Stan Blandford Away Day Memoirs - Chapter 5 to 7

CHAPTER 5 – TWO CONSECUTIVE RELEGATIONS

Our one season in Division 2 was a disaster, finishing bottom comfortably.

There were some awful away performances, notably a 5-0 defeat at Watford, but there was one notable highlight – after 15 consecutive defeats, we travelled to Sunderland and came away with a 3-0 win thanks to a Stuart Rimmer hattrick and a fine contribution from Dean Smith on his debut.

Travelled up with Paul Marston of the Evening Mail and was allowed into the Press Room after the game and found myself answering all sorts of questions about our season so far. Got to know the Smith family at the game, a relationship that has continued to this day, as whenever, or wherever, I bumped into them, we would stop for a chat, even after Dean left The Saddlers. Sometimes father Ron would come to watch games at Bescot after Dean left, and he would always come over for a chat – a lovely man and I was very saddened to learn of his dementia and subsequent death.

CHAPTER 6 – APRIL 1992

After the move to Bescot, my seat was next to the Press Box. I already knew some of the Press Corps, but subsequently got to know others. I had been to some games with Paul Marston and Chris Smith, but started to go with them more regularly.

It was an enjoyable time, we always went early as they wanted to see the team arrive, to talk to the Manager to get ‘team news’ etc.

We often stopped en route for lunch, almost always got a spot on the official car park, often I got a complementary ticket…………and on the way home, caught up with the gossip.

The only drawback was after the game. It was usually an hour before we started back, as they were attending Managers’ Press Conference and getting player interviews etc. Some clubs let me into their lounges, others – I just sat in the stand – whilst at some, I had to wait in the car park, which could be a real pain, especially on cold mid-week evenings.

Trips with the Press were enjoyable, and usually uneventful, until one night in Halifax. After the game, I went into the lounge, had a coffee, then went outside to the car, which was parked slightly away from the main parking area – oh no!! Some undesirable had smashed the driver’s window and attempted to start the car, but fortunately had failed. I went back inside to break the news to Chris, whose response was, naturally, unprintable.

Halifax people were very helpful, and after a few phone calls, assistance was duly summoned. By now it was approaching 11 pm and the Halifax contingent wanted to lock up and go home, so Chris, Paul and myself, stood at the car park entrance to wait. We waited, and waited, for the best part of two hours for assistance to arrive. Fortunately, it was a dry, warmish evening, as there was nowhere to shelter. We could not sit in the car as its position was not obvious from the entrance. The repair man arrived and got to work, he managed to get the car started but then disappeared; a few minutes later he returned with some cardboard, scavenged from a skip on a nearby industrial unit to board up the driver’s side window. At last, we were homeward bound and the ‘temporary windows’ kept the cold out. Still, it was a very tired crew who arrived home sometime after 3.00 am! A game we lost 1-0!

CHAPTER 7 – JANUARY 2000

The Saddlers were off to Gillingham for a Saturday FA Cup Round 3 replay. Bad weather meant that the replay could not take place on the original date just before Christmas, so the FA rescheduled it on Round 4 day.

That season the FA cup dates were brought forward as presumably it was World Cup year.

I travelled down with others, including the Press, in Steve’s 7 seat people carrier. Steve had been given complementary tickets by John Hodge, but as he was playing for Gillingham, they were in the ‘home’ end behind the goal. Inside the ground I was able to walk down the side in the small stand opposite the main stand, due I believe, to a dispute and falling out with the Chairman, the Press had been relocated to this stand near the ‘away’ end. The facilities were rubbish and so was the view, as it was low and surrounded by ‘home’ supporters.

I had a chat with Andrew, who was covering the game for Radio WM, he was in a bit of a tizz as he’d been promised by Walsall that someone would assist him that afternoon, but no-one had arrived. For some years I had been doing interviews with WM for a feature called “Terrace Talking”, so I was well known to the Sports Team. It was decided therefore that I would spend the afternoon with Andrew. I cannot remember the details, but if the Saddlers went to extra time and another game had finished, then Andrew would do live commentary with me as summariser, so I sat there with half the radio equipment on my knees and with headphones listening to the afternoon’s events. In the first half Gillingham took the lead, but Walsall equalised just before half-time from Bjarni Larusson; the second-half was a tepid affair – the longer the game went on, it seemed certain it would need extra time. So here I am listening to events elsewhere, going through all sorts of emotions. I had done plenty of live interviews as part of the “Terrace Talking” feature, so I was not concerned by that side of it, but this was different. Part of me wanted to do it, part of me did not. Slowly the games continued and I got more and more uncertain about what I wanted to happen and the old butterflies were going hammer and tongs. Eventually the games finished, extra time for Walsall and live commentary. In extra time, Gillingham took the initiative and looked likely winners. Eventually they scrambled a winner after some John Hodge trickery down the right wing. Andrew did his commentary and I chipped in as required. I don’t remember a single thing I said, but I don’t think it was my finest hour, I do remember doing the final summary and finishing with the usual “I now hand you back to the studio” – what a select famous group I have joined who have said that over the years – glad it was over, it might not have been brilliant, but at least I didn’t foul up.

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