Walsall Winger Willie

It is the turn of Alan Buckley’s Three Striped Adidas Shirt to give us another nostalgia piece, this time on Willie Naughton, who despite never actually seeing him play was my favourite Walsall player when I was a child, purely on account of his saucy first name. ABTSAS says that we will never see a winger like Willie again but I do remember some excellent wing-play from John Hodge, which I have already written about in the article ‘The Best Performance You Never Saw’. Over to you ABTSAS….

Walsall fans in recent times have rightfully bemoaned the lack of a genuine winger at the club. One of my favourite wide men wasn’t always appreciated by the Saddlers supporters and was perceived as a bit of an enigma, but, on his day, he could turn on the art of wing-play and be a very effective match-winner with his service or finishing. When Alan Buckley signed 23 year-old Willie Naughton from Preston North End for £40,000 in March 1985 (yes, we used to actually pay transfer fees in those days!) he knew exactly what he was getting and the Scot enjoyed four or so years at Fellows park after leaving Deepdale, where he had scored 10 goals in 162 league games for the Lancashire club.

He arrived too late to help Walsall’s promotion push but soon settled in and enjoyed a superb first full season in 1985/86 which saw him make 45 starts in all competitions scoring eight goals and providing plenty of assists for the likes of David Kelly, Nicky Cross and his old Preston partner Stevie Elliott, as Saddlers banged in over 100 league goals. One game in particular stood out for Willie that season, he tormented his former club with his wing play and helped himself to a hat-trick as Walsall beat North End 7-3 in a FA Cup tie at Fellows Park. He also got Saddlers goal in a 1-1 draw with Wolves to further enhance his reputation as someone who could grab goals.

His following season, his first under new manager Tommy Coakley, wasn’t so good as he had a long spell out injured and that coupled with a loss of form saw him only make 20 league starts, however, 1987/88 turned out to be a good season for him and the team as Walsall finally climbed out of the Third Division. Naughton started 38 games and played in the five play-off games, with some useful goals thrown in, as well as providing excellent service for the likes of Trevor Christie and of course David Kelly. He was also one of the few players to personally have a good season in the Second Division season of 1988/89 figuring in 35 games and chipping in with seven goals. That summer however he was transferred to Shrewsbury and we thought that was the last we would see of him.

It was something of a surprise when Kenny Hibbitt signed him in early 1991 and he turned out a dozen times in the Fourth Division in this his second spell, this time at the Bescot. He was never really the same in this spell and it was no surprise when he and a lot of other players were released that summer. He later joined Bamber Bridge after his league career finished. Overall, Willie scored 24 goals in over 200 appearances for Walsall. I guess we will never see the likes of that type of winger again in our colours. He later successfully battled against testicular cancer and last we heard had settled in Nuneaton.


Managerial Changes Do Work (Sometimes)

Alan Buckley’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt is back again. Can you imagine Alex Ferguson taking over at Walsall a few months after he finishes with Manchester United? How about Roberto Mancini? Exactly. Never gonna happen. What is the chances of the manager of the Premier League winning team becoming Walsall manager two years later? It will never happen these days but it has happened in the past…..

With the subject of Dean Smith’s managerial future at Bescot coming under the spotlight following the recent lack of wins before the Wycombe game, it’s somewhat ironic that this time last season he was hailed as a hero as he began to steady the ship from the mess Chris Hutchings left behind! Unfortunately things haven’t gone as planned this season and often a change is needed, before it’s too late. One such successful switch came way back in the 1976-77 season. Walsall had just lost at home 0-3 to Northampton Town, which was the final straw for the board as Doug Fraser was sacked and in came the vastly experienced Dave Mackay, who had managed Derby County to become the Football League champions less than two years previously!

Mackay had enjoyed a splendid playing career, appearing in over 800 games at all levels and had enjoyed nine years at Tottenham Hotspur where he won several trophies and won 22 caps for Scotland. He had a short spell as player-manager at Swindon, then got the Nottingham Forest job before switching to Derby where he had that wonderful success. After a disappointing start to 1976-77 with the Rams, he lost his job, had four months off, then took over at Fellows Park. Such was his vast experience and know-how he halted the slide – we were in 21st position in Division Three with 23 points- when he took over. He soon drilled his players not to lose games and we became a lot tighter unit, producing five wins before the end of that campaign as Walsall finished that season in a respectable 15th.

Over that summer of 1977 Mackay released several players including fans favourites Nick Atthey and George Andrews and brought in a host of new players, mainly those who either played with him or for him, including the likes of Jimmy Robertson, Henry Newton, Tony Macken, Jeff King etc as Saddlers became a lot more professional in their play and 1977-8 saw Walsall playing some good football whilst remaining hard to beat with just nine league defeats all season. That season Walsall finished in 9th spot and it was hoped Dave Mackay would hang around for another season or two to get Saddlers up to Division Two.

However, in May 1978 he left these shores to start a career in the Middle East where over the next few years he was very successful with a few clubs in Saudi Arabia, in the sunshine and earning big contracts. He did return to English football several years later with stints at Doncaster and Birmingham. As for Walsall, the following season, 1978-79, the team were relegated as not only did they lose Mackay, the club sold its prized asset Alan Buckley to Blues for £175,000 and the club missing its manager and its ace goalscorer headed to soccer’s basement.

Frozen Pitches are Snow Good

It is always a happy moment when I receive an email from Alan Buckley’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt as not only do I love his articles it also saves me doing a bit of work. He not only writes the articles, he supplies the title as well, so I accept no responsibility for the pun on the word ‘snow’. However, I do agree with him that all these postponements, really are snow joke.

Do you see what I did there? No? Do you want me to explain? What’s that? You don’t care? Ok then, suit yourself, over to you AB3SAS…

So for the second successive Saturday Saddlers fans had to sit out a blank day due to postponed games, as winter finally sets in. Let’s hope this cold snap goes by next weekend. But however long this particular period of Saturday inactivity lasts it surely won’t be as long as the winter of 1962-3 when there was no action  in-between the games played on December 15th and March 2nd!  The Football League had to extend the season and we ended up having to play no less than eight games in  March and April and four in May to play catch-up, the last one being against Charlton Athletic on May 24th when Saddlers lost their League Two status.

Other periods of inactivity included a spell in the 1981-2 season when frozen pitches meant that we were without a league game from December 5th to January 16th. The only game which took place was the FA Cup game at London Road, Peterborough on January 2nd. That was a round two game which finally went ahead after five postponements. In recent times 2009-10 saw a few postponements as we failed to play from December 19th to January 16th.

On several occasions during our Fellows Park days the club would send out a SOS through the local newspapers to supporters to turn up with shovels on matchdays to try to clear the snow from the hallowed turf to attempt to get the game on with the lure of a free ticket to all of those who wished to volunteer their services. Some attempts were successful, some not. But it induced more of a community spirit and fans felt closer to the club in those carefree days of supporting the Saddlers. Here is a picture of the unsuccessful attempt from the morning of the Boxing Day game v. Huddersfield in 1981 to clear the pitch when an estimated 200 Saddlers fans disturbed their family Christmas celebrations to at least attempt to get the game on…..

Ian Roper – Walsall’s Unsung Hero

Tom Lines has written another great article about Walsall FC for When Saturday Comes, this time it is about Ian Roper. You can read it here:


I will add my own two’pennerth worth and state that his central defensive partnership with Matt Carbon is the best I have seen since I started supporting the Saddlers. Roper seemed to play his greatest football at the higher level and the essence of why he was so loved by the fans has been captured in this article.

Walsall ‘Til I Die

The month of February has been absolutely freezing and the postponement of last weeks game against Scunthorpe means that this is the month to spend time indoors quietly contemplating life and a time to refresh yourself of some happy memories following Walsall.

A couple of years ago there was a book released, titled Walsall ‘Til I Die (available in all good book shops) which captured some great stories about supporting Walsall. I contributed to this book myself, the PDF version is available here (turn to page 3). I would just like to share with you a little about the process about having it published.

When I submitted the story that got published, I also submitted another story called ‘Wait and See’, which was not printed. This is the reply I got from the Editor about my first story:

Would it be possible to add a few more details into the Sister Dora tale so that readers can feel you climbing up the statue and you in your drunken state imaging what she was thinking? I wonder if the Council would allow us to do a mock-up for a photograph to accompany your story. It’s actually a rather brilliant statue.

I will deal with this paragraph’s points separately.

1. Yes I can, sort of, and that is what I did. I added in a whole paragraph about what I was thinking when I was stood on the statue of Sister Dora rather than what she was thinking. I am not Kafka and lack imagination when it comes to that type of thing. The thoughts I did include were all false, I did not think those thoughts at all, but that is what they wanted so I added it in. Incidentally, I showed this story to an Editor of a local paper in London and this is the paragraph that he picked out as being the best, so maybe they were onto something after all.

2. The Council did not allow them to do a mock-up for the story. I am glad about this, it would have looked silly.

3. It is not a brilliant statue. I prefer the hippo. But to put a scarf around that would not have been much of a challenge.

In the story, you will find the word ‘strewth’. For the record, I did not write the word ‘strewth’, as I am not Australian, I actually wrote the phrase ‘bugger me!’ which evidently did not get through the censors.

The End.

Below, I have included my story that was rejected:

My first game watching the Saddlers we beat runaway leaders Reading 6- 0 at Fellows Park. I was nine years old. I thought it would be like this every week………. I was wrong.

From that day I kept an eye out for the results but only ever went to a few games. It was towards the end of Nicholl’s reign that I started to go regularly. It was Graydon’s second season in charge that made me realise that I am a Saddler through and through.

Everybody I knew said we would go down. I always said ‘wait and see’. I would go to my Granddad’s house on the Broadway before every home again and be told ‘they’ve no chance today’. When we did lose the first thing he would say to me was ‘I told you so’. I just kept replying ‘wait and see’.

It was a frustrating season. We conceded so many goals in the last-minute. A home defeat to Ipswich sticks in the mind. We created so many chances but still lost many games, Tranmere on Boxing Day a perfect example. My friends gave up hope and I went to many games on my own.

There were good times; sitting with the Wolves fans because I couldn’t get a ticket and almost imploding when we scored our second goal, wining at the Hawthorns 1 – 0 thanks to Andy Rammell and winning £135 on the correct score and scorer.

The moment that sums up my passion for Walsall that season was driving up the motorway to watch us play Huddersfield. I was driving too fast and ploughed into a car in front of me. My first reaction when I crashed? ‘Damn! I am going to miss the match!’

After losing to Brum at St. Andrews it was the first time throughout the season I knew we would be relegated. I walked back to my car with my Sister and drove home in total silence. When my Dad opened the front door I stopped him before he even spoke, ‘don’t say it. I know we lost’.

I went to Ipswich with little hope. We lost and all the way back on the supporters coach a man with terrible dandruff fell asleep on my shoulder. I walked back into my house and went straight to bed at 7pm.

The next day I spoke to my Granddad. He said ‘I told you they would get relegated and at this rate they will get relegated next season an’ all’. I replied ‘wait and see’.

I can see why it was rejected.

The 1966 Transfer Giveaway

Life has caught up with The Gilbert Alsop in the last couple of weeks. He has fallen in love and been burning the candle at both ends, which means he has had to cancel the trip to Scunthorpe tomorrow. Thank the Lord for ‘Alan Buckley’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt’ who has kept this blog in stories. This is another one from him and it shows us that us Walsall fans have been badly treated all our miserable, down-trodden lives and not just thanks to Jeff Bonser. Over to you, AB3SAS….

Saddlers fans in recent years have bemoaned the sale of their best young players like Scott Dann, Ant Gerrard, Danny Fox and Matty Fryatt but those of us from watching Walsall in the mid-sixties still recall and regret the sale of young striker Allan Clarke in March 1966 who was sold -or rather given away- to Fulham for a transfer fee of around £37,500.

As ever down their history, Walsall were strapped for cash and despite the lad from Willenhall banging in 46 goals in 82 games and showing such promise, it was inevitable that at some point he would be destined for bigger and better things but it was the size of the fee that was disappointing for the lad latter nicknamed ‘Sniffer’ by his Leeds United manager Don Revie, who went onto score a career total of 275 goals over a 17 year career including 10 goals in 19 games for England.

Spotted by wonder scout Ron Jukes, the lanky lad joined the Fellows Park staff from school in 1962 turning professional a year later. After a few games in 1963/64 he really came into his own the following season, scoring 23 league goals in 43 games including a hat trick against Reading. 1965/66 saw him bag 18 goals from 24 Division Three games- what a record that was- plus 4 in the FA Cup run which included the winner at Stoke, not forgetting the winner from the penalty spot against QPR in the League Cup which set up a mouth-watering clash with West Brom in the next round. His partnership with big George Kirby at Fellows Park was really something else as they delighted the home fans with their combination up front.

Two years from his Walsall exit, Allan Clarke was sold by Fulham to Leicester City for a £150,000 fee and following his appearance in the 1969 FA Cup final, he was snapped up by Leeds United for a fee reported to be £165,000. Both these moves were British transfer records for cash deals at the time which demonstrated just what a giveaway he was from Walsall. He won so many honours as a player at Leeds and was one of the country’s best marksmen in those days. After his playing days were over he managed a few clubs including a two year stint in the hot seat at Elland Road. He was linked with the Walsall job on a couple of occasions but his employment by Walsall FC was destined to be that short stint as a teenager at Fellows Park doing what he did best-sticking the ball in the back of the net. He was one of five footballing brothers from the Clarke household with Derek, Kelvin and Wayne also playing for The Saddlers. Just elder brother Frank slipped the net.