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This is the End, My Only Friend

I hope you all heard Walsall’s mention on Sky Sports after Chelsea qualified for the Champions League Final. We don’t get many mentions on TV and we will take anything we can get, even if it was a disparaging remark. Anyway, I digress.

Saturday sees the end of our home campaign for another season as ‘Fortress Bescot’ closes its doors, leaving them slightly ajar for the final of the Walsall Senior Cup, until the normal batch of dull, repetitive, pre-season friendlies begin. Alan Buckley’s Three Striped Adidas Shirt has been thinking about his holidays and also reminiscing about previous end of season classics down the Bescot….

So once again Walsall have something to play for going into the last home game of the season at the Bescot… a win!  For the second successive season Saddlers fans have been left dangling not knowing if their season is safe or not before they take a well-earned summer’s rest and the torment starts all over again, having to travel to MK Dons for the final game of the season. There have been some interesting last home games since Walsall have been at their current home along with some meaningless ones when there has been nothing at stake. There were unusual happenings at the end of the 2009-10 season when fans made their protests against the owner and the way the club is run in the game against MK Dons which included a peaceful after-match demo by about 250 fans in the Gilbert Alsop Lower.

The next previous last home game of any noteworthy mention was in 2006-07 when the only goal of the game scored by Ishy Demontagnac against Wrexham ensured Walsall stayed on the top of the table going into the final game at Swindon. The most disappointing outcome of a last home game which was also the final game of the season has to be what occurred in 2003-04 against Rotherham United. This was a Sunday game which was the last round of games at the level now known as The Championship. Walsall had to win this vital game and hope that our friends from Stoke would beat Gillingham. Walsall did their bit with a 3-2 win against The Millers only for The Gills to hang on for a draw which meant that Walsall were cruelly relegated by the difference of one measly goal.

There was a much happier occasion however in the final home game of that magical 1998-9 season against Kevin Keegan’s Fulham. Walsall had secured promotion to the second tier of English football the previous Saturday so this Tuesday night game was an evening of celebration. Keegan had publicly noted the marvellous achievement of  Ray Graydon and said he would be giving his Manager of the Year award to Ray has he deserved it more than him. After the game there was a presentation of the runners-up trophy. Walsall played their part in a 2-2 draw.

Thanks ABTSAS. I will add a little bit to this. The game against Rotherham saw us break our home attendance record as we amassed a whopping crowd of 11,049 to see us get relegated. It was a brilliant game though, full of drama, as Merson had one of the best games I have seen anyone have at the Bescot (the best was Freddie Kanoute for West Ham in the FA Cup – don’t write in to disagree, that is a FACT). Paul Ritchie getting a last-minute winner and Keith Andrews making a last-ditch tackle on Martin Butler, when he was clean through, are the standout memories from that game. You can read more about it here: Walsall v Rotherham Match Report

I was also there when we paraded the shiny silver salver for being runners-up to Fulham. Pelsall born Steve Hayward responded to the jeers he got all game (because he broke Stuart Ryder’s leg in a reverse team game) with a storming equaliser. You can watch more here: Walsall v Fulham. Look out for minute 1.09 when Jason Brissett takes a tumble and this moment becomes officially the third funniest moment EVER at the Bescot (behind, number 1. Martin O’Connor falling off a stretcher and number 2. Commando Swifty taking on and beating 10 Royal Marines in arm- to- wing combat during the half-time interval of a game I cannot remember. Again, don’t write in, this is FACT).

Super George’s Day

April 23rd is, of course, Saint George’s Day. We were told as kids of George slaying a dragon – a no doubt fictitious tale. Well 23rd April 2012 is the 70th birthday of Walsall goalscoring hero George Andrews, whose claim to fame occurred on Saturday 25th January 1975, when he slayed Newcastle United with a trademark header in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup at Fellows Park.

George had arrived at Walsall from Shrewsbury Town two years previously, in a swap deal which saw winger Geoff Morris switch to the Gay Meadow. After starting his career with Luton Town and Cardiff City, he made his name at Southport where he scored 40 goals in two seasons. After four years at Haig Avenue he spent a similar period at Shrewsbury where the goals continued and he had a reputation for being a fine header of the ball.

At Fellows Park he partnered Alan Buckley and made many goals for the little striker with his unselfish play and never gave less than 100% with his whole-hearted displays. Walsall had defeated the then Second Division Manchester United 3-2 in a replay in that 74-5 cup run. The Newcastle match was in doubt due to heavy overnight rain and only passed a lunchtime inspection. The Magpies were 13th in the First Division whilst The Saddlers were 11th in the Third Division. In the 34th minute of the game Walsall were awarded a free kick, taken by Roger Fry. George rose majestically to plant a firm header into the Laundry End net.

19,998 witnessed the shock 1-0 Saddlers win and George Andrews, somewhat reluctantly, made all the headlines. However he was a very private individual who wanted no fuss and attention and shunned interviews with the local and national papers. He was by now 32 years of age but had looked after himself and went on to enjoy two more good years at Fellows Park in which he netted 38 goals in 177 games. His career saw him score 150 goals in 443 appearances. A proper Black Country lad, born and bred in Dudley, he played for a host of non-league clubs up to his late 40’s and was still playing in charity matches in his 50’s.

He was affectionately known as ‘Super George’ by Saddlers fans but he was a bit of a saint as well.

Exeter City v Walsall In-depth Tactical Analysis

It is difficult to do this as I was stood that far away and at pitch-level for five of the six goals, the disallowed goal and the second booking that led to the sending off. But I will give it a go anyway….

Walsall, usual personnel and formation. Looked steady in the first half, soaking up the pressure and limited to Exeter to a free-kick on the edge of the area after Manny’s mistake  had seen him get booked. We scored on the counter-attack and a good goal it was too as Nicholls finished coolly after a one-two with Ledesma (I think). EDIT – it was Macken, after great work by Mantom.

But before that all happened. After 15 minutes, someone had a shot, who I thought was Nicholls but could have been Flo or Mackem and it was such a weak shot that I didn’t give it a second glance but then it appeared to hit the post, roll across the line and hit the other post (I think). Apparently not though. It went in. The ball hit the back of the net (so I have read). EDIT – BBC did not show this for some reason so I am none the wiser.

At the start of the second half Exeter scored from a rebound after a Grof save. From a distance it looked as though Grof could have done better, but as I said, I was that far away. The next fifteen minutes saw us playing like Brazil as Flo and Ledesma danced round the Exeter defence. This reached its peak with Flo’s superb goal after a sparkling move and great work from Ledesma. We created loads more chances but did not score. Then…

Manny got sent off. He had looked a bit ropy all game as he got caught out a few times from long balls over the top. At many times there were big gaps between him and Taundry, and he got turned inside out for Exeter’s equaliser. I thought he deserved to walk but I was watching from what may as well have been the car park. EDIT – it was a very harsh second yellow. After that we collapsed, conceding 3 goals, with the equaliser a lovely chipped effort from Alan Gow.

We were awful when we were down to ten men. Taundry got caught way out of position for their third goal and for the fourth Exeter were all queueing up to score.

Where was the defence that had been so good all season? We missed Beevers and I don’t think there was much protection from midfield. Mantom had a quiet game apart from his involvement in the first goal. Macken was even quieter after the first goal. Flo was MOTM. We will miss him for the last game of the season against MK Dons.

I will take my binoculars if we play this lost next season.

Double Trouble for Walsall

I love my stats I do. Back when I lived in Walsall I used to be regularly met with chants of ‘Statto, Statto’ as I stepped outside the house in my Harry Potter glasses, checked brown dressing-gown and matching pyjamas, to get my pint of milk. This is why I was so happy to receive this post from Alan Buckley’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt…..

Due to Walsall’s high number of drawn games this season, the club has failed to do something they have done since the 1970’s – to do the ‘double’ over any team in the league in a season. And this won’t be possible in the remaining fixtures either. Amazingly you have to go back to the 1976-77 season to discover the last time that Saddlers failed to win a game home and away against the same opposition.

In 2010-11 Walsall started their travels with a surprise 2-1 win at Brentford with Jimmy Walker making his 500th appearance in the return 3-2 success at Bescot later in the season. There were further doubles against Charlton and Carlisle. Even in relegation seasons Walsall have usually managed at least one such double. 2005-06 saw Walsall twice dispose of Rotherham and Gillingham. In 1999-2000 under ‘Sir Ray’ Walsall restored some pride with a 2-1 success at Bescot and 1-0 victory at The Hawthorns over West Bromwich Albion. 

In the final season at Fellows Park there was a double over Mansfield Town as sorry Saddlers slipped into the Fourth Division. 1978-79 was a similar relegation season but not before the team had secured a 4-1 win over Peterborough United on home soil and a splendid 3-0 win at London Road. 1988-89 was the season of the unwanted record of 15 successive league defeats. That remarkable run which cost Tommy Coakley his job was broken by a terrific hat-trick from Stuart Rimmer at Roker Park  in a 3-0 win over Sunderland after Walsall had upset the team from the North East in a 2-0 win at Fellows Park.

 

The Great Gilbert Alsop Remembered – 20 Years On

When I was thinking of a name for this blog, I pondered many names before settling on The Gilbert Alsop, which was named after the terrace I used to stand on, back in the day. I knew very little about the man himself but Alan Buckley’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt has filled me in with some more knowledge…

16th April 2012 is the 20th anniversary of the death of the legend that will always be…Gilbert Alsop. I never saw him play but I did speak to the great man on several occasions in the enclosure at the old Fellows Park and he was always very supportive of the club and the players. I can see him now, with his cheerful face and hear his strong Bristolian accent as he gave his views on the beautiful game, which he clearly loved long after his playing days, had ended. Current fans may have read of his 169 goals from 222 games (what a record!) but perhaps  wouldn’t have known that for a further 20 years after he hung up his boots, he worked behind the scenes for Walsall Football Club doing a variety of tasks including Groundsman, odd-job man and a bit of coaching as well. He later even had a spell as a Groundsman at the playing fields next to the Arboretum. In 1989 the club came up with the idea of reproducing the famous 1933 FA Cup programme and Gilbert, the man who scored one of the goals in the 2-0 victory over Arsenal, signed each one which sold at £3.50 each to swell the club’s coffers. His last public appearance at Fellows Park was in the final game staged there when he and a few dozen other players from down the decades were paraded on the pitch.

Following the move to Bescot Stadium in 1990, there was surprise for the Saddlers hero when the club decided to name the home terrace after him. On his first visit Gilbert remarked, “I think it’s lovely. I hope the team do well and this is a new beginning for them. But I must admit I was surprised when they told me they were naming a stand after me.” For many years, supporters grew up on The Gilbert Alsop terrace and enjoyed standing in their favourite spots often jam packed for big cup games or when the team were doing well. It was a crying shame when that end was rebuilt, with the standing spaces gone and with it the name of Gilbert Alsop as the club went down the commercial route choosing for it to be renamed by various sponsors. I have never sold out to this idea myself… I still refer to is as The Gilbert Alsop. Gilbert was 83 when he passed away in 1992 and was laid to rest at Streetly. Gone…but never forgotten.

Charlton Athletic v Walsall In- depth Tactical Analysis

What a difference a midfield makes. This was my first game since we signed the golden triangle of Mantom, Cuvelier and Ledesma and they really have had a positive impact. I know we lost but at times today we really did look the better team against a club that are sitting pretty at the top of the league.

We were very solid at the back with Smith and Butler looking very comfortable. The only disappointment was that their goal came from a set piece as it looked like N’Guessan was allowed a free header from six yards out. I will have to check that later on TV but it all looked so easy for them to score. We were hardly troubled otherwise.

It was in midfield where we excelled. Cuvelier ran the show, always ready for a pass and to move the team forward. Like a lower league Paul Scholes he made everything look easy. There was none of the old passing it back to the two centre halves and asking them to launch the attack that Chambers, Taundry and Peterlin specialise in. Mantom impressed me as well, although not as spectacular as Cuvelier he does a very good job defending in front of the back-four and not just sticking to that job either as he got forward at times too. Nicholls did well, especially in the first 30 minutes which included one rasping shot and then almost setting up Macken to score after a great run. He linked up especially well with Ledesma. Hurst was functional as he protected Sadler on the left but offered no flair going forward.

Just in front of the midfield was Ledesma. This man is pure flair. One turn late on in the game took out two Charlton players and left them both flat on their backs. He looked the most creative player on the pitch, everything that was good about Walsall today came through this man. He really is something special for this level. If Cuvelier was Scholes today then Ledesma was Cantona.

Macken lead the line well and did the basics but he seemed immobile compared to Cuvelier and Ledesma. This was summed up in one moment in the first half when Nicholls beat his man and sent in a great cross that Macken just did not have the speed to be able to reach. The subs had little impact at all.

For all the good play, we did lose and there were not a lot of good chances created however, we were playing against a team that will win the league. What is important is that we have a midfield now and we will survive with this midfield, there is no doubt in my mind. As for next season…..

Saddlers All Drawn Out

Another day another draw, I thought to myself at 5pm on Saturday. Surely we must have broken some sort of record. Alan Buckley’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt has this to say…..
 

When skipper Andy Butler sent his towering, looping header into the back of the net deep into injury time at Spotland last Saturday, he helped us to break a new club record. The 3-3 draw was Walsall’s 19 of the season, thus becoming the most drawn games Saddlers have recorded in a season, beating the 18 they managed in 1979-80. That season was Walsall’s first under player/manager Alan Buckley and the18 draws, along with the 23 wins, ensured promotion as runners up to Huddersfield.

Ths season, of course, it could be said that Dean Smith’s men have become hard to beat but some of these draws really should have been converted to wins as Walsall have tossed away the lead on so many occasions. It remains to be seen if Butler’s last-gasp goal will save his team from the trap-door. Meanwhile, should Walsall draw 5 of their remaining 6 games, they will have created a new football league record for any club as the record of 23 drawn games in a season is jointly held by Norwich, Hartlepool, Cardiff and Exeter.