The Greatest Saddler You Never Saw – Fabio Nigro

At the beginning of the 1996/97 Walsall played two pre-season friendlies against Aston Villa and Bromsgrove Rovers. We lost the Villa game but won the game against Bromsgrove. The results were not that important though as the most important factor to come out of these matches was that Walsall had a chance to sign the Argentinian midfield playmaker, Fabio Nigro.

When asked ‘who is the best Walsall player you have ever seen?’ my friend always answers ‘Fabio Nigro’, based purely on his performance against Aston Villa. I have been told that he looked a class apart from the rest of the Walsall team and simply ran the show against supposedly better opposition. Against Bromsgrove Fabio played even better apparently, as he scored ‘two stunning goals’, according to Andrew Poole in The Bescot Years, in front of a crowd of 602 people.

When he played those two games for us he was 30 years old and his class was obvious as his previous clubs had included Lazio, River Plate and Slovan Bratislava. Sadly, terms could not be agreed and Fabio went back to Argentina which meant most of The Gilbert Alsop never actually ever saw him play. As there is no video footage I can see of this man the myth that surrounds him will continue.

That is unless people can help me fill in the blanks. Does anyone remember these two displays from Fabio Nigro? If so, please comment below.

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Pedro Matias – Smooth Operator

The Gilbert Alsop has some very happy memories of this man as between October 1999 and November 2004 my viewing point on the aforementioned terrace was always slightly to the right of the goal and was perfect for watching Pedro’s interplay with Zigor and his accurate crosses into the box when the Saddlers were attacking in the second half of the game.

Pedro made his debut in the 1-0 victory over the Blues in a televised game. A game I can only remember for Walsall somehow managing to cling onto victory thanks to some awful finishing from the now Fulham striker Andrew Johnson. Pedro’s performances for the rest of the season do not stand out in the memory but this is compensated by the memories from the season after.

Zigor Aranalde arrived at left-back and from then on there was no holding Pedro back. The understanding between them was incredible and Pedro now not only had the skill but he also added goals to his game. Not just with his left foot either as he banged them in with his head and right foot as well. A hat-trick came against Wycombe in March but my favourite Pedro goal came against Cambridge on December 23rd where he raced free in the dying minutes to secure us the game. This game was also noticeable for the cameo appearance of Walsall legend David Preece (RIP) in Cambridge’s midfield.

After promotion was secured, thanks partly from two goals by Pedro against Stoke in the play-off semi-finals, Pedro continued to play well at the higher level. He didn’t score as many goals but played the majority of the season before being mainly used as a substitute the following season as Walsall secured survival in League Division 1. He hardly figured at all the season after and ended up on loan at Blackpool before being sold the following season to Kidderminster, perhaps a sign of how quickly his football talent declined.

Although I mostly remember his stunning form at home things away from home were different as it never really seemed to gel for him. I particularly remember a game against Bury in September 2000 when after being substituted he grabbed his drinks bottle and went to sit away from the bench and took time out to next to the advertising boards. Indeed, looking at his stats of 24 goals for the Saddlers there were less than a handful away from home.

During his time at the club Pedro’s hairline receded as his contribution to the Saddlers did. But as I was also losing my hair at a similar rate and although he was four years older than me, it was a great deal of comfort to know that even one of my heroes experienced suffering like I did. For that reason and for the amazing season of 2000/01 he will always be a hero of mine.

Viva Pedro!

The First Frenchman to Play League Football in England played for the Saddlers

Whilst idly looking through Wikipedia I came across this entry:

Eugène Langenove Wikepedia Page

Fascinating isn’t it? Is this a possible reason why we played Le Havre and Red Star Paris almost 80 years later in a pre-season tour? Are there any club historians out there that know of a special relationship between the Saddlers and these teams? Did anybody go on that tour to France in the summer of 1999. We also played Troyes as well and ended up losing all three games.

One of my biggest regrets as a Saddler is not going on this tour as I believe it might well be the only time we ever play in Europe. We didn’t just play against any old teams either we played against some very good opposistion. In 2001 Troyes won the Intertoto Cup and were in the top flight in 2005. Le Havre were in the top division in 2008 and Red Star Paris have previously been managed by Roger Lemerre (though not when the Saddlers were there) who won the European Cup when he was manager of France. A fine selection of opponents for the mighty Saddlers I think you will agree.

Anyway, back to the mysterious Frenchman Eugene. Further research has found this letter to When Saturday Comes:

Dear WSC
I know you guys are not too keen on pedantry, but I’ll have another go at humourlessly crashing your letters page. WSC 190 carries a review of the recently published book The French Revolution that begins with the words “Hard to believe”. Indeed. Whether it is book or reviewer, or both, claiming there was only one French player in top-level British football prior to Didier Six, he/they are seriously in error. There certainly weren’t many, true; but Six wasn’t even the first French international in the west midlands: step forward former Olympique de Paris defender Eugène Langenove at Walsall in 1922-23. On the other hand, M Crozier, the cross-Channel pioneer actually mentioned, didn’t get so much as a single first-team competitive game with Southern League Fulham. And don’t get me started on Brits in French football prior to the brief Hoddle/Waddle/Hateley exodus: there were some 60-odd former Football League players with French clubs within the first three years of them professionalising their league in 1932, and umpteen bona fide amateurs assisting their top clubs prior to that. Trust me, I can tell my Francophilia from my Frank O’Farrell.
Paul Taylor, via email

I know our previous General Manager, Paul Taylor had a lot of connections abroad but surely he wasn’t responsible for bringing this man over in a past life.

Chambers Wins Goal of the Week in The Guardian

Chambers wins Goal of the Week in The Guardian

After that he went from winner to sinner as he got sent off in our 3-0 defeat against Middlesbrough in the League Cup. So much for a cup run!

Here at The Gilbert Alsop we don’t normally bother with match previews, news or reports on the match unless it is an ‘in-depth tactical analysis’, we leave that to the official site or UpTheSaddlers.

However if anyone sees anything interesting in the national papers then please send me an email at thegilbertalsop@hotmail.com and I may well publish it here.

I sat through the 90 minute video of our 2000/2001 promotion video this week and what wonderful memories it brought back. The goals from Pedro and Jorge in particular stood out for me. Expect an article on Pedro Matias soon….

Walsall 1 Leyton Orient 0 – In-depth Tactical Analysis

I start this article with an apology. If I was to call the following an in-depth tactical analysis then I could be sued under the Trades Description Act. I didn’t manage to get to the ground until a minute before the game and the only seat available was 3 seats back in The Gilbert Alsop (lower) which did not afford me a great view of the game. I also had quite a bit to drink before the game, which meant frequent trips to the toilet, causing me to miss Adam Chambers’ goal. I have subsequently seen the goal on the BBC and what a corker it was.

With all that to one side, here goes:

Walsall started off the season in a basic 4-4-2 with Taundry in the enforcer role in midfield. In the first half Gnapka got a lot of the ball and ran at the Orient defence causing them all sorts of trouble with Macken and Grigg also linking up well together up front. Taundry and Chambers controlled the midfield which allowed Butler to push up further from the back into midfield at times. Hurst was anonymous throughout the entire game. The two full-backs were able to push forward but the quality of the crossing into the box was abysmal. Walker had nothing to do at all in the first-half as we deservedly went into the break leading.

The second half was a different story however as Gnapka completely disappeared from the game because his supply line was cut off. This meant Walsall sat back further and further and two banks of four on the edge of the 18 yard box allowed Leyton Orient full control of possession and invited pressure onto us. However, Walsall coped very well with this pressure and reduced Orient to two decent chances as Walker pulled off good saves, which for him were relatively comfortable.

We had a few opportunities on the counter-attack but Hurst delayed his passes too long and the substitute Jarvis failed to combine effectively with anyone which meant we gave possession back to Orient. Butler was the sponsors man of the match and I will not disagree with that at all although I did think Taundry played well and looked a lot better in the middle of the park and was very effective in the first-half.

On the train back to Birmingham I sat next to some Orient fans who were unhappy with not getting a draw, amazed at Walker’s saves and disappointed that they had let Chambers go although they did say that he never scored a goal like that when he played for them.

There is one tactic that I did notice almost worked today. When we had a corner Butler hung back looking completely uninterested then made a run from near the halfway line just as the corner-kick taker delivered a flat ball towards the edge of the box for Butler, unmarked, to head at goal. This worked the one time it was tried today but Butler could only get a looping header on target which the keeper saved comfortably. This is something to look out for in the rest of the season.

More ‘in-depth’ tactical analysis to come throughout the season. If anyone wants to do this for the next few games then drop me an email at thegilbertalsop@hotmail.co.uk and I will include it on this site. Try to be positive and avoid any major criticsm of individuals.

All Aboard the Football Special

Walsall to Lichfield Railway

The link above shows you one of the last runnings of the train from Walsall to Lichfield, which passed through the most beautiful village in the West Midlands; Pelsall.

This video got me thinking as I remember reading that the last passenger train service to pass through Pelsall Station was the football special taking Walsall fans up to Rotherham to watch the Milk Cup Quarter-Final in 1983 or 1984 (I haven’t got the exact date to hand).

Were any of you guys on this train? Do you have any memories of awaydays on football specials? If so send me an email at thegilbertalsop@hotmail.co.uk and I will print all the best stories or if you prefer, just post a few comments below.

Bring back the railway in Pelsall! Someone should start a campaign.

Predictions for the Season

In all honesty I haven’t got a bloody clue. It is complete guesswork on my part but I think we will finish 11th this season. I am basing that prediction on the spirit that Dean Smith brought into the club when he took over as Manager and the way he turned the results around to save us from near certain relegation.

We did only stay up because Plymouth were docked 10 points and we have lost two good players in Matt Richards and Julian Gray so that has stopped me from getting too carried away and predicting promotion.

It is always difficult to tell how the new players will perform simply because we as fans are not exposed to them every week as we are the players in the Premiership. The biggest summer signings were players we are already familiar with; Andy Butler and Jimmy Walker. Butler’s spirit is something I have not seen in a Walsall player since the days of Adrian Viveash and Walker really is one of the reasons the atmosphere at the club was lifted at the end of the season.

I do have a plea for Dean Smith: Please take all the cup competitions seriously. I want us still to be in a cup competition in January 2012 and to make it all the way to Wembley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. We haven’t had a decent cup run since we beat Charlton in the FA Cup when Colin Lee was the boss, so a first trip to Wembley will definitely make you a Walsall legend Mr. Smith.

 

Paul Hall has got a Massive Head

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zR1F7RzFdGI

For anyone who has missed this. Above is a link to our ex right-winger (hopefully in a non-political sense) Paul Hall’s new song with the band Sko Senorita.

It is not up to The Glbert Alsop to pass judgement on this effort as that is entirely up to you, the reader, so why not grab yourself an alcoholic drink, sit on your terrace and listen to Mr. Hall’s dulcet tones serenade you this summer. After all he had to listen to us serenade him from The Gilbert Alsop terrace week after week, with the delightful song ‘Paul Hall has got a Massive Head’. A song I believe should have been more accurately titled ‘Paul Hall has got a head that is a slightly larger size than average but he should not be reduced for this’.

 

It’s Walsall not Warsaw!

Living in London is not without its pitfalls. The one that annoys me the most is constantly being referred to as a ‘Brummie’. Not that I dislike people from Birmingham of course, this blog preaches loving thy neighbour after all, it is just that I am simply not from there.

When I explain I am from Walsall. I am more often than not greeted with the words ‘that’s in Poland, mate’. One guy did actually believe I was Polish when I told him this despite my obvious Black Country accent. The fact that Soccer AM never refer to Walsall by its proper name but choose to refer to it as ‘Warsaw’ is something I find really annoying.

I believe that everybody in the UK should be familiar with the town of Walsall and if Soccer AM continually refer to us by that ugly moniker then when will the people of Walsall be able to speak with pride when asked where they are from? I tell you, they will never ever be able to do this. That is why I am starting a campaign for Soccer AM to drop the ‘Warsaw’ and bring on the Walsall. I am going every inch of the bloody way with this one. Who is with me? Who is with me!

Vote now.