We chat pre, at and after life at Bescot Stadium…
Hi Michael, Thanks for taking the time to speak to us. You are of course in quite an exclusive group of two men: League Title winning Walsall Captains. I guess there are not many footballers who leave the game achieving something only one other person has done?
It is definitely a high point in my career. It meant a lot to me to be able to lift the trophy and give a little back to people that have stood by me over the years, such as my family and of course my partner. They have all been there for me through the best times and most importantly the worst when I’ve needed their support. It is a memory I will never forget and I feel privileged to have been Captain of a strong, whole hearted side.
You were of course Richard Money’s first signing at Walsall, the club had just plummeted from League One having had a string of managers in the process. How did Money sell the club to you and convinced you we were the club to join?
I’m not so sure Richard Money did sell the club to me; I just wanted to play football! I loved playing football more than anything, and my time at Brentford had been destroyed by Martin Allen, I just wanted to enjoy playing again. For some reason myself and Martin Allen didn’t see eye to eye and I didn’t like how he run things or him as a person. He made football seem like a chore to me and it shouldn’t be like that. Richard Money seemed to want the same things I did, success and to enjoy the game.
I think the title win and even promotion came as a surprise to Walsall fans who I think at the start of the season would have just been happy with a year of stabilising the ship after two relegations in three seasons. As the season panned out what would you say were the major landmark moments of which the success was built on? (player signings, results, and goals etc)?
I think the first landmark was the first game of the season away at Rochdale. As a team we set our standards and realised what we could achieve. Another landmark was pulling Peterborough apart at home which gave the lads a massive amount of self belief. With regards to signings, bringing in Kevin Harper and Cooper at that stage in the season was a lift for the lads. Obviously when mentioning goals I can only remember 2(other than my spectacular tap ins of course!), Trevor Benjamin’s goal away at Notts County and then it would be rude to forget Keatesy’s to make sure we won the title at Swindon.
I suppose it could not just have been a season of highs? Were there moments that could be described as lows along the way?
Yes, I suppose the 3 game losing streak in January/February I think it was and the defeat away at Hartlepool. Those results could have come back to bite us on the bum. But they say you make your own luck and I believe the lads worked hard enough that season for a little luck at times.
I can’t really interview you without asking about the Notts County and Swindon games. Both of which left it late! What were your feelings on the pitch?
Notts County was probably one of the worst games I’d been involved in as a footballer. I got neck ache from watching the ball go from end to end over my head the whole game. I think I probably touched the ball about 4 times, each of which was a tackle and one of them tackles ended up putting Trev through for his goal. What a bad game, but a cracking result and great feeling. It was a relief knowing we were up. Swindon was nervy and I don’t think any of us played how we could knowing what was at stake. It took a couple of chances late on before we realised we could do it but I never thought we would get a goal. I knew it had to be something special and then Keatesy stepped up and snatched that volley off my foot (I’ll let him off as it went in the top corner, and knowing my goal ratio if I hit it, it would have probably gone over the stand behind the goal!) and that was it, a million emotions all in one! It was a great atmosphere in the changing room and on the pitch. A game I’ll never forget.
Who were the unsung heroes of the title winning team? Players who often didn’t get the credit they deserved of people behind the scenes who often don’t get congratulated or be in the spotlight.
That’s a tough one! I think everyone pulled together that year and as a team we were champions as individuals we would have been nothing. Obviously, goal scorers always get the glory, as did keatesy that year for having such a great ratio from midfield. When games are tough, people look at defenders and goal keepers and congratulate them for clean sheets and being solid. But on occasions I think what people miss is the supply from wingers, or the tough tackling from full backs to stop crosses. It’s the small details that win games.
The celebrations in Walsall Town centre when you lifted the trophy were moments that Saddlers will remember for the rest of our lives. How was the occasion for the playing squad?
It was a great day but was spoilt a bit by the weather, which meant the bus tour was extremely quiet until we arrived at the town centre. The atmosphere there was fantastic and it was an unbelievable feeling personally to be introduced and lift the trophy for all the fans. That is every footballers dream to win trophies. If you don’t want to be a winner there’s no point playing. The squad had a great night.
The season after the title win in League One saw Money appoint Jimmy Mullen as Assistant Manager, unbeknown to us at the time he would later be named Manager after your departure. How did the addition of Mullen affect the running of the side? Was there a noticeable difference for the players or was it business as usual?
I think it was business as usual. Jimmy was brought in to help the younger lads and reserves more than anything. He was bubbly around the dressing room and seemed to bring a few lads out of themselves.
Was it a shock when Richard Money announced his departure?
Not for me. I kind of thought it was coming. During that season things around the club seemed to bother him more and more and the calm Richard Money that brought me to the club seemed to disappear. He looked drained towards the end of the season and I think too much happened that season that he didn’t like anymore.
What is your assessment of how Walsall preformed in the transfer market during your time at the club?
I’m just a player(ex player now)so I just had to get on with my business on the pitch. It’s easy for me to say I think we should have spent money here or there and brought this player in or that, but I’m not the chairman or manager that has to keep the club from going in to the red. That’s why they get the stick when things go wrong. It’s a tough job to do.
In the last month Danny Fox, Scott Dann and Anthony Gerrard have all been rewarded with great moves for themselves. Are you surprised to see Fox and Dann especially rise to top flight football in just 18 months since leaving the Banks’s? Can any of them go further and even challenge for international honours?
It doesn’t suprise me at all that they have signed at bigger clubs. All of them especially Foxy and Scottie are great players and great lads off the pitch. They have a lot of ability and are willing to work to the top. Their own ambition will keep pushing them further. I wish all three of them the very best of luck and hope they can get to international level.
Having seen some of the youngsters still at the club are there anymore you would tip to rise to the top?
In my last year at the club I was really impressed with Alex Nicholls. He was a good lad and again like Foxy and Scottie, he worked really hard for his chance. He was extremely fit, quick and honest and on his day is a dangerous player. Troy Deeney was also another young lad that worked so hard on and off the pitch. He deserved his chance.
League One this season looks competitive, how do you rate the Saddlers chances? Do you keep in touch with the goings on at the Banks’s?
When playing football I tried to get away from football in my spare time, so I never really watched it. Since I’ve stopped playing I still don’t watch much, I just keep an eye on how my closest mates in football are doing. I’d rather not say how I think Walsall will do this season as I don’t want to jinx anyone but I hope they do well.
We run a League One Prediction League where everyone predicts how League One will finish at the end of season! Would you like a go? If you submit that here I’ll add your prediction on the thread and the end of season winner gets a prize sent to them!! We’ve never had a pro footballer enter before!!
As I mentioned in the last question, I don’t watch much football anymore so it would be tough to know who will end up where in the league when I haven’t kept an eye on signings. Think I’ll give it a miss, wouldn’t want to embarrass myself!
Fair enough, the competition is apleanty this season!! Walsall FC enter the Masters Series now and again and have an ‘Allstar’ team. One criticism is the side is often too old to win! Would you consider ‘signing up given the chance’ and lead us to another unlikely piece of silverware?
That would be fantastic but unfortunately I don’t think it would be wise on my part. I retired from football through injury as I was in a lot of pain that last season at Walsall. At the beginning of the next season whilst about to sign for another club, I was told by a specialist that if I carried on playing I would end up in a wheelchair within a few years, and that made the decision for me. As much as I tried to keep playing my knees wouldn’t let me anymore. I’d love to play in the masters but would only damage myself, besides don’t you have to be a star to play? I was hardly one of them!
Finally, what have you gone on to do since leaving Walsall? Do you still play football at any level?
Since I retired from football through injury I have qualified as a Personal Trainer and Sports Massage Therapist. I have set up my own business(probably in the worst economic climate!). I have always loved exercise and weights and to me it is the next best thing to playing football. I hope I can help people that come and see me to get fit or progress their fitness. My company is below….
Thanks ever so much for taking time out for this, I’d like to thank you on behalf of everyone for your efforts in a Walsall shirt as well! Like I said at the start of the interview your in a very select group of two Walsall captains!!
Thank you, it’s been a pleasure and my time at Walsall will always leave me with great memories. Thanks to all the fans for your support whilst I was at the club.
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