Paul Giess believes that success on the field would help transform the club's profile and in the process atttract a larger fansbase across the Midlands as they struggle to compete with the other leading clubs in the region
Walsall isn’t a small town but the club has nearly always been in the lower divisions. Do some locals support other clubs?
Almost all. Saturday afternoon at the Bescot can be depressing but on a non-match Saturday the town centre is even worse. A seemingly non-stop procession of Villa, West Brom and Wolves shirts mingle with the Man Utd brigade. Maybe if the club had had more success in its early days it might have built up the fan base now lost to our neighbours. It may take ten years’ success to get us noticed again.
Are there rivalries with clubs outside the region?
Having spent so much time in the lower leagues, rivalry has tended to be with slightly more distant midlands clubs such as Shrewsbury and Port Vale. We seem to be the only supporters in the entire footballing universe who dislike Crewe. This follows some less than gracious remarks attributed to Dario Gradi over the past decade. Shame really, as Crewe seem to be setting the standard for clubs like ourselves to follow (though I’ll have to attend future matches in disguise for admitting this).
How does the Bescot compare to Fellows Park?
The toilets improved, the pies improved and eventually even the football improved. However, due to the pillars that line the ground the view is restricted just about everywhere. Every time a forward gets through on goal there is always a six-foot defender waiting to pounce from behind a pillar. There is a great sense of dismay that we moved grounds too early and did it on the cheap, which deepens with each visit to virtually any other new ground.
Walsall seem to have blended in foreign players better than most. Any reasons for this?
All potential signings are brought over for trials that assess whether or not they will blend in with the team ethic as much as their footballing prowess. Once here, everyone pulls together to make foreign players welcome. Argentinian striker Walter Otta was invited to Christmas dinner at the Graydons during his stay. Midfielder Gabor Bukran earned a two-year contract presumably on the basis that he could speak several languages. The club deserves great credit in this area. Director of football Paul Taylor is reputed to spend much of his time overseas faced with the task of selling the town of Walsall to the footballers of the world.
What were the best and worst seasons since you’ve been supporting them?
1999-2000 was both the best and worst. Relegation after just one season in the First was hard to bear. But beating Birmingham, Wolves and West Brom (twice) finally allowed us to hold our heads high for a few short months. There were even rumours of Walsall shirts being worn by town centre shoppers.
Milestones & Milstones
1892 Founder members of the Second Division. Finish bottom.
1895 Change name in a fit of pragmatism from Walsall Town Swifts to Walsall.
1899 Sixth in the Second Division, the highest ever achieved by the club. Two years later drop out of the league after failing to be re-elected.
1921 Elected as founder members (again) of Third Division North.
1927 Escape from Third Division North – but only to the Third Division South.
1933 The Saddlers defeat Arsenal 2-0 in the FA Cup third round. “Is it not really a dream that I shall awake and smile at?” asks the Times and South Staffordshire Advertiser.
1952-54 Finish bottom of the Third Division South for three successive seasons. It can only get better. The following year Walsall are second bottom.
1958 Formation of the Fourth Division ends Walsall’s geographical ambivalence. Win title the following year.
1979 The combined efforts of managers Dave Mackay, Alan Ashman and Frank Sibley cannot prevent relegation, ending 16 years of Third Division mediocrity.
1984 Reach League Cup semi-final but lose 4-2 to Liverpool over two legs. Again Arsenal are beaten on the way. Years later the club gets a mention on the big screen as a bitter Colin Firth recalls the match in Fever Pitch.
1986 Average crowd of 4,890 dwarfs that of Wolves (4,019), but crisis follows under chairman Ken Wheldon and his successor, helicopter-borne Cockney punter Terry Ramsden.
1988 Move to Bescot Stadium, described in the Football Grounds of Great Britain as “a featureless grey tin shed”. Not quite the Bernabéu, then.
Ray Graydon ~ Has to be. The only man to take the club to the First Division twice, both times without spending much. If he becomes the only man to subsequently take us back to the Second twice, he will still be revered.
Ken Wheldon ~ Became chairman in 1972 and seemed to care for 13 steady years until he suddenly tried to sell the ground and move the club to Birmingham City.
From WSC 177 November 2001. What was happening this month