Crewe Alexandra away. December 28, 2015. 90th minute.
“His curler right at the very end, Shrewsbury filled the length of the ground with fans around Christmas, it was one of those brilliant days, a cold crisp day,” said former boss Mellon, now in charge of Dundee United.
“It was virtually the last kick of the ball, a beauty, one of those that it’s in as soon as he hit it. I was right behind it on the bench. You don’t get those moments much. He hit it and you thought ‘happy Christmas!’”
Mellon signed Whalley, son of ex-Preston captain Neil, on a free transfer from Luton that summer. It took eight cameos from the bench and one FA Cup start before his full league debut that Christmas, writes Lewis Cox.
Whalley struck a fine winner at the death and has hardly looked back since, ahead of making his 200th appearance in Town colours, aged 33, at MK Dons tonight.
He becomes the third player after Mat Sadler and Kelvin Langmead to do so since the move to Oteley Road. It’s an exclusive club and Town’s favourite Scouser Whalley, who lives in Widnes, has packed a lot in – from two Wembley appearances to (almost) scoring at his beloved Anfield.
Mellon knew Whalley well from battles against Southport in the Conference with Fleetwood. He added of the winger: “He’s a good lad, a nice lad, I got on particularly well with him because he did well for me. He was a good part of the squad. He wasn’t as loud as the top end ones, but a good character.
“I’m glad he’s been such a servant to Roland and the football club because I’m so fond of them. I’m pleased he got his money’s worth from Shaun Whalley!
“If you could say every free you sign turns in 200 games with the service of Shaun Whalley, I’m sure you’d rip their hand off.”
Mellon, who managed Shrews until October 2016, added: “He was always one of those players that I thought was way better than the level, but for one reason or another he hadn’t got the opportunity or probably hadn’t taken it.
“I felt that if I could get him I could add the bits that would help his undoubted ability. He can run, he’s technically very good and is a cracking character.
“I thought he could be a big success at Shrewsbury and he came in and did it all.
“The only thing, towards the end of my time there, he’d picked up a long-term injury and had quite a few injuries, the team really missed his pace.
“I’m delighted he’s got to 200 games, I’m really pleased for him, he’s a cracking lad and I’m glad he’s doing what I always thought he would.
“What he added to his game was professionalism. He had to become more professional off the pitch, make football more of a focus, I told him that at the start and the penny dropped.
“And with that he’s played at a really good level consistently. All credit to him for that. He’s seen the rewards for the sacrifices a footballer has to make.”
Mellon, who has Dundee United fifth in the Scottish Premiership after beating Hamilton on Saturday, added: “I absolutely still look for the results, I really do. I love Roland Wycherley.
“I loved working with him, what a brilliant fella and chairman. I loved the people of Shrewsbury, Brian is a good friend of mind.
“I’m always delighted to see them winning games of football, absolutely.”
Winger Whalley truly flourished under Paul Hurst, scoring many of his 28 Shrews goals, and remained an influential ever-present under John Askey and now Sam Ricketts.
But few know him better than Liam Watson, a former team-mate of Neil Whalley, and manager of Shaun at Southport and AFC Telford United.
Watson said: “I played with Neil at Warrington Town and little Shaun aged three would come to training occasionally.
“Shaun’s been in the family since he was a kid, he’s like an adopted son.
“I’d like to think he learned a bit from me, certainly his style was very similar to mine.
“He’s a wonderful lad. He’s had a fabulous career. I think he should’ve got his move a couple of years earlier but maybe he needed the time to mature at Southport.”
Whalley has previously stated his desire to remain in football and take up management. He is currently studying his coaching badges.
Watson believes Shrewsbury should invest in Whalley as a ‘protégé’.
He added: “He’s got a great memory, great recall, understands football, I’d tip him to be a very, very successful manager.
“Shaun can recall things most people can’t, he’ll have an idea how he wants to play, a lot of it makes perfect sense.
“I think he needs to remain at Shrewsbury, he’s got a massive affinity and I think the club need to invest into Shaun and turn him into a protégé, a project.”
Watson said of Whalley’s time at Runcorn, Witton, Droylsden and Hyde: “A lot of that is a learning curve. Shaun is 33, still with more to give.
“He’s settled down with his missus, got the baby and refocused his career and life. A dressing room with Shaun Whalley is always a funny dressing room.
“A couple of summers ago his contract was up and I actively encouraged him to stay. He didn’t need much encouragement but he had been approached by other clubs. I said ‘you’ve got a reputation there now, they like you, this is your home’.
“Nowadays six seasons at a club is quite unique.”
Watson added: “Fans like people who can get them off the edge of their seat, but also people who play with a smile, Shaun does both.
“He’s a comical lad if you get to know him, but if you really get to know him and dig deeper you find out how dedicated he is and how hungry and ambitious he still is.
“Not all are like that. Over a thousand league games as a manager I know that. People say you can lose your hunger and desire at 30, you can lose it at 16. His is still flourishing.
“Shaun doesn’t have an agent and in a sense it’s because he’s happy where he is, and that’s a compliment to Shrewsbury by the way.”
Watson, who briefly called Whalley Sr Neil his assistant, laughed as he recalled a fine system at Southport, where Whalley ripped t-shirts to ensure the system was left in tatters.
“I think Shaun Whalley’s won me more games than anyone who has played for me, which is a big statement,” he added.
“Occasionally if I’ve had a few bevvies I’ll put on the Telford-Gainsborough highlights and you realise that it looked to others in that league that we’d cheated, we’d brought in a player who wasn’t a non-league player. He won both the Conference and Conference North that year.”
Whalley is highly rated by his peers and remains a vital part of Town’s attacking armoury.
Dave Edwards said: “I love Shaun Whalley, he’s such a free spirit on the pitch, to still have the energy, determination and drive on the pitch is a testament to himself. He embraces every moment.
“The biggest compliment I can pay Shaun is that it’s an absolute travesty he’s never played higher than League One, maybe he came to League One a few years too late.
“I still believe, with him at 33, he’s good enough to be playing Championship football, but I’m grateful he’s not because he’s here helping us!
“I think he could’ve easily played five, six or seven years in the Championship and once you test yourself there who knows what could happen. We’re lucky to have him, we missed him when he was injured. He excites the fans and lifts everyone and that’s why fans love him so much.”
Edwards added: “Most definitely (he will be a favourite) of the modern era with how much he’s given.
“He’s taken to Shrewsbury as a club and community and fully immersed himself in it. Beyond football I’m sure he’ll love to be part of this club and sure there will always be a role for him.”
Boss Ricketts confirmed that, despite the winger having turned 33 in August, Shrewsbury have tried to build around the Liverpudlian.
“Shaun is a very good player for this level, he looks after himself and is extremely fit. He loves football and loves playing, watching and analysing,” Ricketts said. “He’s been great to work with and someone we’ve tried to build around because when he’s on the pitch he can always make something happen.
“He can drift past someone, he’s quick, he can run in behind he can cross. He’s great to work with and easy to manage.
“Two hundred games is no mean feat in modern football where players move around a lot. It’s something he should be very proud of.”