Walsall FC are a football club from the large industrial town of the same name, which is located ten miles to the north west of Birmingham in the West Midlands. The club were formed in 1888 as Walsall Town Swifts FC, following the amalgamation of Walsall Town FC and Walsall Swifts FC.
Two players who appeared in Swifts first ever games; Alf Jones and Albert Aldridge played for England around the same time. The club were accepted into the Football League as founder members of Division Two in 1892 playing games at a sports ground at Chuckery. After a season Swifts were forced to move to a new ground on West Bromwich Road after neighbours complaints, but they failed to be re-elected to the League three years later. However, in 1896 as Walsall FC, the club were re-admitted after spending a season in the Midland League as they moved into a new ground on Hilary Street.
In 1901 Walsall lost their League place once again, rejoining the Midland League. A couple of years later they moved into the Birmingham League and then in 1910 the Southern League. Following the end of World War One the League was expanded with Walsall being elected as founder members of Division Three North in 1921.
1928 saw 'The Saddlers' placed in Division Three South, where they remained until 1958 apart from a small spell in the northern section. After League re-organisation Walsall were placed in Division Four, a league that they won in 1960 to win promotion. The good run continued as they finished Division Three runners-up the following season to find themselves in Division Two, with players such as Bill 'Chopper' Guttridge, Tony Richards and Colin Taylor starring.
After two seasons the club were relegated back to Division Three, where they were to remain for several seasons. Allan Clarke and then Phil Parks both began their glittering careers with spells at Fellows Park during that period. The ground had been named in honour of the club director Mr HL Fellows in 1930. Walsall were relegated back to the bottom tier in 1979.
The team were promoted at the first attempt aided by the goals of Alan Buckley. In 1982 local scrap metal dealer Ken Wheldon was club Chairman and he attempted a move meaning a move for Walsall to Molineux to move in with Wolverhampton Wanderers before he was denied after a supporters group called SWAG; Save Walsall Action Group. the protests caused him to rethink. The 1983-84 season saw the club embark on their most memorable cup run, when they reached the League Cup semi finals beating Arsenal at Highbury on the way, before losing out to Liverpool.
In 1986 with football in the region as much in decline as the general living standards Wheldon announced a plan to move the club to share St Andrews with Birmingham City, the club he was now Chairman of. Once again SWAG swung into action with Barrie Blower at the head of the campaign. Millionaire entrepeneur and racehorse owner Terry Ramsden came in to save the day as David Kelly starred in manager Buckley's team.
Tommy Coakley was appointed as boss for the 1986-97 season as the side narrowly missed out on a play off place, but enjoyed a good FA Cup run reaching the fifth round before Watford won through after two replays. The following season Bristol City were defeated in the Play Off Final Replay at Fellows Park to seal promotion to the League's second tier.
Unfortunately their spell lasted just one season an worse was to follow as Ramsden's business empire collapsed alongside the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Walsall were minutes from folding but were saved following the intervention of Blower and several local businessmen. 1990 saw a further relegation to the botton division.
At least the disappointment of demotion was met with good news as the club left Fellows Park at the end of the season, where Morrison's built a supermarket, to move to the new Bescot Stadium a quarter of a mile away. Lifelong Walsall fan Jeff Bonser bought into the club the following year, from where he would later become Chairman.
Kenny Hibbitt was appointed manager and he built the foundations for the next four years before he was replaced by Chris Nicholl. Nicholl took the team to promotion in 1995 before resigning a couple of years later. Jan Sorensen replaced him and signed two of the most popular players the club ever had in Roger Boli and Jeff Peron. Ray Graydon took over as manager for the 1998-99 season with the team winning promotion as runners up.
Again their spell in the League's second level lasted just one season, but Graydon took them straight back up again aided by the signings of Don Goodman and Fitzroy Simpson. However, despite his success Bonser sacked the manager to much outcry after a poor live TV performance. Colin Lee came in and despite initially polarising opinion between the supporters, his team were successful. Vinny Samways and the later signing of Paul Merson made the team attractive to watch.
By the end of the 2003-04 season the team were relegated with Lee departing having fallen out with Bonser. After a spell as caretaker, Merson was put in charge for the following campaign. Matty Fryatt's goals helped his reign but he was eventually sacked after refusing to resign in February 2006. Kevan Broadhurst and then a couple of caretakers failed to take their opportunities to impress as the team were relegated with Richard Money being appointed as team manager in May 2006.
Money took the team up as League Two champions at the first attempt and then enjoyed a decent run the following season, before form fell away and he departed the club. Jimmy Mullen and then Chris Hutchings both had time at the helm as the club opened the first ever own training facility at Essington for the first time. Walsall's Head of Youth and former player Dean Smith took over as team boss in January 2011 as Bonser continued to steer the club along calm financial waters thanks to smart business around The Bescot despite the club paying rent to play there to a self invested pension company owned by Bonser and his brother.
The stadium was re-named the Bank's Stadium following a sponsorship deal with the local brewers, while Smith's side continued to defy the odds as they just missed out on a play off spot in 2012-13.
Walsall FC will compete in Football League One in the 2013-14 season.
Walsall 0 Hull City 1 (Saturday 4th May 1985) Division Three (att: 4,809)
My only visit to Fellows Park was of vital importance as a fan of Hull City. A win for The Tigers would clinch promotion to Division Two with a couple of games to spare. so I wanted to be there. Despite having chickenpox the week before I passed the fitness test to get on board the train with a group of other City fans from Scarborough, with them giving me a wide berth in case I was still infected!
After changing at York and Birmingham we arrived at Bescot Crescent station, over the road from where the new stadium would be built five years later. We managed to get inside the King George V pub over the road from Fellows Park for a couple of pints before heading down to the away entrances.
Fellows Park was showing its age and it was certainly no thing of beauty. We were in the open terraced Railway End, which had a few steps and a large wall at the back. To our left was the covered seated Main Stand, which ran between the two penalty areas with slightly covered standing in front and flanked by open terracing. The Hilary Street End roof went up in three levels and around the corner to the penalty area, offering cover to the standing spectators underneath. Finally the Popular Side had a roof over the rear half of the terracing.
The game was settled by a first half Peter Skipper header, much to the joy of the mass ranks of Yorkshiremen behind the same goal, as well as a sizeable group in the seats who were not exactly getting on with that fine body of men and women; the West Midlands Police.
Some local youths hurled abuse at us when we wanted to use the catering or toilet facilities in the corner, but nothing could dampen our mood. That said, the police did their best by letting their dogs loose on the few fans that celebrated on the pitch at full time, thus leading to a semi crush as the rest of the fans wanted to get over and pass on their feedback.
It was a very happy train ride home!
Wednesday 21st October 1987
Scarborough were away to Hereford United in Division Four and I was on the way with three mates in a car driven by John 'Doomy' Dyer. As we set off early it was agreed to visit some clubs on the way down. After a call at both Burton Albion and then Aston Villa, we continued on to Fellows Park.
We walked inside by the changing rooms that were past the Main Stand towards the Hilary Street End. The ground was unchanged apart from the erection of high fencing in front of the terracing sections.
Walsall 0 Scarborough 0 (Tuesday 1st January 1991) Division Four (att: 4,914)
I was offered the opportunity of visiting the Bescot Stadium by Paul Frain who was driving down to the game, so after a crazy New Years Eve night out I got some shut eye before heading to the station to pick up my lift with a gigantic hangover.
The journey rather passed me by, but I know we got there early as we went inside the social club for a small admission fee at the ground. This aided my recovery slightly.
Bescot Stadium was extremely similar in appearence to Glanford Park at Scunthorpe, which had also been recently built, apart from having lots more pillars supporting the continuous roof. Both ends had terracing, with seating down the sides.
The game was instantly forgettable, but a point was a satisfactory result for Boro.
Walsall 0 Scarborough 0 (Saturday 28th December 1991) Division Four (att: 3,488)
This visit was made by minibus along with Bunner and his gang. Again we arrived early and used the clubhouse, where I made a large faux pas asking a pal if a certain Boro full back was still providing us with complimentary tickets, only to be told by sniggering others that it was not a good idea to ask owing to a parting of the waves off the pitch!
They ran out of bread at the catering stand so they sold us hot dogs to go in the soup!
Another satisfactory point celebrated by a night out in Shepshed and plentiful ales.
Walsall 4 Scarborough 1 (Saturday 8th October 1994) Division Three (att: 3,601)
Billy Ayre's Boro side were woeful, with Paul Rutherford standing out for special attention thanks to his ineptitude. We were placed down the side in the seats and got a grandstand view as Scott Houghton put in a majestic display on the wing to tear the lightweight Boro defence apart.
I went to this one in the people carrier with several other Seadogs, which definitely included Bunner and Filey John.
The black and white image been scanned from Simon Inglis' fine tome, The Football Grounds of England and Wales.