This evening, I’ll be off to the Bescot Stadium to watch Walsall play Gillingham in a game uniquely-timed due to a bit of fixture congestion. I haven’t been to see my local team play for a while, but meeting up with a fellow-blogger who is writing a piece about the Saddlers, for a few beers and to chew over the football world and then take in the game was too good an opportunity to miss.
The slight downside is that going to watch Walsall, always reminds me of one of the probably all too many occasions that I made myself look like a prize chump, way back in 1989. It was the first day of the season, and an overtly ‘cocky’ mid-twenties All Blue Daze writer chose this particular Saturday afternoon to display his all-encompassing knowledge of football. A dollop of egg on face was the requisite order of the day, and by the time referees across the country were blowing for full time, it had been duly delivered.
In those days, I used to be a regular visitor to Walsall’s Fellows Park ground – now actually a Morrison’s supermarket – along with a mate of the time. As I walked around the terraces – this was well before the day of all-seater stadia – behind the goal at the Hillary Street end, to my usual pitch just above the halfway line, as was the fashion of the day, I had a transistor radio jammed to my ear.
The day’s team news was coming through, and I heard that Newcastle United were giving a debut to their new purchase Mick Quinn. Yep, this is the same Mick Quinn of talkSPORT punditry fame! The previous season Quinn had top scored for Portsmouth, but the south coast club had been relegated, and Jim Smith, the Toon manager of the day, had stepped in to secure the goal scorer for the Geordies.
To this day, I remember the remark I made to my mate, and fellow Saddlers’ attendee. “Can you believe Newcastle paid almost £700 grand for Mickey Quinn? For that much brass they could have got someone who could actually play the game.” You’ll have to remember that this is almost 25 years ago and £700,000 was a lot of ‘football money’ in those days, especially for a Second Division club.
Now, Walsall were never the best-supported club, couched as they were in the shadow of Wolves, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa. Crowds would have been about four to five thousand, I’d guess, but as I walked in the ground, there would have been probably twenty or thirty people within earshot. Some of which, although I didn’t know them, were the regulars that you saw at most home games, and you nodded to with acknowledgement, or exchanged wry smiles and a bit of gallows humour. Suffice to say, they would have recognised me. You may already see where this is going.
I genuinely cannot remember the Walsall game, the score, or who they were playing to be honest, but I do remember what happened up at St James Park as Newcastle, complete with said Mick Quinn trotted out to face Leeds United. Newcastle were awarded a penalty fairly early on and Quinn ambled up to dispatch it and kick off his career amongst the Geordies in style. At this time Leeds were a decent side, and were destined to take the Second Division title, so it was little surprise to hear on my radio that they had come back and were leading 2-1 at half-time. The second-half however belonged to one man. Enter Mickey Quinn to correct the All Blue Daze assessment of his footballing capabilities.
Quinn took control of the game, and notched a further hat-trick to add to his penalty. It was a four-goal debut to rank alongside any other spectacular starts. As the increasingly embarrassed bloke with the radio jammed to his ear, I was passing on the news of the day’s goals as they went in, and each time Quinn netted, I sank further and further into the collar of my coat, but could not escape the grinning visage of my mate’s delectation in my embarrassment. Of course, as we were standing in the same place on the terrace as usual, a lot of the people around us were regulars too – you needed to be a die-hard to go to watch Walsall in those days – and my mate cheerfully mentioned after the penalty had gone in something like, “I thought you said he couldn’t play.” Of course, the refrain was taken up by a few of the people around us, and by the time the fourth of Quinn’s goals was related with what was, by that time, a resigned inevitability, the result was what could only be described as barely disguised raucous laughter. Later, as we walked out of the ground, and back in front the people we had passed on the way in, I swear I heard a few whispered chants of “The Mighty Quinn” just loud enough for me to hear. In fairness, I had no answer.
The game ended with a 5-2 victory for Newcastle and the match ball for Mick Quinn. To be fair, I couldn’t even claim that it was a flash in the pan game for the striker. He went on to net 39 goals in all competitions that season and finished as the division’s top scorer.
It was a salutary lesson delivered and duly learned. Since then, I’ve always been aware of how football can make you look stupid, especially if you go get ‘too big for your football boots’ and slag somebody off. So every time I hear Mick Quinn on the radio, I do offer up a silent apology, and acknowledge how Mr Quinn taught All Blue Daze never to take the Mick!