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Walsall hero on Fellows Park 25 years later

Walsall | Sport | Published:

Despite a career which included a European Cup appearance, it's a May afternoon at Walsall's Fellows Park ground which remains Andy Dornan's greatest memory.

As a youngster, the full-back was on the fringes of Alex Ferguson's famous title-winning Aberdeen side which gained recognition on the continent.

But those recollections don't come close to 30 May 1988 and Saddlers' Division Three play-off win over Bristol City.

He said: "There was just something special about that day. I'll never forget the support we had."

The play-off win turned out to be the final glorious moment at the Saddlers' former ground, though it arrived after one of the toughest days.

Up 3-1 and seemingly cruising to promotion after a 3-1 first leg win at Ashton Gate, Walsall went down 2-0 in front of their own fans to send the tie to a replay two days later.

Boss Tommy Coakley, shaken by the setback, famously called the squad in the following day in a bid to raise morale over "tea and kit-kats."

Dornan recalled: "I remember our skipper, Peter Hart, saying to the manager 'don't worry, we'll be fine, we'll do it' and of course, we did.

"Peter was one of those characters who never said a lot but when he did, you listened. The atmosphere inside Fellows Park for the replay was incredible, the atmosphere just tremendous.

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"I was fortunate to play in European Cup fixtures but that day was something else."

Fellows Park after a wall collapsed during the Milk Cup tie with Liverpool in 1984.

For Dornan, the layout of Fellows Park was key to its character, saying: "Where the tunnel was positioned in the corner meant if you had a good game, it was a great send-off.

"Of course, if you didn't play well, it was nowhere near as pleasant but the supporters were always very kind to me."

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Dornan will never be remembered as one of Walsall's greatest players but his place in the club's history is assured.

The Scot, of course, holds the honour of being the last Saddlers player to score a league goal at the old ground, two years after the play-off triumph, when the mood was very different.

Promotion to the second tier was followed by two straight relegations amid uncertainty off the pitch.

When Rotherham United arrived on 1 May 1990, the Saddlers were heading back to the Fourth Division and involved in the process of moving home to the newly constructed Bescot Stadium.

For Dornan, whose own fortunes had fluctuated as much as the club's, scoring his first-ever Walsall goal would also prove bittersweet.

Just a few months later, before the club moved to their new home, he would be on his way as new manager Kenny Hibbitt looked to transform the Saddlers' fortunes.

Dornan said: "I had recovered from a broken leg the previous season and never really got going. We'd had a poor season as a team too.

"I always felt if I had a decent pre-season and got back to somewhere near full fitness then I might have been able to convince the new manager. But it wasn't to be."

At least he left with the memory of a goal at the Hillary Street End even if, as a defender, his description of the strike is typically simple 25 years on.

Colin 'Cannonball' Taylor scores a penalty against Villa during the Division Three clash at Fellows Park in 1971.

He said: "I just hit it and it flew into the net.

"I didn't get that many goals during my career but to get such a significant one in the history of Walsall FC is a nice achievement, and something that no-one can ever take away from me.

"I got it at the right end too, in front of our own supporters. It was a special moment."

Dornan's goal, in front of a crowd of 5,697, was not enough to earn Walsall a win in their final league appearance after 94 years at Fellows Park, as the Millers hit back to earn a 1-1 draw.

Eleven days later, the scoreline was the same as the Saddlers met Albion in Hart's testimonial, Gary Shaw netting the last ever goal at the venue.

Dornan said: "The testimonial was a bit of an anti-climax really. Simply because of the year we had, there wasn't really much to celebrate."

Villa were then the first opponents at Bescot three months later but by then Dornan was gone, moving back up to his native Scotland and Montrose, a team he would later manage.

He recently returned to the Saddlers, as a guest of the club for April's League One game against Notts County.

He said: "It was the first time I had been back for about ten years," he said. "It was great to catch up with some old team-mates, like Kenny Mower and Mark Rees.

"I think the club is really well run and Dean Smith, who was in the youth team when I was at the club, has done a great job as manager.

"The Banks's is a nice stadium but for me it will never quite be the same as Fellows Park. There was something special about that place."

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