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My favourite player: Ben Godfrey a class act on and off the pitch

Our reporters are taking time to pick out their favourite players during their time covering their clubs. Today, Lewis Cox highlights a Salop star.

Shrewsbury Town's Ben Godfrey
Shrewsbury Town's Ben Godfrey

I may not have been reporting on Shrewsbury Town for a lengthy period, but I was fortunate enough to cover the club's best finish in a generation.

The pending vote to end the 2019/20 campaign due to the coronavirus looks like bringing to an end my fourth season covering Town as the Star's correspondent – and while 2017/18's run to the Checkatrade and play-off finals is a clear standout – this season did bring around a thrilling FA Cup experience against the Premier League leaders and European champions.

So, when tasked with selecting 'my favourite player' in blue and amber I don't have the advantage of seeing the great Arthur Rowley and Alf Wood bully the ball into the back of the net, or the magnificent legends of 78/79, or those that held their own in the second tier the following decade.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I've opted for a star of that Paul Hurst team two seasons ago, a youngster – and not the only one – who has already since embarked on a Premier League career.

It could've been Dean Henderson, among others, Shaun Whalley, Mat Sadler and Jon Nolan were contenders. But I've selected Ben Godfrey as my favourite player.

I'm sure the Norwich defender – or snarling defensive midfielder as he was with Salop – will forgive me for saying I've clearly not gone down the line of dazzling, dancing attacker capable of carving open defences and scoring goals.

Perhaps it is because I found myself as a defensive midfielder snapping at ankles before calling time on my park career.

Godfrey's first regular senior football was in Shropshire. To all of us aside from those with their finger on the pulse of academy football he was an untested unknown.

The Canaries had seen enough of a powerful young athlete in Godfrey to swoop for him in 2016 from his hometown York. Godfrey had made 12 League Two appearances for the Minstermen after making his debut as a 17 year old.

Emerging as a defender capable of playing in the middle or at right-back, Godfrey – who comes from a Rugby League-obsessed family where his father Alex played for Hull Kingston Rovers – quickly made an impression at Norwich.

He impressed enough at academy level to make a handful of appearances, mostly in rotated Cup line-ups, for the then-Championship Canaries first team.

But, still very raw, Godfrey had to mature, develop and come of age. The only solution was regular first-team football.

Ben Godfrey of Shrewsbury Town celebrates after scoring a goal to make it 0-2. (AMA)

Hurst and Shrewsbury swooped late on in the summer transfer window of 2017, after the League One season was already under way, as the boss notably thanked chairman Roland Wycherley for stretching to bring in an important player who, Hurst said, would be worth it.

The ineffective Daniel James – yes, that one – returned to Swansea City just as Godfrey checked in after failing to make his mark at the Meadow.

Swiftly after his first training session at Sundorne on a Thursday, 19-year-old Godfrey was hurled straight into Hurst's starting XI for a tough, unforgiving contest at Oxford United's Kassam Stadium two days later.

It is that performance that stands out most in my mind of any of almost any of the 51 he made in blue and amber that fine season.

It may not have been his best for Shrewsbury – Godfrey would go on to shine home and away in the play-off semi-final wins against Charlton and, indeed, in heartbreak at Wembley – but that summer afternoon in Oxford immediately made us all sit up.

As lower league football observers we would be forgiven for not having sky-high expectations.

Academy loan signings come and go in their droves. Some do well but a lot struggle to make their mark. Can anybody remember Manchester United winger James doing anything for Town? Other loans from high-calibre clubs have struggled for Salop in recent times.

Godfrey might have been another flop, may have made barely a dozen appearances and quietly departed a few months later.

But that day at the Kassam – where Shrewsbury were unlucky to draw 1-1 after a fine performance – Godfrey was excellent. He was imposing, athletic and energetic at the base of the visitors' midfield.

And he loved a tackle.

Shrewsbury were flying in League One after a remarkable start and Godfrey played a pivotal role. His passionate performances quickly earned himself a place in the hearts of fans.

It would not take long for Salopians to start chanting 'we've got Ben Godfrey' wherever they followed their side.

He rarely troubled the opposition penalty area, but Godfrey's only goal in Town colours was a special one. A dipping half-volley from 25-yards in a new year win at Southend flew into the top corner. And the midfielder loved a celebration.

He might not have scored or created many, but his presence allowed the creative Nolan to dazzle. It allowed Whalley and Alex Rodman to enjoy the success they had.

Off the pitch, the Norwich man was a gent. That isn't always the case, particularly with loan players, who know they are not there for the long haul.

He was young and didn't come across as a naturally confident speaker, but was kind and accommodating in his interviews and media duties and would always make time. Indeed, since going on to become a top flight regular, he still has time for this reporter.

Dad Alex enjoyed following his son's progress across social media and news articles. He would regularly message thanking for the support. It was rather nice that, while walking down Wembley Way on May 27 – before Godfrey's last Town appearance – Godfrey senior spotted me and introduced himself.

That disappointing day reminds me of Godfrey's relentless engine. As in every game he played that season, he did not stop. His athleticism was remarkable, even in boiling conditions over 120 minutes after 51 games in a pulsating season.

I expected him to do well on returning to Norwich. But as well as he has? Maybe not. Certainly not at centre-half. Promotion, playing 36 games, is an achievement to be proud of and 23 top flight outings this season is an excellent effort.

It's little wonder elite clubs have been mentioned along with giant fees. The 22-year-old is destined for a big future, and Shrewsbury played their part.

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