Town fan Justin Gill, 27, says his biggest satisfaction from the ‘South Stand Flags’ (@SouthStandFlags) movement is making supporters feel involved
Civil servant Gill spoke in 2019 of how he was inspired by atmospheres in Germany and wanted to bring something special to Town’s ‘unique’ safe standing section at Montgomery Waters Meadow.
There are now just a handful of season tickets remaining up for grabs in the colourful block nine of the South Stand, where Gill and others – with drum, banners, flags, streamers and more in tow – make themselves heard each game.
“I said it was about making the most of the safe standing area,” said Justin. “It was good we got it in but without people there creating an atmosphere it would not do anything on its own.
“It was about adding that colour and giving people the chance to get involved. We don’t want to force it. It has to happen organically.
“Initially the novelty factor of safe standing was good but it died down when people had been there and seen it.
“We’ve been a struggling League One side since we’ve been there, between 15th and 18th, it’s not exactly the right conditions to have the ground rocking.”
The section began to increase in popularity during the recently-ended season – with fans back in the ground – and come the end of the campaign it was regularly selling out, with more banners and flags added from the hard-working volunteers by the match.
There is a banner in memory of the late Marvin Morgan and flags for historic and modern-day legends Arthur Rowley and Shaun Whalley.
It has often won praise from manager Steve Cotterill and the Town players for the noise and atmosphere generated, particularly as Shrewsbury attack towards the Salop Leisure Stand.
“At some point in the last season it started to snowball,” said the Town fan. “There’s no denying the fact that on the pitch helps. Around December and January the team picked up and the atmosphere started to build and continue until we guaranteed safety, where it obviously tailed off with nothing to play for.
“We get the flags out for every single game, not just for the big occasions like some other clubs. We will always give it a go. We will keep plugging away even if it’s a crap atmosphere.
“The one thing we’ve still got is safe standing is still unique in England. Clubs are putting rails in which in my opinion just causes mixed messages.
“We’ve got the loggerheads flying and other designs from Matt Burgess (club’s former graphic designer), images from the club’s past and present on a weekly basis, for example we have Arthur Rowley’s flag next to Shaun Whalley’s.
“More broadly we’ve developed a community almost entirely of season ticket holders,” Justin added. “Knowing everyone around me is not something I’ve had when seated and I really like that.”
The group’s crowdfunder this season raised £1,400 – which the club doubled – for new decor for their section, which the group hope to expand.
Justin and fellow volunteers were at the Meadow on Friday to begin preparation for next season’s decor, including flags for every fans in the stand to wave.
He and partner Hollie Marsh spent hours painstakingly hand-painting the ‘Shaun Whalley 250 not out’ banner letter by letter in his living room, only for the Town icon to pick up a long-term injury on the eve of his landmark appearance.
“Now it’s about quantity – how many flags can we get in the whole of the stand, including the seats at the front, to get the whole stand involved,” he explained.
“You always hear about famous nights with the big ends involved like The Kop or Stretford End. We’ll never be as iconic as that but it’s about having that home end.
“I think the Liverpool home 2-2 game (in 2020) was the first time we heard safe standing in the South Stand at full volume.”
Justin said drummer Scott Edwards – who was honoured with a special award at the end of season presentation for his vocal support home and away – Will Smith and Kieran Jones also worked tirelessly for the group.
“We had a few meetings with Brian (Caldwell) and Lawrence (Ellerby) and they were so supportive, I think they recognise the attendance figures have gone up in safe standing and it’s creating a positive atmosphere,” he added.
“I’m 27 and I feel old there! There are lots of older teens or fans in their 20s, a new generation of fans, those too old for the family stand who want to go with their mates.
“But there are people of all ages, kids to older folks – I’m sure they won’t mind me saying.
“We have people spending their own hard-earned money for flags and banners. I think people recognise in those 0-0 games with nothing happening we’re there trying to make an atmosphere and often succeeding.
“It’s been appreciated by a lot of people and that is heartening.”