Walsall matchday announcer calls it a day after 18 years geeing up crowds

Beloved Walsall FC pitch-side announcer Gavin Drake is hanging up the microphone after 18 years with the club, but the life-long fan will continue to visit the club for matches.

Walsall FC match announcer Gavin Drake, pictured with Swifty the mascot before the match against Port Vale.
Walsall FC match announcer Gavin Drake, pictured with Swifty the mascot before the match against Port Vale.

Mr Drake's first experience of the club was when he sold copies of the Express & Star outside Fellows Park - the club's home ground from 1896 to 1990.

But the 52-year-old took a step closer to the pitch in 2004 after he attended a fan's focus meeting where people could ask the board questions, which led to him being given a trial as the pitch-side announcer.

Mr Drake, who was born in Little Bloxwich and moved to Brewer Street when he was seven, said: "They asked me if I'd been a pitch-side announcer before, and I said no, but I've done TV work, I've warmed up crowds for the BBC.

"What I didn't tell them was that they were the crowds for church services for BBC Radio Stoke."

He announced for the last four matches of the 2003-2004 season, with his first match also being the first match for manager Paul Merson, and Mr Drake has never looked back.

However, the commutes are now getting too long for the announcer, who lives in Nottinghamshire and is finding it difficult travelling to evening and weekend matches.

"I want to let someone more local and reliable step in," he said, "but I'll still come along as a fan."

The 52-year-old has had many joyous highlights throughout his career at his favourite football club, but one precious moment stands out from the rest.

One-year-old Teddie Phillips had been diagnosed with Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy, which is also known as Krabbe Disease.

The one-year-old from Beechdale, who only had a life expectancy of two years, was born into a family of Saddlers fans who vowed to make every moment they had with Teddie count.

Walsall FC were more than happy to help, and player Nicky Devlin carried Teddie onto the pitch so he could be a Saddlers mascot for the day.

Teddie Phillips

Mr Drake said: "He was a smashing little lad whose family made his short life remarkable. They wanted to give him a year of joy and special memories.

"He was so brave. When you see people like that and their families coping in such difficult circumstances, you realise what a privilege it is.

"Meeting him and holding him is what I remember the most."

Player Nicky Devlin walking onto the pitch with one-year-old Teddie Phillips in April 2018.

The announcer has also seen famous faces outside of football walk on the pitch, including Olympic Bronze gymnast Alice Kinsella.

He was there at the Banks's Stadium to see 88-year-old D-Day veteran Ron Davies walk on the pitch as guest of honour in 2014, the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

Walsall FC fan Mr Davies only lived yards away from the stadium and was tracked down by club bosses so they could show their gratitude for his sacrifices.

"Meeting the heroes of our time, these are the highlights," Mr Drake said.

"Managers and players come and go, but the fans stay the same. I've met remarkable people.

"Having banter with the fans is the part of the job I loved the most."

Mr Drake's last match will be on May 7, when he hangs up his microphone for good.

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