Go Away! Walsall

Walsall in postcard form

Walsall is known as ‘the town of a hundred trades’. Initially adopted as a tongue-in-cheek reference to nearby Birmingham’s moniker as ‘the town of a thousand trades’, it is now – in the wake of continued government cutbacks and austerity – a sadly accurate reflection of the town’s employment figures. That said, it should however not be confused with ‘the land of a thousand dances’, which is of course, Wolverhampton.

The town’s name derives from ‘Walh halh’, which means ‘valley of the Welsh’, because if there’s one thing Wales needs more of, it’s valleys. Despite being first mentioned in a document from 1002 Walsall isn’t referenced in the Domesday Book, primarily because the publishers were keen on a happy ending. Undeterred by this oversight Walsall became established as a market town, its weekly market having been introduced from 1220, as the townspeople were notoriously late risers.

During the First World War Walsall was hit by a bomb dropped from a Zeppelin airship, the blast ‘killed the town’s mayoress and two others’, an incident which prompted many questions. Such as why was a Zeppelin over Walsall? Why wasn’t it taken down before it could bomb? And, why did the town need three mayoresses? Why wasn’t one of the mayoresses kept away from the other two as a safety measure? And what does this say about the then mayor, other than absolute legend?

From the top of local landmark Barr Beacon legend has it that if you follow its attitude eastwards you won’t find a place higher than this until you reach the Ural Mountains. Apparently on a clear day if you look east from here you can see Polish housewife Krystyna Wójcik putting out her washing, although that in itself isn’t that impressive as Mrs Wójcik lives in Sutton Coldfield.

The first Wurlitzer theatre organ in Great Britain was installed in Walsall in 1925, in its New Picture House. It was named the Beer Wurlitzer, which we always thought was the name given to that sensation when you first lie down in bed after a skinful, but  turns out it’s an organ, who knew?  

Walsall FC were formed in 1888 as a merger between two existing teams, Walsall Town and Walsall Swifts. Initially they were known as Walsall Town Swifts, but they switched to Walsall in 1895 when they moved to Fellows Park and couldn’t be arsed to carry all the letters across town. Walsall’s first home ground was the Chuckery, although they were sadly forced to leave it after complaints from local residents, presumably against the noise made by visiting supporters laughing at the name.

What’s it famous for?

During the Industrial Revolution Walsall changed rapidly from a village of around 2,000 people to a thriving town producing, most prominently, leather saddles. It is from this traditional trade that the football team takes its nickname of The Saddlers, and is also why, to this day, the majority of the local population choose to travel on horseback. As such it is important to watch where you tread as you move through Walsall’s streets.

The Victorian novelist and essayist Jerome K. Jerome was born in Wallsall, but ‘he never wrote about it’ laments the town’s Wikipedia page, as if Three Men in a Boat somehow missed out by not being set on the Walsall Canal. For a small town it does have a reasonable alumni roll-call though, including some credible musicians, notably Noddy Holder, Jorja Smith and Goldie, medal-winning swimmers Nick Gillingham and Ellie Simmonds, sprinter Mark Lewis-Frances and the straightest of straight men, celebrated third-wheel of Paul Shane and Su Pollard, Jeffrey Holland. 

How does one blend in?

Saddle up your horse and mosey on down to the nearest saloon for a pint of Bank’s Bitter and a plate of Grorty Dick (and we cannot stress enough here that you ask for ‘a plate of’ and not ‘a case of’). Once you’ve finished playing cards, and thrown an outlaw through the window, have a read of The Express & Star and lament ever letting Ray Graydon leave.

What’s the Stadium like?

Built at the end of the 1980s the Bescot Stadium is one of the most ingenious modern football stadia in that it was adapted from a disused service station on the M6. The stadium was opened by Sir Stanley Matthews in 1990 – he wasn’t supposed to do the honours, he’d actually  just stopped off for a bacon roll and a piss on his way back to Stoke and was somewhat bemused to find a big green grassy rectangle where the crisps used to be. Still, ever the pro, Matthews gave a wave and cut a ribbon, and then pressed on in the hope of making it to the Moto at Stafford Northbound before they called time on breakfast service.

The Football Ground Guide describes the Bescot as ‘somewhat similar looking to Glanford Park’; we can only presume Walsall are in the process of suing for defamation. Unlike Scunthorpe’s home the Bescot does have a huge double-tier stand at one end. Formerly called the Gilbert Alsop Stand after one of the club’s most prolific forwards, it’s now called the Homeserve Stand. This may seem a crass lack of sentimentality, but it’s all on Gilbert if you ask us. The silly sod wasted his time giving the club 15 years as a player and a further 20 years in other services, when everyone knows the truest form of legacy comes from striving to be ‘the country’s largest and most trusted provider of home repairs and improvements’. 

Away supporters are housed behind the goal in the University of Wolverhampton Stand so be sure to move around quietly in case there are any lectures taking place. Apparently the stand’s low roof has enabled past groups of visiting supporters to create a real atmosphere so our top tip is to leave the space suit in the car. Time for one last glowing word from the Football Ground Guide, which writes ‘a trip to Walsall can be disappointing in terms of trying to get there, and the stadium itself.’ Jesus. Still, at least there’s the prospect of the football to cheer us… oh. Never mind. 

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