Today kicks off the first of a few interviews with ex-players. First up, I had the pleasure of speaking with former striker Darren Byfield, who very kindly took time out of a lock-down, to answer these for us.
Hi Darren, thanks for taking the time to answer these for us. First up, how did you end up initially signing for the Saddlers during your first spell?
I started my Career at Aston Villa but would find it hard to play a lot of matches there with the likes of Stan Collymore , Dwight Yorke , Savo Milosevic and Julian Joachim. But I was still involved in the squad a lot , but then the emergence of a young player at the time by the name of Darius Vassell who we all know went on to become a top player I knew it was time to move on. I then spoke with Ray Graydon and the move was done quite quickly.
Can you talk to us about ‘that’ goal in the 2001 play-off final?
That goal in the playoff final will always be a special day for me and one I will never forget. I can honestly say I knew I would come off the bench and score the winner and so did most of the team because they kept telling me. It was just meant to be and to this day I still get goosebumps when I see it on Twitter.
How did the opportunity to re-sign for the Saddlers come about?
I had been at Oldham and then wasn’t given a contract so I contacted Walsall and asked if I could come in and they could have a look at my fitness and sharpness with a view to getting a contract, I came in and then done quite well and then signed a contract with them.
Just how happy were you to be made captain during your second spell?
To be made captain was a proud moment for me and looking back even bigger than I thought it was at the time, Because I look back and think I became a lot more responsible and tried to lead by example because before that as footballers we can be quite selfish and only think about ourselves , so yeah it was a special moment for me but I was gutted I missed half the season with ankle and Achilles injuries.
What is your favourite Saddlers goal and game?
Haha nothing will ever beat my goal against reading in the playoff final but I will say scoring for Jamaica against Paraguay on my first start is also right up there and another special and proud moment in my career.
Who was the best player you ever played with at Walsall?
Best player I played with at Walsall would have to be Troy Deeney, as soon as I signed I wanted to know who this player was , good pace , very strong and top finisher with a top football brain. I just wish I was younger when I played with him because we complimented each other well.
Who was the best player you ever played against?
Best player I ever played against was Rio Ferdinand, only played against him once but in that game he fouled me and we had a free kick and as I was on the floor I looked up at him and he was stood over looking back at me and at that moment I thought to myself this is going to be a long night because he’s quicker than me, stronger than me, better in the air than me so basically at that time I felt like a little baby and should have called Rio “Daddy” because only my Dad made me feel that weak and vulnerable up until the age of 16.
How do you rate your experience and time as a Saddler?
I loved every minute of my time at the saddlers and it’s definitely a club very close to my heart (oh and I had a lot of clubs), a club that gave me a chance to have a good career. First time I was there I wasn’t happy with how it ended because I was forced out the club just to get money from Rotherham and wasn’t offered a contract from Colin Lee but it was made out to the fans that I wouldn’t sign 1 and that I was leaving. A contract was offered by Walsall but only after I turned down Rotherham the first time and I said no because he ( Colin Lee ) then realised I could go on a free. Second spell at the club I was released but understood why, I was 35 years old and the youth were coming through and that’s what Dean Smith wanted. I was gutted because he’s a very good coach and manager and would have liked to work longer under him but as I said I understood.
Finally, what are you upto these days?
I now manage a non league club called Walsall Wood which is down the road from my beloved Walsall and I also coach the Daniel Sturridge academy. I also go in at Aston Villa and shadow the 18’s and 23’s which I absolutely love and thank Mark Harrison for getting in me for that. So I’m really busy with my football and hopefully one day I could end up back at Walsall FC managing a club that I love.
Once again, thanks to Darren for answering those. Any fans who ever want to get down to Walsall Wood, then I am sure that Darren and the club would appreciate the support. We wish Darren all the best whilst he is there, and we hope to see him back at the Bescot soon.