Over the last few weeks we have been, and over the next few weeks will continue to review the long, long process of Walsall leaving Fellows park and relocating at Bescot Stadium. All the plans, all the twists all the turns!
Terry Ramsden finally signed a deal making him the new owner of Walsall Football Club on August 1st, 1986. It would have been sooner had it not been for an oversight by Chairman Jack Harris regarding houses in Wallows Lane but at least the deal was now done.
Soon after the takeover, it was announced that a ‘getting to know you’ evening was being planned by Barrie Blower at the Walsall Town Hall. I was one of 1,000-strong who attended that evening and on the stage besides Mr Blower also in attendance was the new management team of Tommy Coakley and Gerry Sweeney and the players, the Mayor of Walsall Brian John and a new Director, Mr Bob Cox. Loud cheers went up when the Mayor announced that Walsall Council will back the new owners of the club with its ambitious plans for a multi-purpose stadium to replace Fellows Park. Mr Cox for his part said,” We want a complex second to none. Something we shall be very proud of.”
Terry Ramsden had a vision of building an ambitious scheme including a special care centre where elderly people could go and a place for teenagers to assemble….interesting! At the end of October that year Director Alan Harkett stated that the new stadium ” Could be built in time for the clubs centenary in 1988.” Meanwhile manager Tommy Coakley declared, “When the Directors get the land they will start building and we shall have the best stadium in the Midlands.” A bold statement indeed!
It all went rather quiet for the next six months but in March 1987, it was announced by the club that it was lining up a new stadium at Bescot Crescent as the club was negotiating to buy the site from the Severn Trent Water Authority. This time the stadium was to incorporate indoor bowls for the elderly and tennis courts were also mentioned. The site already had outline planning permission for housing, but that could be changed if ‘something else suitable’ came along.The following month they disclosed that they were close to negotiations for the above.
Nothing more of any worth was reported about progress till the end of that year when it was mentioned in the local press that a great deal of reclaimation work was needed to be carried out at the site so inquiries were being made to see what grants could be available to help out with the cost of this. In the December it was also reported that Ramsden may be willing to sell the club and that four wealthy local businessmen were interested in a consortium to buy him out.
On the 28th March,1988, Ramsden sold the club to a consortium. The major shareholder would be Maurice Miller, of a Leeds-based investment company. Mr Miller had business links with a Bloxwich firm J.W. Bonser. Miller wasn’t to have an active role on the board of Walsall F.C. however, but instead appointed two directors from that local firm, Ray Clift, a Financial Director and a certain Jeff Bonser. New Chairman was to be…..Barrie Blower. The sale cost £1 million and this figure wiped out the current debts, believed to be around £600,000 and Ramsden took away the £400,000 he payed for the 76% shareholding he aquired in the 1986 takeover. The idea was to end up with a new stadium and no debt for the club. The new Directors were to submit a planning application to build a new stadium at Bescot Crescent and at the same time sell Fellows Park for redevelopment but each would be dependant on the other. Barrie Blower said, “There will be no sale of Fellows Park unless planning permission is permitted for a new stadium.”
Temporary ground sharing had raised its head again as Walsall FC asked West Bromwich Albion about the possibility of sharing The Hawthorns if the new stadium couldn’t have been built in time. But the club did stress that they were hopeful that such a need wouldn’t arise.
So here we are, at the end of the 1987-88 season in which the team under Tommy Coakley had acheived promotion to the old Second Division via the play-offs still without any concrete news on the new stadium even though two years had passed since the end of the Wheldon/Harris regime.
TO BE CONTINUED…..