It is two years on from Lee Shaw’s move to Chesterfield, with the Grantham Town goal machine becoming a professional footballer for the first time with the Spireites. In a dream scenario, he would have helped spearhead an instant return to the EFL for a club that are the archetypal ‘fish out of water’ in non-league. It transpired somewhat differently, and Town were ultimately relieved to be as high as the National League when the book was finally closed on a 2019/20 like no other for the game. For Shaw, the 26-year-old departed this summer after no lack of endeavour, but more time spent out of position and even out of the club than he could have surely envisaged back in 2018.
The Grantham native, though, was firmly among the most lethal strikers in the upper reaches of non-league just a couple of years ago, and it is Alfreton Town who have recently secured his services for 2020/21. As the uncertainty lingers around the game, Shaw has high hopes that there will ultimately be a season to savour with the Reds. A shoulder injury has him sidelined for the time being, but he is a player raring for the chance to show his scoring credentials once again.
To start with, what swung it for you, joining Alfreton?
I did have a bit of interest during the lockdown. I was still in two minds about what to do and I spoke to the Alfreton manager Billy Heath a few times. A few of my mates who play for different teams have had him before and they say he’s the best manager that they’ve played under. That made my mind up in itself. I’m really enjoying it, to be fair, apart from dislocating my shoulder now! We look like we’ve got a good team.
Leading up to leaving Chesterfield, what had the conversations been with John Pemberton, because did he want to bring you back to the club last season when you were on loan with Guiseley?
I read bits on the Internet about it but he never contacted me himself about it. I thought I would have been given another chance, because I got played out of position a lot when I was there, but I don’t mind as long as I’m playing. I got on really well with Pembo, because he was in charge my first year when Martin Allen got sacked, and I played every game under him. So when he took over again, I thought I might get another chance at it. He did ring me during lockdown to let me know that the board basically don’t want me there; he let me know early. I think they’re cutting down a lot of people’s wages, so I knew I had to go and look elsewhere.
Last season with Guiseley, apart from the dislocated shoulder, did you enjoy the experience overall?
Yeah, it was really good. (Joint-manager) Russ O’Neill at Guiseley, he wanted me the year I signed at Chesterfield, so when they wanted me on loan I went straight away. He played me as a striker and I really enjoyed it. I was close to going back there again this year; it was definitely one of my options. Obviously I dislocated my shoulder, and it took it all out of me, so I couldn’t get going again.
Before you joined Guiseley, how was it put to you from John Sheridan at Chesterfield? Did he leave the door open to fighting for your place?
He just literally sat me down and said basically ‘you’re gonna be fourth-choice striker, Guiseley have come in for you to go on loan, it’d be good for you to go out and get minutes’ and all that. He’s saying I’m fourth-choice striker but I wasn’t actually playing as a striker, so it was a bit of a funny one really. I knew going into last season that I wasn’t gonna be a part of his plans, because I could just tell from the season before; he was leaving me out all the time. When I was at Guiseley, I was meant to be going into training with Chesterfield, so I was going in at the start. He’d do 11 v 11 on the pitch, so the starting 11 he’s having for the game, against the lads who are gonna be on the bench and a few of the youth team, and I was there and he made me sit out and watch. So I didn’t bother showing my face all season; I didn’t go in, he didn’t contact me, I didn’t contact him. Obviously didn’t like me for some reason or another, I’m not really sure. Different managers and different opinions, different ways of playing.
— Chesterfield FC (@ChesterfieldFC) January 1, 2019
In contrast to that, what about the time when you’ve felt on top of your game, everything’s going well, dressing room’s great etc. – would Grantham be your happiest in that sense?
Yeah, definitely Grantham. I was there for three years under the manager Adam Stevens, he was there the whole time I was there. The first season I didn’t score that many, but the second I scored 28, and then the third I scored 33. Yeah, I really enjoyed it there with Stevo, straight away.
Why did it work so well, was it the encouragement you were given, was it the service you got from teammates? What in particular seemed to make it work?
Encouragement and definitely service as well. There were a few of the lads in the team that just knew how I played straight away. They’d put the ball down the side, over the top, and I’d go running through, so that’s how I got most of my goals, to be fair. The manager always encouraged me. He very rarely got on my case or anything like that. I was going into matches knowing I was gonna score.
Since last season first came to a halt in March, what did those months that followed and lockdown mean for you? Besides keeping fit, were there jobs needing to be done around the house?!
No, no jobs! I was just keeping fit. I was running ten miles every other day, I got a bike and I was biking about 30 miles as well. Just trying to keep on top of things because obviously no one knew when the season was going to start again, or if it even was. I knew I wasn’t gonna be at Chesterfield either way, so I just had to get on with it. I knew I’d have some sort of interest; I didn’t know what level. A big thanks to DRN for looking after me and helping me get sorted, especially Kiko Rodríguez, who has been brilliant with me the last few months.
Whereabouts did you grow up and who was your team?
I’m from Grantham, I’ve been here all my life. My family all follow Peterborough, so I grew up going to watch them, and Peterborough’s still the team I follow now really.
Before joining Chesterfield, you were with Lincoln City on trial. Was it the two-year deal with Chesterfield that sealed it? Were Lincoln wanting a longer look at you, or just offering one year?
With Lincoln, I went to Spain with them, and it was really good. They were up for signing me, but they would have loaned me out somewhere, National League North, and it would only have been a six-month contract as well. Then Martin Allen rang me out of the blue, and he was offering a two-year deal with Chesterfield, so it was something I couldn’t turn down. I had to take that, because I wanted to be a professional footballer; I’d been working since I was 18/19. It was nice to get that chance.
What were your experiences of Martin Allen once you met him and started working with him?
He’s…one of a kind! It was a bit surreal going in there, meeting face to face and getting the contract signed. One of the nicest blokes you’ll ever meet; he’s all about your family, he was inviting my kids, my missus into the office for a chat, really caring. I was quite gutted when he got sacked.
On that prolonged run where the results weren’t happening, was he trying different things in training, any team bonding or things like that?
He did do different things in training, but he was changing his starting 11 every game, without fail. Even if we won a game I think he’d change it the week after. I’ve never really known that before. I think we drew 13 games in a row and he was changing his starting 11 week in, week out, so you never really knew if you were playing.
What do you now know that you didn’t two years ago, having been exposed to that higher-level environment, a bigger club etc.?
Yeah, my game is to run around a lot and work hard up front, but you’ve got to just sort of channel your running. Martin Allen taught me to just run at certain times, because if you run around like an idiot, then they’re just gonna pass it around you. To always show one side to centre-halves when you’re closing them down as well, to keep them on the sides.
Any teammates in your time in football so far who stand out for the connection and understanding you felt with them on the pitch?
One of them was at Grantham, a lad called Danny Meadows. He’s at Newark Flowserve now. He played right-wing, he just used to get the ball, look up, and I’d have made a run, and he’d just put me in on goal every time. Or even the goal-kicks, the keeper would kick it, aim for him and he’d just head it on and I was in. He must have got no end of assists that season.
— Grantham Town FC (@granthamtownfc) July 16, 2018
What about standout characters, who springs to mind?
Sam Wedgbury. Yeah, he’s something else, he is! He got injured the second or third game in (at Chesterfield), and still he was coming in happy as anything. Even when we were going through a bad time with results, he was an absolute clown, he got everyone going in training. He was a great guy to be around. I still talk to him now.
Have you ever had to sing when you’ve joined a team?
I’ve never had to do it yet.
Did you have to do anything similar, though, when you went to Chesterfield?
Yeah, I went in, I think it was a week day, and the lads were upstairs eating their dinner before a match. We had dinner and Martin Allen said ‘everyone gather round,’ and he put some chairs in like a semi-circle. I thought ‘oh God, what’s this?’ He was like ‘Lee, come and sit in the middle.’ It was like a question and answer; everyone had to ask me a question about myself. Some questions were alright, some were a bit…you know! I had to try and answer them as best as I could, and I’d only just met all the lads, so it was a bit awkward, but I’d rather have done that than sing.
Did every new signing that summer have to do that, or just you?!
That was sort of his thing; any new player that came in, we used to do that when we’d stay overnight on the Friday, in the hotel. We’d have dinner, then the new signings would be at the front. Some questions were obviously not appropriate at all that people were getting asked!
Away from the game, what other interests do you have?
My kids, that’s about it! Go to the gym when I can, football, family time, that’s literally all I do.
Finally, what is your overall outlook as we speak now? Does it feel like wanting to get back out there and prove a point?
I definitely wanna go and prove a point. I know what I can do, and not getting a proper chance at Chesterfield, it makes me even more determined to show what I can do now. Obviously I’ve got to get my shoulder right first and build up some strength in it, but I’ve been at Alfreton about a month and I was loving it. It’s set me back another month, I think, but I’m looking forward to it. I think it’ll be a good season, definitely.
Interview by @chris_brookes