The Story of the Saddlers...
The Saddlers have enjoyed a rich history since the two leading clubs in Walsall, namely Walsall Swifts and Walsall Town, merged to form Walsall Town Swifts in 1888.
Becoming Walsall in 1895, there have been plenty of highs and lows over the years, which all come together to make up our colourful past...
Both Walsall Town (founded 1877) and Walsall Swifts (formed 1879) had been in existence for several years before, in 1888, they decided to end their rivalry and amalgamate, becoming Walsall Town Swifts.
The new club got off to a rousing start; their opening game was the Birmingham Charity Cup final against Aston Villa and over 500 Walsall fans made the journey to Perry Barr for the game, which ended all square after extra-time. The first combined Walsall side contained five former Town players - Jones, Lee, Shaw, Cope and Wykes - and six ex-Swifts - Tracey, Reynolds, Morley, Morris, Tapper and Arrowsmith.
Sadly, the replay was fixed for Small Heath or Perry Barr again and, after arguing with some justification that it should have been staged on their own Chuckery Ground, Walsall Town Swifts withdrew from the competition and the trophy went to Aston Villa.
Although they didn't gain a place among the 12 founder members of the Football League in 1888, Walsall Town Swifts beat Burnley - one of the selected 12 - in the first home game of that season. A striker by the name of Sammy Holmes achieved the distinction of scoring the first-ever goal for Town Swifts.
Defender Albert Aldridge was twice capped for England during that first season, in which another notable event came in the shape of an FA Cup tie against Wolves at the latter's Dudley Road ground. Despite an early goal, the Town Swifts crashed to a 6-1 defeat.
For the next few seasons the club competed with varying degrees of success in the Football Alliance of that time, but they were natural choices for one of the places in the new Football League second division when it was formed in 1892. The other sides were Small Heath (now Birmingham City), Sheffield United, Darwen, Grimsby, Ardwick (now Manchester City), Burton Swifts, Northwich Victoria, Bootle, Lincoln, Crewe and Burslem Port Vale.
The first Football League game at The Chuckery Ground was against Darwen, the Town Swifts line-up being: Hawkins, Withington, Pinches, Forsyth, Whittick, Robinson, Marshall, Holmes, Turner, Pangbourn, Gray. Our first Football League goal was netted by Gray, but we still went down to a 2-1 defeat.
After three rather mediocre seasons we failed to gain re-election in 1895, but a year later we were back with a vengeance, beating Wolves in the final of the Birmingham Senior Cup and Aston Villa in the final of the Birmingham Charity Cup, just a few days after Villa had completed a Football League and FA Cup-winning double. What's more, the goals that Copeland and J. Aston scored in our 2-1 win were the first scored by visiting players there.
The finances of the club were shaky at that time and, interestingly, Vice Presidents' tickets at a guinea each were made available the following season.
Our best season in those early second division days was 1898/99 when we managed to secure a sixth place berth. Four more points would have taken us into Division One, but just two years later we failed to secure re-election and had to face some 20 seasons out of the Football League. This seemed particularly hard as we had finished above both Stockport and Burton, but our re-election case was not helped by the fact there had been financial problems and the FA had taken a close look at one or two of the transactions carried out.
Symptomatic of the financial problems had been the swapping about between grounds. The club had started life at the Chuckery Ground, but in 1893 moved to a new ground in West Bromwich Road. Three years later, the Hillary Street ground (later known as Fellows Park) was opened, but problems over tenure led to a return to West Bromwich Road in 1900.
The team were playing at West Bromwich Road when, in 1901, they moved into the Midland League. Although they could finish no higher than fifth, they did gain a notable win over first division Burnley in the first round of the FA Cup.
Financially, things were still at a low ebb and, in the hope of improving gates through more local interest, the move was made to the Birmingham League in 1903, the year we also moved back to Hillary Street. Expenses were now lower and matches against the reserve teams of Aston Villa, West Brom, Small Heath and Wolves provided a certain level of interest.
Though Walsall never managed to top the table, they did win the Keys Cup in 1914/15 as the best placed of the non-reserve sides. We also earned a little more FA Cup glory in 1911/12 with wins over Stoke and Accrington.
Football in Walsall was suspended from 1915 until 1919 because of World War I, but within two years of its resumption, Walsall - who had decided to drop the Town Swifts label some years earlier - became founder members of the new third division (north).
We ran into form too, and in our second season ended up in third spot, just four points short of promotion. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that we did not go up as Nelson, who pipped us, stayed up only one season and then went out of existence altogether.
In the course of the next six seasons in Division Three (North), one re-election application was survived and then came four seasons in Division Three (South). During that period, Walsall played before a crowd of 74,600 in an FA Cup fourth-round tie at Villa Park, the game having been transferred there from Fellows Park in order to accommodate more spectators - although thousands were still locked out when the gates were closed. It remains the biggest-ever crowd that a Walsall team have played in front of, and despite losing 3-1, Walsall won many friends by giving a brave display. Goalkeeper Fred Biddlestone impressed the home side so much they signed him shortly afterwards.
In 1931, Walsall were back in Division Three (North) and, despite an undistinguished league record, the greatest win in the club's history was achieved on 14th January 1933 when first division champions Arsenal were beaten 2-0. What a great day it was for chairman H. L. Fellows, who had kept the club afloat financially and after whom the Hillary Street ground had by this time been renamed. Happily, some of the 11,150 who saw Gilbert Alsop and Bill Sheppard get the vital goals in the second half are still alive and still take great pleasure in reflecting back on the game.
The last few seasons before World War II were generally a struggle, with the last two ending in re-election applications as the club battled it out at the wrong end of the third division (south).
Yet as so often has been the case, the club's fortunes were brightened by an FA Cup run. Carlisle, Clapton Orient, Newport and Notts County all bit the dust as Walsall reached the fifth round for the first time in 1938/39 before finally bowing out 3-1 at Huddersfield.
With the outbreak of war, the Football League programme was abandoned just three games into 1939/40, but the flag was kept flying at Fellows Park as Walsall competed in the various regional competitions on more or less equal terms with their first and second division Midland neighbours.
Among the guests who wore the claret and blue of the Saddlers at that time were such illustrious names as Irish international Peter Doherty and prolific Manchester United striker Jack Rowley. In fact, Rowley scored four times in a game on no fewer than four occasions in 1940/41. The scorelines for that first season were quite remarkable, with wins by an 11-4 margin against Notts County and 10-3 against West Brom.
Then, early in 1943/44, we pulled off one of the outstanding recoveries in our history. Four goals down at half-time, we rallied to draw 4-4 with Aston Villa on their home ground. A crowd of 13,000 were present at this game, but our biggest War-time gate was reserved for the final of the Division Three (South) Cup at the end of 1945/46 when over 20,000 saw us go down 1-0 to Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge. This was a game we could well have won, but at least our progress in the competition showed we had a team capable of holding its own when normal football resumed in August 1946.
With Harry Hibbs as manager we enjoyed two good seasons, finishing in fifth place in 1946/47 and third in 1947/48. Our line-up at that time was arguably as strong as at any period in our history. Dave Massart kicked off the 1947/48 season with a hat-trick in each of the first three home games. Ron Crutchley, Reg Foules and 'Nutty' Newman formed an outstanding middle line and in goal the diminutive Jackie Lewis performed wonders.
For much of that season promotion looked a distinct possibility, but the transfer of Doug Lishman to Arsenal the following summer and the recall of Denis Wilshaw back to Wolves early in 1948/49 ended any immediate hopes of going up.
By 1951/52, the club was embarking on the first of four successive re-election campaigns. Players came and went, particularly during Major Buckley's spell in charge, and no fewer than 42 were used in 1953/54. Happily, the team was well supported during these traumatic seasons, and the crowd figures were a major factor in sufficient re-election votes being cast in the Saddlers' favour.
Eventually the tide turned. Major Buckley's acquisition of Albert McPherson from Stalybridge Celtic and Tony Richards' letter requesting a trial proved to be the first pieces of a promotion jigsaw. Before that, however, Walsall had become founder members of Division Four after finishing in the bottom half of Division Three (South) in 1957/58.
Soon the goals were flowing freely and, after a near miss for promotion in 1958/59, Walsall topped Division Four a season later, netting 102 goals in the process.
Back in the third division we bagged another 98 goals the following season and duly went up again. In the two promotion campaigns, Tony Richards and Colin Taylor totalled 113 goals between them. There were also major contributions from Roy Faulkner, Ken Hodgkisson and Colin Askey, who scored the winner on that memorable night at Shrewsbury in April 1961 in front of a record Gay Meadow crowd.
For a time Walsall matched the best in Division Two, but things went wrong after the long lay-off during the severe winter of 1963. Six successive games were lost as the weather improved, and despite a brave rally in the final few games, we still needed a point from our last game against Charlton in order to stay up. In the event, a serious injury to goalkeeper Alan Boswell was a major factor in a 2-1 defeat that sent us back into the third division.
At one stage in 1963/64 there was serious danger of the Saddlers plummeting to Division Four, but the danger was averted and when Bill Harrison took over the following autumn brighter times loomed again.
Allan Clarke developed into one of the country's top strikers, and for two seasons his dual spearhead with George Kirby gave the fans plenty to cheer about.
In January 1966 there was an incredible 2-0 win at first division Stoke with only ten men after Jimmy McMorran had been badly injured, with substitutes not allowed until the following season. Even after Clarke had moved on to Fulham and Kirby had been released, Walsall still looked odds on for promotion midway through 1967/68. Sadly, though, a five-point lead was lost and the death of Bill Harrison the following summer heralded the end of an era.
The early 1970s saw desperate struggles for financial survival before Ken Wheldon's rescue act late in 1972. By this time, long-serving secretary Ernie Wilson had died and the new set-up of Wheldon (chairman) and John Westmancoat (secretary) made few friends but did put the club on a more even financial keel.
There was some success on the field too, with FA Cup wins over Manchester United and Newcastle in 1975, and Leicester in 1978 to take the club to round five on both occasions.
Alan Buckley proved to be one of the club's most prolific marksman ever, but was never quite the same player after spending most of 1978/79 with Birmingham. After his return he had a number of labels - player-manager, joint-manager, player, manager in that order - but could never quite put together a promotion-winning team.
Rumblings about ground-sharing upset the equilibrium of the early 1980s, but a promotion bid in 1983/84, allied to a remarkable run to the semi-finals of the Milk Cup, raised everybody's spirits for a time. En route to the last four of the League Cup, Alan Buckley’s men defeated Arsenal 2-1 at Highbury, thanks to goals from Mark Rees and Ally Brown, as well as Blackpool (4-3 on agg), Barnsley (3-0 agg), Shrewsbury (2-1) and Rotherham (4-2). The Saddlers faced Liverpool in the semi-finals and held the European heavyweights to a famous 2-2 draw in the first leg at Anfield, with Phil Neal scoring an own goal and super-sub Kevin Summerfield netting with his first touch. Before a crowd of 19,951 at Fellows Park, the Reds won 2-0 in the return leg to secure a 4-2 aggregate victory. Unfortunately, the fade-out in the final two months of that season left everyone deflated and morale was at its lowest in the summer of 1986 when, after another promotion bandwagon had come off the rails, the ground-sharing scheme with Birmingham, that had been denied at the shareholders' meeting a few weeks earlier, was announced.
Happily, the efforts of the ad hoc Action Group, spearheaded by Barrie Blower, won the day and the Terry Ramsden era got underway as the flamboyant London-based businessman literally dropped from the sky into Fellows Park with many grand plans and ideas. One of his first actions was to sack manager Buckley and coach Garry Pendry.
New boss Tommy Coakley, unknown to many people, and his coach Gerry Sweeney, kept their heads and gradually lifted the team from their lowly berth to the very fringes of the play-off zone in 1986/87. Disappointment in not making the play-offs was tempered by a fine FA Cup run; Chesterfield, Port Vale, first division Charlton and Birmingham were beaten before three memorable fifth-round ties with Watford, including that never-to-be-forgotten 4-4 draw at Vicarage Road.
Hopes were high for the club's centenary season, 1987/88, but it began badly both on and off the field with horrific price rises coupled with an opening-day home defeat at the hands of Fulham upsetting supporters a great deal. However, only two of the next 24 matches were lost, thrusting the Saddlers into the promotion frame. There was a slight wobble in mid-season as the goals dried up somewhat, but with David Kelly developing well as a prolific marksman, a place in the play-offs was achieved.
Tommy Coakley’s men beat Notts County 4-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals (3-1 away, 1-1 home) to reach the final, where we faced Bristol City. Despite winning 3-1 at Ashton Gate in the first leg, a 2-0 home reverse ensured the tie finished level on aggregate, meaning a replay was needed. In a unique move, a penalty shootout determined which team would have home advantage; Walsall won 4-2 on spot-kicks and the teams returned to Fellows Park two days later. The Saddlers ran riot in the replay, with a Kelly hat-trick and a Phil Hawker header securing a resounding 4-0 victory and our place in the second tier for the first time in 25 years.
Being only the second manager in the club's history to gain promotion, Coakley's job was made even more difficult at the start of 1988/89 by the August sale of Kelly for a club record £600,000 to West Ham.
A sound start suddenly went wrong as confidence drained from the team, culminating in a run of 15 consecutive league defeats. Coakley lasted until just after Christmas when he was sacked, with John Barnwell appointed his successor, while Ramsden's early enthusiasm had completely waned by this stage.
Barnwell couldn't prevent relegation back to the third division, but among the gloom saw work start on a new £3m stadium in the early part of 1989. Another dreadful season was experienced in 1989/90 - our final campaign at Fellows Park - with the club once more rooted to the foot of the table. Barnwell paid the price for the Saddlers’ wretched form, being sacked in March and replaced by Paul Taylor, who assumed the role of caretaker manager. But the change made little difference, Walsall ending a disastrous 1989/90 campaign ten points from safety.
Notably, the final league game at Fellows Park on 1st May 1990 finished in a 1-1 draw with Rotherham; full-back Andy Dornan was the last Saddlers player to score at our home of 94 years.
A place in Division Four greeted the opening of Bescot Stadium at the start of the 1990/91 campaign. Under Kenny Hibbitt, the Saddlers finished 16th before mustering a 15th-place berth the following year after threatening to challenge for a play-off place at one stage.
It was during this 1991/92 season that Barrie Blower resigned from his position as chairman and was replaced by Jeff Bonser. With between £7,000 and £8,000 being lost per week, the club realised they simply could not afford to rely on football alone for income and so explored other commercial activities such as Sporting Dinners, a Sunday Market and a pop concert featuring the Wonderstuff.
After coming perilously close to death, things on and off the field began to move in the right direction in 1992/93 with a fifth-place finish seeing a play-off place secured, only for Crewe to inflict a 9-3 aggregate defeat to deny the club a trip to Wembley.
A mixed 1993/94 campaign saw a tenth-place finish, missing the play-offs by four points and struggling in front of goal with only 48 goals scored in 46 league games. Attendances continued to steadily rise despite the mediocrity and, with the arrival of the likes of former Chelsea man Kevin Wilson, the 1994/95 season was approached with much excitement and anticipation.
The story of the move from Fellows Park to the Banks’s Stadium (formerly Bescot Stadium) began back in the mid-1980s.
Fellows Park, the home of the Walsall FC since 1903 and still retaining many of the original features, had fallen into a state of disrepair and by August 1985, West Midland County Council had issued the Club with an interim Safety Certificate restricting the capacity of the ground. This not only severely restricted the Club’s ability to generate money through the turnstiles but brought about the realisation that it would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to comply with Local Authority and Football League regulations.
This, coupled with limited facilities to generate revenue outside of the Football activities and the restrictions imposed by the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol) Act 1985, meant that the Club was in a very difficult financial position. It could no longer generate the revenue required to operate on a day-to-day basis at the desired level of the Football Pyramid, let alone implement the works specified by West Midland County Council.
It was clear that Fellows Park was no longer fit for purpose. At this stage there were two options, 1) redevelop the Fellows Park Site, or 2) source an alternative location to build a new stadium.
To compound this, outside the operational difficulties, the Club had built up significant debt over the years and the servicing of its day-to-day working capital requirements was becoming unmanageable. In short, the Club was in dire straits.
On 16th December 1985, after 13 years of service, Chairman and Majority Shareholder Ken Wheldon, tendered his resignation as a Director of the Club triggering a period of uncertainty where the very existence of the Club hung in the balance. There was a very real possibility that nearly 100 years of Football in the Town was about to come to an end.
This was compounded by the decision of the Board at that time to seek a ground sharing arrangement with Birmingham City (whose Chairman was Ken Wheldon), that would see the Club sell the Fellows Park Site and play its matches in Birmingham at St. Andrews.
This prompted a group of supporters and local business men, led by Barrie Blower, to set up the ‘Save Walsall Action Group’ (the “SWAG”) to keep the Club in the Town. It also set about raising funds to keep the Club in business and ultimately find a new owner who would be able to stabilise the Club and effectively secure Football in the Borough for generations to come.
After many months of tireless work by the SWAG, and by Barrie Blower in particular, throughout which time the Club was just hours away from going out of business on a number of occasions, a potential ‘saviour’ was found.
It was resolved at a meeting of the Board of Directors held at Fellows Park on 1st August 1986, that the Majority Shareholding (30,660 Ordinary Shares - 61.32%) in The Walsall Football Club Limited (“the Company”) be sold to London-based entrepreneur Terry Ramsden (purchased through his company Glen Corporate Finance Limited).
A Purchase Agreement was duly entered into by both parties and the shareholding officially transferred to Glen Corporate on 4th December 1986, effectively saving the Club at this time from being consigned to the annals of history.
Over the next six months Glen Corporate increased its Shareholding in the Company to 38,314 Ordinary Shares (which equated to 76.63% of the total Share Capital).
Glen Corporate not only guaranteed the Club’s existing debt but also provided cash injections throughout its tenure (in the form of Company loans) to allow the Team to continue to compete at its current level. But the issues still remained with Fellows Park and the Club’s ongoing ability to challenge, but more importantly survive, in the medium to long-term.
Terry Ramsden recognised this and to address it unveiled ambitious plans for the Club moving forward which included a proposal to relocate and build a brand new 16,000 capacity stadium on a site that had recently been identified half a mile up the road on Bescot Crescent.
The land on Bescot Crescent was owned by Severn Trent Water Authority and had been a former Sewage Disposal Site that had closed down in the 1960s. The original plan was to obtain retail planning permission on the Fellows Park site, sell it and then use the proceeds to finance the purchase of the land on Bescot Crescent upon which a new stadium would be built and work commenced at this time costing out the proposals to ensure they were financially viable.
In March 1987 the Club opened up negotiations with Severn Trent to purchase the Bescot Site and made a formal offer of £750,000 to acquire the site, with a further £300,000 payable should the Club be granted retail planning permission. Severn Trent gave an initial indication that this offer was acceptable, subject to Board approval.
However, during negotiations it was believed that Severn Trent received alternative offers for the land and had become aware of ongoing discussions between the Club and Walsall MBC that made the granting of retail planning permission a genuine possibility. As a result, they became concerned that the terms offered did not represent a good deal and did not approve the sale of the Freehold on that basis although negotiations continued.
The Club’s plans were stopped dead in their tracks on Monday 19th October 1987 with the ‘Black Monday Stock Market Crash’ which resulted in stock markets around the world crashing and shedding a huge value in a very short space of time.
The ‘1987 Crash’ severely affected Glen Corporate and by association Walsall Football Club, who at the time were totally reliant on Glen Corporate, not only to fund the day-to-day operations and guarantee its debts but also to fund future financial commitments, were now once more faced with the very real possibility of going into liquidation for the second time in as many years.
Once again, Barrie Blower (who had been appointed to the Board of the Club on 5th November 1986) found himself in the unenviable position of having to find new investment into the Club in order to protect one of the Town’s biggest assets. However, this proved incredibly difficult with no one prepared to ‘invest’ in a failing business and potentially bottomless pit.
The Club also had to be wary about the motives of any potential buyer. It had to be a party interested in the Football Club and taking it forward. There was always the very real possibility of a developer purchasing the Site with the intention of realising its commercial value in the form of a residential or retail development.
That was until a meeting in early 1988 between Barrie Blower and a local businessman Jef Bonser. With the Club facing a new financial crisis, Barrie Blower persuaded Jef Bonser to get involved as he battled to keep the Club going.
Jef Bonser in-turn discussed the Club’s plight with his business associates and a review of the Company’s current state of affairs was commissioned in order to establish whether or not the Club could be ‘saved’.
This review only served to confirm everyone’s greatest fear, that the Club was technically insolvent, given it had no way of servicing its historical debt, day-to-day cash flow requirements or future financial commitments.
However, if the plans for the new stadium could be resurrected, funded by the sale of the Fellows Park Site, there was still hope the Club could avoid impending insolvency.
Initial estimates indicated that the proceeds of the sale could not only cover the build cost of the new stadium and clear exiting debts but also leave cash in the bank to fund ongoing operations and meet future obligations. In fact, it was envisaged that there would be sufficient funds to facilitate significant investment into Team strengthening.
Crucially, there were no other viable alternatives at the time. It was either the Club embarked upon this ambitious plan to revitalise its fortunes or go out of business. It was on that basis that both Jef Bonser and his associates decided to get involved with the ultimate goal of ‘saving’ the Football Club.
However, it would be a long and complex road and there were many hurdles that had to be overcome if this was to succeed – not least they needed to find a Developer who would be prepared to invest in and build the new stadium before they would be allowed to develop the Fellows Park site and in-turn generate a profit from the overall project.
On the face of it this appeared to be a big ask, it was highly unlikely anyone would commit to such a speculative project where the risk would be so great and the outcome so uncertain. There would be no security and no formal valuation of the Fellows Park Site had been undertaken at that stage.
Despite these obstacles, a Developer was eventually found.
Once all of the parties were aligned in principle, the next stage was to create the vehicles through which this venture could be achieved. In the first instance a company named Denglen Limited (incorporated on 8th February 1988), was set up to perform the role of Developer, awarding the contract for construction of the new stadium to GMI Construction Limited on the basis of a negotiated tender (with the Club retaining Derek Evans and Partners, Walsall’s leading Quantity Surveyors, to protect their interests). This was followed by the incorporation of Davonmanor Limited (originally Newheld Investments Limited) on 10th February 1988. Davonmanor was the vehicle that would be used to acquire the Majority Shareholding in The Walsall Football Club Limited from Glen Corporate.
It thus followed, at a Board Meeting of the Club held on 25th March 1988, that Terry Ramsden tendered his resignation as Chairman and agreed to sell the Majority Shareholding in The Walsall Football Club Limited to Davonmanor. It was also resolved that Jef Bonser was appointed to the Board of the Club. The transfer of the Majority Shareholding (38,314 Ordinary Shares) was officially recorded in the Share Register as taking place on 9th May 1988.
It was also noted in the Minutes of the Meeting held on 25th March 1988 that the Club had received notice of an assignment, to Lanesmead Investments Limited, of its indebtedness in the sum of £397,949.34 owed to Glen Corporate. The acquisition of the Majority Shareholding in the Club by Davonmanor had the effect of guaranteeing this debt and enabled the Club to continue in business with the threat of impending liquidation averted for the time being, but the current trading position remained precarious and the Club still required a cash injection to ensure medium to long-term survival.
With this in mind the Directors of the Club engaged in discussions with Denglen with a view to entering into a ‘Development Agreement’ that would commit the Club to selling Fellows Park to Denglen and in return, Denglen would:
1) pay off the Club’s current overdraft with the Bank;
2) repay the £397,949.34 owed to Davonmanor (the debt inherited from Glen Corporate); and
3) build a brand-new stadium on the Bescot site.
It was also envisaged at the time that there would also be cash left in the Club’s bank to allow for reinvestment in the Team. The proposed Agreement would ensure the long-term future of the Club.
However, a key development at this time was a change in Severn Trent’s position. With the privatisation of the Water Industry a distinct possibility, they were no longer prepared to sell the freehold of the land designated for the new stadium.
They were however prepared to grant a 125-year lease to Denglen, who in turn were prepared to grant a 124-year lease to the Football Club. These were the only terms on which Severn Trent would allow the Development to take place – they would not consider any negotiation.
Once the terms of the Development Agreement had been agreed in principle, notice of an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Club to take place at the Swifts Club, Fellows Park, on Monday 22nd August 1988 was issued. An additional paper was also produced at this time to explain the relevant background to ensure Shareholders voting were fully informed with all of the necessary information. Please refer to the Appendices attached.
At the EGM an Ordinary Resolution asking the Meeting to approve the terms of the Development Agreement, including the proposed sale of the Freehold of Fellows Park by the Company and obtaining of a Lease for the Bescot Stadium Site was passed by 67 votes for to 4 votes against (including Proxy votes).
This was the point at which the Shareholders took the decision to sell the Club’s Freehold. Once the Development Agreement was subsequently signed (on 29th September 1988) the Club gave up its Freehold in exchange for financial stability and a future*.
However, the implementation of the Development Agreement, the Sale of Fellows Park and ultimately the completion of Bescot Stadium proved far more difficult than envisaged to implement.
At the outset, Denglen and the Club had entered into a Section 52 Agreement (of the Town and Country Planning Act) which ensured that a new stadium must be completed before the Fellow Park Site could be redeveloped. This meant that the Developer could not realise a penny in profit until Walsall FC had a new home.
This coupled with the problems that arose out of assembly of the Fellows Park Site fit for development and the additional requirements enforced upon the Developer and Club in the construction of the new stadium caused ongoing financial difficulties for both parties.
In terms of the Fellows Park Site assembly, in order to realise it’s full commercial value, it had to be an unencumbered site and the Club and Developer faced three key challenges:
1) the purchasing a number of residential properties from unwilling vendors;
2) that Walsall MBC owned a ‘ransom’ strip of land across the entrance to the site for which they were demanding £1,000,000 to secure its release (later reduced to £500,000**); and
3) to persuade the Walsall Football Supporters Club (WFSC) to sell their property (The Saddlers Club) to the Developer.
Furthermore, when considering the development of the new site further significant challenges arose including the cost of highway works and land reclamation (the site had been designated as toxic so special measures had to be implemented to deal with the possible build-up of gases for a period of 99 years), the implications of the Taylor Report (issued in wake of the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989) as well as convincing WFSC to accept the Developer’s proposals for a new Social Club on the Bescot Site.
In respect of the new Saddlers Club, the original plans incorporated the Club within the Stadium. However, this was not deemed acceptable to the Committee of WFSC and a new stand-alone venue had to be built to accommodate WFSC at great expense.
All had been considered in advance of the signing of the Development Agreement but it was not anticipated just how much of the eventual sales proceeds from Fellows Park would be swallowed up by resolving each matter.
Throughout this period, the complications and delay in the stadium development led to rising costs which were set against the backdrop of the Club’s current trading position and prompted the Club’s Accountants, W. J. Edwards & Co. (Accountants) to continually reminded the Directors of the Company’s current insolvency position, a situation that could not continue indefinitely.
Nevertheless, despite the setbacks, disruptions and ongoing financial uncertainly, Bescot Stadium officially opened on 18th August 1990, with a friendly game against local rivals – Walsall FC v Aston Villa FC.
However, the Development was far from complete and amidst escalating costs Denglen, who had financed the Development through Hill Samuel Bank Limited (“the Lender”), themselves ran into financial difficulties.
By January 1991 the budgeted income and expenditure of the project was estimated as follows:
Known proceeds from the Sale of Fellows Park to Gateway Properties Limited
Speculative income from a Catering Subsidy, Brewery Loan & Bowling Alley Premium
(It should be noted that this “Speculative Income” never materialised)
Purchase of Residential Properties at Fellows Park
New Saddlers Club Construction
Cost to acquire the Council’s ‘Ransom’ strip of Land
Stadium Construction (including requirements of the Justice Taylor Report c.£500k)
Land Reclamation, Catering Equipment, Professional Fees and Fixtures & Fittings
Repayment of WFC “Glen Corporate” Debt
Repayment of Bank Overdraft & Sundry Professional Fees
Estimated Shortfall with the unrealised “Speculative Income”
(Note: All figures were audited by W. J. Edwards & Company at the time)
In a Variation to the Development Agreement, signed on 3rd July 1990, Denglen had not only agreed to pay £550,000 being the full cost of Highways Works, but also agreed to place a limit of £1,000,000 on the overspend on the Project by themselves absorbing all other costs, including interest charges.
This effectively increased Denglen’s liabilities by £1,859,000, being the £550,000 Highways Works and the difference in the projected Shortfall of £2,309,000 less the cap of £1,000,000 (£1,309,000). The Club would be expected to pick up the remaining £1,000,000 of the Shortfall.
The rising costs of the development added to difficulties the Developer experienced in attracting retail companies to the Bescot Site eventually meant that Denglen were unable to continue to meet demands for the payment and discharge of monies and liabilities secured by a floating charge held by the Lender. As a result, on 4th March 1991, Joint Administrative Receivers were appointed to Denglen Limited.
This prompted the Lender, who also financed Davenmanor Limited, to call in their loan to that company and they too went into receivership on the same day.
Once again, for the third time in five years, the Club faced the prospect of going out of business.
It was at this point that Jef Bonser, acting in an individual capacity and the only serious bidder, stepped in to purchase the 76.13% Majority Shareholding (38,064 Ordinary Shares) in The Walsall Football Club Limited from the Receiver and in doing so secured the immediate future of the Club. The Share Transfer was officially approved and entered into the Company’s Share Register on 4th June 1991.
At the same time the J. W. Bonser (Walsall) Limited Small Self-Administered Scheme (“the SSAS”), which was originally set up in 1970s and already held a portfolio of investments, acquired the Lease of the Bescot Stadium Site from the Receiver. It had proved impossible to find a Bank willing to finance the deal on behalf of the Club and this was the only vehicle that was in a position to finance the completion of the stadium construction with the Cub still under pressure from the Local Authority to meet all of the Planning Conditions. It was also therefore the only way to ensure the Lease did not fall into the hands of an unconnected third party or even worse a Developer whose only interest was realising the commercial value of the site.
One of the benefits of this arrangement was the ability of the SSAS to invest in additional capital projects that would generate future commercial revenue for the Club in return for a commercial rental uplift.
Jef Bonser was installed as Chairman of the Club on 11th September 1991, following the resignation of Barrie Blower who had previously held the position.
In 1995, the opportunity arose to acquire the Freehold of the Bescot Site from Severn Trent. At the time, the Club explored every avenue available to be able to purchase the Site itself but this would also have meant initially purchasing the Lease followed by the Freehold and once again the Club was not in a position to pursue the transaction and came up against a brick-wall in attempts to finance the deal.
Once again, the only way to ensure that the Freehold did not go to an outside investor or developer at this time was for the SSAS to purchase it. This was done with the aim, at some point in the future, of reuniting the Club with a Freehold that the Shareholders had agreed to sell back in 1988.
This remains one of the Club’s key objectives to-date and work has been ongoing to achieve this ever since. Despite many setbacks and dead ends the Club is committed to exhausting every avenue possible in the hope of making this a reality.
Sources: Official Board Minutes, Statutory Books, Audited Figures and other Legal Documents.
*Contracts were exchanged on 21st February 1989 for the sale of Fellows Park to Gateway Properties Limited (although conditional on agreement been reached for the sale of the Saddlers Club property and Local Authority strip of Land).
**Many years later WMBC returned £250,000 of the original £500,000 paid to release the ‘ransom’ strip of land to the Club.
A stuttering start signalled the end of Kenny Hibbitt's tenure in September 1994 and he was replaced by Chris Nicholl, who brought with him a new lease of life for the players. There were brave cup displays against West Ham, who we beat 2-1 in the first leg of a League Cup second-round tie, and Leeds, who were held to a 1-1 draw at Bescot in the FA Cup. In the league, we held our nerve to claim promotion, finishing in second place after gaining the point we needed on a warm Thursday evening in Bury.
There was much anticipation surrounding the 1995/96 campaign, and after taking a while to settle, a play-off spot looked well within reach until a downturn in the weather coincided with a dip in results. At one point the club hovered dangerously just above the relegation trap-door, but in the end an 11th-place finish was achieved.
The loss of influential players and lack of incoming transfer activity meant that 1996/97 started poorly with just one win in our first eight games. Happily, things picked up and once more a place in the play-offs was a possibility. Again, a poor run of results ended any promotion hopes and the club had to settle for another season safely tucked in mid-table.
Nicholl decided he had taken the club as far as he could and handed over the reins to former Ajax player and Denmark International Jan Sorensen, who became our first foreign manager. Although league form was poor, he led the club on three exciting cup adventures. Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United were beaten in the League Cup, with Walsall also thrashing Macclesfield 7-0 en route to the FA Cup fourth round, where we lost 5-1 at Manchester United in front of 54,669 at Old Trafford. On top of that, the club came within a whisker of getting to the Wembley final of the Auto Windscreens Shield, losing 4-3 on aggregate to Bournemouth at the area final stage.
League form left a lot to be desired and we could only muster a 19th-place berth, leading to Sorensen being sacked shortly after the end of the season.
His replacement was Ray Graydon and he wasted little time in sorting out the playing staff, bringing in a number of new faces and injecting a strict code of conduct throughout the club.
This bore fruit immediately with Walsall winning promotion as runners-up in his first season at the helm, despite starting the campaign as one of the favourites for relegation. The likes of big-spending Manchester City and Preston couldn't overhaul the Saddlers, who fostered an outstanding team spirit, with the likes of Andy Rammell and Darren Wrack really coming to the fore in a team of heroes.
The start of the new Millennium saw Walsall as members of the first division, competing against the likes of local rivals Wolves, West Brom and Birmingham, as well as two-time European Cup winners Nottingham Forest and 1995 Premier League champions Blackburn.
After victories against Wolves, West Brom (twice) and Birmingham, the team quite rightly earned the Pride of the Midlands tag. However, it was not enough to keep us in the division as a brave battle right up to the final day of the season saw us narrowly fall back into Division Two.
Unlike previous relegation seasons, there was plenty of positivety surrounding this one and in 2000/01 the club made an explosive start. We stayed in the top four throughout the campaign, after leading the way for much of the opening three months. After finishing in fourth place, the Saddlers were paired against Stoke in the play-off semi-finals. The first leg finished goalless but we produced a stunning second-leg performance to win 4-2 at the Banks’s and book a Millennium Stadium showdown against Reading. Around 17,000 Saddlers supporters travelled to Cardiff for a day they would never forget. Jamie Cureton fired Alan Pardew’s Royals in front but Don Goodman equalised to take the tie to extra time. Ex-Saddler Martin Butler restored Reading’s lead, only for Tony Rougier’s own goal and Darren Byfield’s 110th-minute strike to seal a thrilling 3-2 comeback win. Ray Graydon’s Walsall had returned to the second tier at the first attempt!
Once more our eyes were opened to the harsh realities of first division life early on in the 2001/02 campaign as, despite beating West Brom on the opening day, we made a generally spluttering start. In fact, we remained in the bottom five throughout much of the season. The club took drastic action at the turn of the year when the much-loved Ray Graydon was relieved of his duties and within days Colin Lee was tasked with steering us away from the drop.
Lee was given 16 games to save our skin, and his arrival not only saw an upturn in league results, but we also made it to the fifth round of the FA Cup, where we narrowly lost 2-1 against Fulham.
Division One survival was always our main objective, and as the season came to a close, a run of just one defeat from ten games was enough to secure survival with one game still to play.
This achievement, coupled with league and cup success for the reserves, U19s and U17s, gave the club plenty of reason to look forward to the future with great optimism.
Hopes were high heading into the 2002/03 campaign, with the club having arguably the strongest-ever group of players at its disposal. Work had also commenced to turn the Gilbert Alsop Stand into a two-tier cantilever construction that would dwarf the other stands, while development work was also underway to build a new media room, gymnasium and laundry room.
On the pitch, the club spent the majority of the season battling just above the relegation zone, but with Junior and Jorge Leitao scoring regularly and Player of the Season Ian Roper solid at the back, we rarely looked in serious danger of going down.
A strong finish saw us retain our second-tier status with two games to play, finishing 17th, while we also progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup.
The summer of 2003 brought about the most significant signing in the history of the club when former England International Paul Merson put pen to paper on a deal that really captured the imagination of the Saddlers faithful. It thrust Walsall into the national spotlight and made our intentions perfectly clear as we prepared for a record-breaking third consecutive season at first division level.
With the likes of Vinny Samways and Simon Osborn also snapped up, the season couldn't have got off to a better start with local rivals West Brom, fresh from a season in the top flight, comprehensively beaten 4-1. The victory raised expectations levels further, but we failed to reach those high standards often enough, despite finishing 2003 in 13th place and within easy reach of the play-offs.
To say the second half of the season was a disappointment would be a gross understatement. It took us until March 13th to record our first victory of the New Year, while a host of off-field problems added to the tale of woe. It all culminated with the departure of manager Colin Lee, with Merson taking temporary charge for the final four games. But Merson was unable to save us, with Walsall being relegated in 22nd position on goal difference.
Despite the club's demotion, Merson was handed the job on a permanent basis and hopes were high at the start of the 2004/05 League One campaign. But the Saddlers' eyes were well and truly opened to the harsh realities of life at a lower level, as we struggled in the bottom half of the table virtually all season. Helped by some inspired loan signings, Merson's men ended the season impressively, going unbeaten in the final six games to finish 14th - not a bad achievement considering relegation was still a possibility going into the final month of the campaign.
With some impressive signings and numerous youngsters emerging from the youth ranks, 2005/06 was approached with real relish and determination. Things started well and after three games we found ourselves top of the table. However, we started to slip further and further down the table as the season progressed and the slump culminated in Merson's departure following a heavy 5-0 defeat at Brentford in February 2005.
Head of Youth Mick Halsall stepped in for three games as caretaker before Kevan Broadhurst was given the task of securing our League One status.
Despite a positive start to Broadhurst's reign, the Saddlers soon fell back into old ways and, after relegation was confirmed with defeat against Huddersfield in the penultimate home game of the season, Broadhurst's tenure was ended.
Mark Kinsella took over on a caretaker basis for the final two games as we completed a truly miserable campaign by finishing bottom of the table.
Richard Money was given the task of reviving our fortunes in 2006/07 as he ended a three-year spell working abroad to return to these shores. He quickly stamped his authority on things during the summer, bringing in numerous new faces as we looked to make an immediate return to League One. That dream was realised with three games remaining when the Saddlers clinched automatic promotion with a 2-1 victory at Notts County. We were then crowned League Two champions following a 1-1 draw at Swindon on the final day of the season. In a memorable campaign, midfielder Dean Keates weighed in with a career-best 13 goals to finish as top scorer, while goalkeeper Clayton Ince kept a record-breaking 22 clean sheets in all competitions.
There were numerous key changes during the summer of 2007, including our first-ever stadium sponsorship deal as Bescot Stadium became known as the Banks's Stadium. The club badge also changed and we reverted to the white shirts and red shorts combination that served us for much of the 1970s, as well as spells in the 60s and 80s.
We registered our first league win of 2007/08 at the sixth attempt, with Troy Deeney's late winner sealing victory at Millwall, but a 3-0 home defeat by Oldham the following week saw us hit rock bottom of the table. That prompted Money to introduce a number of youngsters into the side and they made a big impact as we embarked on a run of just two defeats in 26 games, with the Saddlers rising to fourth. But a poor spell in March, which yielded just one win from seven games, saw the team slip out of the play-off zone. Our play-off aspirations ended with a 3-1 home reverse at the hands of Bournemouth in our 44th league game, leading to Money's resignation. His right-hand man Jimmy Mullen took charge of the final two games as we ended the season in 12th position.
There was a significant moment on July 1st 2008 as the club officially opened the doors to its very own training ground for the first time. Situated in Broad Lane, Essington, the project took two years to complete, with the state-of-the-art facility featuring two pitches complete with sprinkler system, a training area, gymnasium, medical room, changing rooms, boot and kit room, offices, dining room, kitchen and video analysis area.
After a positive start in 2008/09, which included a 1-0 win at Brighton despite playing for over an hour nine men, inconsistent results and a poor home record led to Mullen being relieved of his duties on 10th January 2009. John Schofield took caretaker charge for the game at Peterborough before he too departed the club. This paved the way for the appointment of Chris Hutchings, with former Saddlers skipper Martin O'Connor being named his assistant. A run of six games without defeat in February and into the start of March gave hope that a play-off place could still be achieved, but in the end it wasn't to be as we finished 13th.
Nevertheless, there were plenty of encouraging signs heading into 2009/10, although the new season started slowly. An excellent goalless draw at Norwich proved the catalyst for an upturn in fortunes as the Saddlers progressed into the top half of the table. That momentum was disrupted by the adverse winter weather, with Walsall going almost a month between December 19th and January 16th without playing a game. In the end, we secured a top-ten finish with a final-day victory over MK Dons, making it a season of progress.
But the 2010/11 campaign proved a season of struggle, not helped by the summer departure of striker Troy Deeney. A wretched run of results left the Saddlers bottom and eight points from safety, seemingly destined for relegation. Hutchings and O'Connor were relieved of their duties two games into the new year, with Head of Youth Dean Smith taking over as caretaker. Our fortunes improved considerably, and in his first game, Andy Butler scored a dramatic last-minute equaliser as we fought back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 at Tranmere. Smith was handed the job on a permanent basis on 21st January, and eight days later, he secured his first victory – a 6-1 mauling of Bristol Rovers. The Saddlers amassed 25 points from the next 19 fixtures to survive the drop by one point and one place, finishing in 20th position.
With a number of new faces secured during the summer of 2011, we began the new campaign positively. We ended the opening month in tenth position, but too many draws and late goals saw us slip into the lower reaches of the table. Our survival mission was complete with one game to spare and we ended up finishing seven points clear of danger. During that season, James Walker became the club's all-time record appearance maker.
There was another influx of new players in the summer of 2012 - including Paul Downing, James Chambers and Craig Westcarr - as Smith and Richard O'Kelly looked to build a squad capable of challenging at the right end of the table. There were some encouraging results in the early months of the campaign as we took our place in the top ten before a stuttering autumn saw us go 16 games without a win. An excellent Boxing Day victory over MK Dons stimulated an excellent second half of the season, losing just two of our final 21 games. Despite sitting just outside the relegation zone at Christmas, the Saddlers finished the campaign in ninth place, six points outside the play-offs.
April 6th 2013 saw us celebrate our 125th anniversary with a home game against Sheffield United. The club challenged for a top-six place for much of the 2013/14 campaign and there were some notable results, including a 5-1 destruction of Notts County and a deserved 1-0 win at Wolves. Our play-off bid faltered in the latter stages of the season, with the Saddlers falling to a finishing positon of 13th.
Walsall missed out on automatic promotion by a solitary point in 2015/16. Playing attractive, possession-based football, the swashbuckling Saddlers started like a train and sat top of League One in October. Dean Smith was lured to Brentford a month later and we lost our way under his successor Sean O’Driscoll, who was dismissed in March. Caretaker boss Jon Whitney guided Walsall to third but a 6-1 aggregate play-off semi-final defeat by Barnsley ended our promotion dreams. The Saddlers enjoyed success in the cups, beating Championship teams Nottingham Forest, Brighton and Smith’s Bees. Prolific striker Tom Bradshaw top-scored with 20 goals.
A much-changed Saddlers team ended an indifferent 2016/17 season in 14th place. After a summer of upheaval, it was hardly surprising that Jon Whitney’s new-look side took a while to find their feet. Walsall won six successive home matches after the turn of the year, climbing as high as eighth in early-March. But a dreadful run of one win from the final ten games saw us slump into the bottom half, leaving a sour taste in the mouth. Fans’ favourite Erhun Oztumer illuminated the Banks’s with a host of spectacular goals, while right-back Jason McCarthy was named Player of the Season.
The Saddlers survived relegation by just two points in 2017/18, finishing 19th in League One. We spent almost the entire campaign in the bottom half, keeping our heads just above the water. A run of four defeats in five between February and March heightened our relegation fears, bringing Jon Whitney’s two-year tenure to an end. Former player Dean Keates was tasked with steering the Saddlers to safety, which was secured with one game to spare. Erhun Oztumer again finished as our leading scorer, with 17 goals in all competitions.
The Chuckery (1888-93)
Situated in a district near the famous Walsall Arboretum, this multi-purpose sports ground comprised 12 football pitches and four good-sized cricket squares. Before their amalgamation, both the Walsall Swifts and Walsall Town clubs utilised this ground regularly, sometimes having home games on the same afternoon. The first home game of the Walsall Town Swifts was staged at the Chuckery Ground on 8th September 1888 - a friendly against Derby St Luke's. Our first-ever Football League match was also played there, against Darwen, on 3rd September 1892. However, after several complaints from residents in the Sutton Road area, Walsall were forced to leave the Chuckery after just one season, the final game there being a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United on 15th April 1893. The best attendance for a Football League game at the Chuckery was 2,500 v Small Heath on 10th September 1892.
Wood Green Oval (1893)
After leaving the Chuckery, the site of the new ground was in nearby West Bromwich Road. However, the ground was not ready by the required date and, consequently, we played our first two home league matches of the 1893/94 season at the Wood Green Oval (capacity 6,000). The Saddlers lost on both occasions: 3-1 to Small Heath and 5-0 to Burslem Port Vale.
West Bromwich Road (1893-96 & 1900-01)
The new ground in West Bromwich Road had a capacity of just over 4,500 and proved to be a lucky omen for the Saddlers. We won our opening league game there on 23rd September 1893, beating Crewe 5-1. Three years were spent at this venue, up to September 1896 when Hillary Street (Fellows Park) was officially opened. However, in December 1900, we returned to West Bromwich Road for the remainder of that season after being unable to pay the rent on our Hillary Street ground. Walsall's best attendance for a home league game at West Bromwich Road was 4,000 v Liverpool on 11th November 1893.
Hillary Street/Fellows Park (1896-1900 & 1901-90)
Walsall's first game at Hillary Street was played on 1st September 1896 - a 4-1 friendly victory over Glossop North End before a crowd of just over 1,000. Four days later the first Football League game took place and again the Saddlers were victorious, this time beating Burton Wanderers 2-0 in front of 2,500. After seven years of unrest regarding leasing, rent and general maintenance of this ground, an agreement on leasing Hillary Street was at last finalised in early September 1903. The ground was renamed Fellows Park in the summer of 1930 after club director Mr. H. L. Fellows. We stayed at Fellows Park until the summer of 1990, when we switched to the new Bescot Stadium just down the road.
It took some time for Hillary Street to look like a compact football stadium. A brick wall at the Laundry End was finally removed in May 1965 and became an open terrace, mainly for visiting supporters. The Main Stand was eventually built on the east side of the ground and soon afterwards a roof was erected over the popular side terracing, in readiness for fans to watch the Walsall v Arsenal FA Cup tie in January 1933. The first floodlit match to take place at Fellows Park was between Walsall and Falkirk in December 1957. New dressing rooms were installed following Walsall's return to the second division in 1961, with the Hillary Street End being covered in 1965. A decade later, the Main Stand was extended - providing another 1,490 seats - and the dressing rooms were switched back to this side of the ground. The capacity was reduced from 24,000 to 12,000 in 1985 following recent football ground tragedies, with the seating being cut to just 844.
The final league game at Fellows Park on 1st May 1990 finished in a 1-1 draw with Rotherham; full-back Andy Dornan was the last Saddlers player to score at the ground. The last first-team game there was Peter Hart's testimonial against West Brom on 11th May 1990.
The record attendance for a league game at Fellows Park was 25,453 v Newcastle on 29th August 1961; the lowest was 1,047 v Halifax on 25th January 1926.
The Hawthorns (1970)
On 25th February 1970, Walsall played a 'home' Third Division league game against Brighton on the ground of neighbours West Brom. This was because Fellows Park had been waterlogged for some weeks and the Saddlers desperately needed to ease a congested fixture list. Brighton won the match 3-0 in front of a crowd of 7,535.
Bescot Stadium/Banks's Stadium (1990-Present)
Much of the credit for the creation of Bescot Stadium must go to the club's former chairman, Barrie Blower. It was due to his inspirational leadership that league football was saved in Walsall. Through his resilience, determination and vision, countless obstacles were successfully overcome, resulting in the town of Walsall inheriting one of the most modern stadiums in the Football League in the early 1990s.
Work on the £4.5m stadium commenced in June 1989 and finished the following July, with the original capacity 11,104. Nowadays, the Banks’s is an all-seater venue comprising of four separate stands, with a total capacity of 11,300.
The two-tiered Tile Choice Stand, which was extended in 2003, is the largest stand in the ground, accommodating just under 5,000 supporters. The remaining three stands – the Homeserve Stand, the St Francis Group Community Stand and the University of Wolverhampton Stand (away) – are of the same height and follow a similar single-tiered design. The corners are filled in with advertising hoardings and refreshment kiosks, with a large TV screen situated between the Community and University of Wolverhampton stands. Corporate hospitality areas are available in the Tile Choice and Homeserve Stands, with disabled facilities at the front of the Community Stand. The Ticket Office and Club Shop are located at the front of the HomeServe Stand, with the Programme Shop at the back of the University of Wolverhampton Stand.
Sir Stanley Matthews officially opened the ground on 18th August 1990 ahead of the first game against Aston Villa, who won the friendly encounter 4-0 before an excellent crowd of 9,551. The first league match, on 25th August, was watched by 5,219 and finished in a 2-2 draw against Torquay; Martin Goldsmith and Stuart Rimmer scored the Saddlers' goals.
The ground, which has also hosted international matches, was renamed the Banks's Stadium in a sponsorship deal on 9th May 2007.
The record crowd to date is 11,409 for the Saddlers' match against Rotherham on 9th May 2004.
Third Division (now League One)
Runners-Up (2): 1960–61, 1998–99
Play-Off Winners (2): 1987–88, 2000–01
Fourth Division (now League Two)
Champions (2): 1959–60, 2006–07
Runners-Up (2): 1979–80, 1994–95
Football League Trophy
Runners-Up (1): 2014–15
Birmingham Senior Cup
Winners (4): 1880–81 (as Walsall Swifts), 1896–97, 1897–98, 1993–94
Runners-Up (6): 1883–84, 1884–85, 1885–86 (all as Walsall Swifts), 1907–08, 1999–00, 2006–07
Staffordshire Senior Cup
Winners (4): 1881–82, 1884–85 (both Walsall Town), 1928–29, 1967–68
Runners-Up (13): 1880–81, 1881–82, 1886–87 (all as Walsall Swifts), 1889–90, 1892–93, 1898–99, 1910–11, 1920–21, 1921–22, 1948–49, 1949–50, 1952–53, 1965–66
Walsall Senior Cup
Winners (5): 1876–77 1877–78 1888–79 (all as Walsall Swifts), 2014–15, 2016-17
Runners-Up (1): 2012–13
Highest Post-War League Position: 14th in Second Division (now Championship), 1961–62
FA Cup: 5th Round (6): 1938–39, 1974–75, 1977–78, 1986–87, 2001–02, 2002–03
League Cup: Semi-Final (1): 1983–84
Football League Trophy: Runners-Up (1): 2014–15
Highest League Attendance at Fellows Park: 25,453 v Newcastle. Second Division (now Championship), 29 August 1961
Highest League Attendance at Banks's Stadium: 11,049 v Rotherham. First Division (now Championship), 9 May 2004
Highest Third Division (now League One) Attendance: 19,589 v Notts County, 18 March 1950
Highest Fourth Division (now League Two) Attendance: 15,403 v Carlisle, 10 September 1959
Highest FA Cup Attendance: 24,045 v Fulham, 4th Round Replay, 30 January 1962
Highest League Cup Attendance: 21,066 v Liverpool. 4th Round, 17 February 1968
Highest Football League Trophy Attendance: 10,038 v Preston. Area Final Second Leg, 27 January 2015
Highest Average Attendance at Fellows Park: 15,711, 1947–48
Highest Average Attendance at Banks's Stadium: 7,853, 2003–04
League Win: 10–0 v Darwen. Second Division, 4 March 1899
League Defeat: 0–12 v Small Heath. Second Division, 17 December 1892
Cup Win: 7–0 v Macclesfield. FA Cup 2nd Round, 6 December 1997
Most Appearances: Jimmy Walker (534) 1993-04, 2010–12
Most League Appearances: Colin Harrison (473) 1964–82
Top Goalscorer: Alan Buckley (202) 1973–78, 1979–84
Top League Goalscorer: Tony Richards (185) 1954–63
Most Hat-tricks: Gilbert Alsop (22)
Most League Goals in a Season: Gilbert Alsop (40) 1933–34, 1934–35
Most capped player: Mick Kearns (15), Republic of Ireland
Most Games Won in a Row (7): 1959, 2005
Most Games Lost in a Row (15): 1988–89
Most Games without Defeat (21): 1979–80
Most Games without Victory (18): 1988–89