Here is the latest instalment of Years Gone By as Walsall Trust historian David Evans takes us down memory lane by speaking to former Saddlers – this week he sat down with former WBA, Birmingham City and Walsall player Alec Jackson.
Tipton born Alec Jackson never strayed too far – his three Football League clubs and five of the seven non-league clubs he played for were all ‘on his doorstep’ and it was at his house in his native Tipton where I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting to this skilful forward. He may have only spent 15 months at Fellows Park, but is still fondly remembered by those of us who were fortunate enough to have seen him in action. He played in all five forward positions with equal grace, just has he had done throughout his career that saw him give 10 great years at West Bromwich Albion and 3 at Birmingham City.
He was snapped up by West Bromwich Albion manager Vic Buckingham in May 1954 and turned professional that September. He was soon given his first team debut, at the tender age of 17, thus becoming one of the youngest Albion players ever to do so. He capped a fine performance with a goal in a 3-1 win at Charlton and he beamed, “I was delighted to have made my first team debut so young in my career and even more so to have scored.”
Four years into his time at the Hawthorns he had the misfortune to suffer a broken leg sustained at White Hart Lane. Alec observed, “There was no malice in the challenge, I just landed awkwardly. It didn’t keep me out for too long.” Within a year he had become a first team regular again and had become a firm favourite with the fans who appreciated his fine ball control, dribbling skills and his eye for goals. “I was happy to play anywhere in the forward line but my preferred position was right wing.”
Alec mentioned the fact that he played many times with the man who had two spells with Walsall – centre back Stan Jones who he enthused, “Was a terrific player who read the game well.” Other team mates who had Saddlers connections were the likes of Peter Billingham, Jimmy Dudley and Ken Hodgkisson. When asked who was the hardest opponent he ever faced there was no hesitation, ” Billy Wright. He had the knack of taking the ball and anything else that got in his way!” He mentioned one of the most skilful he played with at Albion was ball -juggling Dave Burnside. The other managers he served under there were Archie Macaulay and Jimmy Hagen, who let him go to Birmingham city for a fee of £12,500 in June 1964.
In total Alec made 192 first team appearances for The Baggies, all in the top flight and knocked in 50 goals. In 1961-2 he was an ever present and when asked about some of the best players he played along he replied, “Bobby Robson, Don Howe, Ray Barlow, Tony Brown , Chippy Clarke who were great team mates as well as terrific footballers.” Whilst at Albion, he played in his favoured No7 shirt for The Football League v The Scottish League at a packed Villa Park and beamed, “I enjoyed that representative game. I didn’t have far to travel that day did I?!”
Gill Merrick was his first manager at St Andrews however the Blues were relegated in his first season there and first Joe Mallett and then an aging Stan Cullis came out of retirement to replace him. Alec spoke of Cullis, “He was hard but fair minded and soon sorted players out who didn’t give 100%” Alec’s striking partners at Blues were the likes of Ronnie Fenton and Geoff Vowden whilst two other players later to join Saddlers often played along side him – Dave Robinson and Bobby Thomson.
After 78 games and 11 goals at Birmingham, Alec wound down his Football League career with a surprise move to Walsall in February, 1967. Manager Ray Shaw, whom Alec described as “A good footballing man” was pleased to have signed the by now vastly experienced forward and made his debut in an away game at Scunthorpe and scored on his home debut at Fellows Park against Oldham Athletic. He was on the score sheet again twice in the following weeks as he soon settled in to his new surroundings and was a regular for the rest of that season.
1967-8 was to be his only one full season at Walsall but it turned out to be a fairly good one for both player and club. Following a 4-2 victory over Shrewsbury Town in the Football League Cup, a mouth watering prospect against West Ham United was the reward in Round Two. Recent world cup stars Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst we all in a strong Hammers line up that also contained a very youthful Harry Redknapp. Alec didn’t start the game but came on as a sub for the injured Harry Middleton and had an impact almost immediately as he converted a penalty to give Walsall a bit of hope as that reduced the visitors lead to 2-1. However it wasn’t meant to be as West Ham went on to win 5-1.
.Asked what it was like to be up against Bobby Moore, Alec chuckled, “He was constantly talking to opponents trying to put them off. He kept saying to me that I shouldn’t be here, I should be over there and other such comments clearly trying to get
inside my head! That said, he was fair but hard in the tackle, as you would expect.” Just after that cup exit Walsall went on a good league run, so much so that Saddlers led the Third Division from early October to the end of January. Alec sighed, “We were a very good team that season and yes it looked as if we had a real chance of promotion at that point.”
Alec starred in a good FA Cup run including a brilliant winner in a replay at Crystal Palace which set up an exciting encounter with Liverpool at home in Round 4. Reflecting on the 0-0 draw at Fellows Park, Alec said, “We felt we had done enough to have won it. Regarding the replay at Anfield I’ve never played in such bad foggy conditions.” Like all Saddlers fans who made the trip to Merseyside that Monday night he remembered the Liverpool fans from behind each goal chanting ‘who scored the goal’ such was the poor visibility. It was back to the bread and butter of the league after the that 5-2 cup defeat and coach Dick Graham replaced Ray Shaw towards the end of the season. Like other players have stated from that era, Alec was not too impressed with Graham’s somewhat bizarre training and coaching methods.
Asked his time at Walsall, Alec enthused, “I really enjoyed my time there and it was a smashing friendly atmosphere about the place and I enjoyed playing with so many local lads like Stan Bennett , Colin Taylor, Colin Harrison, Allan Baker, Mick Evans and so on and the fans had a nice venue to use at the Saddlers Club.” He had scored 9 goals in his 43 games with Walsall.
After leaving Fellows Park Alec turned out for a number on non league clubs in this order – Nuneaton, Kidderminster, Warley, Oldbury, Darlaston, Blakenall, and Lower Gornal. He was a fully qualified coach and passed on his craft and experience to his team mates at that level. He never fancied a crack at management he was more interested in keep playing for as long as he could and to that end he was still playing for WBA All stars well into his 50’s.
He rarely attends games these days, except for the odd ones on Former Players Days for both Walsall and Albion. He watches a lot of games on tv and like most of us is appalled by the ridiculous amounts of money spent on transfer fees and wages. He disclosed his top wage at West Brom was £22 a week but was quick to point out , “I loved every minute of my career and I just wish I could go out and start all over again tomorrow. “