Since our move to Bescot Stadium in 1990 we have only performed a couple of ‘giant killing’ acts in 19 years of cup competitions. Generally speaking we have not done particularly well in the two major cups- the FA Cup and the League Cup (in its various guises) since the relocation. Nowhere near the FA Cup run of 74-5 or the League Cup run of 83-4 when Alan Buckley led us to the semis but we always hope that we might get the likes of Liverpool, Man United or Arsenal at home and create a cup upset again.
The home game was made all ticket and I must have been quick off the mark as I managed to be given ticket number 00001 in this the first ever all ticket cup game at the new stadium! However only 5,666 bothered to turn up which included a decent following in the away end. Walsall got a 0-5 pasting against our visitors who were in the old First Division-Walsall had been relegated to the Fourth Division and the gap between the clubs was there for all to see. Manager Kenny Hibbitt wrote afterwards, “I was disappointed on the scoreline we allowed Chelsea to inflict on us. While I was pleased with the quality of our performance in the first half, the best we have played all season, our second half showing was non-existent and not really worthwhile of further comment.” We did a bit better in the return leg going down 1-4 at Stamford Bridge.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the following season in the FA Cup saw real humiliation at Bescot as we lost a replay 0-1 to the then non-league outfit Yeovil Town in extra time. I had travelled to the first game at Yeovil in which we were somewhat fortunate to escape with a 1-1 draw but like everyone else thought the replay would be a formality. How wrong we were. That night was one of the truly low points of our time at Bescot.
The next season saw us drawn to face Chelsea again in the LC and by this time the top flight had been re-branded the Premier League. This time our visitors put three past us again without reply. Present TV soccer pundit Andy Townsend was clearly man of the match and scored one of their goals. The first giant killing here occurred in September 1994 when Premiership side West Ham United were defeated 2-1 thanks to Stuart Watkiss and an own goal scored by Potts. Chris Nichol had just taken over as manager and whilst the fans celebrated a scalp he knew the job was only half done and predictably the hammers won the second leg at Upton Park 2-0.
Our first ‘real’ FA Cup tie was saved for the 94-5 season when in Round 3 we we drawn at home to Leeds United and this was an absolute cracker of a cup tie and goalkeeper Trevor Wood was an absolute hero who played the game of his life making a string of excellent saves as the Premiership side hit the woodwork four times but the Saddlers took the lead on the half hour mark through Chris Marsh as he scored from the tightest of angles. Walsall were looking to be giant killers again after so many years but in the 87th minute David Wetherall broke our hearts with a header to give Leeds another chance and they took it at Elland Road with Walsall going down 2-5 there.There was one amazing scoreline in the FA Cup in 95-6 in which Walsall beat Torquay at home 8-4 with the goals shared by six players!
Then came two wonderful games in the LC in the 97-8 season. Nottingham Forest had come down from the Premiership and had the likes of Pierre Van Hooijdonk, Kevin Campbell and Chris Bart-Williams in their line up .Walsall had won the first leg at the City Ground 1-0 and there was a terrific atmosphere in the ground and a noisy night packed behind the goal in the Gilbert Alsop Stand. We saw a terrific turnaround on the night as we found ourselves two down and the hero was Andy Watson. He had been out of favour with manager Jan Sorensen leading up to these games He hit two extra time goals in four minutes to give is a 3-2 aggregate win. I will never forget Watson being mobbed by delighted fans on the pitch when he scored his second and the scenes on the final whistle.
Next up were second division Sheffield United at Bescot in Round 3. Once more Walsall came roaring back from a goal down and again the Walsall hero was that man Watson as he cooly lifted the ball over the advancing keeper following a pass from Roger Boli then Carl Tiler sliced the ball into his own net on 87 minutes to set up more wild celebration scenes at the end of another scalp. We lost 1-4 at West Ham in the next round- Andy Watson again- but those of us who saw those two magical nights at Bescot against Notts Forest and Sheff Utd within the space of three weeks will never forget the wonderful battling displays we put on.
1999-2000 saw us get thumped by Sunderland here 0-5, a disappointing game and scoreline against the newly promoted Premiership side after we had done so well in the 2-3 defeat at the Stadium Of Light. The next season saw two cup games here against West Ham. We suffered a 0-1 defeat in the LC however we saw a better game and performance in the FA Cup but lost 2-3 as Darren Wrack and Brett Angell found the net. Jimmy Walker put on a good display and he was destined to sign for them a few years later.
Three years ago Premiership Bolton Wanderers were the visitors in the LC and they included in their line up the likes of Campo, Nolan, Speed, Stelios, Anelka and Diouf. They had taken the lead through Nolan. A wonderful curled free kick from Michael Dobson hit the post and Martin Butler followed up from the rebound with a header.Two late goals saw the Saddlers off but how I wish we could have more nights like this at Bescot.
After dire seasons in all the cup competitions under recent managers Jimmy Mullen and Chris Hutchings, it is hoped that under Dean Smith Walsall can enjoy a good cup in at least one of this season’s cups…its long overdue!