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MEMORIES FOR MICK

10 June 2013

Kearns looks back on a wealth of Saddlers' memories...

MICK Kearns has announced his retirement from his full-time role here at Walsall FC.

His association with the club stretches back 40 years and, as you would expect, he has many memories from that time.

Never in his wildest dreams would Kearns have imagined on that summer afternoon when he signed for the club as a highly-rated 22 year-old, that he would still be playing an influential role for The Saddlers some four decades later.

“I remember travelling up from Oxford to meet Ronnie Allen and the Chairman of the time, Ken Wheldon,” he recalled. “They sold the club to me in such a positive way that I put pen to paper there and then.

“You make big decisions in your life and I regard the one to come here as one of the best I have ever made. There are times when you just know something is right and straight away I felt at home here.

“Another key decision was to buy a house in Aldridge and even after my playing days came to an end, I never thought about moving away from the area and don’t think I ever will.

“During my playing career with Walsall we didn’t have any promotions or relegations, but what we did have was some memorable Cup runs. Drawing at Old Trafford in the FA Cup third round and then beating them in a replay was special, as was the next round when we overcame Newcastle United and I kept a clean sheet.

“We faced Manchester United again in the FA Cup in 1976/77 and although we lost 1-0 on this occasion, the victory over Chesterfield after a second replay in the previous round was my best game for the club.

“We had drawn 1-1 away and then 0-0 at home and in those days the second replay went to a neutral venue, which on this occasion was Derby County’s Baseball Ground. We were under the cosh for long periods but kept them at bay before grabbing a goal in a rare foray forward.

“We already knew that a trip to Old Trafford awaited the winners, so that made it extra special.

“Another special night was when we beat Arsenal at Highbury during that memorable Milk Cup run of 1983/84. By that time I had retired from professional football and was working at the Aldridge Conservative Club, but I was still playing as and when required and thankfully the committee were very supportive to allow me to do it.”

Kearns’ International career with the Republic of Ireland saw him rub shoulders with some of the best players of the time and took him all over the World.

“It was a little strange going from playing in the third division one day to playing International football the next,” he admitted. “To train and play alongside players of the calibre of Liam Brady, Johnny Giles, David O’Leary and Mark Lawrenson was fantastic.

“I got to play in some tremendous stadiums in front of big crowds. There were World Cup qualifiers against the likes of France and Italy, I was involved in a friendly against England at Wembley and also went on a tour of South America.

“It was all good experience, but I never lost sight of the fact that I was a Walsall player and I wanted to do my best for the club every time I stepped out onto the pitch.

“To represent your country is the highlight of anyone’s career and a proud moment. To me playing in International matches was a bonus, the real bread-and-butter was playing consistently and regularly for Walsall.

“We had some good, honest professionals throughout my time here as a player. Alan Buckley was a great goalscorer but Colin Harrison was the best player that I played alongside, no question. He was a brilliant full-back, as good as anyone I shared a pitch with both at club and International level.

“His versatility was a real asset; he could play anywhere and had a superb attitude. I still find it difficult to believe that one of the top clubs never signed him.”

A new chapter in Kearns’ association with The Saddlers came when he was asked to set up a Community Department at the club that would reach out and embrace local people.

“The late 1980s was a time when clubs throughout the country were being encouraged to engage with the community around them,” recalled Kearns. “The PFA were assisting clubs in the development of Community Programmes and I was asked by Barrie Blower, who was Chairman at the time, and the manager, John Barnwell, who I had played under at Wolves, whether I would take on the Community Officer role here.

“It was another big decision that I had to make in my life and, again, it proved to be a great one.

“I had a blank canvass and it gave me the opportunity to set up and establish a programme that, I am proud to say, is one of the most successful and longest-running in the country.

“The club gave me great support, particularly Roy Whalley, and I was able to decide which direction we would take and lay the foundations that have allowed us to develop and grow.

“We now employ a staff of 25 and reach out to thousands of people of all ages in the local area. This is probably my proudest achievement and I know that its continued development is in safe hands with the likes of Adam Davy, Marc Wilkes and Paul Larvin driving it forward towards what is an exciting future.

“I’m extremely proud of the fact that I am the second longest-serving Community Officer in the country behind Keith Hicks at Rochdale, but at the same time, I realise that it’s time to  hand over to the younger generation.”

Kearns’ work with our goalkeepers over the years has also given him a great sense of pride and satisfaction.

“I’m proud to have played a part in the development of a number of goalkeepers over the years,” he added. “If I had to pick a top three I’d say that Clayton Ince and Ron Green would be in there, but top spot would have to go to Jimmy Walker.

“He became such an important player for this club and played a key role in what was a very successful time. He had many attributes and the fans loved him. To see him become the club’s all-time record appearance maker gave me enormous pride.

“The only disappointing aspect for me is that throughout my time as Goalkeeping Coach there has never been a goalkeeper who has come through from the youth ranks and established themselves in the first-team.

“The closest we came was with Rene Gilmartin who got a run in the team before deciding that his future lay elsewhere.”

Whilst Kearns is retiring from his full-time roles, he will still have a big part to play on a matchday here at Banks’s Stadium for he is taking over the Matchday Host role from Roy Whalley as well as continuing to co-commentate on Saddlers Player and taking on an Ambassadorial role for the club.

“My heart and soul is in Walsall FC and I couldn’t walk away from the club completely,” he went on. “The opportunity to replace Roy as Matchday Host came at exactly the right time and is something that I am looking forward to.

“I also enjoy the work I do on Saddlers Player and this will continue.

“This club means so much to me; to have been involved in the successes over the years has been fantastic and I’ve come across some truly great people.

“I’ve also been fortunate to work under some good managers. Dave Mackay was the best during my days as a player, whilst Chris Nicholl, Ray Graydon and Colin Lee have all impressed me in recent times.

“But I have to say that in Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly we have the best pairing that I have seen in all my years with the club. They complement each other so well and their enthusiasm and high regard for developing young, hungry players will serve us well in the years ahead.

“They have created a superb environment, which has already started to reap its rewards.

“These are exciting times for the club and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see us playing good football and making progress.”

We are delighted that Mick will become Matchday Host during 2013/14 alongside his work on our Saddlers Player service. He will also take on an ambassadorial role for the club.

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