Date: 24th July 2013 at 5:44pm
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I`ve always struggled to grasp what teams gain by playing home games against us in pre-season. Obviously there`s the advantage of match practice, but I`ve never really thought it made financial sense. One of the big arguments for our regular batch of local derbies every July is it guarantees the club a decent wedge of income in gate receipts due to the high number of away fans. But when we play at Alfreton away on a Tuesday night, and understandably take about 50 fans at £10 a pop, it makes me wonder why they bother. Surely it costs them more to stage the match than they make from us being there?

Happily, this year the club changed with tradition and gave us fans something different to watch with home games against Championship outfits Leeds United and Nottingham Forest. Given the warm weather, attractive football we ended last season with, and the fact we hadn`t played a match at the Banks`s since the 20th April, you`d like to think the club would have been looking somewhat optimistically for attendances for these games to be around the 5,750 mark.

But 5,750 wasn`t the attendance for either match. In fact, it was the combined attendance across the two; and of that figure, 2,117 of them were made up of away fans (1,707 from Leeds and 410 from Forest). That means a combined total of 3,633 Walsall fans across our two new friendlies, with many of those there being counted twice as they`d have been at both games. When we announce home friendlies next season against West Brom, Birmingham and Villa, we really won`t have anyone but ourselves to blame.

Moving on to the football and there really hasn`t been much so far for the doom mongers amongst us to sink their teeth into, which probably explains last night`s slight over reaction to Craig Westcarr`s mildly under par performance last night (it was less of an Albatross and more of a Birdie). The fact it`s the only negative thing to come out of pre-season so far shows how impressive our build up to the new campaign has been so far. My only concern to date would be whether we have the ability to adopt a plan B for when teams suss us out, just as Forest did after half an hour last night.

Next up is Burton on Friday (another “What`s in it for them?” match), before the ridiculously timed anniversary match against Aston Villa next Wednesday night. Due to work commitments I`ll be unable to attend, meaning I`ll miss the emotional return of ‘Sir` Ray Graydon. I can`t help however but question the wisdom of hosting a friendly against Premier League opposition less than 72 hours before our opening league game. Maybe they`re just hoping for a decent attendance.

I can`t finish this blog though without paying tribute to the recently retired Saddlers legend Jorge Leitao. My first memories of Jorge stem from a friendly played against Graham Taylor`s Watford at Tamworth`s The Lamb ground on the day he signed. At the time I was 15 years old and doing work experience at The Walsall Advertiser under the tutorship of Neil Rose, the Saddlers correspondent at the time, and for experience he suggest I attend and covered the match with him. We arrived at the ground to the shocking news that Walsall had actually paid a transfer fee for a player, and that fee was believed to be in the region of £150k. My memories of the match itself are a bit of a blur, my biggest memory being it needing to be stopped for 10 minutes in the first half due to a fan in the stand suffering a seizure.

I do remember the post match interviews though, and having discussed the match with both Sir Ray and the former England manager, this shy, quietly spoken Portuguese gentleman emerged from the porter cabins to explain who he was, where he`d come from, how you spelt and pronounced his surname, and that he`d given up the final year of a sports science degree to join us.

258 games and 71 goals later and it all came to an end at home to Blackpool, with probably the most emotional atmosphere I can remember at a game with Jorge himself leaving the field in floods of tears after his name had been chanted for the whole of the second half, his legend status well and truly confirmed.
Happy retirement Jorge! You`ve earned it.