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Walsall book extract: Craig Shakespeare's two big tests in a day

By Liam Keen | Walsall FC | Published:

A new book by author Simon Turner, titled Walsall Match Of My Life, has been released featuring stories from an array of Saddlers legends.

Craig Shakespeare passes his driving test

In total, 16 legends share their memories of giant killings and hard-fought promotions. Now, in a series of extracts from the book this week, the Express & Star will shine a light on some of the interesting tales found across the 320 pages.

Up first is Craig Shakespeare, who remembers the days leading up to the League Cup semi-final away to Liverpool in 1984...

I can remember precisely where I was when the draw for the semi-finals was made.

As soon as I heard the date of the first leg, a light bulb flashed on in my brain. I knew it was important for some reason, and then I realised why: It was the day I was due to take my driving test!

I was booked in to take it at half past 10 in Birmingham and the coach was due to leave for Anfield at two o’clock in the afternoon.

It would be a rush, but I was confident I could get back home to Great Barr after the test, get changed, put my tracksuit on and be at Fellows Park on time.

I really didn’t want to cancel my test as it was going to be my second attempt. I’d failed the first one for driving too slowly!

I had to go and see Alan Buckley and tell him about my plans.

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Inevitably, he asked me what frame of mind I’d be in for the game if I failed the test. I told him that I looked at it positively, that I’d pass and so would be in a great mood for the match.

Thankfully, I managed to convince him and duly took my test as planned. At the end of it the driving examiner asked me several questions, which I must have answered reasonably well as he told me that I’d passed.

My first reaction was to ask him if I could leave as I’d got a game that night.

He asked me what I meant, and so I told him that we were playing Liverpool in the semi-finals of the League Cup.

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He then looked silently at me as if to say: “What? Really?”

Anyway, it all worked out fine. I made the coach on time and all I had to worry about after that was the small matter of playing against the best team in Europe.

Confidence was high among the players prior to the game. We’d already beaten Arsenal at Highbury and knew we deserved to be in the semi-finals.

I didn’t feel any nerves or trepidation at all, just excitement.

I learned later as a coach that each player’s emotions are different just before the start of a match; some may be too eager to get out there while others can be under-aroused. It’s all about finding the right balance and Alan was excellent at helping players to do that.

He was never too bothered about the opposition. He wouldn’t give us detailed dossiers on each of their players or big presentations on how they would play. His focus was always on you as an individual, making sure that you were in the right frame of mind and ready to do yourself justice.

For him it was all about playing to our strengths, rather than worrying about how we were going to stop the other team from playing to theirs.

That said, we weren’t completely in the dark about Liverpool.

We knew that Alan Hansen liked to bring the ball out from the back and initiate attacks, while Craig Johnston would pop up all over the pitch and be very hard to mark.

We knew how they played. We were ready for them.

A copy of the book can be bought by visiting: www.pitchpublishing.co.uk/shop/walsall-match-my-life.

Liam Keen

By Liam Keen
Sports Reporter

Sports journalist at the Express & Star, primarily covering Walsall FC and grassroots sport across the Black Country and Staffordshire. Got a story? Get in touch on 01902 319456.

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