The Assistant Manager Merry Go-Round

In keeping with the content of this post this article is a collaboration between The Gilbert Alsop and regular contributor, Alan Buckley’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt. It all started when AB3SAS interrupted me from my pre-season social duties to inform me that one of his favourite players was back at the Bescot helping Dean Smith. I now hand the metaphorical mike over to him to continue the post, just like Paul McCartney handing the vocal duties over to Stevie Wonder during Ebony & Ivory.

‘Walsall fans, this week, welcomed back old pal Richard O’Kelly to become the official Assistant Manager to Dean Smith. O’Kelly returns after serving Saddlers so well for a few months last season in an unpaid capacity. He returned despite offers from Hereford and moneybags Crawley Town, so I can only assume he’s getting paid this time around! This is Richard’s fourth spell with Walsall as he had two playing stints with the Saddlers and he’s someone whom Deano can depend on and will help free up some of his time. O’ Kelly had eight years as number two to Sean O’Driscoll at Bournemouth and Doncaster after cutting his teeth on the coaching side at Grimsby and then West Brom. His recent short spell as Hereford United’s manager will also hold him in good stead as he starts work to plan and prepare the upcoming season back at Walsall’.

This reminded me of a post I wrote for my short-lived and never-read blog on the BBC’s 606 website in January 2009.  You can read all of it here if you so wish. The highlights of this piece include an observation I made during a game under the Graydon era about his complete lack of an assistant.

‘I will never forget going to Bristol Rovers under Sir Ray and watching Brett Angell warm up, when all of a sudden, he stopped to answer his mobile phone. I thought to myself ‘how unprofessional’ until it was pointed out to me that Graydon was watching from the stand and Halsall was back in Walsall watching the youth team. This left Brett as the unofficial assistant for the day.’

AB3SAS also had some more thoughts on the subject of the Assistant Managers we have had at the Bescot.

‘Since our move to the Bescot Stadium in 1990, the club have appointed many Assistant Managers / First Team Coaches / jobbing help, to help the Manager and it’s hard to recall them all. Kenny Hibbitt recruited Tony Grealish as Player-Coach to assist him as the stadium opened and Chris Nicholl leaned on Kevin Wilson for a similar role. Jan Sorensen called upon Derek Mountfield. Ray Graydon had help from Mick Halsall then for a couple of months Chris Nicholl. Colin Lee enlisted a bit of experience in Dave Merrington, the inexperienced Paul Merson turned to a few including ex-Villa trainer Jim Walker and ex-Villa players, Steve Staunton and Mark Kinsella. Mick Halsall continued to assist every manager as well as being caretaker boss a few times. Richard Money called in the vastly experienced Jimmy Mullen. Chris Hutchings had the relatively inexperienced coach Martin O’Connor.

I will also add John Schofield to this list of names as he assisted Jimmy Mullen during his tenure. Myself and GA3SAS then nearly had a fist-fight about Paul Bracewell who I felt was missed off the list. Thankfully it never came to blows as I prefer to use my intelligence to win arguments and AB3SAS is a lot bigger than me anyway. It also goes to show that you shouldn’t rely on Wikipedia to check your facts as it is not mentioned on his page, it does mention it here though.

Gentleman that I am, I will leave the last words to AB3SAS, who has this to say about Richard O’Kelly’s appointment:

‘At last the club have got someone who has both a Walsall pedigree as well as over 20 years coaching under his belt. Welcome ‘home’ Richard O’Kelly’.


Sunday Best

Alan Buckley’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt has come out of his darkened room after the news of a League Cup tie against Brentford lured him out of the darkness. He has another interesting story to tell us about Sunday football and the Saddlers…

Ever wondered about the origins of Football League games played on Sunday? Did you know that Walsall were one of a handful of clubs who tested the water about playing games on the Sabbath?  Strange, but true. During the 1973/74 season like many other Third Division clubs, Walsall had been hit by restrictions on floodlighting because of the national energy crisis and the three-day working week. Permission had been granted by the Football League for clubs to play games on a Sunday from 20th January 1974. Walsall were keen to experiment to see if there would be any significant rise in the attendance figures. Gates at Fellows Park were averaging around 4,500 but for the first ever game to be staged at the ground an amazing 9,035 turned up against Wrexham. Saddlers were in mid table so this switch had been a massive success. The shops were not open on Sundays in those days and the novelty of playing on a Sunday when for many there was not much to do or nowhere to go was a big factor for what was very much a day of rest.

Club officials were naturally delighted that the attendance doubled the usual ‘gate’ and applied for two more Sunday home games to be played, against Plymouth Argyle and Southport. My recollection of that first game against Wrexham was the atmosphere generated by such a big attendance and the thrill of being part of history being made. Walsall went on to win that game 3-0 and Alan Buckley became the first ever Walsall player to score on a Sunday with a brilliant overhead kick from the edge of the penalty box at the Hillary Street end. Buckley grabbed another and David Sloan chipped in with one too. It was technically illegal to charge admission for a football game at that time and clubs had to think of a way around this. They came up with the idea that admission to the ground will be afforded free to anyone who purchases an Official Team Sheet..which will only be available at the turnstiles. Team sheets were not in the programme..they had to be purchased separately.

The attendance figure for the Plymouth game the following month was considerably less. This was mainly due to a terrific storm which erupted an hour before kick off. Many thought the game would be postponed but still 4,926 turned up and soon wished they hadn’t as Saddlers slipped to a 0-4 thumping. The third and final Sunday game that season v. Southport in March and in good weather produced a very average gate of 4,537 so Sunday football at this point was put to bed.

Seven years on and the club again toyed with the idea of Sunday Football. The Solihull Seminar of Football League Chairman voted to give it a whirl and desperate to try to cash in Walsall soon fixed up a game v Fulham on March 1st 1981 with 4,958 customers, about 1,000 up on recent gates. The club reported takings were up by around £2,000 so it was a very worthy exercise. Both clubs, of course, had to agree and for the next planned game Oxford United messed Walsall about. They kept changing their minds but eventually there wasn’t enough time and the Football League said no to the plan.

There were several Sunday games over the years whilst we were still at Fellows Park. The 1985/86 Third Division game against Wolves was switched to a Sunday morning 11 am kick off; mainly to prevent any bad behaviour caused through drinking and despite a snow-covered pitch in February 10,480 braved the cold for an exciting West Midlands derby, which ended 1-1. It was believed as many as 3,500 visitors were present that day – almost as many as they were getting at Molineux in those dark days. There have been Sunday games played at Bescot Stadium and indeed the record attendance at the stadium was on May 9th, 2004 when 11,049 saw Walsall beat Rotherham United 3-2 but with Stoke failing to beat Gillingham, Saddlers were still relegated from the second tier. Happier Sunday outings include a 3-1 Play-off Semi Final win at Notts County in 1987/88 and Walsall’s all time Sunday Best… the dramatic 3-2 Play-off Final win v Reading at the Millennium Stadium in 2001.

Can’t Wait for the New Fixtures

Alan Buckley’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt has been sat in a darkened room refusing to open the curtains ever since our last day victory over MK Dons. He is refusing to open them until he knows the exact date of our fixtures next season so he can plan his trips to the provinsional towns of England and knock back their local ale. Here are his thoughts…

Its that time of the year again…Saddlers fans are eagerly looking forward to next season’s football fixtures which are released on June 18th. The excitement levels reach fever pitch when that magical time comes and you can start to plan the next year of your life. The new season brings us, at long last, two battles with our genuine rivals, Shrewsbury Town. The Gay Meadow is no longer the battlefield, we will have to make do with the New Meadow instead. There will be a chance to visit the Rioch Arena at Coventry for the first time and a chance to meet our old friends from Swindon after their gap year. I hope we don’t have awkward fixtures like Bristol Rovers away on Boxing Day or Carlisle away on a cold Tuesday night in January.

There were times in the 1950’s and 1960’s that Walsall would play on two consecutive days over Christmas and Easter, sometimes against the same opposition. For example on Christmas Day 1957 a crowd of 9,808 turned up for the local ‘derby’ game against Shrewsbury with 12,186 at the Gay Meadow the following day. Those days of sensible ‘derby’ matches at such times have sadly disappeared.

I was amazed to read just how involved the preparation of these fixtures are.

Roll on June the 18th.

Doing the Walsall Knowledge

Every Wednesday The Guardian devotes a section of their website to ‘The Knowledge’, which explores obscure footballing trivia. A few years ago, I had a job paid for by the government, that meant I had to sit at my desk twiddling my thumbs for 36 hours per week.  Naturally, being a hard-working black-country lad, I wasn’t happy not being able to make a positive contribution to our glorious country so instead of rotating my thumbs backward and forward I instead set myself a goal of getting Walsall FC mentioned as many times as possible in my favourite section of my favourite website. I achieved this on five occasions. I am, I justifiably believe, very proud of my efforts. However, I am now more gainfully employed so I can no longer devote a lot of my time to doing this, instead, I have used this website to amalgamate all the highlights from those glorious years:

1. The 30-Year Credit Crunch

2. Which Players Have Publicly Displayed Their Religious Views on the Pitch?

3. Walsall Get Wet and Wild

4. The Least Successful Testimonial Match Ever

5. Call me Ishmael

I call this period of my life, the wiki-tangent years. Thank you to all those people who pay taxes and therefore funded these happy times.

Walsall’s Musical Summers

Back when I started Walsall FC’s fourth or fifth most popular fansite I sent a request asking for people to tell me some information about The Wonder Stuff concert at the Bescot. Oasis had Maine Road, The Wonder Stuff had the Bescot Stadium. It was that big! I had given up getting any information on this until Gilbert Alsop’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt popped his head around the corner and said ‘I might have something for you’. The rest of this article is what he had for me, with a little bit of editing, and some info about UB40.

On June 13th 1981 Walsall FC staged their first ever concert on the hallowed Fellows Park turf when Brummie band UB40 were the  headline act at an eight hours rock ‘n reggae gig which also included the likes of Toots and the Maytals, Gang Of Four, Pauline Murray and The Black Music Co-Op. Around 5,000 people turned up paying £4.50 for their ticket of which it was reported Walsall FC made more than £2,000 profit from. However, there were scores of complaints from local residents, not just about the dubious talents of the headline act, but also about noise levels and parking problems.

There were no more complaints about the headliners just over a decade later though, as on June 22nd 1991 at the Bescot Stadium, fans were treated to another local band, The Wonder Stuff,  who headlined a seven hour event in front of 18,500 fans. For this event people paid £15.50 to get in (plus £1 booking fee). The police were delighted to report afterwards that there wasn’t a single arrest made and with no traffic problems as well, it gave the Walsall doom and gloom merchants nothing to talk about except their usual xenophobic nonsense.
It was an extra special day for the Stuffies drummer Martin Gilkes, a lifelong Saddler. Other artists who appeared included Swervedriver, Spirit Of The West, The New Fast Automatic Daffodils and Kingmaker with compère duties going to Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. The headline act’s set was littered with technical difficulties but they still went down a storm with a large chunk of their set coming from their then current album ‘Never Loved Elvis’.
Here is a YouTube clip from that concert featuring Mission Drive……