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21 May 2015



21 May 2015

The story of The Saddlers...

BOTH Walsall Town (founded 1877) and Walsall Swifts (founded 1879) had been in existence for a number of years before, in the course of the 1887/88 season, it was decided to end their fierce local rivalry and amalgamate. 

The new club got off to a rousing start; their opening game was the Final of the Birmingham Charity Cup 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 former 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 be staged on their own Chuckery Ground, Walsall Town Swifts withdrew from the competition and the trophy went to Aston Villa.

Though they did not 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 the 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 Town, 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 by two goals to one.

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.

Even so the finances of the club were shaky at that time and it is interesting to note that for the following season Vice Presidents' tickets at a guinea each were made available.

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 that 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 to be 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 and though 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 in which we also moved back to Hillary Street. Expenses were now lower and matches against the reserve teams of Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, Small Heath and Wolves provided a certain amount 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 Stanley.

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), in the course of which Walsall played before a crowd of 74,600 in an FA Cup fourth round tie at Villa Park. The game was transferred there from Fellows Park in order to accommodate all the spectators but even so many thousands were locked out when the gates were closed. It remains as the biggest-ever crowd that a Walsall team have played in front of, and despite going down by three goals to one Walsall won many friends by giving a brave display and goalkeeper, Fred Biddlestone impressed the home side so much that they signed him shortly afterwards.

1931 saw Walsall back in Division Three (North) and, despite an undistinguished League record, the greatest win in the club's history was achieved on January 14th 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.

Amongst 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 Bromwich Albion. 

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. 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 that 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 during 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' direction.

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 what was to prove to be a promotion jigsaw. Before that, however, Walsall had become founder-members of Division Four after being 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 and netted 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 was also major contributions from Roy Faulkner, Ken Hodgkisson and Colin Askey, who got the winner on that memorable night at Shrewsbury in April 1961 in front of what still stands at Gay Meadow's record 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, Walsall still needed a point from their 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 in 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 and substitutes were 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 in 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 United in 1975 and Leicester City 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 City. 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-final of the Milk Cup in which the mighty Liverpool were held to a draw at Anfield, raised everybody's spirits for a time. The fade-out in the last two months of the season left everyone disappointed and 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 City, that had been denied at the Shareholder's 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 Alan 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 in which Chesterfield, Port Vale, first division Charlton Athletic and Birmingham City were beaten before three memorable games with Watford, including that never-to-be-forgotten 4-4 draw at Vicarage Road, eventually saw The Saddlers narrowly edged out at the fifth round stage.

Hopes were high for the following season, 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 and after overcoming the challenge of both Notts County and Bristol City, Walsall were back in the second division after a gap of 25 years.

Being only the second manager in the club's history to gain promotion, Tommy Coakley's job was made even more difficult at the start of 1988/89 by the August sale of David Kelly for a club record £600,000 to West Ham United.

A sound start suddenly went wrong as the 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 as his successor, whilst Ramsden's early enthusiasm had completely waned by this stage. 

Barnwell couldn't prevent relegation back to the third division, but amongst the gloom saw work start on a new £3 million stadium in the early part of 1989. Another dreadful season was experienced in 1989/90, with the club once more rooted to the foot of the table and Barnwell receiving his marching orders in March 1990 as 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 in their first season back in Division Four before mustering a 15th place berth the following year after threatening to challenge for a play-off place at one point.

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 that 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 Alexandra to inflict a 9-3 aggregate defeat to deny the club a place at Wembley in the Final.

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.

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.  Brave Cup displays against West Ham United - who were beaten 2-1 in the first leg of a League Cup second round tie - and Leeds United - who were held to a 1-1 draw at Bescot in the FA Cup - didn't upset our flow in the League and we held our nerve to claim promotion, finishing in second place after getting the point that 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 down-turn in the weather coincided with a down-turn in results and at one point the club hovered dangerously just above the relegation trap-door. There was no need to worry, though, and 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 the middle of the table.

Chris Nicholl decided that he had taken the club as far as he could and handed over the reins to Jan Sorensen who became the first foreign manager of the club. A former Ajax player and Denmark International, Sorensen had an extremely cavalier attitude to the game and although League form was not good he led the club on an exciting Cup adventure which saw Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United beaten in the League Cup and a fantastic 7-0 FA Cup win at Macclesfield Town on the way to a memorable day out at Old Trafford for an intriguing fourth round tie with Manchester United, which was eventually lost 5-1 in front of a 54,669 crowd. 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, for which Sorensen paid the penalty with the sack shortly after the end of the season.

His replacement was Ray Graydon, an experienced coach who was given his first opportunity as a manager and he wasted no 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 promotion as runners-up in his first season at the helm after starting the season as one of the favourites to face the drop. The likes of big-spending Manchester City and Preston North End couldn't overhaul The Saddlers who went up with an outstanding team spirit as the likes of Andy Rammell and Darren Wrack really came 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 Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City as well as Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers.

After victories against Wolves, West Bromwich Albion (twice) and Birmingham City, 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 very last day of the season saw us narrowly fall back into Division Two.

Unlike previous relegation seasons there was much positivety surrounding this one and this attitude continued into 2000/2001 when the club made an explosive start out of the blocks and proceeded to stay within the top four throughout the campaign after leading the way for much of the opening three months. In the play-offs Stoke City were overcome over two legs to set up one of the biggest days in the club's history at the Millennium Stadium as around 17,000 supporters roared the club on to promotion at the expense of Reading following an exciting 3-2 triumph, to present us with another crack at establishing ourselves as a first division club.

Once more our eyes were opened to the harsh realities of first division life early on in the 2001/2002 campaign as, despite beating West Bromwich Albion on the opening day, we made a generally spluttering start. In fact, we remained in the bottom four or five places throughout much of the season, and it was a struggle that saw the club take 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 charged with the task of 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 out by two goals to one against Fulham.

Division One survival was always our main objective, though and as the season came to a close, a run of just one defeat from ten games was enough to see our place in The Football League's top flight secured with one game still to play.

This achievement, coupled with League and Cup success for the reserves, Under-19s and Under-17s, meant that the club ended the 2001/2002 campaign with plenty of reason to look forward to the future with great optimism.

Hopes were high going into the 2002/2003 campaign as the club had 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, whilst development work was underway to improve the very fabric of the club with a new media room, gymnasium and laundry room.

On the pitch things went steadily rather than spectacularly and although the club ended the month of September in 15th place it was the highest position we would reach as the rest of the season saw us battle just above the relegation zone. However, with players such as 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 secure our status with two games still to play as we ended up in 17th place and also reflected upon another year in which we made it to the fifth round stage 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 on a bright and sunny afternoon as local rivals West Bromwich Albion, fresh from a season in the top flight, came to town and were comprehensively beaten by four goals to one.

The victory only acted to raise expectations levels still further, but we failed to reach those high standards often enough despite the fact that going into 2004 we sat in 13th place in the table, within easy reach of the Play-Off zone.

To say that the second half of the season was a disappointment would be a gross understatement. It took us until March 13th to pick up our first victory of the New Year (as we scrambled a single-goal victory over bottom-of-the-table Wimbledon), whilst a host of off-the-field problems added to the tale of woe.

It all culminated with the departure of manager Colin Lee as we crashed towards the relegation zone at great speed. He was replaced for the final four games of the season by Paul Merson, who despite not being able to save the club from relegation albeit as we went down on goal difference, did enough to earn the job on a permanent basis.

Hopes were high at the start of the 2004/2005 campaign as we prepared for life in League One. A number of promising youngsters from the youth team had been given professional deals, allied to the experience of the likes of former Republic of Ireland International, Mark Kinsella who was snapped up on a free transfer from West Bromwich Albion.

There were goals galore at both ends of the field in the opening fixtures but as the season progressed, and various members of backroom staff came and went, The Saddlers' eyes were well and truly opened to the harsh realities of life at this lower level as we struggled in the bottom half of the table for virtually all of the season.

Some inspired loan signings just prior to the transfer deadline in March 2005 gave Merson's men an impressive end to the season that saw us unbeaten in the final six games and reach a finishing position of 14th - not a bad achievement considering that 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, 2005/2006 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 with the departure of manager, Paul Merson following a heavy 5-0 defeat at Brentford in February 2005.

Having used no fewer than 46 different players in all competitions and with discontent amongst the supporters, The Saddlers found themselves involved in a real relegation battle at the time of Merson's departure. Head of Youth, Mick Halsall stepped in for three games as caretaker-manager before Kevan Broadhurst took over the reins on February 22nd 2006 with the task of securing League One status.

After a positive start to Broadhurst's reign with some impressive performances away from home, The Saddlers soon fell back into old ways and upon relegation being confirmed with defeat against Huddersfield Town 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 of the season 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 of 2006 and brought in numerous new players as we looked to make an immediate return to League One.

That dream was realised with three games still to play when The Saddlers clinched automatic promotion with a 2-1 victory at Notts County.

With Dean Keates weighing in with a career-best 13 goals from midfield to leave him top scorer and goalkeeper, Clayton Ince contributing a record-breaking 22 clean sheets in all competitions, we were crowned League Two Champions following a 1-1 draw at Swindon Town on the final day of the season.

It was a deserved achievement for a team that had lost just seven times in 46 League games and had been in the top two since September.

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.

On the pitch, new arrivals included the experienced Danny Sonner and Paul Hall, who returned for their second spell at the club, and Tommy Mooney, who scored in our opening day draw with Carlisle United.

Having gone out of the League Cup and Johnstone's Paint Trophy at the first hurdle at the hands of Swansea City and AFC Bournemouth respectively, we registered our first League win in our sixth attempt as Troy Deeney's late winner gave us victory at Millwall.

However, a 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Oldham Athletic the following week saw us hit rock bottom of the table.

This prompted manager, Richard Money into introducing a number of youngsters into the team who had previously found themselves on the fringes and they were to make a big impact as we embarked upon a run of 26 games with just two defeats.

It thrust us into fourth place in the table as the talents of Anthony Gerrard, Scott Dann, Daniel Fox, Mark Bradley, Alex Nicholls, Troy Deeney and later Richard Taundry and Manny Smith really came to the fore. During this time Michael Ricketts returned to the club on loan and weighed in with five goals.

The end of January saw the departure of Daniel Fox and Scott Dann to Coventry City, whilst loan captures Lee Holmes and Kevin Betsy made a favourable impression, following in the footsteps of Dwayne Mattis and Peter Sweeney earlier in the campaign.

As the end of the season approached, a poor spell in March, which yielded just one win from seven games, saw the team slip out of the play-off zone. Two wins at the start of April gave hope, but our play-off aspirations finally ended with a 3-1 home reverse at the hands of AFC Bournemouth in our 44th League game of the season.

This led to Richard Money resigning from his position as right-hand man, Jimmy Mullen took charge of the final two games as we ended the season in 12th position.

The end of the season saw the departure of long-serving duo, Ian Roper and Darren Wrack who had given sterling service to the club. It represented the end of an era as we looked forward to what the future held in store.

There was a significant moment on July 1st 2008 as the club officially opened the doors to it's 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 main pitches at exactly the same dimensions as the Banks's Stadium pitch and complete with sprinkler system embedded into the turf, a training area, full-equipped gymnasium, medical room, changing rooms, boot and kit room, offices, dining room, kitchen and video analysis area.

The new training complex helped the club secure the services of some experienced players with the likes of Stephen Roberts checking in from Doncaster Rovers, Coventry City skipper, Stephen Hughes putting pen to paper, Dwayne Mattis returning from Barnsley following a successful loan spell during the previous campaign, Jabo Ibehre arriving from Leyton Orient, Michael Ricketts returning to the club that launched his career, former German International, Marco Reich coming back to England after previous spells with Derby County and Crystal Palace, mercurial Frenchman, Sofiene Zaaboub captured from Swindon Town and the versatile Chris Palmer being secured from Wycombe Wanderers following a successful trial spell.

Allied to the exciting young talent already at the club, it gave Jimmy Mullen and his newly-appointed assistant, John Schofield, a strong team to enter the season with.

After a positive start, which saw the team sit in the top five at the start of October and included a 1-0 win at Brighton having played for over an hour in the south coast heat with just nine men, some inconsistent results and a poor home record led to Mullen being relieved of his duties on January 10th 2009.

Schofield took caretaker charge for the game at Peterborough United before he too departed the club. This paved the way for the appointment of former Premier League boss, Chris Hutchings into the hot-seat alongside fellow former Saddlers' skipper, Martin O'Connor, who came in as his assistant.

The duo enjoyed their first victory three games into their reign with a richly-deserved 1-0 success over Leeds United in front of our biggest crowd of the season and they oversaw a steady progression for the club with the likes of Sofiene Zaaboub, Manny Smith and Troy Deeney, who ended the season with 12 goals to his name, really coming to the fore.

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 as we looked ahead to what the 2009/10 campaign held in store.

New faces included Mark Hughes (from Northampton Town), Steve Jones (from Burnley), Sam Parkin (from Luton Town), Josh O'Keefe (from Blackburn Rovers), Peter Till (from Grimsby Town), Jamie Vincent (returning to the club from Swindon Town) and Matt Richards (from Ipswich Town) as we kicked the season off at a warm and sunny Brighton.

A hard-fought 1-0 victory gave a positive start for Chris Hutchings who entered his first full season at The Saddlers' helm.

There was disappointment as both the Carling Cup and Johnstone's Paint Trophy were both exited at the first hurdle at the hands of League Two opposition in Accrington Stanley and Bury respectively, whilst a challenging fixture list in the opening month saw us head into September in the lower reaches of the table.

An excellent goalless draw at Norwich stimulated an upturn in fortunes as, apart from a comprehensive 3-0 set-back at Hartlepool, we made steady progression into the top half of the table.

In the FA Cup, a 1-0 victory at local non-League outfit, Stourbridge captured the romance of the competition, but a 1-0 defeat at Brentford in the next round denied us a place in the money-spinning third round draw.

Three successive convincing home victories over Exeter City (3-0), Stockport County (2-0) and Oldham Athletic (3-0), allied to an enthralling comeback from two goals down to win at Wycombe and a 3-1 success at Yeovil as we became only the second team to win at Huish Park, gave plenty of hope as we neared the half-way stage of the season.

That momentum was soon disrupted by the adverse winter weather as matches were postponed left, right and centre and we went almost a month between December 19th and January 16th without playing a game.

Suddenly having been just one place outside the play-off zone we slipped back down to mid-table, but still a place in the end of season shake-up was in our sights.

A busy month of February saw us face no newer than eight games. Julian Gray arrived to boost the ranks and it was during this time that we recorded a fantastic and richly-deserved 2-1 victory at Leeds United as we became the first team in over a year to leave Elland Road triumphant.

Whilst the run-in to the end of the season was successful as we won our final five home games in a row and lost just once in eight games, with that defeat coming in an amazing game at promotion hopefuls, Huddersfield Town where we played for 70 minutes with ten men, came back from two goals down to lead 3-2 going into stoppage time before falling to two late, late goals, our mid-season wobble had meant that we left ourselves with just too much to do to make it into the play-offs.

In the end, we secured a top ten finish with a final day 2-1 victory over MK Dons to make it a season of progress. The only downside was a series of demonstrations that blighted our final home games as a small section of the support decided to take their frustrations out on the running of the club.

The 2010/11 campaign began with front-man, Troy Deeney departing for Watford as The Saddlers ended the opening month of the season in the same position as we ended the previous campaign - tenth.

There was early disappointment in the Carling Cup and Johnstone's Paint Trophy with first round exits at home to Tranmere Rovers and League Two, Chesterfield respectively.

League form also started to take a dip as the club found itself in the lower reaches of the table for much of the first half of the campaign.

2011 started with us at the foot of the table and just two games into the New Year, manager, Chris Hutchings and his assistant, Martin O'Connor were relieved of their duties as we started to become cut adrift in the relegation zone.

Head of Youth, Dean Smith was handed the job, initially on a caretaker basis before taking it full-time, and in his first game at the helm he inspired a comeback at Tranmere Rovers, as we came back from 3-1 down with time running out to grab a point.

Performances started to show a marked improvement as the belief came flooding back into both players and supporters alike. A 6-1 thrashing of Bristol Rovers increased the feel-good factor and proved what we could do on our day.

We continued to pick up points throughout February and March kicked off with a hard-earned victory over a much-fancied Southampton outfit.

There was another seminal moment to come as we found ourselves two goals down at home to Hartlepool United early in the second half before the introduction of Emmanuel Ledesma inspired one of our greatest comebacks as we ended up running out 5-2 victors.

Despite this improvement in fortunes, our League One future was still very much in the balance going into the final weeks of the season. Our final home game of the campaign saw us deservedly beat Charlton Athletic to put ourselves firmly in the driving seat for survival and this was confirmed when Dagenham & Redbridge failed to get a result at Peterborough on a dramatic final day.

From being nine points adrift of safety and, to many, dead-and-buried only a couple of months earlier, the turnaround was fantastic as Dean Smith, assistant Jon Whitney and Chris Nicholl did some sterling work to revive our fortunes and give us plenty of hope for 2011/12.

With a number of new faces secured during the summer of 2011, we began the new campaign in positive mood and secured an opening day victory over Leyton Orient with one of the new boys - Adam Cambers - notching the winner with a sweet strike against his former club.

A positive first month of the season ended with the club in tenth position, but too many drawn games and late goals cost us as we found ourselves in the lower reaches of the table throughout the autumn and winter.

There was also plenty of Cup disappointment as Middlesbrough comfortably removed us from the League Cup at the first hurdle, whilst our Johnstone's Paint Trophy interest ended with a penalty shoot-out defeat at Rochdale in the sceond round after being Shrewsbury Town in the opening round. We fared little better in the FA Cup as after beating Exeter City following a replay in Round One, we succumbed to League Two outfit, Dagenham & Redbridge in a second round replay at home.

Highlights in the first half of the season included a victory over Preson North End and Boxing Day success against Sheffield Wednesday in front of a packed house at Banks's Stadium as Claude Gnakpa grabbed a last-minute equaliser before Manny Smith found the net with a stoppage time winner.

The turn of the year saw James Walker become the club's all-time record appearance maker with his 530th outing to beat a record that had been held by Colin Harrison for just over three decades.

During this time, former player Richard O'Kelly joined the coaching staff to pass on his vast experience and know-how. He was to stay until March when he was appointed as manager of Hereford United.

Our fortunes were given a lift early in 2012 with the loan arrivals of Florent Cuvelier from Stoke City and Sam Mantom from West Bromwich Albion, whilst Emmanuel Ledesma returned to the club. The trio brought about an upturn in fortunes that saw us lose just once in 12 games as we entered the spring.

Nevertheless we still found ourselves embroiled in a battle at the bottom, but our survival mission was complete with one game to spare and we ended up finishing seven points clear of danger as we hit the 50-point mark with a deserved final day win at MK Dons.

With 20 League draws and a decent defensive record which belied our position, we were certainly an organised and difficult side to beat in 2011/12, qualities that we hope to take into the new season.

There was another influx of new players arriving during the summer of 2012 as Dean Smith and Richard O'Kelly looked to build a squad worthy of making a challenge at the right end of the League One table.

The likes of Nicky Featherstone, Febian Brandy, Connor Taylor, Paul Downing and James Baxendale were all young and hungry players keen to make their mark, whilst Dean Holden, Ben Purkiss, Andy Taylor, James Chambers and later, Craig Westcarr, offered a bit more experience.

We started with a Capital One Cup victory over Brentford before our League campaign got underway with a 3-0 home defeat at the hands of newly-relegated Doncaster Rovers in a game where we played much better than the scoreline suggested.

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 and included Johnstone's Paint Trophy and FA Cup exits at the hands of Port Vale and Lincoln City respectively.

An excellent victory over MK Dons on Boxing Day proved to be the catalyst for an excellent second half of the season.

Whilst the quality of our football had remained high throughout our poor run, it started to get the results it deserved as we went 21 games from New Year's Day to the end of the season with just two defeats.

There were some fantastic results and performances along the way and even though we used five different goalkeepers during the campaign, it failed to halt our flow.

Having found ourselves just outside the relegation zone at Christmas, we took our quest to reach the play-offs until the penultimate game of the season as we finish ninth, just six points off the play-off places.

Player of the Year, Will Grigg became the first Walsall player for 12 years to reach 20 goals, whilst the likes of Jamie Paterson - who won the Young Player of the Season prize, Adam Chambers, Andy Butler and Febian Brandy really shone.

April 6th 2013 saw us celebrate our 125th Birthday with a home game against Sheffield United and it was the start of 12 months of events to mark what is significant landmark for the club.

The footballing philosophy that had been implemented at all levels throughout the club during the previous summer was already proving successful as we made great forward strides in 2012/13.

Despite losing Will Grigg to Brentford, Jamie Paterson to Nottingham Forest and Febian Brandy to Sheffield United, this continued during the course of 2013/14 as the team found itself challenging for a place in the top six for much of the campaign.

There were some notable performances, such as our home game against Peterborough United in which we played an exciting brand of football in front of the live television cameras and our away game at Notts County where we totally dominated our hosts to run out 5-1 winners - and some notable results, such as the deserved 1-0 win at Wolves and a fantastic 3-1 triumph at Swindon where we took apart our hosts, who were previously unbeaten on home soil.

We benefitted from a solid spine to the team. Goalkeeper, Richard O'Donnell completed his first season with the club ever-present to provide a reliable last line of defence, skipper, Andy Butler enjoyed another consistent campaign, in the heart of the team, Adam Chambers and Sam Mantom excelled, whilst Craig Westcarr finished top scorer.

There were loan contributions from Milan Lalkovic, who ended up staying the whole season on loan from Chelsea, and Febian Brandy, who returned to the club from Sheffield United to make an impact.

Our play-off challenge started to faulted in the latter stages of the season and having never previously been out of the top half of the table, our final day home defeat at the hands of Colchester United meant that we ended up in 13th place - the lowest position that we had been in all season.

Nevertheless, there was plenty of reason to be cheerful as we looked ahead to what the new season held in store.

The 2014/15 campaign saw the likes of James O'Connor, Tom Bradshaw, Jordan Cook and Anthony Forde added to the squad.

Our early progress was halted by a series of injuries to key players and this was reflected in our early results as we found ourselves in the lower reaches of the table during the opening months of the season.

We had managed to pull ourselves up into mid-table at the halfway point of the season whilst also making great strides in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.

The turn of 2015 heralded an historic moment for the club when we confirmed our first-ever appearance at Wembley following an aggregate victory over Preston North End in the Area Final of the JPT.

It stimulated a real sense of pride and captured the imagination of the whole town. In the end we sold just over 29,000 tickets, a remarkable achievement, and whilst the Final itself didn't go according to the script as we lost 2-0 to Bristol City, it was a memorable occasion for everyone involved.

Our League form suffered, even though defensively we remained solid with one of the best defensive records in the League. It was at the other end of the field where we found goals hard to come by even though Tom Bradshaw managed to reach the 20-goal mark.

Going into the final month of the campaign, we were still battling to get clear of the relegation zone but following a run of seven games unbeaten, by the end of it we could have found ourselves in the top ten, such was the tightness of the League One table.

In the end, a heavy final day defeat at Champions, Bristol City, saw us finish 14th - one place below the previous campaign but a point better off.

Goalkeeper, Richard O'Donnell, took the Player of the Season honours, whilst Rico Henry, one of a number of rising stars in the squad, claimed the Young Player of the Season prize. There were also notable contributions from skipper, Adam Chambers, plus loanees Michael Cain (from Leicester City) and Jordy Hiwula (from Manchester City).

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