Walsall Trust historian David Evans sat down with former Walsall defender Mick Evans for the latest installment of “Years Gone By”
I started my fascinating chat with solid defender Mick Evans by ribbing him about his nickname ‘Chopper’.
“That really belonged to full back Bill Guttridge who played at Fellows Park before me! Hard but fair is how I’d describe myself.”
‘Hard but fair’ is a term that came up a few times as he is from that era where players were not afraid to tackle and indeed express themselves.
Mick played his early football for Vono Sports – just as George Andrews had before him – and was scouted by Ron Jukes. He was signed as an amateur by Bill Moore in October 1963 just a couple on months after his 17th birthday and in May 1964 was signed as a pro by Alf Wood. He was trained in his early months at Fellows Park by Norman Male and soon settled into playing reserve football in the West Midlands League.
He made his first team debut on 17th December 1965 against Hull City coming in for Graham Sissons. Regular left back John Harris changed to right back to allow Mick to come in to the left back birth. When asked on his thoughts on his debut Mick replied, “It was certainly an eye-opener. The speed of the game hit me. Hull were top of the table and had spent a lot of money on three players so I knew it was going to be tough anyway”.
As it happened Walsall lost that game 2-4 with Allan Clarke netting both goals from the penalty spot.
He made the most reserve appearances that season – 40 – playing alongside the likes of Ken Hodgkisson.
That game gave him a taste of the reality of first team football but it was to be the following August before he would play again at that level. On the opening day of the 1966-7 season left back and captain John Harris had a bad leg break and was out all season.
Mick was drafted in for the 3rd game of the season at Gillingham and took his chance well. So much so that he only missed the two Christmas games against Reading and went on to make 48 senior appearances.
On that first full season, Mick recalled, “One of my early games was the 2-1 Football League Cup defeat of First Division Stoke City, who had the likes of George Eastham, John Ritchie and Peter Dobing in their line up.
The 4th Round tie at Bramall Lane against Sheffield United was another good experience for me.” He acknowledged the excellent partnership of manager Ray Shaw and coach Arthur Cox at that time. “Ray was a very good manager and Arthur always managed to squeeze a bit extra out of you.
He was hard but fair and went on to have a great career as coach and manager.”
Mick’s progress continued in 1967-8 playing in the first 27 league and cup games that saw Saddlers climb to the top of the Third Division and stay there for over three months.
Included in that run of games was the Football League Cup game at home to West Ham United. ” I was up against a young pacey winger who went on to make a bit of a name for himself – Harry Redknapp! I also played against him several times when he moved on to Bournemouth.
In that cup game I had the misfortune to bring down Martin Peters in the box and Geoff Hurst netted from the penalty spot.” His disappointment that season was losing his place to veteran Gerry Harris including the FA Cup games against Crystal Palace and Liverpool. However he came back strongly in the final third of the season adding another 35 appearances under his belt.
1968-9 was another steady season playing 41 games including a mouth-watering FA Cup Third Round clash against the might of Tottenham Hotspur.
Reflecting on that game Mick sighed, “We played ever so well that day and they had Pat Jennings in goal. When you think they had Terry Venables and Alan Mullerey in their midfield – both England internationals – and only won thanks to an 89th minute goal by Jimmy Greaves it gives you some idea. One or two of their players came up to me at the end of the game and said, ‘How did we win that game?’.
In 1969 Bill Moore returned as manager and he pushed Colin Harrison to left back at the start of 1969-70 and his season didn’t start till November, however he played in most of the games from then with Harrison reverting to right back including those 4 games against Brighton in the FA Cup.
That season’s tally of 24 games was his lowest. At the end of that season the players went on a short tour of Sudan from 29th April to 4th May. The first game was against El Halal and then two games against El Mereikh. Mick revealed it was something of a nightmare, “We boarded a noisy 1950’s Comet plane that had to refuel at Rome, Athens and Cairo.
When we finally arrived at the airport we were greeted by the sight of Minx fighter planes lined up in the distance and armed soldiers telling us not to talk and don’t take any photos!”
Mick went on,”At the bottom of the large wicker basket that contained our kit was a layer of whisky bottles, that Bill Moore had planted, the idea being that us players could sell them on for some pocket money during the trip. We were on camel beer, that gave us the runs!
It was too hot for training and the games kicked off at 8pm but the heat was still too hot.. Our boots wouldn’t fit properly as our feet had swollen so much because of that heat. No wonder we failed to score any goals in those three games! As for chairman Ron Harrison he travelled back in style, he couldn’t face the prospect of a return home in the Comet. “
1970-71 was a far better season for Mick who played in 48 games in all competitions but not so good for the team as Saddlers only survived the dreaded drop to Division Four by 0.323 of a goal – it was goal average not difference in those days. 1971-72 was another solid season with another 41 games.
The biggest game of the season was a trip to Everton in the 4th round of the FA Cup before a crowd of 45,462 in which he scored Saddlers goal in the dying seconds of the game. One player from that cup run who left an impression on him and everyone else around at the time was Bernie Wright.
“He always seemed to wear the same shirts, complete with brown sauce stains! I don’t think he owned a coat or even a jumper. He just turned up in winter in the same open necked shirts. He would ask me to give him a lift after some Saturday games and when I asked him where he wanted dropping off the reply would always be ‘Anywhere where there’s a club open!”
“He came into training one Monday morning with his face full of cuts.. Apparently he was in dispute with the owner of an Indian restaurant where Bernie wouldn’t pay the bill as he thought the quality of the food wasn’t up to scratch. He was adamant he was not paying It seems there was a bit of a fracas as he was lashing out at the kitchen staff who were in turn prodding his face with forks! “
When Bill Moore quit in 1972 and coach John Smith took over the reigns it apparently signalled the end of of Mick’s time at Fellows Park. “We didn’t see eyes to eye.
I had heard there was some interest in me from Northampton Town but when Harry Gregg made it clear he was interested in me I opted for a move to Swansea in December 1972. My last game for Walsall was in the FA Cup at home to Charlton”.
When asked about the best managers he played under at Walsall he said, “Bill Moore and Ray Shaw.” Regarding players, “Allan Baker was a hell of a player, so skilful and quick. Colin Taylor – a game changer who created goals out of nothing. Colin Harrison – who could play anywhere.” Regarding the most difficult opponents he came up with Don Rogers, Alan Woodward and Stuart Scullian.
He enjoyed his two and a half years at The Vetch, soon settled in and was made welcome by all the lads in the dressing room. ” If they didn’t have a Tuesday night game they would go on the beer!
There were four of us in the squad with the same surname. Wyndom, Brian and Keith. The players had a job to understand my accent and kept asking me to talk slower! I played 100 games for Swansea – 90 in the league and 8 cup appearances. I actually played against Walsall for the Swans in a FA Cup tie in November 1973.”
When Harry Gregg moved on to manage Crewe he sent for Mick again, obtaining his signature in July 1975. He played around 60 games for them before a serious back injury effectively brought an end to his FL career in which he played 450 games.
On his last few months at Crewe he observed, “I was advised by doctors to seriously consider my future. I had disc problems and was in hospital for five weeks. I looked after the reserves for the remainder of my contract at Gresty Road.”
A return to the West Midlands followed and he had spells at Worcester City, Redditch United, Rushall Olympic and Malvern Town.
He also turned out for the All Stars of Walsall, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa and the highlight of these charity matches was winning a medal at Wembley for West Brom when they defeated Nottingham Forest. “In my team was the likes of Garry Pendrey, Colin Harrison and Brian Caswell. I was up against John Robertson in the Forest team – who could still play!”
Mick would often return to Fellows Park to watch games and said he used to love to see the likes of Mini Preece and young Mark Rees dashing down the wing.
Mick still keeps himself fit playing in 5 a side games on Fridays and does a lot of walking.