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Chris Marsh: Pre-season with Walsall thrills and spills!

By Chris Marsh | Walsall FC | Published:

It feels like it was only five minutes ago George Dobson was scoring that goal which sank Northampton.

But today the focus truly shifts to the 2018/19 campaign after Walsall's players reported back for pre-season training.

They have got a tough couple of weeks in store as Keatsy gets them exactly where he wants them.

And fans will then get a first glimpse of their new-look side when they take on Rushall Olympic a week on Friday.

Friendlies are a strange time for any footballer.

And I think it's right Walsall are kicking off against a local non-league side before then taking on the likes of Stoke, Villa and Ajax.

If I'm being honest, when I was a player I always wanted to play against the bigger sides. I'd love to play in that Ajax game.

But the matches against non-league teams are important.

You always know what you are going to get, they are so keen to beat to you and they don't hold back when it comes to challenges.

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When you turn up you know you are in for a scrap and that's why managers do it.

For me though, the enjoyment came from playing the bigger teams.

I can remember we played Sheffield Wednesday once, they were in the Premier League at the time and I had been up against Paolo Di Canio.

It was cold, wet and windy and I asked him if he wanted to swap shirts.

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He gave me his but he wasn't bothered about taking mine. I thought he might want it just to keep warm! But he just walked off with his bare chest on show.

I also remember in the late 80s we headed up to the North East to play against Newcastle and Middlesbrough.

John Barnwell was in charge and he wanted to go up a few days earlier to watch some games and scout a few players.

So he told us, players, that we had to make our own way and that the club would pay for our petrol.

What a mistake! We all jumped in about seven cars – I travelled with Mark Rees and Willie Naughton – and we stopped in every pub on route.

We had been told to get to our hotel for 6pm.

But of course, none of us made it. And John was getting angrier and angrier.

I think it was around 8pm we all starting filtering through and that was just in time for dinner.

Dean Keates

I was sat there and one by one we'd walk in – with nobody having the bottle to sit near the gaffer.

And then there was only one seat left.

Graham Forbes was the last player to walk in. And he was so drunk, he walked in wearing sunglasses.

That's how bad it had got.

He had to sit next to the manager. And he then got started on his beef dinner.

But he was so drunk he couldn't use his knife and fork properly.

He got his timings wrong and his dinner – and all the gravy – ended up all over John.

Wow, he was angry.

We paid for it. We ran every day that pre-season. I don't think we saw a ball.

Forbes though could get away with it because he was an incredible player.

He was crazy, absolutely nuts. He makes me look like Mary Poppins.

But if I was naming my all-time Walsall XI, he'd be at centre-back with Adi Viveash. He was absolutely terrific.

On a separate note, I cannot believe what a shambles VAR has been at the World Cup.

For me, it's like Brexit. It's got too many rules and regulations and I am sick of it.

What really annoys me is the people who say it's entertaining.

Dean Keates

It's not about entertainment – we are at a World Cup here and we're experimenting with a system that is having a massive say on results.

If it was up to me, I'd scrap the whole thing now. I just don't think it works.

I'm all for technology to see whether the ball has crossed the goal line. Or to confirm whether a player is on or offside.

But sometimes in football, there is no clear right wrong. We debate decisions all the time.

Technology has been used to great effect in a lot of sports.

In tennis it's used to see if the ball is bouncing in or out.

In cricket, technology can work out if a delivery is sailing onto the wickets or heading off-stump.

But again it's black and white, football just isn't like that.

I never thought I'd say this but referees actually do a really good job.

I was speaking to ex-Walsall boss Kenny Hibbitt who is now a referees assessor for the FA.

He is someone I have great admiration for and he explained just what a tough job it is.

And he pointed out to me that if you watch 10 games of football, you'll probably only see two bad mistakes from a referee.

In the vast majority of games, they will get the big calls right.

They have a tough job, and when I played I used to give them some right stick.

But the truth is they are good at what they do.

They aren't perfect. And they can improve. But that doesn't mean we need VAR – it's just complicated things further.

'If it isn't broke, don't fix it,' the old saying goes.

And for me, football was never broken.

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