The places that The Saddlers have called home...
THE CHUCKERY (1888-1893)
This multi-purpose sports ground was situated in a district near to the famous Walsall Arboretum. It comprised some 12 soccer pitches and four good-sized cricket squares, and before their amalgamation both the Walsall Swifts and Walsall Town clubs utilized this ground regularly, especially at weekends, sometimes having home games on the same afternoon.
The first home game of the Walsall Town Swifts was staged at The Chuckery Ground on September 8th 1888 against Derby St. Luke's in a friendly and The Saddlers were still playing there when the club played its first-ever Football League match, at home to Darwen on September 3rd 1892.
However, after several complaints from the residents in the Sutton Road area, Walsall were forced to leave The Chuckery after just one season of second division football, the last game there being against Sheffield United on April 15th 1893 which finished in a 1-1 draw. The best attendance for a Football League game at The Chuckery was that of 2,500 v Small Heath (Division Two) on September 10th 1892; the lowest was 500 (registered twice) v Bootle on December 24th 1892 and v Northwich Victoria on February 11th 1893.
WOOD GREEN OVAL (1893)
After The Chuckery, the site of the new ground was in nearby West Bromwich Road, but because the construction workers had met with some interruptions, this was not quite ready for use by the required date and consequently Walsall's first two home League matches of the 1893/94 season were played 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.
The best attendance for a League game at the Wood Green Oval was 5,000 v Small Heath on September 2nd 1893; the lowest 3,000 v Burslem Port Vale a week later.
WEST BROMWICH ROAD (1893-1896 & 1900-01)
The new ground in West Bromwich Road, which had a capacity of just over 4,500, proved to be a lucky omen for The Saddlers.
They won their opening League game there on September 23rd 1893, beating Crewe Alexandra 5-1.
Three years were spent at this venue, up to September 1896 when Hillary Street (Fellows Park) was officially opened. In December 1900, however, The Saddlers returned briefly to their old West Bromwich Road ground after being unable to pay the rent on their Hillary Street ground. They stayed there for the remainder of that season, playing their last second division game for 60 years before they dropped out of The Football League in April 1901.
Walsall's best attendance for a home League game at West Bromwich Road was 4,000 v Liverpool on November 11th 1893; the lowest was 500 v Lincoln City on April 20th 1895.
HILLARY STREET / FELLOWS PARK (1896-1900 & 1901-1990)
Walsall's first game at their Hillary Street ground was played on Tuesday, September 1st 1896. It was a friendly against Glossop North End and resulted in a 4-1 victory before a crowd of just over 1,000. Four days later the first Football League game took place and again The Saddlers recorded a victory - this time 2-0 over Burton Wanderers when the turnout was 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 finalized in early September 1903. The name Hillary Street remained so until the summer of 1930 when it became known as Fellows Park, named after Mr. H. L. Fellows, a club director, and surprisingly was one of only three established Football League grounds in the country to be named after an individual, the other two being those of AFC Bournemouth (Dean Court) and Cardiff City's Ninian Park. The Saddlers stayed at Fellows Park until the summer of 1990, when they switched to the new Bescot Stadium just down the road.
It took quite some time for Hillary Street to look like a compact football stadium, especially with a brick wall seemingly resident at the Laundry End of the ground (this was finally removed in May 1965, to become 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 the fans to watch the Walsall v Arsenal FA Cup tie in January 1933. A lot of general work was carried out during the 1940s and early 1950s and 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 after an absence of 60 years, and on August 29th 1961, a record crowd of over 25,000 packed into the ground to watch The Saddlers take on Newcastle United. Soon after this game the crowd limit was reduced to 22,600 for safety reasons.
In the summer of 1965 the Hillary Street end of Fellows Park (behind the goal) was covered and a decade later, thanks to some ready cash banked from a successful Cup run, an extension was added to the Main Stand with the dressing rooms being switched back to this area of the ground. This extra section provided another 1,490 seats and pushed the overall capacity back up to just over 24,000. This was then reduced by half, to 12,000, in 1985 following recent football ground tragedies, with the seating inside the ground being cut to just 844.
The last first-team game at Fellows Park was for Peter Hart's testimonial against West Bromwich Albion on May 11th 1990. The final League game was Walsall v Rotherham United on May 1st when a crowd of 5,697 witnessed a 1-1 draw with Scottish-born full-back, Andy Dornan having the distinction of scoring The Saddlers' last-ever goal on the ground - his one and only strike for the club.
The record attendance for a League game at Fellows Park is 25,453 v Newcastle United on August 29th 1961; the lowest was 1,047 v Halifax Town on January 25th 1926.
The late 1960s saw the first pop group appear at Fellows Park - The Jaguars - who were managed by Walsall season-ticket holder, Ron Hawkins.
THE HAWTHORNS (1970)
On February 25th 1970 Walsall played a 'home' third division League game against Brighton and Hove Albion on the ground of neighbours West Bromwich Albion 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 and the crowd was 7,535.
BESCOT STADIUM / BANKS'S STADIUM (1990 onwards)
Much of the credit for the creation of Bescot Stadium must be handed to the club's former chairman, Barrie Blower.
It was due to his inspirational leadership that League football was saved in Walsall and it was through his dynamism, resilience, sheer determination and vision that 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.
Situated less than a mile from junction nine of the M6, Bescot Stadium is close to the Walsall ring road; it has a mainline railway station across the road and there is parking space for well over 1,000 vehicles.
The H. L. Fellows Stand is named after the former director and chairman of the club between 1921 and 1938. It contains the main entrance to the stadium, executive boxes, The Swifts Club Executive Lounge, the Directors' Lounge, The Bonser Suite, club offices, dressing rooms, gymnasium, laundry room, media room and betting office.
To the right of the main stand lies the William Sharp Stand. Named after a local company which supplied steel for the stadium and has since sponsored the stand, it was initially a terrace for visiting supporters but since 1992 has been all-seated. It contains The Programme Shop, Police Control Room (including cells), public address facilities and Sunday Market office.
Facing the H. L. Fellows Stand is the Banks's Stand which has a designated family section and contains The Junior Saddlers Room, Study Support Centre, Disabled Lounge and groundstaff office.
The Purple Stand was completed in November 2002 and is a two-tier cantilever all-seated stand which replaced the old Gilbert Alsop Terrace. It contains The Bescot Bar, a large concourse area in the middle, the Purple Lounge plus dressing rooms and viewing areas for the synthetic sports pitch at the back. Built at a cost of around £3million, the stand dwarfs all of the others and was finally made all-seated in the summer of 2003 due to Football League requirements.
The Ticket Office and Club Shop are both situated just outside the H. L. Fellows Stand, whilst the superb Saddlers Club can be found at the Bescot Crescent end of the ground, between the H. L. Fellows Stand and William Sharp Stand. This salubrious facility has a large function room, lounge, games and family room, with The Travel Office situated at the rear.
It cost £4.5 million to build Bescot Stadium. Work commenced in June 1989 and was finished in July 1990. The 1991 capacity was set at 11,104 but in the summer of 1992 seats were installed at the William Sharp end of the ground at a cost of £28,000 with a 75% grant coming in from The Football Trust. The capacity was therefore cut to just over 10,000, but following the opening of the new Purple Stand in 2002, it now stands at 11,500.
Aston Villa were Walsall's first opponents at Bescot Stadium, Sir Stanley Matthews officially opening the ground on August 18th 1990. That afternoon an excellent crowd of 9,551 saw the friendly encounter which Villa won 4-0.
The opening League game came in Division Four on August 25th as The Saddlers took on Torquay United. The outcome was a 2-2 draw, watched by a crowd of 5,219. Martin Goldsmith and Stuart Rimmer were on target for Walsall.
The ground was chosen to stage an England 'B' International match against Switzerland on May 20th 1991 when a then record crowd of 10,628 saw the Swiss beaten 2-1. There was also a Ladies International match between England and Scotland played at the ground in 1993, as well as several Youth Internationals.
The top League crowd so far was the 11,049 who turned out to see the Walsall's final game of the 2003/04 season against Rotherham United on Sunday, May 9th 2004; the lowest being the 2,045 hardy souls that witnessed the visit of Maidstone United on March 30th 1992, however only 1,837 were present for the Autoglass Trophy game against Mansfield Town on December 8th 1992.
The Purple Stand became the Floors-2-Go Stand in 2005, whilst the H. L. Fellows Stand was renamed the Txt 64446 Health Stand in readiness for the start of the 2006/07 campaign. Homeserve took over the sponsorship of the visitors' end of the ground from Healthland and the West Bromwich Building Society became Family Stand sponsors in place of Banks's in May 2007.
The ground was renamed the Banks's Stadium on May 9th 2007. This sponsorship follows an 11-year association between Marston's-owned Banks's and The Saddlers as shirt sponsors.
Marston's Beer Company Marketing Director, Peter Jackson said: "We are delighted to continue our long-running sponsorship with The Saddlers.
"Banks's beers are an institution in the West Midlands - as is Walsall FC with their iconic stadium in the heart of the region."
All four stands had new sponsors during the course of 2011 with ABS (Burton) Ltd. taking over sponsorship of the Main Stand, Tile Choice putting their name to the two-tier stand behind the goal, Five Rivers becoming Family Stand Sponsor and Sign Specialists getting the naming rights for the away end.
Further developments during the summer of 2012 included the development of two new bar areas, one within the family stand and the other for visiting supporters.