Book Review – Walsall’s Greatest: Tony Richards and the Saddlers’ Glory Years by Gary Richards

The English football pyramid top four divisions is made up of 92 clubs, however, the way that the modern media goes on you’d think that the 20 Premier League clubs are the only ones that exist. Football history in true Orwellian 1984 style has been rewritten so that all that before 1992/93 has miraculously disappeared and is never spoken about.

Thankfully up and down the country, thousands still attend games in the Championship, League 1 and League 2 and further down the National League System to watch their teams and ensure that their community, history and stories continue to survive and thrive.

Books like Walsall’s Greatest: Tony Richards and the Saddlers’ Glory Years by Gary Richards also thankfully add to the titles on shelves bringing to life often untold tales of players and season’s from the past.

As the PR for the book tells readers, “at the end of the 1953/54 season, Walsall Football Club finished bottom of the Third Division South and applied for re-election to the Football League for a third successive year.” What followed was an incredible change of fortunes for the West Midlands club inspired by the goalscoring talents of Tony Richards and Colin Taylor under the management of Bill Moore, which saw the Saddlers rise to the heights of the old Second Division (now Championship) taking on the likes of Leeds United, Liverpool and Newcastle United.

One thing to get out of the way is that the book is written by Tony Richards’ son Gary, but despite this, the story is told in a totally professional and objective manner and there is no mawkish sentimentality to be found amongst the pages. And yes whilst his father (who was voted Walsall’s greatest ever player in 1998) is at the centre of the story, this book is a tribute to all the players and management that brought about the club’s most successful period.

Indeed the research that the author carries out to produce this great read is to be admired as evidenced within the extensive notes section of the book. Whilst the internet can be a great source of information, it is evident that good old-fashioned trawling of newspaper archives and the like has been undertaken by Richards.’ A labour of love in more than one way. What also lends an authentic voice of the period are the interviews with Walsall players such as Keith Ball, Ray Wiggin, Trevor Foster, Stan Bennett and Nick Atthey who played with Tony Richards and bring to life the realities of the game in the 1950s and 60s.

In terms of the timeline, the book follows a convention path looking at Tony Richard’s upbringing, his early youth career at Birmingham City and his army days before his move to Walsall for the 1954/55 season. It then follows through the various Saddlers campaigns to 1963 when after 334 games scoring 185 goals, he left for Port Vale (1963 to 1966) and finished his career in non-league with Nuneaton Borough (1966 to 1969) where despite injuries Richards’ continued his incredible scoring prowess.

Whilst the book focuses very much on the story of Walsall’s rise at that time, the author also provides readers with some interesting comparisons about football then and now, thereby challenging some of the assumptions and perceptions of the game back in the day.

Sadly Tony Richards passed away in March 2010 aged 75 after suffering with dementia. Tony Richards’ was famous for his aerial ability and headed goals, especially the now not often seen diving header. And in one of the closing chapters Gary makes a serious point about how that continuous heading combined with playing at the time with heavier balls, no substitutes, concussion protocols or data research, inevitably contributed to the illness that afflicted his father. It’s a sobering and thought provoking chapter in a book that is otherwise a celebration of the beautiful game – one that is of course a book that is aimed at Walsall fan’s but will undoubtedly have a wider reach for those wanting an insight into the game and it environment in the 1950s and early 60s.

(Publisher: ToneRedDays. April 2022. Paperback: 255 pages)


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At the end of the 1953/54 season, Walsall Football Club finished bottom of the Third Division South and applied for re-election to the Football League for a third successive year. Five months later, manager Frank Buckley offered 20-year-old Tony Richards a four week trial.

This is the story of how Richards and his team-mates changed Walsall from a music hall joke into a team challenging for a place in the top tier of English football. In three seasons the club went from playing a Fourth Division league match in front of 2,366 people at Gateshead to facing Liverpool in front of an Anfield crowd of 42,229 in the Second Division.

Including testimony from Walsall players Keith Ball, Ray Wiggin, Trevor Foster, Stan Bennett and Nick Atthey, Walsall’s Greatest is a detailed account of the Saddlers’ Glory Years and the impact of the man voted by the club’s supporters as Walsall’s greatest ever player.

(Publisher: ToneRedDays. April 2022. Paperback: 255 pages)


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Book Review – Hooked: Addiction and the Long Road to Recovery by Paul Merson

In recent years, Paul Merson has stuck his head above the parapet to speak openly, honestly, movingly and at times heartbreakingly about his struggles with addiction, and his latest book, Hooked, delves more deeply into these issues, his troublesome relationship with alcohol, drugs and gambling and his long and continuing road to recovery. For all of the brilliance of the man on the pitch, his greatest contribution may be off it, with a book that helps readers understand the illness that is addiction and hopefully speaks to those who really need it.

Merson’s life has arguably been defined by two things: football and addiction, so it’s no surprise that these two themes are the centrepiece of this book. But in many ways, as in his life itself, football takes a back seat to the narrative of addiction. Indeed, whilst football may have seemed like the crux of Merson’s life, he explains how addiction, in fact, overrode everything. A shy and somewhat anxious young footballer who was thrust into the big leagues as a mere teenager at Arsenal, Merson soon found confidence in alcohol and a release in gambling, but just as his career would take off, so too would his addictions. And what strikes you is whether more could have been done to help a young Merson navigate such a formative stage in his life and his career, to have guided him down a very different path, bringing to mind that opening line in Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ – ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood’. This was, of course, the 1980s, when drinking culture in particular was synonymous with football, and Arsenal’s infamous Tuesday Club would become the epitome – or nadir – of that culture, and for Merson there was no better – or, rather, no worse – place for him to be. I’d like to think that things have changed and there is a lot more support and guidance now, especially for young footballers coming through as still impressionable adolescents, but sadly this certainly wasn’t the case back then. And whilst it’s heartening to hear Merson speak with such respect for the likes of George Graham and Bryan Robson who did what they could to try to help, the system and the organisation just wasn’t set up then to assist players, leaving them to their own destructive devices.

Merson’s road to recovery has been a long and difficult one and it’s easy to pick up on his insecurities, his vulnerabilities and his weaknesses, but also his determination and his hope, although what is also painfully clear is that addiction is a daily struggle. Indeed, what Merson communicates so effectively, I think, is addiction as a disease. As the American Medical Association defined, it is not a behaviour problem or just the result of making bad choices, but a chronic brain disorder. Once addicts and non-addicts alike begin to accept and understand this a lot more, greater support and empathy should follow, but still addiction seems to be treated as a taboo, and that can’t help anybody. Paul Merson has done a lot in recent times to advance discussions and break down barriers, even when battling against his own addictions, and I think he deserves a lot of respect and credit for fighting for both himself and others, especially when it comes to tackling gambling addiction. His BBC 1 documentary, Football, Gambling and Me, was both an eye-opening and heart-rending look at this lesser-addressed, but arguably more insidious problem, which he explains in this book is the invisible enemy, less obvious and more secretive than the obvious outward displays of alcoholism or drug abuse. It is the addiction that has possibly cost him the most, both materially and financially – he doesn’t skirt around detailing the mammoth sums he lost, not to boast or to brag about the money he was on, but rather to demonstrate just how the disease completely took over – but also socially, having robbed him of brilliant moments in life, with football and family.

What comes across so poignantly in this book is that Merson was just an ordinary boy with an extraordinary talent thrust into a man’s world when still himself just a youth without the mechanisms or support in place to guide him or help him cope and he’s struggled ever since to battle his addictions and find respite and inner peace. It’s great to hear that he’s finally overcoming the disease but it’s also moving to see that every day has its challenges. Football has always been his salvation and I, for one, love him as a pundit and am glad to see him still finding reprieve in the beautiful game. A supremely talented football, Merson’s legacy should comprise all of his heroics on the pitch, but this book and his work to further the discussion around addiction is a symbol of his real heroism. He has proven himself to be a brave, strong and top man, but what is so endearing is that he’s the footballer, the pro, the pundit, that you’d want to sit down with and discuss football, because you know he’d been himself – open, honest, knowledgeable and good fun. Until that day when I get to sit with the man himself, I’ll continue to enjoy his input on TV, with absolute respect for his courage, empathy of his issues and belief in his journey. But if I do ever get to sit down with him, there will be one pressing matter from this book to tackle first – honestly, Paul, not Chelsea? I guess, we’ve all got our flaws.

Jade Craddock


(Publisher: Headline. September 2021. Hardcover: 304 pages)


Buy the book here: Paul Merson: Hooked

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Book Review – Troy Deeney: Redemption: My Story

For me, a great autobiography gives a reader a really authentic, honest insight into the individual and helps them understand that person more. When the subject of the autobiography is particularly complex and nuanced and someone you haven’t necessarily been able to connect with or relate to before, yet you come away from the book with recognition and perspective, that’s all the more telling of a successful autobiography, and in that respect Troy Deeney’s Redemption excels. Deeney is one of those players that is perhaps largely misunderstood, divisive and dismissed for those without a Watford affiliation and, certainly, I would be guilty of being drawn into this narrative, so I was really intrigued to read this book and came away from it with genuine renewed understanding for Deeney.

Across his career, the Birmingham-born striker has developed, or perhaps rather been tagged with, a persona as something of a rogue, a bit of a pest on the pitch and potentially disruptive off it, but as with any antihero story, there is a backdrop to it all, and Deeney’s is more telling than most in helping readers understand the people, places and events that shaped him, not least a tough upbringing after his biological father abandoned him and his mother and a stepfather not without serious flaws entered his life. The circumstances of Deeney’s younger years are truly eye-opening and, I think, do a lot to unravel Deeney’s character and personality, his bravado, his resilience and his tenacity. He speaks without censor about the challenges and adversity of his upbringing but conversely also with love and appreciation and it’s clear that his early years were both troubling and seminal in shaping, and continuing to shape, him.

Indeed, a large proportion of the book is given over to his life pre-football and even when football becomes a greater part of his story, it almost feels secondary in many ways to everything else that has happened. Football autobiographies can sometimes get bogged down in the minutiae of training, matches, dressing-room tales, but having come from where he’s come from, having been through what he’s been through, Deeney’s story is as much as, if not more so, about the journey, rather than the destination. That’s not to say, football is not central to his life, his passion, but it is part of a much bigger and more significant narrative. In many ways, this only makes Deeney’s rise to the footballing heights all the more miraculous and impressive.

He is the first to admit that he wasn’t necessarily the fastest, most skilful, most talented of footballers, but what he lacked in these areas, he made up for in graft, determination and drive. His is very much a success story for the hard-working, the underdog, the strong-willed. There is obviously talent there too, though perhaps underappreciated, but Deeney’s is above all a journey that underpins the argument that hard work pays off, that good things don’t come easy, that you have to make your own luck. This commitment to hard work, to fight against the odds, to battle his way to the top are attributes that have come to define Deeney the footballer as a tenacious, tough, tireless competitor. Qualities that have perhaps often been used against him, especially by opposition fans, yet qualities nonetheless that should be valued, and qualities that clearly stem from a tough start.

Deeney may be a menace on the pitch, he may antagonise and rile up defenders and fans alike, but being on the pitch, working hard to get there, to prove himself, to improve himself, to rise up from the challenges of his birthplace, of his upbringing, is a success story that shouldn’t be underestimated. He has his flaws, don’t we all, but what is so impressive is that he hasn’t allowed them to hold him back. If anything, he has channelled them, made the most of his attributes and compensated through hard work and determination. He refused to be defined by disadvantage, he refused to take the easy route, and that takes incredible conviction and dedication. It is easy to see that Deeney’s story could have been a very different one, if not for football and if not for his dedication to the game, and whether you love him or loathe him, reading his story, knowing his journey, you can’t take away how far he’s come and how much work that’s taken.

Jade Craddock

(Publisher: Cassell. September 2021. Hardcover: 304 pages)


Buy the book here: Troy Deeney

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Hooked is Merson’s wonderfully moving and brutally honest memoir of battling addiction, unflinching in detailing his emotional and psychological troughs and in raking over the painful embers of an adult life blighted by such debilitating issues.

‘I can’t remember a time before addiction. I can’t remember what the absence of addiction felt like.’

For twenty-one years Paul Merson played professional football, but for thirty-five years has also been an addict. Alcohol, drugs, gambling: a desperately unenviable cocktail of addictions and depression which has plagued his entire adult life and driven him to the verge of suicide.

‘All I’ve ever wanted my entire life is to be normal – take the kids to the park, sit in the garden, Sunday roast – and be someone my family could rely on.’

‘At night, I go to bed and put my head on the pillow and appreciate that it’s a miracle that I haven’t had a bet or a drink.’

Hooked will kick-start a crucial national conversation about addiction, depression and the damage they wreak, and about the long road to recovery.

‘If this book manages to save just one person, it would be the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.’

‘The addiction’s not in the drink or the bet or the drug. The addiction is in my head. It’s an inside job.’

‘Always remember, addiction needs you on your own. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You are not alone.’

‘When you’re a compulsive gambler and you have money, it isn’t burning a hole in your pocket, it’s burning a hole in your mind.’

‘Drinking was like boarding a rocket for me, a ticket to a different world.’

(Publisher: Headline. September 2021. Hardcover: 304 pages)

Book Review: Allan Clarke – His Fulham Years by Martin Plumb and Ken Coton

Programme from Allan Clarke’s Fulham debut.

Let’s start with a question. What club did ex-England international Allan Clarke make his First Division debut with? Many people will automatically assume that it was with Leeds United. It was in fact Fulham, coincidentally against the Yorkshire club he would later join, as a second-half substitute on Good Friday, 08 April 1966 at Craven Cottage.

Clarke signed for Fulham from Third Division Walsall at the backend of the 1965/66 season and played for the London club until the end of the 1967/68 campaign, before moving to Leicester City. Allan Clarke – His Fulham Years by Martin Plumb and Ken Coton, details as the book title states his time playing down by the Thames.

This tribute to the striker who scored 57 goals in his 100 appearances for the club, (his strike rate of 0.57 goals per game remains the second highest in Fulham’s history), is recorded through the wonderfully evocative images of the former Fulham photographer, Ken Coton, and complimented by the words of Martin Plumb.

Programme from Allan Clarke’s final Fulham game.

Format wise the book is dominated by a review of the time Clarke spent at the club on a season by season basis, which is added to with a useful breakdown of the players statistics whilst at Fulham and his career in total. In addition there are brief sections on his time after leaving Craven Cottage and even a Postscript from Clarke himself. This final piece from the man himself makes for interesting reading, in that despite its brevity, readers get the sense that the Clarke is not fan of the Premier League, with his view that “players can’t defend anymore, they really haven’t got a clue”, and was so confident in his abilities adding that, “if I was playing today’s game and hadn’t scored 30 to 40 goals, I would consider that I’d had a bad season.” With such forthright opinions, it would have been interesting to have the book contain more of Clarke’s thoughts on his playing career and football today.

As it is the narrative of the book is as much about Fulham’s battle to avoid relegation from the First Division as it is about Clarke’s goalscoring exploits. Whilst this is interesting, the real beauty comes from the lens of Ken Coton. Here black and white images capture the game from a very different time, with some grounds such as Bradford Park Avenue long since gone and Craven Cottage itself seen before the development of the Riverside Stand, with the long terrace in the 1960s only adorned by the television gantry, score board and various flag poles. Not every image in the book is perfect, but overall are of an excellent quality, testament to the skill of Ken Coton without the wizardry that digital cameras afford today.

It is once again another great addition to the Fulham based series of publications from Ashwater Press and a wonderful reminder of one of the club’s most deadly strikers.


(Ashwater Press. November 2020. Hardback 163 pages)


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2013/14: Sky Bet League One – Sheffield United v Walsall

Kick-off was delayed ten minutes at Bramall Lane due to a fire-alarm problem, although after a game low on quality and incident, fans might have wished it had been postponed indefinitely.

Walsall played five in midfield and Sheffield United seemed content to allow the visitors possession, indeed it was difficult to fathom at times who the home team was.

The two talking points of the first-half centred on a penalty that wasn’t awarded and one that was.

On forty minutes United defender Aidy White broke into the box and went down after a clumsy challenge from Lalkovic. However, referee Sarginson waved away appeals indicating the Walsall winger played the ball.

A minute into time added-on, United did get a penalty when James Chambers was adjudged to have handled the ball. Chris Porter fired home to put The Blades 1-0 up at the break.

Walsall manager Dean Smith’s said he felt ‘hard done by about the penalty decision. That certainly wasn’t deliberate handball. The first one was, for the foul by Milan Lalkovic, but two wrongs don’t make a right’.

United manager Nigel Clough believed, ‘one penalty was the least we should have had this evening’.

The highlight of the second-half came within two minutes of the restart. Walsall levelled when. Baxendale went down the right and his cross was powerfully headed home by Craig Westcarr.

That was as good as it got, as the game returned to the mediocrity of the first-half and at the whistle the frustrated reaction of home fans told you everything you needed to know.

Both managers acknowledged that reaction, with United boss Clough saying ‘it was a hard-earned point, but I’m disappointed with the goal we conceded again’, adding, ‘I was disappointed with our final delivery at times – we got into some good, positive positions and set-plays but weren’t quite on it’.

His counterpart Dean Smith reflected, ‘we were average tonight. We know we can play a lot better and it was probably a fair result. But it shows how far we’ve come that we can go away from Bramall Lane disappointed with only a point’.

Book Review: Bradford City AFC – A Season Re-visited 1969/70 by Raymond C. Maule

The first thing to say about this book relates to the cover, where the phrase “…less is more…” rings true. The classically all white cover is interrupted only by claret and amber bands (depicting the Bradford City colours), details of the books title and a team picture from the 1969/70 season. On the reverse, a brief synopsis of the publication sits below two programme covers from the season and a view of the Valley Parade ground. The final detail relates to the fact that proceeds from the book are in Aid of the Bradford Cardiac Unit.

Once inside the book, the author explains in the “Dedication” and “Acknowledgement” the reason for this publication and how it came to fruition. “…The seed of an idea for this book was planted while recovering on a cardiac ward in a Bradford hospital. I decided that I wanted to say thank you in a more tangible form, to those who nursed me through a difficult time, and hopefully give something back in return…”

In the “Introduction” the reader is given a brief review of the 1969/70 season in terms of the White Rose County and its clubs and some snippets of what was happening in England at the time. The listing of the television viewing schedule from Christmas Day 1969 makes very interesting reading indeed!

So to the main body of the book, which is a diary based format of the 1969/70 season. The source of the information is match reports from the Yorkshire Post and the local papers of the Bantams opposition. The focus is on the City first team, although there are brief details about the reserves and other games that have a West Yorkshire interest. In addition to the match reports there are “Notes from the day” which include a round-up of the other fixtures in Division Three on that day and or more details and observations about the game Bradford were involved in. The reader will notice that the journalistic style is somewhat different to that of the sound-bite manner of today. The one-word headline to introduce a new paragraph is a format that has long since disappeared from sports reporting. For much of the season the Bantams were in and around the promotion spots, but no wins from their final eight games, left Bradford in tenth place. In the League Cup and FA Cup, City had decent runs, including a win at Roker Park against Sunderland, who just four years later won the FA Cup. The book closes with a “Who’s who of Bradford City’s personnel 1969/70” providing a useful summary of some of the key personalities from that season.

From a personal perspective I would have liked to have seen more match action pictures or programme covers to supplement the text. However, the lack of photographs from the respective fixtures may be down to the fact (as the author explains), “…many newspapers have disposed of their photographic archives and rely on scans taken from hard copy…”

It is a book that can be picked and put down and acts as a point of reference. It was interesting for instance to see three managers detailed in their playing days, those being Ian Branfoot (for Doncaster Rovers), Graham Taylor (for Lincoln City) and Neil Warnock (for Rotherham United). There are also various other gems in this book and a couple of my favourites are as follows:

Friday 23 January 1970

Mr John Parker, Labour MP, for Dagenham began an attempt at modifying the “Sunday Observance Laws” and so legalise the charging of admission prices at fixtures played on Sunday’s. It was an idea being closely watched by sporting bodies throughout the country, especially football being the biggest money-spinning sport.

The idea is said to have government approval and if all goes well by this time next year Football League clubs may well be playing League and Cup fixtures on a regular basis on Sundays.

In fact it was another four years before football was played on a Sunday, when on January 6th 1974 four FA Cup Third Round fixtures were played, the first being Cambridge United v Oldham Athletic which kicked off in the morning.

Later in April 1970 the following is an extract from the match report for the Walsall v Bradford City fixture:

Bradford goalkeeper, John Roberts was struck in the back by a full large-sized tin of soup (tomato flavour!) thrown from behind his goal just after the restart.

Whilst it may seem comical to read, it should be remembered that hooliganism was very much on the rise during this period and that there are a number of reports in the book which highlight trouble on the terraces and from fans travelling to and from games.

As a book I believe that it will appeal to City fans old and new, fans of other clubs who played against Bradford that season and indeed anyone who wants an insight into that period in English football. Share in Bradford City’s up and down return to Division Three, the glory of the Cup runs and revisit football and an England as the swinging sixties gave way to the seventies.


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