Joe Hart talks through his time with Shrewsbury Town.
Joe Hart joined his hometown club as a youngster and rose through the ranks to play in the Town first-team at just 17 in 2003. The Shrewsbury-born shot-stopper has since gone on to represent his country and has spent a number of years in England’s top tier of football.
Joe is a Premier League winner with Manchester City, but the goalkeeper’s journey began right at home in Shropshire with his boyhood club – despite not wanting to pursue football in the early stages of his life,
“I first played for Town when I was around 10 or 11,” said the Burnley shot-stopper. “At the time I was enjoying playing Sunday league and playing for my school.
“At that time I didn’t feel like football is what I wanted to do with my childhood. I spoke to my dad and he said the best thing to do is just be open with the coaches. I told them that life wasn’t for me at the time. I wanted to just play football with my friends.
“I was always in contact with the coaches and with Dave Timmins. He always left the door open and said if I ever did change my mind with how I felt towards football I would always be welcomed back.
“I was playing Sunday league up until I was 14. I played outfield for most teams but played in goal for my county. He left the door open and a few things happened in Sunday league where I thought now is the time to give it a go.
“My dad made the call and they welcomed be back. I made strides quite quickly. It was crazy, we would train at Meole Brace school on the AstroTurf there. We would train with the after glow of the lights from the other pitch.
“I would cycle there on my bike, get the best session in that we could and look forward to the weekend. From the age of like 14 Dave really pushed me and had me training with the first-team in Easter holidays and on the pitch warming up on match days.
“I was on the bench when I was 15. There were some really great opportunities for me. It was just a great period in my life. Walford was good. I think we were one of the first age groups in there.
“We worked closely with the place as a college. I don’t think we were overly welcome as it was an agricultural college. Footballers and farmers – there was a little bit of beef. It was a fun experience.
“As good as it was, it was difficult for me as the youth team would train at Walford and the first-team would train in the Town centre. I had to get lifts and Nigel Vaughan found the best way to make that possible.
“It was quite hectic going through the age groups really quickly. We were a Conference team at one point, so we had very limited resources. There were only the two first-team goalkeepers and then one or two youth keepers.”
Joe had his chance at the first-team aged just 17. The goalkeeper feels this was brilliant for his development and feels the exposure to the first-team game helped gear him up for a long career in the football.
“A slight injury or any circumstance like that you would kind of leapfrog,” said Joe. “I got pushed through and was playing the under-18’s league at 14. I was playing reserve football if I could get out of school.
“It was brilliant and meant that I was playing with men at a very young age. I really appreciated what it was to be a professional footballer before I actually became one.
“Nigel Vaughan was a massive influence on me and Dave Timmins. Dave was one of the most important people for my career. He purely believed in what I could do before even I did. He saw potential and pushed me.
“Jimmy Quinn came in and made me the number two with Scotty Howie, who I really enjoyed working under. Gary Peters was the one who really put me in the team properly. He showed great belief in me when I was 17.
“At the end of the conference season we were guaranteed the second spot. Scott Howie had a fantastic season and then Jimmy said this is my chance to go and play. He said there’s no pressure and we believe in you.
“Scotty really helped me in those two games against Gravesend and Morecombe. It was really exciting to play for my boyhood club. I had just turned 17 at that time - it was my pinnacle. The good thing about Shrewsbury Town is that you can reach your goal.
“I don’t know what the perfect career path is but I enjoyed mine. I was really lucky with the progression and support I was shown. Ultimately I was able to do it in my hometown.
“Having the support from the local town was a good feeling. I was lucky enough to play in Shrewsbury in the FA Cup. It was a really emotional day, it was a great feeling to be home.
“I was at Manchester City for a long time and that is my home, but Shrewsbury is my birth-home. That’s where I’m from, where I grew up and took my first steps. That will always be in my heart.
“I felt like when I left was the right moment. I didn’t know what I was going into but I felt ready for the challenge. I felt like I had given Town my all and Man City was the next step.”