New Club Chaplain as former skipper returns...
IT’S been over two decades since Peter Hart ended a playing career with The Saddlers that spanned almost 500 senior games.
Back then he was a popular, no-nonsense defender whose reliable and committed displays served the club so well for ten years and culminated in a richly-deserved Testimonial.
This summer Peter Hart has returned to the club that still means so much to him in the role of Club Chaplain.
There’s only ever been one previous Club Chaplain at Walsall. Martin Butt first arrived during John Barnwell’s reign as manager in the late 1980s when such a role was rare. Ironically he came here on the recommendation of Peter Hart, the man who will now attempt to fill his shoes following his decision to retire from the post at the end of last season.
“I never imagined that I would be involved with the club in this way,” admitted Hart. “It’s been an unexpected progression in that it’s 22 years since I left the club.
“But when Martin spoke to me about taking over from him, it was an opportunity that really appealed and here I am.
“My main function is to get to know the players and staff throughout the club and be one of a number of people who they may decide to speak to over certain issues affecting their lives.
“Basically I am here to help in any way that I can.”
Hart had just turned 23 when he first arrived at Fellows Park in the summer of 1980, but he had already played 229 games for Huddersfield Town, for whom he made his senior debut at the age of just 16.
Does he feel that this footballing background will help him in his new role? “Yes, it will help but I must stress that I am not here to offer football advice, the management team are tremendous at that.
“My background in the game will help in that I understand the pressures and disappointments that people can feel within professional football and I can draw from first-hand experiences.
“The irony in me taking this role is that it was I who first introduced Martin Butt to John Barnwell and he has been here ever since, that’s fantastic service and dedication.
“Martin has been extremely encouraging and I have had many conversations with him prior to taking over. The Sports Chaplain Association has also been of great assistance and they have already visited the club to give us a good foundation going forward.
“I must say that the first few weeks have been most enjoyable. The people at the club have been very welcoming and supportive and I have a real buzz for the season ahead. It’s made me realise exactly how much hard work and planning goes on behind the scenes to make a football club tick by a whole host of different people.
“It’s been illuminating for me and as a player, you certainly don’t appreciate exactly what goes on behind-the-scenes.
“The club we have today is a world away from the one that I was part of during the 1980s. The facilities are first-class and everything is geared towards progression and development.
“I am very hopeful and excited about what the future holds in store and I feel that Walsall will surprise a few people this season. We have played some good stuff during the pre-season and the team has gelled well together.
“I know Dean and Richard from my time as a player. Richard and I played together for many years and, funnily enough, Dean came into the team to replace me during the 1988/89 season!
“As a management team they work so well together and add to that the sheer enthusiasm and positivity of John Whitney, and you have a tremendous and intelligent coaching staff.
“It really is a privilege to see them work at close quarters and be a small part of it.”
Meanwhile we bid a fond farewell to Martin Butt who has retired after 22 years service. He has become a staunch supporter of The Saddlers during that time and will continue to be a regular at matches despite moving away from the area.
"I was born and brought up in Oxford but work and study brought me to Walsall and it has been a joy and a privilege to be involved with the town's football club,” he said. “To be part of so many people's lives, sharing the good times and the bad, of which there have been plenty of both, has been fulfilling.
“We've had our share of tragedies such as sudden deaths, serious injuries and personal difficulties plus not forgetting our stadium ghost, which was around during our early years at Bescot. I was pleased to be able to know what to do about that situation and sort it out.
"As Chaplain I have become a fan of the club and moments such as our victory at the Millennium Stadium in 2001 and the promotion campaign of 1998/99 are very special to me and will remain with me forever.
"There have been some tremendous times and to be part of them has been very special.
"We've also had some talented players during my time here, but my favourite has to be Jeff Peron. In his one season with us, the headlines were all about Roger Boli and his goals, but I always admired Jeff for his tireless and unselfish running on the left wing. He was a quality player with a fine attitude who, like so many continental players, spoke better English than some of the home-grown lads!
"My support for The Saddlers will never leave me and I will get back to watch games as well as keeping up-to-date with all of the latest goings on.
"My two sons, Ian and Mark, grew up in Walsall and although they left the area many years ago, they remain avid supporters of the club.
"Retirement will be a new chapter in my life. I certainly won't be sitting back and doing nothing; it's an exciting opportunity for me to do something new and I am looking forward to it."
We wish Martin well in his retirement and welcome Peter back to the club…