Shropshire Star

Shrewsbury Town legend Dave Edwards still living the dream - ahead of hanging up boots

That was the title Dave Edwards gave to his autobiography, which looked back on the majority of his career but particularly being part of the history-making Welsh squad which reached the semi-finals of the 2016 European Championships.


It’s a dream the ever-affable Edwards has lived for almost 20 years. And one which will soon be coming to an end.

After spending 19 years as a full time professional, Edwards has, for the last 18 months, been playing on a part-time basis with Bala Town in the League of Wales.

He has loved it.

But, come the end of Bala’s season, almost two decades to the day since making his Shrewsbury Town debut as a late substitute against Scunthorpe, the attacking midfielder will be hanging up his well-trodden boots, once and for all.

There is still, however, plenty to play for.

This Saturday he is hoping to play in his first cup final since the days of junior football when Bala take on Connah’s Quay in the League Cup.

Bala are also still in the Welsh Cup – the quarter final with Britons Ferry comes a week later – and, in third place in the league, can qualify for Europe just as they did this season.

So Edwards, who turns 37 next week, is focused on playing out a final flourish to a fantastic career.

Dave Edwards of Wolverhampton Wanderers scores a goal to make it 4-3.

“Moving to Bala was always going to be just for a season, to help make a transition out of full time football because I didn’t feel I was ready to completely give it up,” Edwards explains.

“But I enjoyed it so much, we agreed to carry it on for a second season.

“Last year went really well and we finished second in the league and got to the semi-finals of the League Cup and Welsh Cup.

“This year we have already reached the League Final – my first as an adult – which has come at the very, very end of my career.

“Bala have a great group of lads and a great group of staff and it’s been a really enjoyable 18 months so far.

“I’ve loved every minute and it’s actually had a massive impact on me.

“When you play professional football for such a long period of time, training day-in day-out, your love for it does start to wane particularly as you constantly seem to be carrying niggles.

“Training once a week has helped my body and I feel rejuvenated, and, moving into part-time I have seen how much a club like Bala means to the local community and the people in and around the club.

“What they all do is amazing.”

And when it comes to the community, Edwards’ own impact has also been substantial.

While at Molineux he was one of the leading lights in supporting Wolves Foundation’s projects within the city – including winning the club’s Community Player of the Year award – and his impact over two different spells with home-town club Shrewsbury has been equally significant.

He is not only a trustee of Shrewsbury Town’s Foundation involved in their extensive work but also Little Rascals, the charity he founded with best mate Ben Wootton which supports children with disabilities and their families.

And another big date in the calendar is looming large in the closing weeks of Edwards’ career - Sunday, March 26th at Shrewsbury’s Montgomery Waters Meadow.

After leaving Wolves after nine-and-a-half years then Manager Director Laurie Dalrymple had floated the idea of some form of charity testimonial match. A few years on, when Shrewsbury’s Foundation also made the suggestion, Edwards picked up the threads of the idea and has decided to run with it.

Shrewsbury have kindly given up their stadium free of charge to host the game which will see Edwards put together two teams of colleagues from his playing days – Shrewsbury against Wolves – with every penny raised split between Town’s Foundation and Little Rascals.

The fixture takes place 24 hours after Shrewsbury have welcomed Bristol Rovers, and on an international weekend when Wolves won’t have a fixture, offering fans of both clubs the chance to reacquaint themselves with their heroes whilst supporting two fantastic causes.

It will be a fitting way to crown such an impressive career.

Shrewsbury and Wolves made up 17 years of Edwards’ life as a professional – completed by spells with Luton, Reading and now Bala – and 518 of an overall tally of appearances now stretching out past the 600 mark.

His hometown club, and the club where he really made his name, separated by approximately 30 miles but, for Edwards, brought together in providing a host of treasured memories.

“I feel so lucky that for 17 of my 19 years as a professional I got to live at home, which rarely happens in football,” he explains.

“I am a born and bred Salopian, and Shrewsbury fans see me as one of their own, which makes me very proud.

“I was in the stands with them growing up – I still go when I can – and I was playing for the Away Supporters team a year before I made my debut.

“I am so proud to be from Shrewsbury, from Shropshire, and then to play for Wolves, just a stone’s throw away, was special as well.

“That’s because the fans there didn’t know anything about me, and I didn’t know much about the club, but I had actually been to games as a kid because my brother is a Wolves fan.

“When I was at Molineux watching as an 11 or 12-year-old, if you had told me then that one day I would play there I would never have believed you.

“I went on to have an interesting relationship with the Wolves fans, it was never really completely smooth and not always full of love.

“But by the time I left, I think the fans really appreciated how hard I worked for the club.

“I gave my heart and soul for Wolves over nine-and-a-half years, just as the fans do, week-in week-out, so hopefully there is a mutual respect there.

“And I appreciate, even though there were some tough times, how the Wolves fans are the fabric of the club and how big a part they play.

“Wolves is a one club city with very passionate fans – that can sometimes make for a tough environment for players but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

“I think with both Shrewsbury and Wolves the fans appreciated that I was fairly local, and with that I could always understand how big a role football clubs can play in their communities – how much they can make a difference.”

And this charity match will also be making a difference, raising awareness and funds for the two causes who will benefit.

Ex-Shrewsbury Town midfielder Dave Edwards was part of the launch of the Hope House fund raising appeal.

Already a keen supporter of the work of Shrewsbury Foundation, Edwards and Wootton joined forces to set up Little Rascals’ soft play centre in Monkmoor back in 2017.

Wootton had a background of working with children with disabilities and Edwards’ Mum had spent the majority of her career supporting adults with learning disabilities, so they felt well placed to use their knowledge and expertise to add value to the local community.

And so, the Little Rascals Foundation was born, with after school clubs, days when the centre would be used solely by children with disabilities and their families, one-to-one mentoring and groups for parents to network and share experiences.

A second centre was later opened in Bicton Heath, but then the pandemic came, after which the landlord at the bigger Monkmoor site said they would not be able to renew their lease.

As with so many charities, it was an extremely difficult time, and Little Rascals future was most definitely under threat.

“When Covid hit, the damage was double because we couldn’t open our doors and also we couldn’t do any events to raise any money,” Edwards reflects.

“It was quite a scary time, especially when we then lost the bigger of our two sites.

“It was a miracle that we managed to keep the charity going from a financial point of view but we have just about kept our heads above water.

“We are now at a stage when we are able to move forward again, operating from the one centre but what we are missing is some of the accessible equipment from the previous one, and a sensory room, which was so popular.

“We also have ambitions one day to open a respite centre to help parents of children with disabilities.

“First though, we would love to build a sensory room and hopefully, off the back of this game, we might be able to raise enough money to provide this facility which would prove such a big help to so many people.”

Aside from the notable and indeed noble charity element to the game, it will also provide some fun and frolics and a trip down memory lane for Edwards and his former team-mates.

More names of those appearing on the teamsheet will be released gradually between now and the big day, but suffice to say much of the Shrewsbury team will be comprised from Edwards’ first spell at the club, and Wolves – with Karl Henry and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake already confirmed - from the Mick McCarthy Championship-winning side of 2008/09.

“A few of the Shrewsbury lads are already a bit worried as they will be a few years older than Wolves and won’t have as much quality,” says the man himself, expected to play 45 minutes for each.

“This could be the first ever charity match when one of the teams has to park the bus!”

Whatever happens on the pitch, the memories of his time with both will certainly never fade.

No doubt the time will come in the summer for more considered reflections from Edwards of the ups and downs of two decades in football, but from an enquiry as to the identify of some of his career highlights, he is able to narrow them down.

First of all, his Shrewsbury debut, at 17, sent on as a late substitute by then caretaker boss and former Wolves midfielder Mark Atkins in a last-day defeat against Scunthorpe.

“That was such a surreal moment,” Edwards recalls.

Part-time: Playing for Bala Town

“I remember vividly watching our keeper hit a goal kick and seeing the Riverside Terrace lit up by the floodlights and thinking: ‘I was stood there last year.'

“And now I was in the middle of the pitch with all those fans looking at me!”

Another big highlight was playing for Luton in the FA Cup against Liverpool, Edwards’ first game against top opposition and a performance which effectively helped seal his move to Wolves, some 15 years ago.

His Wolves debut also came against Scunthorpe, and he scored, and there followed promotion and the Premier League, including a winning goal against Manchester City, best mate Joe Hart and all.

But a lovely and lingering memory was another FA Cup fixture against Liverpool, when Edwards captained Wolves to a 2-1 win under Paul Lambert in 2017.

“I have always said how proud I was just to play for Wolves, but to be captain at Anfield, and stand in the tunnel with the fans singing my name, was a hairs on the back of the neck moment for sure.”

An 88th minute headed winner against Leeds in front of the South Bank was another high, but his footballing ‘pinnacle’, understandably so, came with the Welsh national team.

Of Edwards’ 43 senior caps, none were more coveted than the one garnered in Wales’ opening game of Euro 2016 against Slovakia, the 2-1 victory which launched a memorable run all the way to the last four.

“For a pure footballing moment, representing your country at a major tournament has to be the pinnacle,” says Edwards.

“Being selected for the opening game of the European Championships – I think in 10, 20, 30 years, that will be the biggest moment that I will look back on.”

There will certainly be plenty to look back on, and plenty to take forward.

Hanging up the boots for any footballer generally means more time – at last – to spend with family, and for Edwards, wife Emma, football-crazy son Jack, 12, and daughter Evie, 10, that is certainly the case.

But he will also be keeping himself busy, with Little Rascals, a growing media portfolio of co-commentary work including with Sky Sports, BBC Wales and the Premier League, and a recently launched property investment company, the Fourtress Group.

He is also part of the excellent In The Stiffs podcast alongside former Shrewsbury team-mates Sam Aiston and Gavin Cowan, with a second live show taking place next month.

Above all else though, what a career Edwards has enjoyed.

A more accomplished technical player than he was sometimes given credit for – especially his finishing prowess which has yielded 83 career goals – it is also testament to his dedication, ability to bounce back from adversity and professionalism, that he hit the heights that he did.

“It does take you to come this far to look back and think, ‘wow – what a journey it has been’,” he reflects.

“Everyone has ambitions in life but never in my wildest dreams would I have believed I could have the career that I have.

Proudest moment: In action for Wales at the 2016 European Championship

“Because I came into the game quite late, it was the February of Year 11 at school when I was spotted by Shrewsbury, maybe I didn’t have the lofty footballing ambitions that others did.

“At that stage just getting near the Shrewsbury first team was enough.

“But once I broke through there the whole footballing world took over.

“At the start I would have been thinking that I would stay at Shrewsbury for my whole career but as you get into football, and understand what you might be able to achieve, you move on, as strange as it felt to do that.

“Then to play for such a huge football club as Wolves, well that was beyond my wildest dreams as well, not to mention playing so many games for Wales and going to a major tournament.

“It has all been so special, not just for me but also my family.

“I have some wonderful pictures of Jack and Evie with me on the pitch at Molineux and they have also been able to see me play at Shrewsbury in my second spell.

“Football has been such a huge part of our lives but it’s time to let that go, certainly from a playing point of view.

“My family have had to live by my calendar for far too long now, weekends have often been a ‘no-no’, and the older my kids get, and with how quickly time flies, I really want to give more time back to them.

“Jack loves football and we will still be going to games and I can go and watch him play but not having to worry about playing myself is going to be a big factor.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have enjoyed the career that I have, and hopefully this game will give me an opportunity to say thank you to both sets of fans, which I didn’t really get a chance to do when I left the clubs before.”

It may be a farewell of sorts, but clearly Edwards will stay in close touch with both clubs and with football in general as he hangs up his boots at the end of the season.

But there will be more of a balance between that and his commercial and charity interests, and, of course, his family.

He has lived one dream in the first footballing chapter of his life – now for the next.

• Tickets are now on sale for the game with Early Bird prices available for two weeks – click to visit the Shrewsbury Town Foundation website and book.