Express & Star

Remembering Tony Richards - Walsall's greatest

It was an era where Walsall were mixing it up with Liverpool, with who many perceive to be the club's greatest-ever player banging in the goals.


And now, the full story of that successful period in the early 1960s has been told in a new book – Walsall's Greatest, Tony Richards and The Saddlers' Glory Years.

Richards was the star striker in a Saddlers team that, in just three seasons, went from playing a Fourth Division match in front of 2,366 people at Gateshead to facing Liverpool at a 42,229-strong Anfield.

Information from the time is not easily found on the internet, and that led to Richards' son, Gary, pouring through various archives to give a detailed account of the impact made by his dad and the rest of the team that briefly threatened to reach the top tier.

"I did it as a hobby in my spare time, so it took me about four years to do it and finish it all off," said Gary.

"It's something I've always wanted to document, and the thing is with that period, being a long time ago, it's kind of undervalued.

"When you're on the bulletin boards, you read about the greatest managers and teams, and although it does occasionally get mentioned, I think what they achieved gets overlooked.

"I almost wanted to put the record straight in a way and show how significant the team was that dad played in.

"When Walsall were in the Second Division, or the Championship as it's known now, for the first couple of months of the season, they were second in the league to Liverpool.

"That's unthinkable in modern terms, but for a while, they looked like they could make the top league. It was just a chance to document it all."

Richards starred for Walsall between 1954 and 1963, and he is still their record league goal scorer having netted 185 times in 334 games.

In 1998, he was voted the Saddlers' greatest ever player in a supporters' ballot and also made an Honorary Life President of the club.

Richards – who passed away aged 75 in March 2010 – was two-footed, possessed a fierce shot and most notably renowned for his aerial dominance.

He was part of a strong team, too, as Bill Moore's arrival as boss in late 1957 helped them truly find their feet.

Chapter seven, 'The Iron Age', discusses Moore's no-nonsense approach while chapter 15, 'Liverpool, Bill Shankly and the Sound of the Crowd', features the matches against the Reds.

For Gary, the whole experience of putting together the book allowed him to fully realise what his father achieved.

"I remember being young and having not seen him play. People would come up to him all the time and say 'thanks for all the memories'," said Gary.

"This allowed me to discover a lot of things I didn't previously know.

"I spoke to a few of his old team-mates who are still around, including Stan Bennett and Ray Wiggin, who had various stories.

"Going through the archives, I found out a lot, so it was a really fulfilling experience.

"The last chapter of the book lists 10 of dad's best goals because there's no footage available of that period – or very little.

"It wasn't about just dad, though. It was about the whole team and what they achieved.

"He's obviously the focus of it, but his team-mates are included as well."

Gary was keen to do his father and the rest of the side justice, with them being the first Walsall team to win a trophy when they clinched the 1960 Fourth Division crown.

Richards broke the club's all-time scoring record the following season and played a pivotal role in reaching promotion from the Third Division, scoring 36 goals.

He then had the distinction of netting their first goal back in the Second Division for 60 years.

Walsall finished 14th in the second tier before relegation in 1962/63, with Richards then moving on and joining Port Vale.

Going through it all was an extensive yet fulfilling process for Gary, who admits the book might be a case of one and done.

"This is the first time I've done a book. It also compares modern football to the game back then, because there are some things we think of that are not quite true about that era," added Gary.

"Players didn't all wear black boots. There's a feeling that players behaved better back, too, before wages sky-rocketed to what they are now, but that's not entirely the case either.

"I really enjoyed doing it, but I think that might be it.

"It took such a long time. We'll see. Possibly, but probably not."

Walsall's Greatest, Tony Richards and The Saddlers' Glory Years is out and available on for £9.99.