Chris Marsh: Walsall looking for a hero
Wanted... A hero to keep Walsall in League One.
Reward... Your name forever etched into the history of this great club.
I thought I’d use my column this week to place a classified advert in the Express & Star. Walsall need a hero – they need someone to step up and keep them in League One.
And if one of the players does come to the fore – I can assure them they’ll forever go down in Saddlers folklore.
It’s not often in a footballer’s career that you really get the chance to become a hero.
Of course, we’d all prefer it if we were going into the weekend with the chance of someone scoring the goal that would clinch promotion – Just like Dean Keates did.
Instead, we are right in the thick of a relegation scrap. But I still want to point out what a huge opportunity this is.
I’ll never forget when I was an apprentice, Walsall played Bristol City in the play-off final. The first leg was away and we won 3-1. But when we returned to Fellows Park we lost the return leg 2-0.
In those days, there was no extra-time or penalties.
You had a coin toss – which we won – to see who would have home advantage for a third game. And then you played again. I’ll never forget taking my place on the bench for that game.
The ground was packed, the television cameras were there and the atmosphere was incredible.
And then Dave Kelly steps up and bags a hat-trick to take us into what is now the Championship.
I just remember sitting there and looking at Dave and thinking ‘wow, you’re a hero’.
He had etched his name into Saddler’s folklore and as a young player I kept thinking ‘I want to do that’.
When it got to the big occasion, Kelly delivered and I really wanted to be the man who would step up when needed. It was inspiring for me and it was inspiring for any youngster in the ground.
I like to think I stepped up in 1999 when we had to beat Oldham at home to win automatic promotion with Fulham. I scored the second goal and I remember thinking at the time ‘that is my Dave Kelly moment’.
I also scored when we drew against Leeds in the FA Cup which was live on TV.
I’m proud of those moments. And I can assure any player – when you hang up your boots – it’s those special moments you look back on. It’s a very short career. And when you are retired, you’ll go to functions and it’s big goals like that people talk about.
I’ve had little boys run up to me and say their dad still remembers me scoring against Oldham. It does make you proud.
Now Walsall’s players have the chance to create their own memories that people will be talking about in years to come. The question is: who will step up? The one person who undoubtedly has the ability to do so is Erhun Oztumer.
I’m a huge fan of Walsall’s Wizard of Oz. But there is no doubt he has gone off the boil over the past month or so.
That could be for a whole host of reasons.
Maybe it’s form. We all know he’s going to be off at the end of the season, so it’s only natural he has one eye elsewhere.
It may also be that he is fed up with carrying the team because that is what he has been doing for the past two years.
But what better way to say farewell than becoming a hero and keeping Walsall in the division?
If I was Oztumer I’d be saying to the club ‘Thanks for two fantastic seasons and here is one last gift, I’m going to do everything to keep you in League One’.
What a way to go out that would be. And nobody is then going to begrudge him leaving for what will surely be a vastly bigger salary elsewhere.
Saturday, against Northampton, is Walsall’s biggest game in a long, long time. The players need the fans to get behind them which they will because they were absolutely tremendous at Scunthorpe. They will do there bit, but now it’s up to the players to step up.
It doesn’t have to be Oztumer, anyone of them can become a hero.
And I urge them to seize this chance because if they do they’ll never forget it.