Shrewsbury, England: The world’s best football team is coming to Shrewsbury, a quaint market town near the border of England and Wales, and the local mayor has mixed emotions.
“Being something of an armchair Liverpool supporter, I’m going to be a little conflicted,” Phil Gillam says ahead of Sunday’s fourth-round match in the FA Cup. “I just hope it’s a good game. It’s not just brilliant for Shrewsbury Town Football Club, but also wonderful for the town as a whole.”
Indeed, a couple of generations after The Beatles played in Shrewsbury — the band is believed to have written the No. 1 hit “From Me To You” while travelling there in 1963 — another famous line-up from Liverpool is making the 80-kilometre (50-mile) trip to the birthplace of Charles Darwin for a match that might not be as lopsided as first imagined.
Liverpool are the European and recently crowned world club champion, and — holding a 16-point lead — is on the brink of winning the English league for the first time in 30 years. Shrewsbury are in 16th place in the third tier.
Liverpool has won the FA Cup seven times. Shrewsbury has never made the final.
The only competitive game between the two teams was also in the fourth round of the FA Cup, in 1996. Liverpool won that game 4-0 at Shrewsbury’s old Gay Meadow ground, where a coracle — a traditional boat small enough to be carried on your back — would be used to retrieve stray football balls from the adjacent River Severn.
Fred Davies, who was dubbed “Coracle Man,” did his duty for years in the small boat, which is now on display at Shrewsbury’s current ground. According to the BBC, “it was not uncommon for Fred to have to return the ball to the ground five or six times during a game.”
It was at Gay Meadow where Shrewsbury dealt another Merseyside team, Everton, a shock with a 2-1 win in 2003. It’s still regarded as one of the famous old tournament’s biggest upsets, with a 17-year-old Wayne Rooney in the visiting team and Shrewsbury 80 places lower in the English football pyramid at the time.
Seventeen years on and Shrewsbury aren’t without hope of another so-called “giant-killing.” Liverpool are set to field a heavily weakened team for the match, which comes right in the middle of two important Premier League fixtures for Juergen Klopp’s side as they close in on the title.
The Reds remain the favourites, sure, but this won’t be the usual Liverpool team.
Not that Shrewsbury’s manager is expecting any favours.
“Top players produce it game after game,” said Shrewsbury manager Sam Ricketts, a former Premier League player with Hull and Bolton. “The very, very top like Liverpool, they produce it Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Wednesday and they do it every three or four days. And they’re getting chopped down every week.
“At our level, every player has a Championship (second tier) game in them. Every player has the odd Premier League-standard game in them. It’s the consistency level (that counts).”
Under Klopp, Liverpool has never reached the fifth round. and the Reds last won the competition in 2006. That might mean it’s a trophy on Klopp’s radar this season, though he has shown in his team selections that he has his sights set very much elsewhere, primarily the league and the Champions League.
He played a virtual youth side against Everton in the third round, and Liverpool still came away with a 1-0 win at Anfield.
Shrewsbury earned a shot at Liverpool by beating second-tier Bristol City 1-0 at home in a replay, the 89th-minute winner coming from Aaron Pierre.
Man City vs Fulham (5pm), Tranmere vs Manchester United (7pm), Shrewsbury vs Liverpool (5pm)
Bournemouth vs Arsenal