|Full name||Walsall Football Club|
(as Walsall Town Swifts)
|2019-20||League Two, 12th of 24|
Walsall Football Club is a professional association football club based in the town of Walsall, West Midlands, England. The team competes in League Two, the fourth tier of the English football league system. The club's nickname, "The Saddlers", reflects Walsall's status as a traditional centre for saddle manufacture. Walsall moved into their Bescot Stadium in 1990, having previously played at nearby Fellows Park for almost a century. The team play in a red and white kit and their club crest features a swift. They hold rivalries with nearby Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion, as well as farther away but more regularly contested rivalries with Coventry City, Shrewsbury Town and Port Vale.
The club was founded in 1888 as Walsall Town Swifts, an amalgamation of Walsall Town and Walsall Swifts.:9 The club moved to the Football Alliance from the Midland Association the following year, before being invited to help found the Football League Second Division in 1892. They failed re-election in 1895, but were elected back into the Football League after one season in the Midland League. They failed re-election again in 1901 and this time spent two decades outside the Football League, primarily in the Birmingham & District League. Invited to help form the Football League Third Division North in 1921, they would remain in the third tier for the next 37 years before becoming founder members of the Fourth Division. Walsall won the Fourth Division title in 1959-60 and then secured promotion out of the Third Division the following season, though were relegated in 1963 and again in 1979.
Walsall won promotion out of the Fourth Division in 1979-80, but suffered two successive relegations after winning promotion into the Second Division at the end of the 1987-88 campaign. Promoted in 1994-95 and again in 1998-99, they spent four of the next five seasons in the second tier, punctuated by a successful third tier promotion campaign in 2000-01. Two relegations in three years left Walsall back in the fourth tier in 2006, but they secured an immediate promotion as 2006-07 League Two champions. Their first match at Wembley Stadium came in the 2015 Football League Trophy Final, which they lost to Bristol City, and they ended an 11-year stay in League One with relegation in 2019.
Walsall were formed as Walsall Town Swifts F.C. in 1888 when Walsall Town F.C. and Walsall Swifts F.C. amalgamated. Walsall Town had been founded in 1877 and Walsall Swifts in 1879. Both clubs had played at the Chuckery, and the newly formed club remained at the same ground. Walsall Town Swifts' first match was a 0-0 draw against Aston Villa in the Birmingham Charity Cup final on 9 April 1888. A disagreement over the venue of the replay meant Aston Villa were rewarded the trophy.:7
Later that year, Walsall Town Swifts played friendly matches against two founder members of the Football League; a strong Burnley side were beaten 1-0 and West Bromwich Albion were held to a 2-2 draw in front of 7,000 spectators at the Chuckery. Walsall's first league campaign in the Midland Association started with a 2-2 draw at home to Crewe Alexandra on 22 September 1888. They went on to finish in 3rd place in the league.:141
The club were first admitted to the Football League in 1892, as founder members of the new Second Division. They moved to the West Bromwich Road ground in 1893 after complaints from local residents about them playing at the Chuckery. After finishing 14th out of 16 teams in 1894-95 the club failed to be re-elected to the Football League. At the start of the 1895 season the club once again moved grounds, this time to Fellows Park which remained the club's home for over a century.
In 1896 the club changed their name to simply Walsall F.C. and joined the Midland League. A year later, they returned to the Second Division. The team finished in 6th place in 1898-99 in a season that, to this day, proves to be their highest ever league finish. Despite this relative success, the club once again failed re-election two years later and dropped back into the Midland League. A move to the Birmingham League followed in 1903 and in 1910 the club were elected to the Southern League. With the expansion of the Football League after World War I, Walsall became a founding member of the Third Division North in 1921 and have remained a Football League side ever since.
Walsall's highest "home" attendance was set in 1930, when they played in of front of 74,646 fans in a 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa in the FA Cup fourth round. Although a home match for Walsall, the tie was played at their opponents' Villa Park ground to ensure as many people could watch the local David vs Goliath match as possible. It remains the highest attendance that Walsall have ever played in front of and was a record crowd for Villa Park at the time.:28
In the years from 1921 leading up to World War II Walsall's success remained limited, with finishes of 3rd in 1922-23, 5th in 1932-33 and 4th in 1933-34 the closest the club came to achieving promotion. The decent results in the early 1930s were spearheaded by the emergence of one of Walsall's greatest ever players, Gilbert Alsop, who scored a remarkable 169 goals between 1931 and 1935.:29
Alsop also inspired Walsall's finest ever FA Cup result, scoring the opening goal in a 2-0 home win against Arsenal in 1933. Arsenal were regarded as the best team in the country at the time and went on to win the First Division that season and the two seasons following that.:30-31 As such, the cup defeat to Third Division North side Walsall is still regarded as one of the greatest upsets in FA Cup history.
In the following season, 1934-35, Walsall continued their cup pedigree by reaching their first ever senior final in the Third Division North Cup. The Saddlers fell at the final hurdle, however, with a 2-0 defeat to Stockport County at Maine Road.:178
1945-46 signalled the final season of local war-time competitions. Between January and May 1946 the Third Division South Cup was contested as a precursor for the return of full-time league football later that year. Walsall reached the final to face Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge but, in a repeat of their previous final appearance in 1935, they lost the match 2-0.:189
The return of football following the war saw a spike in attendances for many clubs across the Football League and Walsall were no different. In the 1947-48 season a number of impressive turnouts at Fellows Park, including a season-best 20,383 for the visit of Notts County, saw the club record its highest average league attendance to date of 15,711.:191 In the same season Walsall finished in 3rd place but once again missed out on promotion to the Second Division.
The early 1950s saw some of Walsall's most troubling and dismal times in the Football League, as the club faced the re-election process four years in a row. They finished bottom of the league in 1951-52, 1952-53 and 1953-54 and improved to only second bottom in 1954-55. The club, however, managed to retain its Football League status through this period, largely thanks to the high attendances at Fellows Park demonstrating a healthy desire for League football in Walsall.:41-42
In 1958, following a reorganisation of the Football League, Walsall became founder members of the Fourth Division -- now holding the distinction of having being founder members of the Second, Third and Fourth tiers. Under the management of Bill Moore, the club achieved successive promotions, scoring 102 goals on their way to winning the Fourth Division title in 1959-60 and finishing as Third Division runners-up in 1960-61. The league title in 1960 was the club's first in their 72-year history.
In the club's first season in the second tier of English football since the early 1900s a post-war record 14th-place finish was achieved.:203-205 It was during this season that the club also recorded its record attendance, as 25,453 crammed into Fellows Park to see The Saddlers beat Newcastle United 1-0 in August 1961.:47 However, after just two seasons in the Second Division, the club were relegated back to the Third Division in 1962-63. An unfortunate defeat to Charlton Athletic in a replayed final match of the season sealed Walsall's relegation, as the London club leapfrogged them in the table to survive.:47
One of Walsall's finest ever talents, Allan Clarke, made his breakthrough as a first team regular in the 1964-65 season. Aged just 18, he scored 23 league goals in 1964-65 and a further 23 goals in all competitions in 1965-66. He was sold to First Division Fulham for a then club record fee of £37,500 in March 1966 and went on to earn 19 caps for England and win a league title at Leeds United.:98
1970-71 saw the first league meeting between Walsall and their very first opponents Aston Villa. The two clubs met in the Third Division with Walsall winning the home tie 3-0, thanks to two goals from Geoff Morris and a Colin Taylor penalty. The away tie at Villa Park later in the season ended goalless.
Ken Wheldon, a local businessman made good, took over the club in 1972 and brought some optimism of a brighter future. The following years were inconsistent but were buoyed by a few good cup results and the emergence of Alan Buckley, who signed for the club in 1973 and went on to become a prolific goalscorer for the club. Walsall remained in the Third Division until a further relegation to the Fourth Division in 1978-79.
It was Buckley who took on the role of player-manager for the re-build in the fourth tier. Once again The Saddlers rose from the ashes of adversity as they secured an immediate promotion. At one stage in 1979-80 Walsall recorded 21 consecutive matches without defeat, a record that still stands today. This saw the beginning of an era that became a hallmark for some of the most attractive football seen in Walsall as, under the guidance of Buckley, the side gradually established itself as promotion contenders in the Third Division.:55
While consolidating in the Third Division in the early 1980s, off-the-pitch issues took prominence throughout the decade. The dilapidated state of the club's Fellows Park home was becoming a problem and, in 1982, the intention to move in to groundshare Molineux with Wolverhampton Wanderers was announced by owner Ken Wheldon. The club's fans' quickly protested against the idea, as the Save Walsall Action Group was formed, and it never came to pass.
The 1983-84 League Cup campaign was, arguably, Walsall's finest hour. After victories over Blackpool, Barnsley and local rivals Shrewsbury Town, they defeated First Division club Arsenal 2-1 in the fourth round at Highbury. A 4-2 victory over Rotherham United in the quarter-final saw The Saddlers advance to the semi-final to face holders and reigning First Division champions, Liverpool. An incredible 2-2 draw at Anfield in the first leg had Walsall dreaming of an unlikely cup final and place in Europe, however, a second leg 2-0 defeat in front of 19,591 at Fellows Park saw Walsall lose the tie 4-2 on aggregate.
By 1986 further plans were announced to groundshare with one of the club's local rivals. This time it was at Birmingham City's St Andrew's ground. The Save Walsall Action Group was again pressed into action and, after peaceful protests and the support of the local press, the Football League blocked the move. Walsall were subsequently bought by millionaire entrepreneur and racehorse owner Terry Ramsden and with his money came high-profile signings and the attention of the national media. In 1986-87, under new manager Tommy Coakley, Walsall narrowly missed out on the play-offs but made considerable progress in the FA Cup as they defeated First Division Charlton Athletic and Birmingham City and took Watford to two replays in the fifth round.
Walsall finally earned promotion to the Second Division for the first time since 1963 by winning the Third Division play-offs in 1988. Bristol City were beaten 4-0 in a replayed final at Fellows Park thanks to a David Kelly hattrick. However, the 1988-89 season saw the club immediately relegated from the Second Division and Ramsden's business empire collapse. Walsall were minutes from going out of business but survived, again through the actions of the supporters and local businessmen. A second successive relegation followed at the end of 1989-90 as Walsall were consigned to the Fourth Division once again.
The club moved to the Bescot Stadium in 1990. At the time it was a state-of-the-art arena and was only the second new Football League ground since the 1950s. The arrival at Bescot Stadium saw some stability brought back to the club after two successive relegations and the club was taken over by Jeff Bonser in 1991.Kenny Hibbitt managed the club for four years, setting the groundwork for a golden era for the club that would follow soon after his dismissal in September 1994.
New manager Chris Nicholl led the club to promotion back to the third tier (now known as Division Two after the formation of the Premier League) in his first season, building the nucleus of a strong and under-rated team. A run of four straight wins at the end of April meant Walsall needed just a point from their final game, away to Bury, to secure promotion; they duly obliged with a 0-0 scoreline to send the travelling fans home celebrating.:66
Two seasons of stability followed back in Division Two before Nicholl resigned. Jan Sørensen took the helm after Nicholl's departure and lead the club to the fourth round of both the League Cup and FA Cup in 1997-98. Each run was ended away to a Premier League side as West Ham United won 4-1 in the League Cup and a glamour tie at Manchester United resulted in a 5-1 defeat in the FA Cup. Despite the club's cup exploits, a poor finish in the league signalled the end of Sørensen's time at Walsall after just one season.
In 1998-99, Ray Graydon took over as manager and led the club to a runners-up spot in Division Two, beating Manchester City to an automatic promotion place by five points. After the unlikely promotion to the second tier Walsall found life difficult at a higher level but battled right until the final day of the season, when relegation was finally sealed. A 2-0 defeat at Ipswich meant Walsall returned to the third tier, despite derby wins over local rivals Wolves, Birmingham and West Bromwich Albion earlier in the campaign. The Saddlers returned to the second tier of English football at the first attempt, defeating Reading 3-2, after extra time, in a thrilling play-off final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.
Graydon was dismissed in January 2002 following a 2-0 defeat against local rivals West Brom. Colin Lee took over and secured survival in the second tier for the first time since the early 1960s. The 2002-03 season saw Walsall avoid relegation again. However, the 2003-04 campaign ended in relegation despite a storming start which had seen the club on the brink of the play-offs going into the New Year. A slump in form saw Lee sacked in April and the appointment of star player Paul Merson as manager did not halt the slide. Walsall were ultimately relegated, agonisingly by a single goal, despite a 3-2 victory over Rotherham United on the season's final day in front of a record Bescot Stadium crowd of 11,049.
Despite the club's relegation and no previous managerial experience, Merson was immediately appointed as full-time manager of the club in May 2004. A poor season in League One almost ended in successive relegations and the 2005-06 season then turned into a disastrous one for Walsall and Merson. After increasing supporter pressure following a string of bad results, culminating in a 5-0 defeat at Brentford, Merson's reign as Walsall manager came to an end in February 2006. However, it was too late and Walsall were relegated on 22 April 2006, after losing 3-1 to Huddersfield Town.
Richard Money was tasked with reviving the club's fortunes in League Two. An impressive start to the season was maintained throughout and, despite a mini-blip in February, Walsall remained in the top three for almost the entire season and were promoted back to League One after beating Notts County 2-1 away from home. On the final day of the season Walsall drew 1-1 at Swindon Town, thanks to a last-minute goal by Dean Keates in front of 3,419 travelling fans, to secure the League Two title.
Walsall's form continued into the new season, as the club performed strongly in 2007-08, including a run of 17 League matches without defeat and back-to-back promotions looked possible. However, a January transfer window that culminated in the sales of important first team players Danny Fox and Scott Dann to Coventry City caused a drop in form throughout 2008. The club's promotion challenge ended after a run of poor results in March leading to Richard Money resigning as manager in April.
The following seven seasons spent in League One saw largely mid-table security apart from a few flirtations with relegation. Notably, in the 2010-11 season the club sat in the relegation places from October through to March but ultimately survived thanks to an upturn in form following the appointment of Dean Smith as manager in January 2011. Walsall had been ten points adrift of safety, however, despite accumulating only 48 points by the end of the season they escaped relegation by one point.
The 2014-15 season was a memorable one for the club as it reached a Wembley final for the first time in its 127-year history. Walsall beat Rochdale, Tranmere Rovers, Sheffield United and Preston North End on their way to the Football League Trophy final where they were beaten 2-0 by Bristol City on Sunday 22 March 2015.The Saddlers were backed by over 29,000 supporters in a crowd of 72,315 at the national stadium.
Walsall started the 2015-16 season well, leading to interest in manager Dean Smith. At the end of November, with The Saddlers fourth in the table, he left Walsall for Brentford; at the time of his departure he was the fourth longest serving manager in the Football League. Walsall turned to Sean O'Driscoll to replace Smith. However, after a six-game winless run and just 16 games in charge, O'Driscoll was sacked. Ultimately, Walsall missed out on promotion by just one point and lost in the play-off semi-finals to Barnsley.
Following the decimation of their promotion challenging team, Walsall struggled for the next three seasons in League One and, after a disastrous spell in charge for former playing hero Dean Keates, were relegated back to the fourth tier at the end of the 2018-19 season. Following relegation, a new era began with Darrell Clarke taking over as manager and Jeff Bonser ending his 28-year reign as owner and chairman by selling his 76% majority shareholding of the club to Leigh Pomlett in July 2019.
A 2013 survey revealed Walsall fans consider Black Country neighbours Wolverhampton Wanderers to be the club's main rivals. However, meetings between the teams are relatively rare, with Wolves having spent most of their existence in the top two tiers of English football. Only 16 competitive fixtures have been played between Walsall and Wolves, with the most recent occurring in 2014. Meetings with the Black Country's other professional club, West Bromwich Albion, are similarly rare, with The Saddlers and The Baggies having clashed just 14 times. However, the Black Country rivals did meet on numerous occasions during wartime regionalised league fixtures.
More regularly-contested rivalries exist with Shrewsbury Town, Coventry City and Port Vale. All three clubs are often The Saddlers' geographically-closest league fixtures. Walsall have the upper hand in the Shrewsbury and Port Vale rivalries, having won significantly more fixtures than they have lost.
This multi-purpose sports ground was situated in a district near to the Walsall Arboretum. It comprised some 12 football pitches and four good-sized cricket squares. It was the first ever home ground for Walsall F.C. from 1888 until 1893.
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 between 1893 and 1896.
Fellows Park was a former football stadium in Walsall, England. It was the home ground of Walsall F.C. from 1896 until 1990, when the team moved to the Bescot Stadium.
Bescot Stadium, currently also known as Banks's Stadium for sponsorship purposes, is the home ground of Walsall Football Club. It was built in 1989-90 at a cost of £4.5m, replacing the club's previous ground, Fellows Park, which was located a quarter of a mile away. The ground was opened by Sir Stanley Matthews. Upon Jeff Bonser stepping down from his role at the club, Leigh Pomlett agreed an option to reunite the saddlers with their stadium freehold "in due time".
Note: Flags indicate national team as defined under FIFA eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-FIFA nationality.
Information correct as of 20 July 2019.
As voted for by Walsall supporters at the end of each season. Current players in bold.
Includes league goals only. Current players in bold.
List of players who have earned full international caps while at Walsall.:251
Includes competitive appearances only. Current players in bold.:257
Includes competitive appearances only. Current players in bold.:257
The following managers have all made notable achievements for Walsall. Each has led the club to at least one of the following while in charge: winning promotion, reaching the final of a cup competition or recording the club's best result in a league season or cup competition.:74-87
|G. Hughes sec||35||15||12||8||42.86||Second Division 6th place 1898-99||[g]|
|Andrew Wilson||130||47||30||53||36.15||Third Division North Cup runners-up 1935|
|Tommy Lowes||102||32||21||49||31.37||FA Cup fifth round 1938-39|
|Harry Hibbs||305||113||73||119||37.05||Third Division South Cup runners-up 1946|
|470||190||113||167||40.43||Fourth Division champions 1959-60
Third Division runners-up 1960-61
|Doug Fraser||163||60||45||58||36.81||FA Cup fifth round 1974-75|
|Dave Mackay||72||30||27||15||41.67||FA Cup fifth round 1977-78|
|349||148||92||109||42.41||Fourth Division runners-up 1979-80
League Cup semi-finals 1983-84
|Tommy Coakley||148||62||37||49||41.89||FA Cup fifth round 1986-87
Third Division play-off winners 1987-88
|Chris Nicholl||157||72||38||47||45.86||Third Division runners-up 1994-95|
|Ray Graydon||199||79||49||71||39.70||Second Division runners-up 1998-99
Second Division play-off winners 2000-01
|Colin Lee||116||38||30||48||32.76||FA Cup fifth round 2001-02
FA Cup fifth round 2002-03
|Richard Money||102||44||33||25||43.14||League Two champions 2006-07|
|Dean Smith||260||84||96||80||32.31||Football League Trophy runners-up 2015|