End of an eventful decade for Walsall
Well, what a ten years it has been to be a Saddler! It's had it all - promotion; relegations; sackings; big signings; etc.
There really is not much that hasn't happened to be honest, so let's start at the beginning.
Back at the start of 2000, we were stuck. We were in the old Division One (now the Championship) in a relegation dog fight, which we eventually lost out to against our local rivals West Brom.
It signaled the start of an eventful season, which resulted in THAT game...I of course refer only to the Playoff 3-2 win over Reading, one of the biggest, if not the biggest, game in the club's long history. We were back in Division One!
There was the birth of two legends in this period, the brilliant 'Sir' Ray Graydon and the unbelievable Jorge Leitao. They were Walsall FC through and through. Graydon was unfortunately sacked by Bonser in 2002 for a run of poor results, which had left us in the relegation zone. It was a controversial dismissal that had the media talking, the fans protesting, wearing flat caps in 'Sir' Ray's honour.
Alight Colin Lee. The former Wolves boss was another controversial choice made by Bonser at the time, mainly due to his previous allegiance with our fiercest rivals. However, he performed the impossible task of getting us out of the relegation zone and did the same during the next season. Lee outlined his desire to make Walsall into a 'bigger club` and maybe even push for the Premiership within a couple of seasons. This including the redevelopment of the then Gilbert Alsop Stand, a new press room, as well as a bigger gym for the players.
However, in 2004, Lee was sacked for poor results as reality set in. Now this led to one of the worst points of the decade after the most surprising point - the signing of Paul Merson. It was an incredible coup, after the midfielder skippered Portsmouth to the Premiership the season previous. And after scoring two phenomenal goals in our 4-1 win over West Brom, all seemed to be well. After Lee was sacked, Merse was asked to fill the void to try and keep us in the league. He failed. A 5-0 defeat 24 hours after his appointment as Caretaker would prove costly, as we were relegated on the last day by just a single goal.
Merse was given the job on a permanent basis, with the fans approval at the time. However, this would quickly go sour. After he claimed that Gary Birch would score over 20 goals that season, Merse played Russian roulette with relegation in the newly named League One, witht he club finishing in midtable. The next season would not be the same. It was well documented that during his tenure, he would resign at least 'once a week,` with Bonser turning down his request every time.
In 2005, Merse was sacked, after the club was adrift at the bottom of League One with no hope. Kevan Broadhurst was drafted in to try and save our fortunes, simply because he had a UEFA 'A` license. Broadhurst failed to turn around our luck, and then player Mark Kinsella was left to try and pick up some of the pieces. The club then announced that an unknown manager, named Richard Money, would take charge of the club for the new season. By this time, the new season would be in League Two.
This appointment signalled a new era for the club, as Dickie Dosh led us to the League Two title and back into League One at the first time of asking. We were on our way back to the Championship we all thought.....wrong.
This particular tale had a twist, one which resulted in stability in League One, but in the surprise resignation of DD. His assistant, Jimmy Muddle...in mean Mullen stepped into the hotseat. It was another mistake from Bonser. Mullen simply did not have a clue and struggled to get to grips with his squad and the job in hand, which was to take us towards the top six. Mullen resigned after supporter pressure and was replaced by Chris 'The Hutch` Hutchings, with former skipper and Saddlers legend Martin O`Connor as his assistant (which of course was not a PR stunt). Hutch did get to grips with the squad and led us away from any relegation danger into the security of midtable. Hutch still remains, and has recruited a squad that is capable of promise and maybe could lead us into the top six. The Championship seems a long way away for us, but who knows what will happen in 2010. The story continues...