Monsieur Salut writes: by common consent, Richard Hall‘s* interview as a Walsall fan ahead of last week’s league game was as good as these things get. We knew, of course, that an FA Cup tie would follow a week later and, since organising Who are You? features can be time-consuming and frustrating, we cheekily asked Richard to handle questions relating to this Saturday’s game, too.
In fact we may get him to do all the Who are You?s remaining this season, no matter the club. Those who said they were looking forward to this second instalment will not be disappointed …
Salut! Sunderland: up for the cup? We’ve made progress in the FA Cup and Checkatrade Trophy. Now Walsall and SAFC meet in the FA Cup having drawn 2-2 in League One last weekend. How important is the game to you?
Richard Hall: very. We have an awful cup record, never having been past the fifth round. We are unlikely to do much in the league, and beating you would set us up nicely for the third round giant-killing we are due, preferably at Goodison Park because I’ve never been there.
This is a moment for our manager Dean Keates to put his stamp on the team and club.
The FA Cup has, of course, lost a lot of its allure and gates can be low in the early rounds. Is that an inevitable process or can it somehow be revived as a major competition that tugs at the heartstrings of all fans?
Only in the early rounds for the visit of bigger clubs, and towards the end of the competition.
However, the FA allowing Manchester United to duck out, the move to hold all semi-finals at Wembley, the inability of clubs outside the top six to win the competition, which seems to have become the plaything of those with money … each diminishes the romance.
I cannot see how, in the face of the need for teams to maintain revenue streams from playing in the Premier League, the allure of European competition, and the priority given to ensuring European football for the elite, that this can be revived. This is the inevitable outcome of the rule of money over our human desire for romance.
Do you have special memories of cup games involving Walsall – great wins over Man Utd, Arsenal, Newcastle and Leicester, reaching the League Cup semis in the 1980s and a losing Football League Trophy appearance at Wembley much more recently?
I have already mentioned the two games against Liverpool in 1984, but this was preceded by an amazing 2-1 away win at Arsenal in the Milk Cup. The Johnstone Paints Trophy game away at Preston in 2015, which we won 2-0, was an amazing night because it signalled that we might actually make it to Wembley.
We were also involved in a fantastic 4-4 draw with Watford in the FA Cup in 1987, which is probably the best game I have ever seen.
As everybody knows we initiated the use of “giant-killing” with our 2-0 thrashing of Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal in 1933 – my granddad was there so I’m claiming it. And, I must put a shout-out for our 3-0 victory over Hednesford in the Birmingham Senior Cup in 1994. Amazing days.
What are your stand-out memories, no matter which teams or players were involved, of the FA Cup?
- Bob Stokoe just because. Bill Shankly leading Liverpool out before they thrashed Newcastle. Alan Buckley punishing Man United in extra-time in 1975. Alan Sunderland’s tap-in. A banner at the West Ham versus Arsenal final that stated Jesus saves but Cross gets the rebound’. Steve Mackenzie’s volleyed equaliser versus Man City in the 1981 FA Cup replay, which was way better than a refreshed Ricky Villa ambling through an exhausted defence.
- Winning the school sweepstake because Norman Whiteside scored against Everton. The hope I felt when Coventry beat Spurs. The pain I felt when Brighton’s Gordon ‘Smith must score’ didn’t.
- Every time Aston Villa lose in the final. Neil Tolson’s late equaliser for Walsall away at non-league Yeovil, and a one-man pitch invasion. A visit to Drill Field to see Walsall away at Northwich Victoria.
- Jumpers for posts.
Not really cup-related but follows on from my first question. We are meeting some great people at this level, whether at games or – as is more the case for me – in electronic communication. Should we all make a pact to ignore the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga, Ligue 1 etc and enjoy football at a more down-to-earth level?
No. There is something beautiful about seeing players who are at the top of their game. Every now and then I enjoy watching a Premier League game because there is something magical about seeing class and craft and ability.
I saw Antoine Griezmann play for Atletico Madrid against Leicester a couple of seasons ago and it was awesome.
Plus, we should shine a light on how the power and privilege and status and money deforms football, so that we can question how power and privilege and status and money deform our society.
Will you be our our cup game? What will be that score?
Yes. We will win 1-0 after being battered for most of the game.
* Richard Hall on himself: I have supported Walsall since 1979. Between 1999 and 2009 I chaired the Walsall Supporter’ Trust, and during this time we became the 10th largest shareholder and tried to hold the club to account. Now I write for the Walsall FC site The No Nobhead Policy. I live in Leicester, where I work at De Montfort University as a professor of education, and I am also involved in a couple of educational co-operatives. My favourite Dmitri Shostakovich symphony is number five, my favourite Michael Jackson track is Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, I like an old world red wine and I’m currently reading the work of Raya Dunayevskaya. All the lols.
Interview: Colin Randall