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 Lionel Ainsworth!
Perhaps the most gifted player to grace the Meadow turf over the last 10 years, Lionel Ainsworth was a player that knew how to get the fans off their feet.
The five foot five inch winger may have only played 64 goals in a two year spell, but he became a firm fans favourite, scoring 11 goals after signing from Huddersfield Town in 2010.
Lionel fondly remembers the first day he arrived at the club and the feeling that were going through his head at the time.
“It was amazing”, Ainsworth told Town Talk.
“When I came down I didn’t expect it to be anything less than amazing because it’s a nice part of the world with lovely people.
“I remember staying in the hotel and thinking ‘Yes! I’m going in tomorrow’. I had a look around and the facilities were absolutely top class.
“They deserved to be in a higher league at the time because we were only in League Two but the facilities were amazing.
“I’ve been fortunate to have been at a few good clubs in terms of facilities, but the facilities down there were really good.”
Perhaps the biggest factor in bringing Lionel to the club was Graham Turner. Turner had successfully managed Ainsworth at Hereford United and the legendary manager had a big impact on his career.
“I knew from playing under Graham Turner before that it was promotion, promotion, promotion”, said Lionel.
“I’ve always had a motto from him from when I first met him as a 19-year-old at Hereford, which was ‘if we don’t win, we don’t lose’ and I still keep that with me today, if it’s in training or games.
“We (Plymouth Argyle) played Doncaster on Saturday and we were 1-0 down and we drew 1-1 and I said to one of the boys ‘if we don’t win, we don’t lose’, and I always carry that on from him.
“I learnt a lot from him from playing under him. That was my third time playing under him, so I knew what he and John Trewick wanted, I knew what they were about and that’s what excited me about because I knew what we could do and what we could achieve.
“A lot of people say that he got the best out of me, but it was actually crazy playing under him because when I went there as a youngster I remember signing and then I probably only had a proper chat with him when I moved to Watford.
“Then when I got to Shrewsbury I remember signing and then that was it until he said that they were going with a different direction and that they were going to let me go, so there wasn’t really much talking but I just really enjoyed it under him and John Trewick.
“I suppose they did get the best out of me but it was in a strange way. Some managers want to talk to you straight away, some managers don’t ever want to talk to you and sometimes that’s actually better for yourself.”
Lionel always had the ability to create magic on the pitch and one special night took place at Sincil Bank on a February Tuesday night. Town won the game 5-1 and the 3,202 fans that were there that night will never forget Lionel’s hat-trick.
“It was a weird one because Jon Taylor had stepped in a few weeks before and he had scored and then he played again and he scored, and I was like ‘this is not happening’”, laughed Ainsworth.
“James Collins went on international duty and I got a chance up top and then Jon Taylor scored again, so I was thinking ‘this is crazy’, but then I popped up with a 13 minute hat-trick, which I watched not so long ago on the Throwback Thursday.
“We had a really strong team and that was without James Collins up top. The competition for places was rife at the time, but it was really enjoyable and after that game I remember all the boys signing the ball and the banter was flying, so it was brilliant.”
Town missed out in the play-offs that season, but the next season they enjoyed a brilliant run in the League Cup. Ainsworth played a fundamental role in the run and remembers it fondly.
“The first-round was playing against Derby, my boyhood club, and going there and setting up all three goals was pretty special”, Lionel continued.
“That took us on to Swansea at home and at the time they were in the Premiership and we went into the game thinking we had no chance and then we go and win 3-1 and there goal was an own goal.
“The run was really strange, but it was good because we knew we had a good team and going to the Emirates was just different class - everything about it was a different world.
“When we went 1-0 up through James Collins you start to believe, but Arsenal turned on a switch and with top class players you know you are going to get punished for little mistakes.
“But, it was so enjoyable to play in. They were a strong side at the time I think we did really well. We rode our luck, but we enjoyed it and so did the fans.”
Midway through the 2011/12 season Lionel was dropped for the team and rumours were rife about him having a falling out with the club, but he wanted to put that straight.
“People said I had been involved in arguments and things, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, Ainsworth said.
“People said that I argued with Michael Jackson and that isn’t true. If I needed to be told he would tell me and I would listen, but there was never any arguments or anything like that.
“Someone once said that I fell out with Graham Turner but they had no reason as to why I had fallen out with him. I have never fallen out with him in my life in the three times that he managed me.”
However, at the end of that season Ainsworth did move on and went onto enjoy a successful career in Scotland with Motherwell. Now 30, he has moved back to England with our League One rivals Plymouth and he is looking forward to returning with his new club later in the season.
“I’ve got very fond memories of Shrewsbury”, said Lionel.
“I remember we played Charlton in the League Cup one night and we were 3-1 down at half-time and you are wondering what’s going on, but the character of the boys and the fans spurred us on that night and we go and win 4-3 against a good Charlton side that were in the Championship.
“We had scored some fantastic goals and we had some good cup runs. It was just all enjoyable and everything about the club was brilliant.”