Shrewsbury v Liverpool: 'I don't class this as work', says Daniel Udoh on Sunday's FA Cup tie
There comes a point in the lives of most young footballers when they think they're not going to make it.
A lot don't. But, for Shrewsbury Town striker Daniel Udoh, that low moment came six years ago when he was down in the ninth tier of English football in Hertfordshire at non-league Hoddesdon Town.
This Sunday, he could be lining up against reigning European and world club champions Liverpool.
And, whether or not the Premier League leaders will be anywhere near full strength for the FA Cup fourth-round tie, 23-year-old Udoh "needs no motivation".
"From Hoddesdon Town six years ago to playing Liverpool now, I just thank God for everything," he said.
"I always wanted to play at as high a level as possible but there was a period when I struggled and thought maybe it wasn't for me. But I felt I had to prove to myself that I can play.
"There's always something that drives you on in life. I'm just lucky it's football which does it for me. I don't call it a job. You don't class this as work."
Nigeria-born Udoh began his footballing life with Luton Town as a boy and went from the Stevenage academy into non-league at Grays Athletic and Worcester City, before his least lofty point in English football's pyramid - half a season at Hoddesdon, in 2014-15.
"It was a bit of a funny season," recalls long-serving club committee member Colin Sinden. "We had four managers, used 85 players and had 29 different goalscorers. And he was one of them. Seven in 11 games."
A successful season at Ilkeston earned him an opportunity with Crewe, but he spent most of his time with the Alex out on loan back in non-league before being released in 2018.
Then, after finding his feet again last season at sixth-tier level with AFC Telford, netting 26 goals to end up as top scorer, Shrewsbury brought him in from their National League North neighbours last summer.
It is a third chance for Udoh to make it in league football. And, after the thrill of coming off the bench to score a late winner just 10 minutes into his debut at Accrington in August, he has acclimatised to League One level.
"There's no pressure for me," he said. "I don't need any motivation for this. What I've got now, it's all by God's hand."
The boyhood Liverpool fans
Sunday's tie is particularly exciting for several Liverpool fans within the Town dressing room, led by manager Sam Ricketts.
Ricketts, son of former world champion show jumper Derek Ricketts and nephew of champion jump jockey John Francome, admitted: "I was a Liverpool fan but I only really supported them as a mate of mine did. I was more interested in horses then."
But, for Merseyside-born Shaun Whalley, who has become the club's longest-serving player since joining from Luton in 2015, this is a dream.
"All my family are Liverpool fans," he said. "My mates are season-ticket holders and I was at the Champions League final in Istanbul in 2005.
"This is brilliant for me, especially having got to the age of 32 and thinking you're never going to play against them."
It also caps a remarkable turn of events for former Liverpool junior Sam Hart, who is eligible to play against them after signing on loan from Blackburn Rovers just a week ago.
"The first thing the gaffer [Tony Mowbray] mentioned when he told me Shrewsbury wanted me was that I'd be able 'to catch up with a few old mates'," he grinned.
He played just once for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, but he has not forgotten it, getting flown out by private jet for a pre-season friendly in Germany.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," he said. "And then getting the call from Jurgen saying I was coming on.
"Having grown up there, to put a shirt on and play against them would be special."
And they've met before...
Shrewsbury and Liverpool have met just once before, 24 years ago also in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The game, at the old Gay Meadow, got postponed twice - first because of snow, then a waterlogged pitch - and did not get played until fifth-round weekend, when Liverpool enjoyed a 4-0 Sunday stroll.
But, just four days earlier, Liverpool had suffered the loss of Anfield great Bob Paisley - who was one of the most successful managers English football has ever known, winning six league titles and three European Cups in nine years as Liverpool boss.
"There was a minute's silence in the centre circle," recalled Paul Edwards, Town's goalkeeper that day - a lifelong Reds fan and one of several Liverpudlians in that team.
"There I was, against the team I'd followed since I was a lad, stood 20 yards away from my heroes," he told BBC Radio Shropshire. "In the background, I could see the Liverpool supporters, of which I counted myself as one. And when they played 'You'll Never Walk Alone' over the tannoy, that was me gone.
"Then they kicked off, John Barnes passed to Steve McManaman, who dribbled past five players, whistled one just past the post and I thought to myself: 'This could be a long day.'"
That Liverpool team of 1996 went on to reach the final, becoming immortalised as the Spice Boys after walking the Wembley turf in white suits before the game, then losing 1-0 to Eric Cantona's stunning late volley in a poor game against Manchester United.
With Liverpool eyeing a first league title since 1990, the Reds are expected to field a second-string side, as they did in the third-round win over Everton, which Edwards hopes will provide Shrewsbury with an opportunity.
"Whoever walks out there in a red shirt, Liverpool are still an institution. It's still a memorable occasion," he added. "It's a chance to put some pressure on, get a draw at the very least and then take them back to Anfield."