When Alan Buckley made his debut for Walsall on the opening day of the 1973-4 season in the 0-2 defeat at Wrexham he was only on a month’s loan from Nottingham Forest and little were we to know that when he made his home debut four days later in the FL Cup it would be the start of a wonderful career at Fellows Park and he would remain a crowd favourite for many years as he thumped out a hat trick v Shrewsbury Town in the 6-1 win.
He was born in Mansfield in 1951 and joined Nottingham Forest as an apprentice, signing on as a professional at the City Ground in 1968. In his five years at Forest his chances were limited and he managed just one goal in 19 appearances and at the age of 22 jumped at the chance of playing some first team football. He scored again before his loan spell expired but Walsall manager at the time Ronnie Allen had seen enough of the diminutive striker and he was signed full time for a fee of £18,000, The Forest manager was Dave Mackay who later managed the player again when he took over at Walsall a few seasons later.
That debut season saw Alan play in every first team game and notched 21 league goals plus those 3 in the League Cup.
His second season with us saw him notch up 27 goals with again another 21 in the 3rd division, 5 in the FA Cup and 1 in the League Cup. The highlight of this season was a magical night at Fellows Park in the FA Cup Round 3 Replay against Manchester United when he banged in two goals- one a penalty- to topple United who were riding high in the second division. He hit 2 goals in a game 6 times in this 1974-5 season and was ever present again.
As a player the following 1975-6 season was his most prolific as he bagged now fewer than 34 goals all in the league except a single goal in the League Cup. He scored 4 goals in the 5-1 home win over Rotherham and hat tricks at Fellows Park against Aldershot and Gillingham and scored a brace on five occassions. Again ever present all season in all games in a remarkable run and by now bigger clubs were keeping tabs on the marksman. 1976-7 was a quieter season as Walsall slumped to 15th but ‘Bucko’ still knocked in 23 goals, of which 20 were in the league and 3 in the League Cup. He actually missed four games this season due to injury but bounced back to score regularily. 1977-8 season was his 5th in our colours and he hit goals galore with 24 in the league and 4 in the FA Cup and another in the League cup. He returned to ever present status again this term.
He thus became the only Walsall FC player to score 20 league goals or more over five consecutive seasons and I believe that record will stand forever. If a current player scored 20 goals in one season he would be sold! To the dismay of the Walsall supporters he was sold to Birmingham City for a then record £175,000 fee and he had just been made caretaker manager at Fellows Park following
the departure of Dave Mackay. It was no suprise that the following season without Buckley the goals dried up for the team and we were duly relegated at the end of that season having sacked Alan Ashman and Frank Sibley along the way. Meanwhile over at St Andrews Buckley found it a little hard going in the top flight and managed just 8 goals in 29 apps for Blues.
However facing up to the prospect of 4th division football and possible dwindling crowds Chairman Ken Wheldon pulled off a masterstroke and signed the player for Walsall for the same figure and made him player manager.Alan was only 28 when he took over the hot seat and the 1979-80 season saw him get his team promoted as runners-up and he notched 16 goals in the league and a couple more in the FA Cup. The next two seasons were not the best. The club drafted in Neil Martin-whom Buckley knew from his Forest days-as joint manager! It was obvious this arrangement was not going to work and the two fell out. Buckley became just a player again with Martin taking charge of team affairs in January 1982. Thankfully he was only at the helm for four months and again Alan took over as manager. 1980-1 saw him bag 11 goals in the league and one each in the cups.and the following season just 7 goals although with the turmoil at the club over these couple of seasons for one reason or another he didn’t play as many games as he would have hoped.
The 1982-3 season saw him figure in 44 league games and although not at his best any longer he still knocked in 13 league goals and two in the FA Cup. Thereafter he only picked himself for certain games as he begain to concentrate more on the management side and 1983-4 was a truely memorable season. We had led the division for a long time but the highly successful League Cup-then known as the Milk Cup- seemed to drain the players in the league as we played no less than nine games in this cup run. We saw off Arsenal at Highbury in an amazing 2-1 victory and powered past Rotherham in the quarter final before two monumental tussles with the might of Liverpool. Saddlers took thousands to Anfield for the first leg and pulled off a remarkable 2-2 draw with a Phil Neale own goal and a chip from sub Kevin Summerfield to really set up the second leg at Fellows Park. ‘Pool didn’t make any mistake this time and ran out 2-0 winners but no manager had ever taken us to a semi final of a major cup competition and its doubtful we will ever get another chance.So we really could have been just 90 minutes from Europe!
1984-5 saw him make just a handful of appearances and 1985-6 which turned out to be his last was as a manager only. He had guided the club to a healthy 6th in the table but sadly there were no play offs about then. When Terry Ramsden took over control of the club he promptly showed Buckley and coach Gary Pendrey the door as he wanted his own men in. Again uproar amongst the supporters who were dismayed at the parting of the ways. For Walsall Alan played in 484 games and scored 205 goals- a club record and he managed the Saddlers in 312 games.
After leaving Walsall he joined Tamworth and Stourbridge for a handful of games as a player before getting back into management with Kettering Town. He soon got in the league again and spent time at West Brom, Rochdale,and Lincoln and in between all those clubs had three spells at Grimsby Town.
In his first stint he took the club from the 4th to the 2nd in successive seasons. In his second stint he took the Mariners to two successful visits to Wembley winning a play off final and the Auto Windscreen Shield. His third and final spell at Cleethorpes was never the same and he had a pretty hopeless task with hardly any budget to work with however he did give the fans a day out at the New Wembley in 2008 when Grimsby lost 0-2 to MK Dons. He was sacked early on in the 2008-9 season but has a record of managing clubs in over a thousand games joining the small band in the 1000 club but is the only one not to have managed at the top level. At just 58 he could still do a job for someone somewhere but for Walsall supporters of a certain age Alan Buckley will be best remembered for his goals and all-action performances and the manager who gave us entertaining football to watch. He will always be my all time Walsall Football Club hero. He has come back to Walsall to Bescot on a number of occassions with WBA and Grimsby and always got a good reception from the fans who had not forgotten the service he gave them. He has said in interviews that he feels nothing for Bescot Stadium as all his memories of Walsall are locked away from the time we were at Fellows Park. Quite rightly too! Alan Buckley- Walsall legend and worth Saddlers Walk of Fame entrant.