The First Time Ever I Saw Your Team: Sixer recalls when Walsall rode into Roker

Malcolm Dawson writes….this Saturday will be the fourth time I will have seen our visitors this season and I still haven’t seen us win. I can’t think that Luton and more importantly Barnsley will win all their remaining games so it is vital that we don’t drop any more points this weekend. Can Donny do us a favour this evening? 

Pete Sixsmith missed our F.A. Cup tie at the Bescott, owing to his Santarial duties, but he made the replay and he’d seen them play on Wearside twice before – once in the league and once in a long forgotten trophy, which has been replaced by a competition that has seen Sunderland followers clamouring for tickets. Pete and I will both be at Wembley but he was at Roker Park for that earlier knock out game and the only league fixture the Saddlers have played at the Stadium of Light. He recalls both here. 


The Saddlers ride up to the Stadium of Light on Saturday for the second time in the Football League. A similar result to their first visit in 2003 would be satisfactory – we won 1-0 – but we do not want a repeat of the FA Cup replay of December.

They haven’t got a great league record on Wearside. They have been here five times, have lost three, drawn one and won one, with two of the defeats being heavy ones in the early 1960’s. The 5-0 walloping in October 1962 which saw goals from Jimmy Davidson (2), Stan Anderson, Brian Clough and George Mulhall contributed heavily to Walsall’s relegation that year as they went back to Division Three (One in new money) on goal average.

Note for younger readers (if we have any). Goal average was when you divided the number of goals scored by the number of goals conceded. Walsall’s goal average was 0.59 while Charlton’s was a relatively comfortable 0.65. Ours – we finished third that season when only two went up – was 1.52.

My first view of them was on the 6th February 1988 at Roker Park in our first shameful excursion into the nether regions of the Associate Members. We were top, they were pushing for a promotion place and we came off the back of four successive league wins, hoping to strengthen our lead over Notts County. A good crowd of 18,311, two thousand up on the previous home game, sat back and waited for the visitors to collapse. They didn’t. They took the lead through Mark Goodwin mid-way through the first half and we had to wait until the 66th minute for Gary Bennett to equalise and we failed to go on and win the game, although we did retain the top spot.

The teams that day were;

Ian Hesford; Jon Kay, John McPhail, Gary Bennett, Reuben Agboola; Paul Atkinson, Paul Lemon, Steve Doyle, Gordon Armstrong; Eric Gates, Marco Gabbiadini subs; Frank Gray, Keith Bertschin

Fred Barber; Mark Taylor, Graeme Forbes, Peter Hart, Ken Mower; Craig Shakespeare, Phil Hawker, Mark Goodwin, Trevor Christie, David Kelly, Willie Naughton subs; Paul Jones (for Taylor 73), Richard O’Kelly (for Hawker 83).

There are a couple of interesting names there.

Fred Barber

Fred Barber was a Ferryhill lad, although he spent his formative years in Darlington. His Auntie Edie was one of the cleaners at Ferryhill School, a real character, who would stop cleaning and start gossiping at every opportunity. What I didn’t know about the nocturnal events in her part of the village wasn’t worth knowing. Fred signed for Darlington and made 153 appearances for them before making a move to Everton as understudy for Neville Southall. He quickly realised that waiting for Big Nev to lose form or get injured was not a great career move (keepers were not on the bench in those days) and he moved to Walsall with The Toffees making 100% profit on the deal.

He settled at Fellows Park, turning out 153 times and seeing them into Division Two on our coat tails, although they only lasted one season and like us, suffered consecutive relegations. Barber left on loan, pitched up at Peterborough United for a couple of years and then got more loans than a desperate gambler before going into coaching. He became renowned for coming onto the pitch in an old man mask (he removed it before play started) and in his time at Peterborough was a cult figure. He wasn’t a bad keeper, although his lack of height (he was 5’10”) told against him.

Fred Barber as he is now – minus the mask

His coaching career started at Bolton Wanderers where he spent 15 years and was instrumental in the development of Jussi Jasskelainen, who retired last year and Adam Bogdan who is now at Hibernian, so his pedigree is pretty good. He even did some work at Sunderland when Sam Allardyce was spreading hope and optimism amongst the support and he is now on the coaching staff at Crewe Alexandra, where Jaaskalainen’s son, Will, is one of the keepers.

The other connection is David Kelly, a man with a good goal scoring record at all of the clubs that he played at bar one – us. He rattled in 192 in 600 league games, a total which included 35 in 70 games for The Mags. You don’t need to be Einstein to work out that that is an average of1 per 2 games. And 2 was the total he scored for us in the 35 games he appeared in before he slipped away to Tranmere Rovers (and obscurity in a small town near Oswestry).

David Kelly – his goal scoring record was a little fawlty during his time at Roker.

The last time they were here for a league game, was in October 2003 when 36,278 turned out to see a Mick McCarthy team which was  heading for an unsuccessful FA Cup semi-final and an equally unsuccessful Play Off semi-final. Those disappointments were still in the future as we triumphed 1-0 thanks to a 42nd minute Marcus Stewart goal.

Our team that day included Mart Poom (he of the header at Derby County), Joachim Bjorklund and Alan Quinn. A prize of a bag of nuts if you can remember him.

Jamie Lawrence was welcomed back to the Stadium and they had Gary O’Neil, then a sprightly youngster, on loan from our EFL Trophy opponents Portsmouth. At 35, he is currently playing and occasionally getting paid by Bolton Wanderers.

Walsall were relegated at the end of that season as well, this time on goal difference rather than goal average, and their current form is not good, with only three wins this calendar year. Portsmouth beat them at The Bescot on Tuesday. We’ll be hoping to emulate that on Saturday.

We are getting to the fag end of the season and while it looks likely that we will finish in the top six, with Luton and Barnsley in the driving seat, we have to win these games if we are to have any hope of automatic promotion.

Ha’way the Lads.

Fred Barber coaching clip posted on YouTube by Spootboot, 2018 If there is any copyright claim, not answered by “fair comment” on the video or images used in this report please let us know and we will remove or acknowledge as required

3 thoughts on “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Team: Sixer recalls when Walsall rode into Roker”

  1. 17th November 1962, Sunderland 3 Walsall 0. Stan Anderson left the field after 5 minutes, broken cheekbone. There were no subs in those days and Ambrose Fogarty took over Anderson’s position. He played a blinder. It was a piece of light relief on a sad day, later that day the Seaham lifeboat tragedy occurred.

  2. Einstein will be turning in his grave and John Mc will be apoplectic! 35 goals in 70 games is not two goals per game.
    Perhaps you did it deliberately to wake The Ogre Brian from his slumbers!
    Thanks anyway, I’ll look out for you in amongst the 32000.

    • I proof-read the piece.

      I found a typo in that paragraph but this passed right by me!

      Corrected now

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