As a football fan you always remember those remarkable nights in your clubs history and 12 years ago to this very day we had a night that not many will ever forget.
I was a teenager in 2001 and the thought of my own club reaching a Play-Off final was always a dream and under the stewardship of Sir Ray Graydon that dream became reality.
I dont endorse truancy but on 16th May 2001 I spent my day preparing for the big match rather than attending school. During that day I spent alot of my time watching past triumphs in the Play-Offs – our victory over Bristol City was played as much as the VHS would let me!
Onto the game itself, I can honestly say the noise in stadium that night will live long in the memory. A packed stadium with a vital match against our near neighbours Stoke had all the markings of a classic and it didnt dissappoint.
On 30 minutes the upbeat home crowd were silenced.
A great flick on by Rikadur Dadason fell to feet of Graham Kavanagh and the silver fox hit an unstoppable half 25 yard volley past the helpless Jimmy Walker.
On the stroke of half time Walsall were level. Gavin Ward who many would have thought was a Saddler that night, attempted to catch a tameless Tom Bennett corner and somehow managed to fumble it into his own net. To thank him for his calamity, we offered him a contract a few years later – Thanks Gavin!
Half Time, Walsall 1-1 Stoke
Two minutes into the second half, Pedro Matias found himself at the right hand side of the penalty area and calmly slotted the ball past Ward from a tight angle. Walsall fans all across the world went crazy!
As we were about to sit down, Walsall were awarded a free kick on the far right of the pitch and the little magician Dean Keates stepped up to take.
His swinging free kick eluded everyone in the penalty box and found its way into the corner of the net. Don Goodman’s attempt at the flick bamboozled everyone including our man of the match, Gavin Ward.
On 61 minutes the game was put to bed.
That man again Pedro Matias hampered Stoke’s Wayne Thomas who attempted to pass the ball back to Gavin Ward but Pedro’s interception found its way into the bottom left corner and Walsall fans went into party mode!
Peter Thorne grabbed a late consolation for Stoke but there was no panic and Walsall were on their way to Cardiff!
Full Time, Walsall 4-2 Stoke
One memory I have about that night is my mate turning around to whom he thought was a Stoke fan and started singing ‘your staying down with the Vale’ to which the man replied ‘im a walsall fan you *******’
think its safe to say it ruined my mates night!
Walsall fans invaded the pitch to celebrate with their heroes as we reached a major final!