Brian Jeeves recalls a secret football horror show!
On 11th February 1984, probably the most dramatic and traumatic football match never reported took place at Pleck Park in Walsall. The match was never advertised by the nation’s press and was attended by, well, nobody. So how do I know it happened? Simple; because I played in it!
Several Southend supporting companions and I had founded our own team. Now I have played in some bad football teams, sides that have lost every single match in a season. I have even lost a junior game 31-0! However, Blues FC sunk to new depths.
Blues FC were a six-a-side team. We had already played and indeed been thrashed spectacularly by supporters teams from Chelmsford City, Orient and Brentford. Nevertheless, we were confident of breaking our duck in the West Midlands. Everything was stacked in our favour. The Walsall Supporters team were playing their first, and as it turned out, only match together. Blues were to include two new signings, both considerably better footballers than the rest of us. Besides, the Brentford match signalled an upturn in fortunes, it was the first time we had not conceded double figures!
However, nothing is certain in football, thirty-years on, the shockwave of what happened that fateful day still leave me a bitter and twisted man. It was to be the day of reckoning; a day we believed would see our team of united limited abilities finally taste victory.
We wanted to win the Walsall match so badly that we took the liberty of fixing up a match the night before against the supporters of Grays Athletic. Not only would this give the new players a chance to bed in, it would give us the extra match practice before the trip to the Black Country. It was a plan that was to backfire spectacularly in a number of ways. Firstly, Grays took the match far too seriously. Instead of fielding supporters, they sent out players from their Isthmian league squad. Our lack of ability proved to be no match for our semi-professional ranked opponents who rattled in goal after goal. The match ended in what could have been and probably was a world record ridiculous score: Grays Athletic 37 Blues FC 8.
On top of this, we still had an early start the following morning for Walsall – we would be finishing one game and starting the next within twelve hours of each other, and this included a 174-mile trip to boot!
Despite the big defeat, we travelled to the Black Country in high spirits. This was to be our day, none of the Walsall lads played regular football, let alone together as a team. Most of our number made their way to the Midlands by car; the two new players were travelling by train and would meet us at the ground. One of our players, ‘Max’, had planned everything with military precision. As we raced up the M6, a motorway sign stated ‘Walsall 22’. Although confidence was high, I would bet every one of our players had the same thought ‘…Blues FC 0!’
The drama started to unfold as we arrived at Pleck Park. Our two new signings had not shown, leaving us with one emergency substitute who happened to be our goalkeeper’s girlfriend. One or two players questioned whether a woman should be allowed into the squad, but with two absent without leave we were desperate, besides which, the truth was she was probably better than we were!
Still it mattered not; as the match got underway, it became clear the Walsall lads were no match for us. In fact, they were much worse than we were; after taking an early lead, we pulled away from our hosts and by half time Blues led by six goals to one.
Now you have all heard the story about the tortoise and the hare. Well, this was to be a classic example of the fable in action. Miles in front, we took the liberty of fielding our substitute for the second half. Not content with stuffing our hosts out of sight we were now rubbing their noses in it by playing a woman against them.
The Walsall lads were clearly upset with our overconfident gesture. They started to mount wave after wave of attack. Before long, they had pulled back a couple of goals. Still at 6-3 the match was ours – just weather the storm then hit them with a sucker punch, perfect!
However, things were far from perfect. We had lost our way big time, the Blues players had started to bicker with each other and Walsall by now pulled the score back to 6-5.
There were only a couple of minutes remaining, all we had to do was keep the ball and victory was ours. The ball was passed back to our goalkeeper to kill a few vital seconds. Sadly, horribly and quite painfully he completely missed it, 6-6.
We were still in a state of shock when straight from the kick-off the home side raced up the field and almost in slow motion produced the unthinkable, a winning goal.
The referee’s whistle sounded almost immediately, The Blues players sank to the floor like a team who had just lost a World Cup final, although in many ways this was much, much worse!
When we returned to the changing room, there was silence. No inquest, no slagging, just silence. Nobody dared look at each other. In some sort of deprived way, what we had achieved had been quite spectacular. We had managed to lose a match after holding one of the biggest leads in football history; we truly were the most awful team on earth.
To make matters worse the real Walsall and Southend were to meet at Fellows Park in a Third Division match that afternoon. Walsall were quite a useful side whereas Southend were not so much sliding as hurtling towards relegation. The game went to form with Walsall winning 4-0.
News also filtered through about our missing new recruits. Members of the West Midlands constabulary who had taken exception to them travelling without rail tickets had interrupted their train journey at Coventry!
We returned home somewhat mentally scared by our own awfulness. ‘Max’ bravely brought up the subject of a return fixture but his cornucopia of “Dunkirk spirit” fell on “deaf ears”. Perhaps humiliated by our collective rubbishness the players of Blues FC went their own separate ways. The fledgling club never played another match.
Fortunately for us the match was never recorded by any publication within miles of Southend, only a few lines in a future Walsall programme gave any lasting testament that the epic fixture was ever played.
To this day, whenever I drive up the M6 through Walsall I glance across towards Pleck Park. The place still makes me shudder!
However, when the country’s football scribes write their collective journals about famous games, not one of them will jot their thoughts about the agonies and ecstasy of that day at Pleck Park. I tell you what; let’s keep it our little secret…
Version’s of this story appears in Brian’s book “Whatever happened to Tina Fillery” and was reproduced in the Walsall and Great Wakering Rovers match programmes as well as the Southend United fanzine “All at Sea”