The 1983/84 football season will live long in the memory of Saddlers’ supporters. An appearance in the semi-final of the League Cup coincided with the re-opening of what was now to be known as Birmingham International Airport. British Airways too full creative advantage by launching an advertising campaign featuring a photo of the Walsall team with the catch line: “They’re only 90 minutes from Europe!”
En route to the semi-final, the Saddlers dumped Arsenal out of the competition at Highbury Road; and in the semi-final itself Walsall held Liverpool to a 2-2 draw at Anfield before losing the replay 0-2 at Fellows Park (a match most remembered for the collapse of a retaining wall in the Liverpool end resulting in their fans falling onto the pitch).
This is just one of the reasons that our manager at the time, Alan Buckley, remains a living legend at Walsall.
He is our all-time record goal-scorer, with 205 goals to his name in all competitions and, when we re-signed him from Birmingham City in 1979 for the princely sum of £175,000, became our record signing – a record he still owns.
It was great to introduce him to the crowd at the Banks’s Stadium at half time during yesterday’s match with Stevenage as part of the launch of his autobiography, Pass and Move: My Story.
The reception he got from the fans was fantastic – and highly deserved.
The Stevenage kit-man, Rob “Buster” Robertson, told me that when Buckley was manager of Grimsby he would go into the visiting team’s dressing room soon after they arrived to welcome their management and officials to Blunder Park.
Robertson was kit man at Barnet at the time and had noticed that Buckley always took his time to talk to the visitors, asking each individually whether they’d like a tea or coffee; black or white; how many sugars; and so on. And all the time he was looking at the kits that had been laid out to get an early view of how the opposition would line up so he could pick his team appropriately.
Having cottoned on to Buckley’s tactics Barnet responded by putting out kits for fringe players or those who couldn’t play through injury or suspension to keep the real team secret until team sheets had to be exchanged an hour before kick-off.
Alan Buckley is a man for whom the tag “legend” is actually deserved. His book is going to be a fantastic read.