This season we have been reflecting on 10 Years at Oteley Road - to celebrate this we will be bringing you an exclusive interview with a player from the last decade. Today it is Ben Herd!
Fiesty full-back Ben Herd made a combined total of 354 appearances for today’s two sides and he has plenty of stories to talk about along the way.
Herd was only 22-years-old when Shrewsbury Town upped sticks and moved to Oteley Road in 2007, yet he had already been at the club for two years and was very much part of the furniture. For Ben, the Gay Meadow had played a huge part in Town’s success in the final season prior to the move and he admits that he found the transition to the new stadium a difficult one.
“The fans were right next to the pitch, so you could have only 4,000 people in the ground, but there was a huge amount of atmosphere generated, whereas the new place wasn’t quite as intimidating.
“I remember going round it with Dave Edwards when it was being built and compared to the Gay Meadow it was unbelievable, but unfortunately all the other teams found it very nice as well and we struggled with our style of play to make it work.
“We tried to play direct and on a small pitch that worked well, but with that big pitch the ball used to just run out of play all the time and the fans got frustrated and it created a bit of a downward spiral really.”
That spiral led to Gary Peters leaving the club a couple of months before the end of the 2007/08 season and that was hard for Ben, who had been brought to the club by Peters.
“I’ve got a lot of time for Gary”, Herd said.
“When I look back on my career he took a bit of a punt on me really, so I owe him an awful lot in terms of him giving me an opportunity.
“I still think he could have been a bit better with me at times and been a bit more constructive rather than having a go at me in the press, but at the same time I can see why he did it.
“He created a bit of siege mentality for Shrewsbury where he had our backs and I’m sure he would have jumped into a few rucks on the pitch if he had half a chance.
“One thing I take from him is that his work rate was phenomenal. I think he did 65,000 miles a year in the club car and his track record for nurturing young players is very good.”
With Peters leaving, Paul Simpson joined the club and Town brought in a number of experienced names to club including the likes of Grant Holt, Paul Murray and Graham Coughlan. For a 23-year-old Herd, this was an exciting time to be at the club.
“As a young player it was exciting”, Ben continued.
“The club started spending a bit of money and people like Grant Holt came in for a big fee and good wages, so it a different sort of environment.
“We’d been used to Gary, who I think wanted to do it on a shoestring in some respect and wanted to build a young team on a budget a sell players, but Paul came in and he wanted something different.
“We had a lot of players and there were a lot more egos, so the team dynamic wasn’t what it had been, but we had a lot of good young players like Chris Humphrey, Marc Pugh, Hibbo, Shane Cansdell-Sherriff, Kelvin (Langmead) who would work hard every day in training.”
The season started well for Herd who was involved in some impressive Town performances, including the 7-0 victories over Gillingham and Wycombe Wanderers. However, a couple of months into the season Darren Moss was given the right-back slot and sadly for Ben he couldn’t get it back.
“It was really hard to take”, admitted the former Watford youngster.
“I was flying, doing really well, we’d just beaten Bournemouth 4-0 and Paul wanted to offer me a new contract, which was really early for a new contract, so that was really encouraging.
“I really wanted to kick-on because I felt that my game was a bit more suited to the passing under Paul and I felt like I had done well in the six or seven months he’d been there.
“Then politics gets in the way and it ended, which was a real shame because I think I could have kicked-on myself and the club could have kicked-on as well.
“Had I signed that contract I could still be a Shrewsbury Town now because Graham Turner came in, who had tried signing me three or four times for Hereford, so you’d like to think that I could have got on well with him and stayed.”
After the play-off final defeat to Gillingham in 2009, Herd was released by Town and ended up going on trial at today’s opponents Aldershot Town. It turned out to be the best decision he ever made, appearing over 150 times for the Shots in what he describes as the best spell of his career.
“When I left Shrewsbury I had to go somewhere and I went to Aldershot”, said Ben.
“I really enjoyed working with Gary Waddock. I think he was probably the best manager I worked under in terms of his style of football and what he wanted from you.
“At Shrewsbury, I always felt like I had more to give and if a manager had played how I wanted to play then I would have been a much better player for it.
“Fortunately, at Aldershot that’s exactly what happened. Gary wanted me to be an up and down full-back, bombing on and attacking the winger rather than defending against the winger, and it was the best I played and it came naturally to me.
“I used to genuinely look forward to 3pm on a Saturday. It wasn’t work, it wasn’t a job, it was basically about going and having some fun and that’s how football should be because that’s how you get the best out of players.”
Now 32, Ben is still playing football with his hometown club St Albans City, but he returns to Shrewsbury from time to time and has fond memories of his four years in the Town.
“It was the first place I’d ever put roots down and straight away I liked the place”, admitted Herd.
“It was very similar to where I was brought up in St Albans, which was an old sort of market town, so there was a bit of synergy there.
“The people were really friendly. They’d say hello to you when you were walking your dog and I just found that if you gave 100% every week then the fans would forgive you an awful lot.
“I loved my time there and I’m very thankful that the two clubs I played most of my time for – Aldershot and Shrewsbury – I had a good relationship with the fans and that’s really pleasing.
“There will always be a connection with Shrewsbury. I spent four happy years there and I’d like to spend a bit more time up there if I get chance.
“My little boy is five now and he doesn’t know that I used to live in Shrewsbury, so one day I’d like to take him round Shrewsbury and tell him everything that we got up to.”