For Walsall fans, the road to Wembley starts here

Please excuse a rare piece of commentary on this, the unofficial first day of the new football season:

One of the recent additions to the match-day entertainment at Walsall Football Club – thanks to the work of Steve Davies and the Walsall FC Supporters Trust – is the appearance at half time of Saddlers’ legends and former key players of previous eras.

Today, we start a new season with a large intake of new players. Some have been developed by the club and worked their way through the Centre of Excellence and come up from the youth team. Others have been brought in from elsewhere.

Today is when all these players can begin to earn the “Saddlers’ Legend” tag.

Will the Saddlers’ fans of the future, in 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years’ time, be welcoming members of the current squad onto the pitch as legends of the club? Will children not-yet-born, grow up with tales of the exploits of the 2012/13 season told to them by their parents and grandparents?

Who knows! But as a new season starts, the hopes and dreams of football fans everywhere always start on a high.

This season has something of a staggered start, thanks to the Olympic Games. And so our first game of the season this afternoon is not the start of a League campaign; but a first step on the road to Wembley.

I always enjoy it when a team scores very early on in the first match of the season and the fans start singing: “We are top of the league, say we are top of the league!” But not today: that’s next Saturday’s treat.

During the 2013/14 season, the Saddlers will celebrate the 125 anniversary of Walsall Town FC and Walsall Swifts FC merging to form the Walsall Town Swifts FC (in doing so, thankfully avoiding the clichéd moniker “United”). In all that time, the club has never visited Wembley Stadium. On the only occasion it qualified for doing so – the May 2001 Division Two Play-Off final – Wembley was being redeveloped and the match took place in Cardiff’s magnificent Millennium Stadium.

There are five opportunities for Walsall to reach Wembley this year: the League One Play-Off final, the FA Cup semi-final and final, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final and the Capital One (League) Cup final.

The Play-Off final is out because we’re going up as champions (look, it’s the first day of the football season, I’m entitled to be optimistic!) so that just leaves the cup competitions. Our easiest route will be the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy – and not just because we’re already through to the next stage thanks to a first-round bye.

But the League Cup should be seen as a route to Wembley – even by clubs down here in League One. Yes, we’ve never played at Wembley; and, yes, the likelihood is that the eventual winner of the League Cup will be a team from the Premier League. But the road to Wembley is a journey, and today we can take our first step on that road.

It’s been a while since the Saddlers had any significant cup run; but with them, legends are made. Will today be the start of that legend-making process for the Saddlers’ team of 2012/13?

We’ll soon know!

  • Walsall -v- Brentford (Capital One Cup, Round One)
    Kick-off: 3.00pm, Saturday 11th August
    The Banks’s Stadium, Bescot Crescent, Walsall
    Tickets: £10.00 adults; £5.00 concessions
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