In an exclusive interview former Shrewsbury Town midfielder Stewart Drummond discusses his time at the club, the 2007 play-off final, and his longevity.
Shrewsbury Town are accustomed to Wembley heartache. During the 2017/18 campaign Paul Hurst’s side were full of optimism for two finals, but lost out to Rotherham United and Lincoln City in the play-off and Football League Trophy finals respectively.
Paul Hurst was actually on the winning side in 1996, featuring in defence as the Millers beat Shrewsbury 2-1.
And despite Conference play-off success against Dagenham in 2004, that clash was played at Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium.
Stewart Drummond is also familiar with Shrewsbury Town’s Wembley hoodoo, as he was in the side that were defeated by Bristol Rovers in 2007.
The former Morecambe man netted a 3rd minute opener, and still ranks that goal as a career highlight despite the eventual 3-1 loss.
Speaking exclusive to Shropshire Live, the now 43-year-old said: “I still rank that day very highly in my experiences as a player.
“Of course, it would have been better if we had seen the game out and got promoted but the occasion, build-up before it, stadium experience, and playing in front of that many fans (61,589) has to be a positive no matter what the result.
“So yes, scoring that goal is up there with one of my most memorable moments in the game.”
A Richard Walker brace and a 90th minute Sammy Igoe strike turned the “Weetabix Derby” on its head. Clashes between the sides are given this curious name, after an incident in which an inebriated Gas fan purchased £75 worth of Weetabix at a nearby supermarket.
Rovers headed into the contest with former England and Liverpool striker Rickie Lambert on their books, but Town were still slight favourites.
Dave Edwards was on the verge of leaving the club, and manager Gary Peters controversially left him out of the squad – a decision which ex Town and Bristol Rovers man Trevor Challis described to us as a gamechanger in April.
Speaking of the omission of the current Town skipper, Drummond added: “It was tough for Dave I imagine. Dave and the squad knew that he was on the way out, with the move common knowledge, so I’m sure having that at the back of his mind took the edge off it for him.
“Gary (Peters) had his reasons and there were cases for and against playing him I suppose – certainly a tough call for Dave who had been such a big player for us.
“It’s great to see Dave back at the club; the experience he gained whilst away will bring a lot to the squad. I think it’s great to have local players in the team that the fans can buy into.”
The current Morecambe Head of Youth began his career with the Shrimpers, and featured over 200 times in his first spell.
He moved to Chester in 2004, and was named the Blues’ player of the year for the 2005/06 season.
Joining Shrewsbury in 2006, Drummond would go on to make 67 league appearances, scoring on seven occasions.
He looks back fondly at his spell with Town: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Shrewsbury. As in most spells at clubs there were highs and lows; but that was an enjoyable couple of years.
“I signed at the same time as quite a few players, Ben Davies for example, and we had a very good squad capable of challenging that season, which we did by getting to the play-off final.
“Shrewsbury was a friendly club, fans, players, and staff – it was a good place to play football.
“Fans were a lot more patient and appreciative than some sets I have played in front of. The first season we finished strongly and got to the play-off final, but we felt confident the next season would be our year.
“The next season didn’t go according to plan, whereas the previous season we had momentum, getting results with a settled side.
“We didn’t start well and struggled for consistency, which I suppose is what led to myself, senior pros and ultimately the manager moving on.”
Stewart admits he endured a contrasting relationship with Gary Peters: “He was the hardest working manager I have played under. Every morning he was in at 7am going through previous games and preparing for the next.
“He was a very demanding manager but without that you get nowhere and certainly not to a play-off final.
“My time was split into two really. The first season that went so well and the one after that didn’t.
“The first season we had a really good core of senior lads that Gary leaned on a lot, often bringing us together to discuss things.
“That worked well in the first year with a combination of experience and good young lads coming into the side.
“This resulted in a top team spirit in the dressing room with the team pretty much running itself, which was helped by getting good results as well.
“I just felt that balance and trust was lost in the next season and that for me is where things started to go wrong.
“It looked like Gary had gone from trusting the senior players to distrusting them and a number of them moved on, as did I.
“Myself, Richard Hope, Sagi Burton, Andy Cooke, Colin Murdoch (all left) brought a lot of experience to the squad – but as I say that trust seemed to go.
“Gary started to bring new lads in some for a lot of money, and ultimately those signings didn’t make enough of an impact to change the club’s fortunes that season.
“I left in the January to go back to Morecambe, which did come as surprise as I had had talks to stay at Shrewsbury.
“But when a manager tells you he won’t stand in your way, it tells you all you need to know. I don’t have any hard feelings toward Gary he had tough calls to make as a manager, which he has to live and die by. Football is football and everyone moves on eventually.”
Morecambe reportedly paid just £15,000 to bring Drummond back to the club, and he rewarded their faith in him, staying for a further seven years until his retirement in 2015.
It is rare in the modern era for a player to stay at a club for such a long spell – 17 years in total, so what exactly was it about Morecambe that made Drummond stay so loyal?
“Enjoyment is key. As Academy Manager at the club now, I must say enjoyment is the biggest factor in football to all our age groups up to the reserve team lads.
“If you are not happy and enjoying your football it can be a tough profession to be in. I played a lot of games here, moved on to play in the football league with Chester and Shrewsbury, and played another five or so years when I came back.
“Perhaps I could have moved onto other clubs and some moves didn’t happen that might have, but that is football and life – you make decisions and they shape your life.
“Morecambe is a small club and there are a lot of things we could improve on here, but it has always been a good place to work as a player and now Academy Manager. The day you stop enjoying it then it is time to move on”
Another man synonymous with Morecambe is Jim Bentley, who is the longest serving manager in the football league following Paul Tisdale’s Exeter departure. The Liverpudlian has strong links to Shropshire as he began his playing career with AFC Telford, whilst his late father Jack Bentley scored an incredible 431 times in 835 appearances for the Bucks.
Speaking of Jim Bentley, who has been linked with the Town job in the past, Drummond said: “Top man and manager is Jim, having played with him and for him for a lot of years now.
“I suppose I am not surprised (that Jim hasn’t gone on to manage bigger clubs.) There is no doubt he continues to do a fantastic job here, with the resources he has and how long he has kept us in the league.
“But what remains for him and the club is to have more success on the pitch rather than staying up.
“It is a really tough position here for Jim. As I say with the budget, he has done a great job to compete, but not many clubs at a higher level will see that as a success and a reason to go for him.
“If Jim could have a good FA Cup run or make the play-offs, just to give him that extra bit of exposure then that could be the difference for him.
“It’s back to enjoyment again, everyone is ambitious and wants to progress, but does that mean moving location to a new club, where it may not work out when he has a secure position here? It’s a tough call.”
Stewart hung up his boots at the age of 39 having featured 622 times in the league, scoring 81 times.
“I would love to say the key to longevity is due to my outstanding professionalism and dedication to keeping fit, however, that probably wasn’t the case!
“I was always naturally fit and in decent shape so pre-season and running drills I always did well at, despite never doing any work in the summer.
“Sometimes with the best will in the world you need a little bit of luck and genetics to be on your side.
“Would I have continued to play until I was 39 if I’d have stayed at the Shrews? Probably not, so again little decisions that you make have big impacts further down the line.
“I played whilst I enjoyed it, which I did all up to my last year when Jim started rotating me more and more.
“I was lucky that I rarely found myself out of the team when I played so when I was, I found it tough watching from the side-lines.
“That is the one thing that makes me glad to have played ten or so years ago when everyone knew the starting eleven, and those lads pretty much played until there was an injury or real lack of form.
“I just don’t see the need to continuously rotate players these days, that would frustrate the life out of me!”