The next in the series of Ex-player interviews features Ben Purkiss. Ben was a part of our JPT final team, and was at the club for 3 seasons in his first spell. Last season, Ben joined the club in a more advisory role to try and help the club out. Ben also works as the chairman of the PFA.
Firstly, how did your transfer to Walsall first come about?
I was having a tough time at Oxford United and wasn’t really playing so ended up at Hereford United at the end of the season. Richard O’Kelly came to the club briefly as manager. I think he liked my attitude and the way I got on with things when the club was in a real mess. He obviously saw something and I was invited to come to the club for pre-season. It was a risk but I think I did well. I played the first game of that season and then thought I had a really strong season. It was probably my best in football.
What was it like working under Dean Smith?
I liked Dean primarily because he treated players with respect. Everything at the club was set up to help you improve as a player. He was calm and trusted his players which I think brings out the best in people. My first season was probably my most enjoyable in football and it was a real shame we didn’t make the playoffs.
What was your favourite match to play in?
My favourite game was probably Bournemouth at home in my first season. We won 2-1. Bournemouth were flying and on the way to win the League. They had a really good team and many of their players ended up in the Premier League. It was around January time and the club did really well just to get the game on. There were some great games that year; Preston, MK Dons, Bournemouth away.
Who is the best player you ever played with?
I’ll go with Jamie Paterson. I think he’s been unlucky not to play in the Premier League. He’s a brilliant footballer who can score and set up goals. I played with Michael Tonge at youth team level who was also fantastic and probably just didn’t get the breaks. Phil Jagielka was another one who went on to do exceptionally well.
Who is the best player you ever played against?
Serge Gnabry was on the left against me in his 1 and only appearance for West Brom in the League Cup. I think it was more the style of play that didn’t suit him as opposed to his opponent that day. He’s an incredible player.
What was it like being part of the side that took Walsall to our first ever Wembley appearance?
It was an amazing experience but such a shame that we didn’t perform on the day. Bristol has a strong side that year, with many of their players playing regularly in the PL and the top end of the Championship now. We had some fantastic young players but probably lacked a bit of experience.
What was it like returning to the club on the opposing team?
Interesting. I think its well known I was really disappointed to leave Walsall. I really enjoyed the group of players, the supporters, the back room staff, the board members. When I came back I was determined to do well and also to try win. It was nice to get a good reception and I always enjoy coming back.
How did you become so involved with the PFA?
The PFA supported me financially through my degree prior to becoming a professional. I was really interested in helping and representing other players. It’s something I’m really passionate about and I ended up on the players committee and then chairman. It’s been testing at times but hopefully it will be left in a better place.
How did the move to rejoin the club last season come about?
I spoke to the directors and then to Dean. I had a nagging injury. I could’ve signed elsewhere but Dean and I thought we could come to an agreement where I could help the club and the club could help me get back fit and then see if I could contribute. Unfortunately with everything going on at the PFA we never really got that far and it didn’t go as planned but I’ll always be grateful to Dean, Revs, Dan and Stef for their support.
What are you up-to in this lockdown?
I am locked down at home trying to help players who are facing significant issues at this moment in time. The suspension of football presents unprecedented problems for clubs and players. Hopefully it doesn’t go on much longer.
Finally, what is next in the football career?
Good question. I am looking forward to the conclusion of the PFA review this summer and then I will have a think. I would love to remain in football. Maybe an opportunity to coach or manage but you can’t do that while representing the players.
Thanks to Ben for answering those for us. We hope him and his family are safe in these difficult times.