Exactly 100 years ago, on 28th April 1923, Shrewsbury Town clinched their first ever league title with a 2-1 away win over their nearest rivals, Bilston United, to lift the Birmingham League Championship Shield.
In the club’s previous 23 years of participation in this league their best finish had been runners-up to Worcester City in 1913/14 when City pipped them to the title by a single point. Despite having finished twice as wooden spoons in 1900/01 and 1906/07 Town’s average final place in the league tables has been a respectable 10th, but continued improvement across the board saw a steady incline to finish 6th and 5th in 1920/21 and 1921/22 respectively.
The continued rebuilding of the squad saw former Wrexham striker Chris Elvidge sign in the summer of 1922 alongside Welsh international winger Jack Evans. Jack Crutchley was brought in from Hednesford to shore up the defence and a second raid upon Walsall – from where Evans had come from – saw striker Tom Bowyer recruited and goalkeeper Arthur Causer arrived from Preston.
Elvidge immediately repaid some of his transfer fee hitting an opening day treble in the 3-1 away success at Cradley Heath, all three goals coming in the first half.
No one could have foreseen the impact Elvidge was to have, but it was he who had netted ten of Town’s twenty league goals in the first seven games as they sat 6th in the table.
Elvidge failed to find the net as the club edged up a place to 5th with an 8-1 crushing of Hednesford at Gay Meadow in late November, however fellow striker and local boy Jack Williams was true to himself in the win to take him to third top scorer after just nine games in the league, the team having racked up a very impressive total of 27 goals in those matches.
On 30th December Town claimed their sixth straight win away to Tamworth Castle, the 3-1 success moving them into second place in the table, their highest placing since ironically defeating Castle 4-0 at home in the second game of the season, and Town’s first home fixture back on 2nd September.
It was new boys to the league, Bilston United with whom Town would ultimately tussle for the entire season, defeating the league leaders at Gay Meadow in a nine-goal thriller (5-4) on February 10th, taking over the leaders role seven days later when drawing 1-1 away to Stafford Rangers thanks to a Harris Taylor goal, the game in which also saw the injured Causer return between the sticks after a four-game absence.
Town held pole position for the next three weeks, Harris Taylor scoring for three consecutive games before a disappointing nil-nil draw away to Burton All Saints relegated Town to second place once more, this being the first time – and only the second in 24 league games – that Town had failed to register a goal in a league fixture since going down 0-2 at Nuneaton back on 18th November.
Town remained second and, after a 2-1 defeat away to Wellington Town on Good Friday and a one-all draw at Hednesford 24 hours later, they went into the home game with Darlaston on April 2nd desperate for a win.
It was, ironically, against this same club when going down 1-2 in the reverse fixture exactly four weeks before, that Town relinquished their hold on the spot. But a 2-1 win followed by a 4-1 win over Cannock just five days later looked to have bolstered their title chances. However, a nervy 0-1 loss away to Willenhall meant that rivals Bilston remained top spot.
Just two days after this defeat, a 2-1 success at Kidderminster and another by the same score line away to Redditch on 21st April moved Town back to the top of the tree with 48 points from 32 games, Bilston whom they were to meet next in the penultimate game of the season, just three points behind with a game in hand.
Town travelled to Bilston with hundreds of fans knowing exactly what they had to do. Victory and they would clinch the title, anything less and their hosts became favourites with their superior goal average, as it was in those days.
Over 1,000 fans watched a tense and goalless opening 45 minutes, both sides making yet missing chances in equal measure.
It was that man Elvidge, though, who broke the deadlock with a spectacular overhead kick and a little while later Reg Jones hit a screamer to put the visitors two goals up and into the driving seat.
The hosts hit back strangely however, Toy reducing the deficit from the penalty spot to set up a tense finale which almost saw Bilston’s Newman hit a leveller before an almost impossible one-handed save from Town keeper Gawlde – in for the previous six games in place of Causer – saved the day in the 90th minute! Town were champions, hosts and season-long rivals Bilston had to accept the runners-up spot.
Town had clinched their first ever league crown by three points, their final game at home to Stourbridge in what was the club’s 800th Birmingham League fixture, resulting in a 2-5 loss, but nothing could dampen the spirits of supporters as they basked in the club’s glory.
In total, Town failed to score in just three of their 47 league and cup games – all away – scoring 82 goals in the league, a further 36 in cups as they won the Senior Cup and picked up the Keys Cup as the best non-reserve team participating from Football League clubs. All trophies were presented in a shop window for several weeks and a civil reception was held in the club’s honour.