Shaun Of The Red

Dean Keates made a statement of intent when he made former Grimsby Town defender Shaun Pearson his first summer signing as he began piecing together a new squad from scratch.

Rich Lord, contributor for Mariners fanzine Cod Almighty writes how his team’s loss has been Wrexham’s gain now and for the future.

A few decades ago you’d have found at least eight or nine Shaun Pearsons in every football team. Now you’re lucky if you find just one.

Wrexham can count themselves extremely lucky to have THE Shaun Pearson. He’s a throwback to the days when footballers knew what it meant to be footballers; to look into the stands, see the faces of the paying public looking back, and knowing that every single one of them would trade places with you if they could.

Shaun Pearson plays football like he’s the fan that was given an incredible opportunity to do something very few others get to do. But to say he’s been ‘given’ anything would do him a huge disservice, not to mention severely underplay the desire and passion he’s shown every single week, to get exactly where he is today.

I’ve never met the man - and I hope he won’t mind me saying this - but there is a limit to his talent. He’s never been blessed with pace, and there were times when he’d talk himself into a number of unnecessary bookings.

While his frame suggested a blocker; a tackler; a no-nonsense defender, there was also a skilful player in there - he was just too intelligent to show it. Only on fleeting occasions - a Cruyff turn-and-cross to set up a goal at Southport, and a step-over to win a penalty at Alfreton - did he demonstrate that there was much more to his game.

Far more talented players than Shaun Pearson have fallen away or never even made the semi-professional game, and it’s down to his hard work and ambition to be the best he can possibly be that has endeared him to every fan that has paid to watch him play.

Not only has he grasped this opportunity to be a pro footballer with both hands, he also treats it with the upmost respect. A lot of his excellent work at Grimsby was off the field, behind the scenes, being an impeccable club ambassador in the community, supporting schools, helping children and being a role model.

There was, at no point, any search for attention; no quest for column inches or pats on the back for doing that forgotten side of the game. It was simply what he was meant to do, as a key player in the squad, and he carried out those duties irrespective of his squad status.

His first season at Grimsby was a difficult one. After arriving in the summer of 2011 with nothing but an outpouring of praise from Boston fans, he failed to hit the standards he’d have expected of himself. However, once he’d forced himself into a team that was sailing into a mid-table finish, he began to show just what he was capable of, and in one dead rubber at home to Gateshead he scored both goals in a 2-0 win to establish himself as our first-choice centre back the following season - a season that finished in a play-off semi-final defeat at Newport.

Ah, yes - Shaun will know all about your play-off heartache. As soon as Wrexham approached him, I’m certain he’ll have been looking into the club’s history, understanding where you once where, what you’ve been through, and where you want to be. He’ll know all about the key moments that have shaped the club because there’s no way he’d pull on that red shirt without understanding what it means to wear it.

Shaun was with us for six years. During his fifth, which is when the Mariners climbed out of the National League, he found himself on the bench as our first-choice centre back pairing of Josh Gowling and Toto Nsiala struck up a solid partnership. Did we hear a peep out of Shaun? Did we heck. No whinging. No whining. Any quotes you’ll find from him, at that time, were in complete support for the whole team.

And in the play-off victory at Wembley, Pearson was brought on so late that he didn’t even get to touch the ball. Not that he cared. He wasn’t thinking about his lack of time on that famous turf. He’d spent the previous five years with us and understood the pain of previous play-off failures as much as any fan. Because he was a fan. He found time for us; he spoke to us, mingled with us and watched games with us on the away terrace on the odd occasion when he was out of the squad.

For reasons that I still struggle to understand, there were always questions over whether he would cut it in the Football League. Initially he found himself out of the team last season but quickly worked his way into it and scored his debut league goal in a 2-2 draw at Notts County. And that was Shaun all over – rising to the challenge, pushing his limits, improving his performances and proving that he was more than capable of stepping up to be a strong League Two central defender.

Which is why it was such a shock to see him released from the club last summer. It seemed he’d adjusted to league football, and with age still on his side – and a goal in the final game of the season – a renewed contract seemed to be going his way.

But last season was a ‘funny’ one at Grimsby, to put it politely, in which we had three different managers and used about two hundred players (most of them central midfielders). Russell Slade, who took over with eight games to go, clearly had other, more experienced, central defenders lined up in the summer, and so Shaun was made to wait until those targets had made up their minds.

He’d put everything on the line for us and the Grimsby Town board repaid him by effectively leaving his contract offer at the bottom of the pile, to be dealt with another day, making him feel fifth choice.

It’s absolutely no surprise that he started to look elsewhere. The only surprise is that his next move was to step down a division.

We’re now three months into the new season and I for one still cannot see how any of Shaun’s replacements at Grimsby can be seen as any improvement on Shaun himself. And I’m not just talking on the field; I’m talking off it too. Shaun’s true value to the club and community was grossly underestimated and underappreciated by the hierarchy in Cleethorpes, and we all hope that his loyalty is rewarded in much kinder fashion at a club that deserves to be back in the Football League.

And you have a much better chance of that happening with Shaun Pearson in your team.

Rich Lord @RichMariner