Over the next few weeks we shall be looking back at the memoirs of legendary Walsall supporter Stan Blandford.
Stan is no stranger to the Walsall faithful having not missed a home or away game following the Saddlers from 1977 onwards. Stan incredibly went to over 1,700 consecutive games watching his beloved team.
It was a typically dull autumnal day, Saturday 31st October 1959, but for me it was red letter day as it was my first away trip to watch the Saddlers.
The venue was Northampton Town and my Father and I were going on the “Football Special” train. I was only 9 and so excited about the trip that we arrived at Walsall Station an hour before the train was due to depart. The platform gradually filled up, and the train arrived, and we were nowhere near a carriage door, so did not get a seat, but sat on a table the whole journey! Lunch was taken in a town centre café and then on to the ground.
I can still see the scene now - Roy Faulkner scoring the only goal of the game in the second half to give us a 1-0 victory. What a good start!
Since that October day over 60 years ago, I have been to in excess of 1,100 games at about 140 grounds, ranging from Anfield, Highbury and Old Trafford, to Stourbridge, St Albans and Ashford Town - remember that some teams have played on more than one ground. Sadly, in those early days, I did not keep records of games attended, which as things turned out, was a great pity.
Over those 60 years, I have travelled by car, coach, train and even bus. I can recall not getting to a game (Swansea)and a September trip to Plymouth when we got stuck in traffic near Bridgewater on the A38 (motorways did not always exist!). Probably arrived late about half a dozen times and travelled to find the game off about 12 times. Not a bad record over such a long period of time.
There have been wonderful highlights, horrible low-lightsand some downright ugly ones over the years.
Dad worked as a bus conductor, so Saturdays off were few and far between, which made going to away games difficult. However, we did manage a trip to Bury on Boxing Day 1960 and saw a 4-3 win. It was definitely a game of two halves, as we led 4-0 at half-time and then hanging on at the end.
The 1960-61 season was a good one, as we chased Bury for the second promotion place despite doing the double over them around Christmas.
Still in with a good chance of promotion, we travelled to Shrewsbury for a mid-week game on the 26th April, which proved to be one of the best nights in Walsall’s history.
Thousands arrived from Walsall and the gates were shut with 18,917 inside, and lots more outside; many watching from the adjacent railway embankment.
Walsall scored early through Colin Taylor, but Shrewsbury equalised with a penalty just before half-time. Saddlers went in front again about 15 minutes into the second half, with a Colin Askey header, an historic event in itself, asColin did not score many with his feet, let alone his head. Walsall hung on to win, and as we all shuffled out, news filtered through that QPR had lost at Reading and we were promoted.
The night had only just begun as every local pub did loads of business as Walsall fans celebrated promotion to Division 2. Our coach stopped off at a pub just off the A5, can’t remember the name, and I duly celebrated with a glass of Tizer and a packet of crisps! I was then put on the coach to sleep it off as I was only 10 – I have no idea what time we got home but did go to school the next day.
Promotion meant playing bigger teams, and the first Saturday away game was at Derby County. Dad did not do his afternoon turn and we went on a “special” again and saw an excellent 3-1 victory.
A few weeks later – a trip to Anfield. Again, another exciting day and another “special” train journey. A bus ride out to the ground was a real eye opener as to what a big city looked like, with street after street of terraced houses.
There was no segregation in those days and I can’t remember which end we went into. As for the game itself, the first half was quite competitive and at half-time the score was 1-1. In the second half Liverpool ran riot and scored 5 goals to win 6-1.
After something to eat in the café outside Lime Street station, caught the train home arriving in Walsall about 10.30 pm and as it was so foggy, we had to walk home as all buses had stopped running.
A long day, a disappointing result, but nevertheless an enjoyable day.
After two seasons in Division 2, we were relegated and back in familiar territory playing at places like Shrewsbury and Port Vale. The next recollection of an away trip was in January 1966 and a trip to Stoke City in FA Cup Round 3.
This time we went by coach and joined in a long queue of people waiting in Hatherton Road. The coach came and was loaded up, followed by another coach. Stoke is only about 30 miles away and such was the demand, that coaches were hired in from further away than that.
It was a tremendous performance from the Saddlers, as Jimmy McMorran was injured early on and substitutes were not allowed. He limped on after treatment but played little part in the game.
Walsall took the lead with a cracking shot from Howard Riley and doubled it near half-time, with a penalty from Alan Clarke after the Stoke goalkeeper had inexplicably kicked him. They also survived when Stoke had the ball in the net, but it had gone through a hole in the netting.
Second half saw the Saddlers defend heroically, as Stoke pushed forward relentlessly and held on for a famous 2-0 victory.
Then came the hardest part of the day – finding our coach in the maze of streets around the ground, not an easy task.
Next round, we travelled again. A long journey down the A47 to Norwich. It was a snowy day and I remember a big snowball fight in Uppingham where we stopped en route.
This was a massively disappointing day. As leading 2-1 with only a few minutes left, we conceded twice and lost 3-2. It was a long journey back!
By now, I was old enough to go to games on my own and in 1968 started work, so had the resources as well.