Interview with ex-Saddler Ian Gaunt

The names of Walker, Brightwell, Aranalde, Tilson, Roper, Keates, Bennett, Goodman, Byfield, Matias, Leitao and Angell all bring back wonderful memories of Walsall’s glorious 2000/2001 campaign.

There were other people involved in that campaign though. Bryan Small, Barry Horne, Dion Scott, Karl Hawley, Alfie Carter and Ian Gaunt all played for Walsall that season.

The name of Ian Gaunt will be familiar to any Saddler who attended an LDV Vans Trophy game against Wigan in January. This is because the then 19 year-old centre-half, making his debut, scored a last-minute winner to take us through to the next round.

What happened to Ian after that? The Gilbert Alsop caught up with him recently and asked him a few questions….

When did you sign your contract? 

I signed my scholarship forms at the end of the 1998 season when I was 16.

At the beginning of the 1999/2000 season you played a friendly against Pelsall Villa and won 10-0 when the first team were away on tour. What are your memories?

I don’t remember too much to be honest, only that the Pelsall Villa players weren’t too chuffed at being thrashed by a load of teenagers. Now I’m a bit older I can completely understand why!

The pre-season friendlies for the next season saw you play against Rushall Olympic and Worcester City. What are your memories of those games? 

Not much, I remember it being boiling hot. I was on the bench against Worcester and remember getting thrown on at half time, literally as we were walking out for the second half because Matt Gadsby was being sick in the toilet (I think he’d got sun stroke). I played right back which was a first!

Walsall’s centre-halves that season were Barras, Roper, Tilson and Dion Scott. Did you know how difficult it would be to break into the first team? Did you think of yourself as 5th choice?

Obviously Barras, Roper and Tilson were well established so I definitely had some work to do to compete with them, I knew that would be difficult. Dion was a year older than me but I felt like I could compete with him. When all five of us were fit I was often played at left back for the reserves so we could all be accommodated.

The moment all Walsall fans will remember for you is scoring the last-minute winner in a LDV Vans game against Wigan. I understand you were only in the team because Ronnie Ekelund got stuck in a traffic jam. I also have memories of Gino Padula scoring a great goal for Wigan. What are your memories of this?

Yes, that’s right. Mick Halsall was looking after team that night and due to the traffic jam he had difficulty working out which players were in the dressing room, and who needed to be promoted from the bench etc. The whole experience was great. I played really well that day and obviously scoring the winner in the last minute was brilliant.

The next game you played in was a 4-0 defeat against Stoke in the next round, where you were sent off. How did you feel after that game?

The Stoke game was a different level to the previous week against Wigan. Aside from the sending off I didn’t play well so was really disappointed with that more than anything. The sending off came because Dion lost the ball on the half way line and I was trying to get back. To this day I’m convinced I made a good tackle and played the ball (not many people believe me though!). Ian Roper was on the other side of the attacker so I like to blame him (haha). I can see why I went off because I’d gone to ground.

You were released from Walsall a few days after their triumph at Cardiff. Were you with the squad that day? What are your memories?

I wasn’t with the playing squad, although I watched the match from a corporate box (can’t remember why/how I ended up in there but it wasn’t organised through the club) and saw a few of the players afterwards. It was obviously a great result for the club but ironically probably had some bearing on me getting released given that we had got promoted.

How did you feel about being released? 

I was gutted. I thought I’d done enough (and more) but the coaching staff has to make difficult decisions based on many factors, which I completely understand.

After leaving Walsall, I understand you had a loan spell at Moor Green before studying for your degree. Can you fill us in with what you have been doing since leaving Walsall?

I never really played for Moor Green; I was on the bench for one match I decided it wasn’t for me. I then went to Loughborough University to study Sports Science. During my first year the football team (made up of a lot of former players) were the best in Britain. The standard was very high. We beat a pretty strong Villa side (which included Paul Merson) in a pre season friendly and then went on to win the BUSA (now BUCS) championships. I played for English Universities and then Great Britain Students, which was an amazing experience and one of my proudest achievements. I was part of a trip to Libya where we played France and Libya. It also involved a visit to Colonel Gaddafi’s house/compound (not many people can say they’ve been there!).

After graduating I worked at Loughborough University for three years before in 2008 getting a job at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. I am now fortunate enough to be the Assistant Director of Sport at the University and live and work in a beautiful part of the UK. One of my roles is to manage pre season training camps for professional clubs. In the last few years we’ve had the likes of Barcelona, Norwich, and last season Man Utd and Everton training here. Dundee Utd uses our facilities as their main training ground so that’s obviously great to be involved in.

I don’t really play much football anymore, but I’m a keen golfer (would be rude not to be in St Andrews) and am determined to lower my handicap (currently 4). I got married to Heather last year and we are expecting our first baby in August.

Whilst I will also wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t have been released I know that many of the great things I’ve been lucky enough to experience since wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Who were the best players when you were with Walsall? Who were you most friendly with? Are you still in touch with anyone? Where did the Spanish guys spend their social time?

Best players during my time were probably Andy Rammell and Jimmy Walker. Being a centre-half I learned a lot from the likes of Andy Tilson (who was really good to me). I couldn’t tell you where the Spanish guys socialised.

David Hunt was best man at my wedding; he got released from Walsall the same year as me, and was at Loughborough as well. He’s currently a physio at Birmingham City. I’m still in touch with a few of the other youth team players through Facebook but that’s about it.

Was their anyone from your youth team days that didn’t make the grade but you feel as though they should have done? 

Not really, but there’s a few that did get contracts who I (and others) felt shouldn’t have. Unfortunately we’ve since been proved right.

What was Ray Graydon like with you?

He made sure you knew who was boss (which is not a bad thing). I cleaned his boots so the pressure was always on me! Unfortunately for me he was great at bringing in centre-halves who did brilliantly in the last few years of their careers.

And finally, how much were you paid? 

Not very much!