Shrewsbury Town throwback: Steve Biggins banged them in during hot run in 1980
It started with a 4-2 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – and the wins just kept coming for Shrewsbury Town as they rocketed up the Second Division table thanks to a stunning run of results 40 years ago, writes Stuart Dunn.
Charlton Athletic, Leyton Orient, Newcastle United, Wrexham, Birmingham City, Watford and QPR were also on the receiving end of Town victories during a glorious two-month period as Graham Turner’s side made their second tier rivals sit up and take note during the club’s first season at the level now known as the Championship.
Eventual champions Leicester City were the only team to get the better of them during February and March 1980, beating Shrewsbury 2-0 at Filbert Street, but that apart it was success all the way as Town’s hot streak of eight wins from nine league matches helped them ultimately finish a respectable 13th.
As Steve Biggins, the club’s top scorer with 13 league goals in the 1979-80 season, remembered, it was a decision taken by boss Turner to give the players some time off ahead of travelling to Chelsea that proved key in paving the way for the run which followed.
“We had been on a run of three games, three defeats,” said Biggins.
“We trained on the Friday and as we didn’t have a game the next day, Graham gave us five days off. We came back in the following Thursday, travelled down to Chelsea on the Friday and beat them the next day 4-2.
“The run I remember is six wins on the bounce, rather than eight out of nine, but we played some decent sides in that nine-game spell.
“From what I can remember, going to Chelsea didn’t seem to faze us at all. We had struggled a little bit. It was the first season the club had been in Division Two and we were all looking forward to it so much.
“We went down to Chelsea and played really, really well. John Dungworth got a couple of goals and it just set us up.
“All the games in that run were good games. Newcastle were a big side, Wrexham was a local derby, Birmingham City another big side. We went to Leicester and lost, but Watford had come up with us the season before, so to go there and win was good. QPR were another big side.
“We were just flying. From losing three in January, having those five days off and then coming back, it was a case of bring them on – it didn’t really matter who we were playing.”
Jake King, who was Town’s captain during a golden era in the club’s history, also credits player-manager Turner for helping Shrewsbury to start to establish themselves in the Second Division. It was a level where the club played for 10 successive seasons before relegation in 1989.
King said: “When we were down there at the wrong end of the table in our first season in Division Two, Graham Turner never panicked at all.
“Training was the same and we played the same system that we had played the previous years when we had done well in the FA Cup and got promotion. We used to play 4-4-2 all the time and we never changed it.
“We got our rewards through beating some of the big teams by working hard, closing them down and we also worked hard at set-pieces. Every day you went into training was a good day.”
King acknowledges Town took a while to find their feet in Division Two following promotion as Third Division champions in the 1978-79 season. But once they did they became a force to be reckoned, as proved by their run of eight wins from nine games, during a season which saw them complete the double over both Chelsea and West Ham.
“I didn’t really realise how big getting promotion was at the time,” added King, a right-back who was capable of popping up with important goals. “To beat Swansea and Watford, who had big players at the time, to win the Third Division championship as a small club, I still can’t believe it.
“To then run out at Newcastle, Sunderland, Chelsea, West Ham, big clubs – QPR also had a good stadium – was fantastic.
“We had to adjust to playing in the Second Division. The players we were up against were better for a start and the pace was quicker.
“I can remember playing Notts County at the start of the season in our first home game. It ended 1-1 with Colin Griffin scoring. I could tell the class then and thought it’s going to be quite hard playing against different players with their ability and skill.
“But to be fair to Graham Turner, we were well organised and we were really fit as Graham would have us running up the hills.”
Playing at Gay Meadow, King felt, also gave Town an advantage as clubs, often visiting for the first time, found it difficult on the banks of the Severn.
“The supporters on the Riverside would be really close to them and shout at them, so it was intimidating,” he said. “It was good for us and there was no pressure on us. We just went out and enjoyed it, worked hard and did what we were good at.”
For Biggins, suddenly finding himself scoring goals in the Second Division so soon after swapping life as a school teacher to play for Shrewsbury, was a dream.
“I came into football only the year before,” he added. “That year we won the third division and so in my second year in football I’m playing in division two and playing against some big sides and very good players. It was a thrill, a real pleasure.”