By David Evans
Jack Bridgett played for Walsall for the first half of the 1950's, a most difficult time for the club as for three successive seasons they had to apply for re election at the end of 1951-2, 1952-3 and 1953-4 but Jack was one of the main stays over that period playing games at both centre half and centre forward yet in his early days he started out as a winger.
Jack takes up his early career, "I joined West Bromwich Albion as an amateur at the age of 15 and signed on as a professional at the Hawthorns in 1947. I started out on the wing and joined the RAF a few months later. I remember playing a game at Fellows Park (in January 1948) whilst on leave. I played some games at Dens Park, the home of Dundee but I had the misfortune to break bones in my ankles playing for Western Command.
After being demobed I then sustained a double fracture of my left leg. I have to say I had a lot of support from my manager at West Brom, Jack Smith, who was brilliant about it. As a result of my fracture, I was left with one leg longer than the other and on my release from the Albion was told by the medical people that I'd never play again."
Many a lesser player would have taken that advice but Jack was determined to prove people wrong. He continued,
"As soon as my leg was out of plaster I was invited to Fellows Park by Harry Hibbs for trials. But there were other clubs interested in me too. My main focus though at this point was to prove to myself and everyone else that I could still do it and prove everyone wrong. I trained really hard and really pushed myself. The trainer at the time at Fellows Park was Harry Wait and he was encouraged by my progress and one day told me that I was losing my limp. The committee were also enthusiastic about this and called me to one side and I was offered a contract."
Jack signed for Walsall in May 1950 and made his first team debut at Norwich in the September of that year and recalled,
"I had figured in a couple of reserve games (against Bromsgrove as a centre half and then at Dudley as centre forward) but it was a wonderful feeling to think that I had made it. I was injured in this Norwich game but continued to hobble on but I had proved to myself that I had arrived."
Jack made 7 more appearances in the first team that term, including centre half for the final game of the season.
It was 1951-2 that Jack really came into his own up front and in an 18 month spell was Walsall's leading scorer. This was somewhat remarkable as it wasn't his favoured position however Jack proved himself such a team player when he said,
"I still classed myself as a centre half but was happy to play where ever I was asked. I remember scoring a goal v. Ipswich after just 20 seconds into the game and scoring a 30-yarder against Plymouth although we lost that one 5-2 against a very good Argyle side."
1952-3 was the best season for him goals-wise with 11. He got his wish for his final two seasons at Walsall playing in the heart of the defence. As a summary on his time with The Saddlers Jack concluded, "I was happy to play for Walsall and to wear the shirt. Wages were never an issue and I never asked for a rise. I just focused on my football. I used to constantly analyse my own performance after each game. On matchdays me and some of my team mates would meet up in Charlie's Cafe in Bradford Street and chat with supporters in there and catch the bus with them up to the ground." In all Jack made 116 appearances for Walsall scoring 18 goals before leaving the club in the summer of 1955.
It was Worcester City who jack signed for and he enthused,
"I had two great years at St George's Lane and we had some terrific players at Worcester including Jimmy Dunne and Frank Hodgetts. They were really happy times for me until I fractured my skull and told to rest by the doctors. I had a year out of the game but got a call from Abergavenny who were in Division One of the Welsh League. I was doing alright for them until I broke my leg again and I knew then it was time to retire. I later had great times as a manager at Blakenall and won a few things there."
Jack also had coaching and managing spells at various youth clubs on the local scene and was a popular figure wherever he went in the game.