Then and now
By Matt Rowson
In 1984, my family was living in Germany. As such we were dependent on my Grandparents in Watford for carefully annotated match programmes, the sports pages of the Watford Observer and videos of the A-Team, amongst other essentials.
In particular, after the victory over Plymouth at Villa Park, we were somewhat dependent on my Grandfather's resilience in the ticket queue for Cup Final tickets. These he delivered, but at some cost. As he approached the front of the queue, some nameless faceless cowards (whom my imagination paints with the visage of a certain Celebrity Fool of the present) took advantage of a seventy-year-old man and muscled in ahead of him.
He still got the tickets, but declined the opportunity to get one for himself. Disenchanted and disappointed by the incident, he ceased his regular trips to Vicarage Road. News of this reached the club, prompting Tom Walley to pay a personal call to my Grandfather to apologise on Watford's behalf. Though touched by the gesture, so characteristic of that special management team, his anger wasn't quelled sufficiently to resume his attendance. He was a stubborn old bugger and no mistake.
I only remember him coming to one more game, in fact... an FA Cup Fifth Round Replay against Walsall in the FA Cup in 1987 when he accompanied me in the Family Enclosure. After an insanely entertaining 4-4 draw, my grandfather turned to me, his face as red and breathless as if he had played the 120 minutes himself. "I can't do this again" he said. "That's too much". He died in 1993.
Reviewing Walsall's line-up that night serves as a dramatic illustration of the changes that League football has undertaken in the intervening fifteen years or so. Barber, Dornan, Hawker, Shakespeare, Forbes, Hart, Rees, Cross, Kelly, Christie, Jones. The Scottish duo of lumpy centre-back Graeme Forbes and Andy Dornan, whose unfortunate own-goal was to settle the tie in the second replay at Fellows Park, were as exotic as it got.
Walsall now haven't shifted too dramatically in status from Walsall then... you'd argue that their current "natural home" is still somewhere between midway in Division Two and midway in Division Three (as was). Had you announced then that by 2001 the Saddlers would be naming a side for a League Cup tie featuring a Spaniard, a Nigerian, a Jamaican, a Brazilian, a Frenchman and two Portuguese you would have been taken about as seriously as David Kelly's Limahl haircut.
In goal on Monday is likely to be Jimmy "Wacker" Walker, a popular custodian for the past few years at the Bescot who earns his nickname from the decisiveness of his kicking. Competition is provided by former Arsenal youth-teamer Lee Harper, signed from QPR over the summer.
Right-back is likely to be local boy Matt Gadsby, who has impressed greatly in Walsall's encouraging opening games this season. His chief rival for this slot would appear to be the more experienced Ian Brightwell, who can also play in the centre and covered for the injured Andy Tilson in the Saddlers' midweek cup-tie. The other regular centre-back is Tony Barras, whose pen-picture on Walsall's official site overdoses on a stereotype, describing Barras as "honest", "hard-working", "solid", "no-nonsense", and "letting nobody down" within a single sentence. Barras is strong in the air, but less comfortable with the ball at his feet. As you'd expect from an honest, solid etc etc centre-half. Other options in the middle include the capable but listed Ian Roper, but summer recruit Matt Carbon turned his ankle over in training.
On the left, Spaniard Zigor Aranalde is a potent weapon when attacking but has already been exposed defensively this season. His place could be under threat from another recent signing, the former Nancy captain Frederic Biancalani.
The centre of midfield is a key area that Walsall probably need to strengthen. The support seems to be split on the relative merits of captain Tom Bennett, whose disappointing early showings may have been hampered by a tolerated injury, and the all-action, little thought Dean Keates. Summer signing Fitzroy Simpson arrived in the summer to rejoin his former Pompey and Jamaica colleague Paul Hall, and he provides another option. The attacking Carlos Garrocho, prolific during his time in Portugal, is another possibility.
On the right flank is likely to be a Brazilian whose name is either Herivelto or Erivelto, dependent on which account you believe. As this is a Watford preview, 'erivelto seems most convenient. He also arrived in the West Midlands from Portuguese football. Luton target Darren Wrack, who has struggled since an impressive season two years ago, and the busy Hall are also options here, but the rapid emergence of youngster Mark Wright could hasten the departure of both. On the left, Spaniard Pedro Matias may make a welcome return from illness.
Up front the likeliest pairing is player-of-the-season Jorge Leitão, who abandoned a degree course in Portugal to join the Saddlers, with play-off final hero Darren Byfield. Big hair man and Midlands nomad Don Goodman is likely to be on the bench. Nigerian Adolfus Ofodile is a further option, and 'erivelto has been used in an attacking role, but battering ram Brett Angell is on the list.
Walsall's opening league fixtures have yielded encouraging results, further challenging the mythical chasm between the divisions, but a home win should be the objective of a side with Premiership pretensions, five games in or otherwise. I'll be somewhere over the Atlantic come Monday afternoon, so ig will have to find someone else to grumble at.
I'm sure Grandad will be watching though.