A former Shrewsbury Town player who was in Graham Turner’s squad that was promoted from League Two ten years ago has returned to the club and is spearheading the recruitment of talented youngsters at a very tender age.
Former midfielder Sean McAllister is now the coordinator of the club’s development centre, which is part of the Shrewsbury Town Foundation set up and provides a pathway into the academy.
“Mini Kickers,” which embraces youngsters with potential between the age of four and seven, is part of the development centre and McAllister’s role is to organise the staff to make sure they are doing what they should be delivering.
“We are here to help the kids develop. Some of them are good players who have the potential to make money playing football,” he said.
Providing they make the grade, the youngsters move into the 8-12 age group and could be promoted into the academy, although that is not a guarantee that they will go on to become professional footballers.
Youngsters are recruited from a very wide area and there are around 400 registered at the development centres at Shrewsbury, Ludlow, and Ellesmere, where skill centres have also been established.
They conduct open trials for youngsters to join the development centre and when they are approaching the time to step up to the academy, a match is staged between the centre and the academy to select those to go forward.
He is also involved in delivering BTEC qualifications, although his role is solely on the footballing side of things.
McAllister took up his position around two and a half years ago, after working as a volunteer coach of the Under-16s at the Shrewsbury academy. David Longwell is the academy manager and when the development centre position became available, he invited McAllister to apply.
He had played for Grimsby and coached and played for Chester before becoming a player and coach at Newtown in the Welsh Premier League until he decided to end his playing days after the thrill of being in the Newtown team which qualified for the European Conference League.
He still coaches Newtown and that provides him with the opportunity of directing youngsters who don’t succeed in the Shrewsbury academy to step into trials with the Welsh side.
“It has been a transitional period, going from playing and coaching to looking after the youngsters,” McAllister said.
“It takes me back to when I was a kid as I was always in academy football. When I was eight, I always knew I was going to be a footballer and, in a way, you have to have that about you.”
He was lucky, he said, to have started his career at the top as he spent four years of his youth football at Manchester United. That was followed by three years at Bolton Wanderers – then in the Premier League – and three years playing in the Championship for Sheffield Wednesday.
He moved to Shrewsbury in 2010, making 35 appearances and scoring one goal, and spent two seasons under Turner’s management, in the first of which they missed out on promotion by just one point, and the second season they were promoted.
“I had a very strange time playing at Shrewsbury,” McAllister recalled. “In my two seasons playing for the club, I played in every game until Christmas each season and then didn’t play again!
“Both times we were in the top three in the league when I came out of the team. It was really frustrating, and I still don’t know the reason why. The team were doing so well, and we were about to get promoted.”
McAllister recalled what he described as the highlights of his playing days – competing in the European Conference League and Shrewsbury’s matches against Arsenal and Charlton.
“The FA Cup tie at the Emirates was amazing,” he said. “James Collins scored but if you look at the picture of the goal you will see I was the player who took the defender away. It left James free to score but if the cross had been a bit higher it would have been me making history!
“Against Charlton at home, we were 3-0 down and finished up winning 4-3,” he said. “The football we played was so good and I couldn’t believe we came from three down to win.”
McAllister said they had such a good group of players in those days, and they developed into a very solid team in his second season.
“We played some really solid, open football and we were a good team to watch.”
The reason, he added, was the camaraderie amongst the players. “I think if you were to speak to people who watched that side in that era, they would tell you how well we knitted together as a team.
“The lads all lived in the town and after finishing training we would all go to a coffee bar in town. It was a really good group and that probably gained us points along the way because we were a really close-knit team.”
Those were happy days for McAllister, who revealed his love for Shrewsbury when he said he met his wife during his playing days in the town and now they have a two-year-old son.
“It is a beautiful town and I just love it as a place for him to grow up in,” he added.