By David Evans
Centre Half - 1955-1960 & 1968-1973 - 264 appearances, 5 goals.
In our latest addition to 'Years Gone By'. Trust Historian Dave Evans talks to former Walsall FC Centre Half Stan Jones about his time at Fellows Park, both on an of the pitch.
Stan Jones was born on 16th November, 1938 at Highley and played his early football for Bridgnorth Grammar School and Shropshire Grammar Schools.
He linked up with the likes of Highley in the Kidderminster League on leaving school and was soon spotted by scouts. He arrived at Fellows Park in the summer of 1955, signing on as a professional the following April. His first team debut was v. Norwich City on 5th October 1957 in a 2-1 win. Albert McPherson was the regular centre half at the time so Stan's games were somewhat limited to when Albert was injured and he enjoyed a run of five successive games that Winter.
It was a similar pattern over the next two seasons, however te 12 appearances in 1959-60 included the final few games in which Walsall became Fourth Division champions under Bill Moore. When I caught up with him recently, Stan enthused about his learning progression in his time as a youth at Walsall, citing the tough grounding he had in the reserves in the Birmingham League as a 16/17 year old up against men twice his age who were out to kick him but with the guidance of any senior pros playing alongside him soon learned how to look after himself.
After just 30 first team games, Stan along with Peter Billingham, were signed by West Bromwich Albion manager Gordon Clark in a £7,000 deal. Stan's WBA debut came early in the 1960-1 season in a 1-3 defeat at St Andrews and he soon took over from regular Joe Kennedy. The Baggies team included the likes of Bobby Robson and Derek Kevan in his early years at The Hawthorns but it was a player who was destined to have a spell as a future manager and top coach who left a big impression on the young centre half.
"Don Howe never stopped talking to me and others around him during games; a source of great encouragement. He, along with Blackpool's Jimmy Armfield were the first two full backs who saw their roles as half defender, half going forward into opponent's territory, whereas the others saw themselves as defenders who wouldn't go past the halfway line."
Stan had only missed six games in as many seasons when he suffered a serious ligament injury that kept him out for some time, missing out on a Football League Cup final. He did come back however and in total made around 250 senior appearances for WBA. His career was fully re-launched with a move back to Fellows Park in March 1968 around the time of transfer deadline day. It was Ray Shaw who was manager at the time and gave him his second Walsall debut v. Bristol Rovers, another 2-1 victory. Stan played in 12 of the 13 final games of that season which saw Dick Graham take over, and he in turn, was replaced by Ron Lewin.
Stan got off to a great start to the 1968-9 season with a superb headed goal at Shrewsbury which proved to be the only goal of the game. He only missed one game that season, forming a great centre back partnership with Stan Bennett. Bill Moore returned to Fellows Park in the February of 1969 and Stan acknowledged the fine work that the likes of Bill, super scout Ron Jukes and the Harrison family had done for Walsall FC in his time at the club.
On the field, Stan was continuing to be a model of consistency, missing only a handful of games in 1969 - 70, and being an ever present the following campaign. 1971-2 saw him miss just one league game, and he played his part in the FA Cup run which ended in a 1-2 defeat at Everton.
John Smith, already a Player Coach at Walsall, took over the hot seat the following season, however his appointment marked the beginning of the end for Stan, who explained,
"John Smith told me around mid-season that some of the older players like myself were to be rested, which at that age (34), was the last thing I wanted to hear."
Stan played just one more first team game after that conversation, at Rotherham in March, and ended up making 11 appearances in the reserves.
So Stan's Walsall career came to an end that summer of 1973 after totalling 264 games and scoring 5 goals in our colours.
Stan signed for Burton Albion along with fellow ex-Saddlers Bob Wesson and Frank Gregg, signed by Ken Gutteridge, who later became a scout at Walsall. Next port of call was Kidderminster Harriers where he became player Manager; however, this had its drawbacks, as Stan recalled, "
After night games as Manager of Kiddy, and all that entailed, I was arriving home after 11pm, and with a young family, as well as a day job, it was proving too much. There was some coaching at Coleshill Town from 1977- 1980, however a telephone call was to change his spare time again.
"Out of the blue I got a call from Walsall Chairman Ken Wheldon, who explained that they had appointed a Physio / Club Doctor, Fred Pedley, but said he couldn't see old Fred running on the pitch to treat injuries, so would I like to come down for a month and see how things go?"
This was in 1980, and with Alan Buckley now in charge, he was asked to do a number of roles within the backroom team, including running the youth and reserve teams at various times.
"I had an excellent working relationship with Alan Buckley."
Forthright as ever with his views, Stan said to Buck, "Don't judge me on wins or losses, just judge me on recommendations, players who you find it hard to leave out of your first team". To this end Stan coached the likes of David Kelly, Craig Shakespeare and David Preece amongst others, who not only did well at Walsall, but went on to bigger and better things elsewhere.
With our reserves playing on Saturday mornings, it was ideal for Stan who after taking the kids to their away games, would encourage them to watch the first team games from the tunnel area on their return from such games to give them a feel of the match days at that level.
The first time Stan was called on to treating injuries for the first team was in the 1980-1 season at Exeter when the usual reserve trainer Colin Harrison was pressed into making a playing comeback.
After the sacking of Buckley in 1986, Stan assisted new Manager Tommy Coakley in scouting and training of youngsters, holding coaching clinics at Rushall's Manor Farm School, and it was during one of these sessions, he discovered a 15 year old who started off as a midfielder, but Stan switched him to centre half; Dean Smith. Stan has kept in touch with him ever since.
After some 7 years back at Walsall, Stan was forced to call it a day when the club decided to join a reserve league that played in the week, which was no good for him at all, as by now he had a highly successful sports outlet to run.
When asked about team mates who impressed him at Fellows Park, the likes of Ken Hodgkisson and Jimmy Dudley got mentions, however Stan pointed out,
"Colin Harrison was a terrific footballer, but his versatility held him back."
Stan still attends a few games at Walsall and West Brom, especially on Former Players days at both.
On the game in general, Stan bemoaned,
" I have a dislike for football agents and how they have become too important in the game, and I won't entertain SKY TV for what they have done to the game. I only watch football on BBC"
As a player Stan was so strong on the deck and in the air and was an inspiration to those around him with his composure, and as explained above gave so much back to the club and game he loved.