STUART DUNN acknowledges the impact of manager Graham Turner in reviving Town’s fortunes
THEY say you should never go back – but Graham Turner has gloriously proved to be an emphatic exception to the rule.
Football is littered with stories of players and managers who have returned to former clubs hoping to rework the magic of their first association only for the alliance second time around to fall decidedly flat.
But that, he admits, was never a concern to Turner when he finally accepted Roland Wycherley’s invitation to return to the club where he cut his teeth as an up-and-coming player-manager in 1978.
The Town chairman, a long-time admirer of Turner, has never hidden his admiration for Turner and if he had had his way, the reunion between the club’s most successful manager and Shrewsbury Town would have happened much, much earlier.
But his perseverance finally paid off and when Turner was handed the opportunity of reviving Town’s fortunes two summers ago, it was an appointment universally welcomed by Shrewsbury supporters.
It’s worth remembering that when Turner landed the job, he took over a club reeling from a season of under-achievement under Paul Simpson in which they languished well off the promotion pace in mid-table.
Turner had hardly got his feet under his new desk in the Greenhous Meadow manager’s office when he lost the services of Kelvin Langmead and Terry Dunfield, two of the better performers in Simpson’s final campaign at the helm, to leave him with a threadbare squad.
That meant the experienced boss had less than two months to put a side together to make Town competitive again but, having drafted in his trusted right-hand man John Trewick, they quickly got to grips with building a team able to make Shrewsbury competitive again.
He quickly made a host of astute raids on the transfer target, his first signing Ian Sharps promptly installed as captain, and setting the tone for what was to come.
Mark Wright, a revelation with his goals from out wide, swiftly followed, and Town have not looked back since.
Had it not been for a dreadful decision from infamous assistant referee Richard Wigglesworth to allow a Wycombe Wanderers goal that clearly wasn’t to stand last March, Town would have celebrated an instant promotion at the expense of the Chairboys who pipped them to third spot by a solitary point.
As it was, Town suffered a hangover in the play-offs, Torquay deservedly beating them over two legs, but Turner, however great the sense of injustice at being denied promotion, had given Town – and the club’s loyal fan base – their sense of pride and belief back.
As as added bonus, Turner has also managed to bring the good times back to Shrewsbury in cup competitions.
For years, they brought nothing but misery and embarrassment, but under Turner, in the space of two years, Town’s fortunes in KO competitions have improved beyond recognition.
Stunning Carling Cup victories over Premier League Swansea City and higher division duo Derby County and Charlton Athletic, plus other memorable away day excursions to Arsenal, Stoke City, Southampton and Middlesbrough have thrown up a treasure trove of fresh memories.
As well as the feelgood factor, the cup runs have also helped the club financially, raising the club’s profile and lifting the level of interest.
This season, without doubt, has been Town’s best for many a long year, backed up by a record points tally for the club.
Runs to round three of both the FA Cup and Carling Cup and, as for League Two, well, it’s been a joy to watch Turner’s stylish team repeatedly hit the heights to play their way up into a higher division.
Turner has made a mockery of the pundits who say you cannot play good, attractive, passing football in the fourth tier of English football.
At the Greenhous Meadow, which has become the most feared fortress in English football on the back of an astonishing 32-match unbeaten run, Town have repeatedly carved open visiting teams playing Turner’s tried and tested 4-4-2 formation.
He has also proved to have the Midas touch in the transfer market.
Joe Jacobson, among the most consistent left backs in the division, and striker Terry Gornell, both recruited from unfashionable Accrington Stanley last summer, have proved inspired recruits.
Marvin Morgan has popped up with some vital – and memorable – goals, also proving to be the life and soul of the dressing room.
Nicky Wroe, a snip at £10,000 from Torquay United midway through last season, has emerged as a powerhouse in midfield, forming an excellent partnership in the engine room with the supremely gifted Matt Richards.
What a signing he has proved to be and Walsall’s loss has most certainly been Town’s huge gain with the class of Richards constantly shining through.
But, for me, Turner’s two best signings, typical Turner signings you could say, has been West Midlands youngsters James Collins and Jermaine Grandison.
Spotted languishing in the reserves at Aston Villa and Coventry City respectively, Turner pounced and has been rewarded by two emerging talents who have just got better and better as the season has developed.
Grandison has become a cult hero with Town fans, no mean feat for a right back, while Collins has led the front line tremendously since the turn of the year, also popping up with some excellent goals.
Both are sure to be on the radar of other clubs already, but they are two key men for Town and both hopefully have a major role to play in the club building on this season’s success in League One next term.
Speak to any of the players, and their respect for the manager burns through.
He clearly enjoys a good relationship with his players, most of whom are young enough to be his grandchildren, and they have enjoyed learning from one of the masters of his trade.
Turner richly deserves all the plaudits which continue to come his way. A proper footballing man, Town are fortunate to have such a widely respected boss at the helm.
When he returned to the club two summers ago, Turner spoke of those halcyon days when Town, under his control, punched above their weight at the second level of English football.
We all wondered whether those days would ever come back, but with Turner in charge, Shrewsbury’s grateful fans will feel anything is possible – and that is the biggest compliment to be paid to the 64-year-old from Ellesmere Port.
He’s definitely a Shrewsbury Town Football Club legend in every sense of the word.