for myself there, but I am a massive believer in everything happens for a reason.”
James departed Shrewsbury in June 2016, and went back to Lincoln City on a trial basis but was unable to secure a deal.
He has since represented Southport for a second spell, Dover Athletic, Darlington, Warrington Town, Stalybridge Celtic, and Nuneaton.
“I’ve been looking for somewhere I can settle ever since leaving Shrewsbury. It’s just been a case of the club’s I have joined, haven’t been the right fit, or it hasn’t worked out.”
Caton is now a free agent and is searching for the next chapter in his career, but admits being without a club represents a huge challenge.
He added: “It is definitely mentally draining. You are essentially a sitting duck waiting for an opportunity to arise.
“I have had interest, but after deciding in the summer on the best way to get back to progression, the clubs in particular are not suited.
“Too often I have been impatient and probably signed for the wrong club, but this time I am waiting for the right moment and club.
“I am just hopeful that after possibly the worse 3/4 years of my life in terms of football, I will get an opportunity I am more deserving of.”
And he is confident that he will return to the Football League: “My ability has never been in question.
“Over the years, I have gotten sick and tired of the amount of people saying I have “all the ability in the world” but never backing up those statements by playing me.
“There is nothing I desire more than to be playing minimum Football League. It is something I am more than capable enough to play in, but also being realistic I know its not as simple as signing somewhere. I am reliant on a door being opened, which thus far hasn’t happened.”