Cruel, Cruel, Summer for the Saddlers

The summer has finally arrived and as I sit in the park thinking about my holidays and drinking myself silly with two litres of Happy Shopper cherryade, Alan Buckley’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt’s mind is still focused on football and the cold hard loss of relegation….

Walsall FC were involved in a cruel last day relegation decider at the back end of the 1962-3 season. The home game  to Charlton Athletic on Tuesday May 21st was of great importance to both sides. Walsall only had to draw to keep their Second Division status, Charlton needed to win. At half time everything was on track. Walsall were the better team going in at 0-0 with the visitors posing no threat. Then came a terrific outburst of heavy rain, so fierce that the game had to be abandoned during the ten minute interval. Nearly 19,000 disappointed and soaked to the skin supporters having to go home.

The game was quickly re-arranged for Friday May 24th. Walsall’s bad luck continued. Graham Newton hit the underside of the bar early in the game and hit the rebound just over. The same player then raced through and collided with visiting goalkeeper Paul Wakeham and the ball rolled into  the net but was disallowed for offside. With no substitutes allowed in those days, Newton’s Achilles tendon was heavilly strapped up and he continued hobbling around.

Then, with half time fast approaching, Walsall were hit with a body blow when goalkeeper Alan Boswell’s cheekbone was fractured in a goalmouth collision. He tried to bravely play on but suffering from double vision had to be withdrawn and was taken to hospital. Granville Palin took over between the posts and did well before Keith Peacock struck home.

Just past the hour mark luckless Walsall found themselves 0-2 down when Mike Kenning fired home. A lifeline was given to The Saddlers when Colin Taylor pulled one back with a typical powerful shot with eighteen minutes to go. Try as hard as they did in the closing stages, Walsall simply couldn’t force another goal and were duly relegated, after playing half the game with effectively nine men.

What a story. I have never heard anything like that before. People talk of the downpour in Stockport a few years back but for the game to be abandoned it must have been a hell of a storm. I think the keeper should have played on though. If he was knocked unconscious and didn’t know who he was, somebody should have told him that he is Gordon Banks and sent him back on…

Advertisements

The Seven Keepers of Magic

During the course of a long season Walsall have often had to recruit more goalkeepers by either using the loan system or throwing in untried youngsters due to injuries or suspensions. Under Merse in 2004-5 no less than five keepers were used, as Saddlers came to terms with the loss of legend Jimmy Walker to West Ham. McKinney, Paston, Murphy, Coleman and Oakes all figured in league games. The following season youngsters Gilmartin and Ruddy figured, as did Murphy for a second loan spell. Nothing, though, can compare to the 1972-3 season when Walsall created a Football League record by using no less than seven goalkeepers due to the long spells of injury to regular No1 Bob Wesson.

Bob played in the first 18 games when Walsall flirted with the top of the table before his injury which saw a surprise signing of Keith Ball who came out of retirement following his release from Port Vale in the summer. It was his third spell at Fellows Park and he played in two games. Wesson returned for four games before young Glenn Johnson was loaned by Doncaster and he did reasonably well in his three games.

Wesson returned for the 2-6 defeat at Grimsby in the January but was quickly replaced by two keepers who were FA Cup final winners in their careers.  Ian Turner played three times and later went on to star in Southampton’s shock 1-0 final win over Manchester United in 1976 before signing for Walsall again in the early 1980’s. Next to check in was John Osbourne who was in goal for West Brom’s 1-0 win at Wembley in 1968 against Everton.

Dennis Peacock had a ten game spell for us on loan from Nottingham Forest and the final two games saw the keeper’s jersey offered to promising teenager Jim Inger, however these were destined to be his only two first team appearances.

Bob Wesson’s game at Grimsby turned out to be his last game in the Football League. He was given a free transfer at the end of the season and it was a disappointing end to a career which saw him make 220 appearances for The Saddlers. There came a steady period of stability between the posts after that crazy 72-3 season as Wesson’s replacement Mick Kearns only missed one game over the course of the next four seasons.

From Walsall to England

John Ruddy’s recent call-up to the England Euro 2012 squad may have surprised many Walsall fans who saw him play five games for us when he joined on loan from Everton in September 2005.It would be a surprise as, although he certainly wasn’t a bad keeper, he didn’t stand out then as a future England keeper.

However, neither did the last ex-Walsall player to play for England, Michael Ricketts. He may be regularly voted as one of the worst players to have played for England but at one stage, during the1999/2000 season, I genuinely thought he would not even make the grade as a Walsall player let alone become a full international.

We have had successes though, as Alan Buckley’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt tells us of ex-Saddlers who have played for England in the World Cup….

DENNIS WILSHAW

Wilshaw earned 12 caps for England, five of which were friendlies and seven were competitive fixtures.He scored twice on his debut on 10 October 1953 against Wales, in a 4-1 victory at Ninian Park. His next game was in the 1954 FIFA World Cup, scoring a goal against Switzerland at the Wankdorf Stadium. He also appeared in the competition’s quarter-finals, as England lost 4-2 to the Uruguayans.

His fourth cap was in the 1955 British Home Championship, he bagged four goals in a 7-2 win over Scotland at Wembley. After caps against France, Spain, Portugal and Wales, both his eighth and ninth goals came against Northern Ireland in a 3-0 win. His final goal came against Finland in Helsinki on 20 May 1956 in a 3-0 victory.

After a friendly against West Germany, he made his final international appearance at Windsor Park, in a 1-1 draw with Northern Ireland in the 1957 British Home Championship.

BERT WILLIAMS
 
With the 1st World War over, ex- Saddler Williams resumed his career by signing for First Division Wolverhampton Wanderers in September 1945 for £3,500. He immediately became first choice at the Molineux club, making his official debut when league football resumed on 31 August 1946 in a 6-1 win over Arsenal, a game the was also the Wolves début of Johnny Hancocks.

He gained his first honour in 1949 as the team lifted the FA Cup after defeating
Leicester City. His part in winning this prize saw him rewarded with an
England call-up later that month, as he made his international debut on 22 May 1949 in a 3-1 friendly win in France. He held onto the goalkeeper’s jersey through the 1950 FIFA World Cup, and at that tournament played in England’s surprise defeat to the USA.

However, he got injured in November 1951 and Gil Merrick established himself in the meantime, and he did not get another chance until December 1954.

ALLAN CLARKE

Clarke was called up for England’s 1970 World Cup squad in Mexico, despite being uncapped. He made his debut for his country against Czechoslovakia in the heat and pressure of a World Cup first round match. Clarke scored the only goal of the match from the penalty spot. He remains the last England player to make his international debut in a World Cup finals match.

Over the next five years he appeared a total of 19 times for England, scoring 10 goals, but it was not enough to secure qualification for the European Football Championships of 1972 and 1976, or the 1974 World Cup.

There you go then. Which ex-Saddler is going to play for England next? I hope Scott Dann sorts himself out with a good club this summer and we see him playing in the 2014 World Cup.

The Play-offs from Hell

I have just finished wasting a rare sunny few hours watching Crewe beat Southend in the first leg of the 2nd Division Play-offs. At least Southend only lost by one goal. We had a severe beating when we were in a similar position. Alan Buckley’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt takes up the tale…

It’s that time of year again – the play-offs. For over twenty-five years these promotion deciders have brought joy and despair to fans, players, management and everyone else involved. Its been over a decade since Walsall last competed and twenty-four years since Saddlers first. Both occasions were, of course, successful although typical of our luck we didn’t have a day out at Wembley. However the 1992-93 season’s heartbreak may not be familiar to younger fans and those of us of a certain age may have chosen to have forgotten.

For the record, Walsall had ended the season on a high with five successive wins to finish in 5th spot. This meant they had to face Crewe Alexandra. The Saddlers had done the double over The Railwaymen in the league and were confident of their chances of reaching the final. Crewe manager Dari Gradi had ruffled Kenny Hibbitt’s feathers in the lead-up to the first game by stating Walsall had been far too physical in those league games.

Come the day, Walsall were simply slaughtered by the home side who easily ran out 5-1 winners. The normally tight defence went to pieces. This display was typified by the normally dependable centre-back Colin Methven who put through his own goal. Hopes were raised in the second leg at Bescot when Wayne Clarke , who strangely had been left out of the first game, gave his side an 18th minute lead. But a Tony Naylor hat trick soon put those hopes to bed as Walsall lost 4-2 on the night and 9-3 on aggregate.

Thanks AB3SAS. The return game was one of my first games at the Bescot and I remember being stood on The Gilbert Alsop as Martin O’Connor scored with a rocket, to give us a bit of hope. I only remember Methven for his spectacular keepie- uppie -own- goal, which you sometimes see on those odd footballing moments video compilations from Danny Baker or Danny Dyer. 

March for Victory 1982

Alan Buckley’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt has given me another story that made my eyes pop out my head. Groundsharing? With Wolves? Never. Over my dead body. Well, it almost happened. Here is the news!

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Walsall FC’ Chairman Ken Wheldon’s absurd plans for the Saddlers to ground share with Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Molineux. Supporters were up in arms over the very thought and for several weeks there was uncertainty over our future. A number of meetings were arranged between supporters to combat this and the Save Walsall Action Group (SWAG) was formed. Two of the main players in this fans body were Barrie Blower and Tom Hargreaves. There were also ongoing meetings between members of  Walsall Council and Ken Wheldon. Walsall Council were looking to buy a major shareholding to prevent league football taken out of the town.

For Walsall’s last home game of the season  v. Doncaster Rovers a protest march was arranged by SWAG, starting at Bridgeman Street in Walsall town centre to the turnstiles at Hillary Street from 2pm. The purpose of this action was to promote further awareness at what was happening at Walsall Football Club  and the ‘March For Victory’ duly took place in a peaceful fashion  with over a thousand fans marching to the Pleck with banners of protest.

The publicity campaign was carefully managed and t-shirts were made available at the cost of £2 and SWAG badges at 20p were also on offer. The t-shirts were modelled by two young women in publicity shoots which were circulated to the local press. SWAG worked closely with the newspapers who reported what seemed to be daily updates of all the speculation which was rife at the time.

 
There was a switch of power in the local elections around that time which meant that plans for funding any such buyout were shelved. Meanwhile a new consortium of local businessmen from the Wolverhampton area, including former Wolves legend Derek Dougan, emerged, wanting to engage in dealing with Wheldon. They had all sorts of plans including offers to build a new stadium for the club. Wheldon was having a swipe at the supporters and the Saddlers Club officials. Blower and Hargreaves were prevented from attending the clubs AGM. The SWAG and the supporters were instrumental in any such moves and as the summer started Wheldon played the idea of the groundshare down and by the middle of July he dismissed claims that he ever wanted to leave Walsall. 

Manny Smith – The Gilbert Alsop’s Player of the Season

When I attended the Stevenage away game I said to my friend ‘look out for Manny Smith, I don’t think he is good enough for this level and is too small as well’. For the next ninety minutes, Smith made me look like a right muppet. He was a physical colossus and continued to be throughout the rest of the season, Twittergate and the Exeter away game besides. Although he didn’t literally grow with every performance, as he surely would have failed a drugs test, he did figuratively. His distribution also improved, he claimed a calmly taken winner against Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day and even found time for a step-over away at Charlton. But it is for his role in defence, particularly his partnership with Butler, which saw Walsall only concede 57 league goals – that he wins this inaugural award.

2. Alex Nicholls

Why this man gets so much stick from the crowd continues to amaze me. Every time I saw him play I thought he had a great game, particularly when he was out on the wing. He finished joint top scorer with John Macken on eight goals in all competitions and also contributed four assists as well. He has an abundance of pace, links well with other players and also possesses a great work ethic. When the flair players, Flo and Ledesma arrived, his performances improved. The crowd should take note of this. They should also note that although he misses a few chances they are often ones he created for himself and even though his penalties were awful, at least he had the guts to step up to the plate. Leave him alone!

3. Mat Sadler.

The most consistent phrase I have heard this season is the consistent utterance of the phrase ‘Mat Sadler is Walsall’s Mr. Consistent’. He played in more Walsall games than anyone else and topped the assist table, with six. Not bad for a left-back. As I write this I am struggling to think of any moments that stand out for this season, good or bad. The mark of a Mr. Consistent.

I will add a caveat to these awards as I mainly attend away games, have only seen two home games all season and my decisions are based solely on the games I attended.

At the start of the season, I did think we will sit comfortably in mid-table but that certainly wasn’t the case. We did reach 50 points though, and we finished one place higher, which is better than last season. The positives and negatives of the season are obvious. Defensively we were perfectly fine. Our midfield did not create enough chances and the forwards did not score enough goals. The signings of Flo, Mantom and Ledesma saw us safely same, it would have been a lot closer if they had not turned up with ball in hand, asking Dean Smith for a game.

The Boxing Day game against Sheffield Wednesday was the best game of the season in terms of atmosphere and entertainment. Today’s defeat of MK Dons the best performance. Andy Butler’s performance at Carlisle, to make up for his mistake for the goal, was the best individual display of the season.

Lets see what happens next season. We have ‘derby’ games against Shrewsbury and Coventry to look forward to. Keep the faith and keep with The Gilbert Alsop. You know it makes sense.

MK Dons v Walsall In-depth Tactical Analysis

What are we going to do without Flo? Is this Jimmy Walker’s last game for Walsall? What am I going to have my tea? Should I be calling it tea or dinner? Could I be any nearer the pitch? These were my main thoughts as I sat in row F at Stadium MK.

I soon moved seats after kick-off as despite Walsall bringing a good following there was plenty of room higher up. It was fancy dress apparently but as many of the younger Walsall fans choose to dress as 80’s hooligans and country folk anyway, I couldn’t see much difference.

Chambers came in for Flo and took his familiar position sat in front of the back four. Grigg was up front and he scored the only goal of the first-half with a cool finish after a good run down the left. Ledesma had a couple of decent chances as we dominated the first-half.

The second-half was even better. Mantom ran the show in midfield with his simple passes and Chambers breaking up play beside him. Apart from one clearance at the end Walker remained untroubled throughout. Ledesma and Paterson indulged in mazy dribbles that almost resulted in goals. Nicholls had a glorious chance to make it two but shot wide. Smith had a header cleared of the line in the last minute.

We passed the ball around with a confidence I haven’t seen all season. We outplayed MK Dons. We were awesome. Chambers even came forward towards the end. There were a couple of moves that lasted over twenty passes. Gone was the hoof ball that we started the season with. Brilliant result. Best performance of the season by a long way.

We didn’t miss Flo after all. I still don’t know about Jimmy as it is hard to judge from a wave at the end of the game. I am from Walsall, it will always be called tea and I will reheat last night’s lamb bhuna. What a lovely end to a great day.

The Inaugural Gilbert Alsop Player of the Season Award – The Nominees

In no particular order…

Manny Smith

Andy Butler

Mat Sadler

Alex Nicholls

Jamie Paterson

Jon Macken

I have not included Florent Cuvelier as he hasn’t played enough games. If he had played the whole season he would undoubtedly have got the award, but I have set the minimum amount of games at 30.

After Saturday’s game I will do my best to review the season and announce the winner of the award.

It is the event that has got the nation talking. Please feel free to tell me your winner. But remember,  I am the gaffer.