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.