In 2012 I received a phone call from an unknown number and when I asked who it was he replied Ray. I went all giddy and fuzzy.
Once I composed myself I found myself just sitting in silence and listening to every word Ray said…if there is one man you listen to apart from your father it’s Sir Ray.
This evening the class of 1998 return to the Banks’s Stadium to relive that season we defied the label of relegation certainties to win promotion over big spending Manchester City.
For those that didn’t have the privilege of being around during that season I’m sure you will have your day but for those that were lucky enough – that season will live with us forever.
Here is the interview I had the privilege of having with the GOAT Sir Ray Graydon.
From a personal point of view Ray, you were my idol, gave me some great memories that I will never forget and in my opinion the best manager Walsall have ever had.
I need you to tell that to my grandchildren! In a few years I need some people to tell them that their granddad was worthwhile. I appreciate what you`re saying very much. It`s a fantastic feeling that I influenced people`s lives for the better.
Rob asked – You had a very successful playing career at Aston Villa. What were your best moments and who were the best players you played alongside?
I was very lucky, I had so many good moments at Aston Villa, and it`s hard to pick one.
If I had to choose one it would be in 1975 when we beat Norwich City in the League Cup Final and I scored the winning goal. To score in front of 100,000 people and especially my family – it was a great feeling. I played with so many good players at Villa. Chris Nicholl (who is a very good friend of mine) and Bruce Rioch, both were a very big help for me, they both had great attributes as players and as a person. Chris was a very effective defender and Bruce was very exciting.
I would also add, John Gidman and Brian Little were great young players when I was there.
Steve asked – You spent a long time coaching before you became a manager. What made you decide on Walsall?
I always knew of Walsall. I had been to Fellows Park with Bristol Rovers. Shortly after I moved to Sutton Coldfield, I was a regular during midweek games at Fellows Park. I had the opportunity to become Walsall manager in 1989 before John Barnwell, Jeff told me he wished I had taken it back then!
I knew I had so much experience in the game as a player and as a coach, I also had so much enthusiasm for the game and I knew when I walked into Walsall I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the club.
That first year I walked into Walsall we didn`t have many players. I was so pleased to have a man like Paul Taylor alongside me. We got through a lot of players, but it was worth it!
Adam asked – What was your aim when you first took over?
I didn`t expect my first season at all but I had a very successful career and was quite lucky in my career so I was confident when I took over.
I was always involved in clubs going forward. When I got to Villa first of all – we were in the 3rd Division, we went 3, 2, and 1 to the First Division. I also went to Oxford and did exactly the same. To go to Oxford and do that is phenomenal. If you can imagine everyone pictures Oxford as a non-league club, we actually went to the First Division with Oxford and also won a League Cup final with them. When I left them I went to Watford for 1 year, I won the youth cup. David James was our goalkeeper and it took a lot of organisation and a lot hard work and when I went to Walsall, yes I thought it was going to be a real struggle to do anything but I never had doubted my belief of what I could achieve. I would do it the way I think I should, get stuck into it, treat people correctly, try and help people, be honest, be open and see what could happen?and they did.
To be honest it was my biggest achievement of my life to get Walsall into the Championship twice and particularly when we went up via the Millennium Stadium.
Danny asked – Which did you enjoy most our promotion over the likes of Man City and Wigan or our success at the Millennium Stadium?
I`ve had so many letters and spoke to so many supporters – not all Walsall supporters, who have said “Ray we watched that game at the Millennium Stadium and for a so called “small side” against the big guns of Reading with Alan Pardew and all the support they had- that is something that I will never forget in my life but what was more important than that was so many people who have memories of that and I`m very fortunate to be part of it. Yes, I was the organiser and enjoyed the coaching and really got into the players on how they should behave but there were so many more people at Walsall who had massive input into our success.
Remembering back to The Millennium Stadium, the game was finished in so many ways but I knew better than most that the people I had would never give up. We had Tony Barras on the side-lines, who was concussed asking if he could go back on! When we won it, yes it was euphoria for everyone including my family but as a football man my first thought was for Alan Pardew and his assistant Martin Allen. I went into the tunnel because I wanted to be first person to tell them how I felt. I put my arms round both of them and told them “I had that feeling 15 minutes ago so I know how you feel and thank you very much”
Was it bigger than promotion first time? I can`t say, they were both big achievements for me and Walsall. I was more than chuffed with the story how it ended out but it took a lot of hard work, not only from me.
Start at the top, you have Jeff Bonser. That gentleman for me, is someone that I would walk into any club in the world to manage for. He never told me any lies, sometimes life wasn`t easy but he never said Ray there`s going to be money when there wasn`t. He always told me, if he could help me he would and I believe he did that in all my time there. He never once gave me any doubt that his support wasn`t there. He was a great guy to work for. He has done a fantastic job at Walsall, regardless of what people say. That club (like Aston Villa) when Doug Ellis was in charge, would never ever go into the red. He ran the football club like I run my house. If I have got £10 coming in, I`m not going to spend £11 because I`m going to be overdrawn.
As many have seen there are many many football clubs, bigger, stronger, more supportive those have gone to the wall and Jeff has kept Walsall alive. It`s not only for the supporters but for the people who work there as well.
There are people like Jeff, Mick Halsall, Paul Taylor and all the staff, they were all a great support for me and I could not go to another football club in the world and see everyone all routing, going in the same direction all at one time to get what we wanted.
Steve asked – You were known for being a disciplinarian. How important was discipline for you?
There weren`t many fines; it was about keeping everyone together. The thing about discipline was keeping us together. When I first walked into the club we had 11/12 players at that stage. I felt it was my job to keep them together. With only a few players I told them if they wanted to win promotion we couldn`t afford to lose one person, we did on occasions. As you know that when players swear, kick out it puts a bigger hurdle in front of all of us making progress. This was a big thing for me to make sure the players knew better and did what I asked and they did.
Whitters asked – Why did you choose Andy Rammell over the centre forwards that were available? Mark Chattin asked – Who was your most important signing?
He was a big man. I like having decent target men in my teams. Particularly when you have great wingers who supply crosses.
When Andy came to the club and I interviewed him he had history. We actually had a player who had played for Manchester United but wanted to play for Walsall. As with everyone else, I asked Andy why he wanted to come to us and he said more or less the same as what Darren Byfield said to me “Ray I`ve done my homework, I`ve seen what you can do as a coach and I think you will help me improve and I took that as a great compliment” I said to both of them “look I promise you one thing you won`t go away from here as a worse player or person than when you walked in.
Andy Rammell was one of the best players I ever had the chance to work with. He was a fantastic person, he was so down to earth, and he was a big part of the success. He was absolutely fantastic.
Was it a coincidence or was it you plan to have experience in your side? Do you feel there`s pressure on youngsters to perform quickly?
Well I`ll take any pressure that comes with it,to be young again!
As a manager all you want is consistency, yes they make mistakes. I never think any team can have any success without experience. You have to learn and get better like any form of life and make progress, football is no different to that. As a youngster you can look good but you need consistency. Some players mature quickly but consistency is difficult when you`re young.
Keith asked – What were your motivation techniques to get the best out the players?
Treat everyone differently when it`s needed and get to know your players. When I first walked into the club I had at least an hour interview with all the players. Details of those conversations I recorded, so later on I was able to ask if the player or I were doing what we said we would. It was a very thorough process I didn`t leave any stones unturned. I also recorded everyone`s performance and got others to do so, so it wasn`t just my own opinion. This was a very big thing for me.
Whitters asked – Why do you feel your approach to Walsall worked but didn`t at Bristol Rovers?
Bristol Rovers was a completely different situation. I wouldn`t even try to consider what had happened. I tell you this, when I first got to Bristol Rovers I took £1m off the wage bill. I didn`t have the staff I wanted with me. I made one great signing with John Still, who you will know is manager of Dagenham – he was one of the best appointments of my life. It was my club and they were out of my reach.
Was I disappointed? Yes. I would have been more disappointed if it had happened at Walsall because I had more help and able to do more things which unfortunately I wasn`t able to do at Bristol Rovers. I would consider Walsall to be a better and bigger club.
Mister marmite asked – Was you aware before the WBA game that the end was close?
No. I`m like everyone else that it isn`t nice when you`re losing games, we weren`t doing so well just before I left but it`s something you don`t think of. After the game Jeff asked me where do we go from here and I said it`s up to you to make those decisions. He said I think we should part ways and I said why don`t we come into tomorrow we will both make statements and go our separate ways. To say I wasn`t disappointed would be wrong, of course I was but I had no animosity towards Jeff whatsoever. We had a fantastic time together, I believed the club was in a better position when I left, I wished everyone the very best and knew I could walk out with my head held high.
Do you have any regrets of your time at Walsall?
No. None. We had some great moments, I could never regret anything.
Adam asked – Who was your inspiration for your management style?
I was lucky to work with so many great people.
Bill Dodgin senior/junior and Bobby Campbell left an impression on me but when I started to coach people like Ian Greaves, Maurice Evans, Mick Brown, Jim Smith (at Oxford) they were all unbelievable people but did they have influence on me? I`m sure they did, but I had the thinking that if you are going to be a manager you do your own thing and dont copy anyone else.
I wasn`t ever afraid of my approach. I have a family and yes you have to be disciplined and compassionate but give help when needed. A group of people especially in football can cause unrest if they don`t have organisation on and off the field and if I go back to those interviews I had when I joined the club people mentioned that there was no leadership and discipline – there was no worry there because they were always going to get that from me!
I would never go home and say I never gave them players help and support. My door was always open. I always wanted them to be organised. I didn`t want them to be committed but not know their job. There were a few players that were surprised how good their game improved with fitness. I gave players a lot of responsibility. If they didn`t accept it, I would take it off them.
Is there anything you`d like to say to the Walsall fans?
The Walsall fans and I don`t need to say much to each other because they know that I love them and I know they love me. We had a great time together and I will never forget it.
When I am traveling across the world, wherever I am I never talk about my footballing life without my time at Walsall and the people.
If there was something wrong with the team they would tell me.
I lived in Bloxwich for a while and would always have someone telling me in the local shop if I had done something right or something wrong. I loved the openness of the Walsall people, they are absolutely fantastic people!
I think you all will join me in thanking Ray for everything he did during his tenure at Walsall. He has given us memories that we will never forget.
In such a short space of time Ray proved that you don`t need money to succeed – hard work and organisation can also spur you onto greatness. I firmly believe that if Ray had been in charge for a little longer we would be in a better position than what we are now but forget what could of happened and remember the glory days when Sir Ray removed the “little Walsall” tag and we did become the “Pride of the Midlands”