If you look through the annals of Walsall FC’s recent history, you can see that the last new Walsall manager Jeff Bonser welcomed to the club himself, not by issuing a cursory statement on the football club’s website or through an intermediary but was photographed with on their appointment, was Richard Money. They were smiling in the May sunshine when Money was appointed in 2006 but two years later the manager had left under a heavy grey cloud. Walsall don’t really seem to have recovered since.
He didn’t feel he could work within the constraints of the club, presumably those financial restrictions that Walsall have been working within since, and left before he completed his second season as manager. When he did leave, there were no photos of Money and Bonser; a cursory statement was issued on Bonser’s behalf.
Since Money left, the club has chosen three managers, all three of whom were, at least at the time of their appointments, more recognised as assistants. Chris Hutchings went back to assisting Paul Jewell at Ipswich shortly after his sacking from the club eighteen months ago; Dean Smith had never been a manager until Walsall appointed him; and Jimmy Mullen was Money’s assistant. None of them have been outstandingly successful. I kind of yearn for the (albeit couple of) Money years.
Under Money in League Two Walsall got attendances they could only dream of now. Against Wycombe on October 14th 2006 the attendance at Bescot was 6,745. Remember, that was a League Two game. When Walsall beat Wycombe a few months ago in League One, the attendance was 3,491. Even when Walsall played Accrington Stanley the attendance was 6,062. The final game of the season against Wrexham was attended by 7,057 fans. In the 2011/12 season, every one Walsall’s attendances were all lower than the match against Accrington Stanley bar the Boxing Day match against Sheffield Wednesday. Something’s gone wrong somewhere and I don’t think it’s a matter of people’s finances.
People probably felt more financially secure between 2006 and the first half of 2008 than they do now, but I would argue those attendances had something to do with Money’s success.
He was the only manager since Ray Graydon to leave the club in a better state than he found it at his appointment. Chris Hutchings led Walsall to 10th place in League One at the end of his first season but then marched the team triumphantly to the bottom of the league. Dean Smith has hardly performed brilliantly in terms of league finishes. Money finished first in League Two and then took a promoted Walsall team to just outside the League One play-offs and then it all went awry and he left.
So, what did he do so right?
His teams were hardly the most fluid, the most inspirational, nor were any his signings terribly exciting. There was more predictable graft in Money’s clubs than any unpredictable, fleeting class.
Take the final team of the League Two campaign, who played at home to Wrexham. It was:
Clayton Ince; Mark Wright, Chris Westwood, Anthony Gerrard, Daniel Fox; Tony Bedeau, Michael Dobson, Dean Keates, Ishmel Demontagnac; Martin Butler, Trevor Benjamin. Subs used were Craig Pead, Darren Wrack and Hector Sam and subs not used were: Manny Smith and Bertrand Bossu.
It’s hardly the most inspirational attacking side, Demontagnac aside. Although that one of the defence appeared in a Carling Cup final this season and that another’s been promoted to the Premier League shows just how good Anthony Gerrard and Daniel Fox both were. At least their sales, the major rupture which caused his departure four months later, was something truly worth moaning about.
Likewise, the side which lost to Brighton in March 2008 and essentially ensured that Walsall wouldn’t get into the top six of League One that season was:
Clayton Ince; Rhys Weston, Anthony Gerrard, Ian Roper, Paul Boertein; Kevin Betsy, Darren Wrack, Mark Bradley, Lee Holmes; Stefan Moore, Tommy Mooney. Richard Taundry came on as a substitute and was later sent off. David McDermott later came on as a sub with Troy Deeney; Bertrand Bossu and Manny Smith, again, weren’t used.
Upfront Stefan Moore, Tommy Mooney, Martin Butler and Trevor Benjamin were hardly brilliantly dynamic players – yet they performed well under Money.
Other signings, such as Carlos Carneiro, who appeared a handful of times in League One, were outright failures, but Money had cultivated a good enough squad to ensure that it did not impair the squad too greatly. Carneiro, injured within a few months, was released quietly a few months into his contract.
But in fairness to Money it’s quite clear that good signings outweighed the bad: Kevin Cooper and Kevin Harper were two critical signings who helped fire Walsall to promotion in Money’s first season.
It’s been four years since Money left Walsall and the wider Football League has changed significantly: two clubs Walsall played in League Two, Darlington and Chester City, are no longer in the Football League. Things were so bad in Chester’s case that the club has since been dissolved; Darlington might have to play in the Northern League next season. I suppose, in the general scheme of things, having Hutchings, Mullen and Smith wasn’t quite that bad.
After time spent at Newcastle’s academy, he went onto manage Luton Town, winning more than half of the league games that he managed. But he couldn’t manage to hoist the club from the Blue Square Premier. He, rather predictably, continued to row with fans about their booing of his players, just as he had at Walsall.
Last season, a few newspapers mooted that he was to be Bristol Rovers’ new manager. Mark McGhee took over soon after. When Plymouth Argyle were looking for a Director of Football earlier this year, he was mooted for that position and declared his interest but it went to John Deehan, who’s since left.
So at present a very talented if argumentative manager is out of work. In a way, I wish he could come back to Walsall. But we all know that’s not going to happen: he’s far too honest for Walsall.