Express & Star

Scott Houghton: How Chris Nicholl and Walsall saved my career

Walsall FC saved Scott Houghton. It might sound like a bold statement but, without the Saddlers, Houghton doubts he would have forged any kind of career in the beautiful game...writes Matthew Panter.


A talented teenager, who represented England and came through the ranks at Premier League giants Tottenham, he freely admits his attitude left a lot to be desired.

In part that was down to his own laxness but he also felt he never had a steering influence or a disciplined hand. The late Chris Nicholl changed that.

“I’d played from some top managers,” Houghton recalls. “I’m talking the likes of David Pleat and Terry Venables but all of them let me get away with whatever I wanted.

“The damage had been done for me already in terms of playing in the top two divisions because of my attitude but to remain a successful lower league player, which I ended up doing, I put that down to Chris.

“When I went to Walsall, I ended up playing under him and he basically said ‘you do as your told, or you don’t play, it’s as simple as that’.

“He saved my career. Had it not gone right for me at Walsall, I’d have been out of the game at 24, no question about that so I take my hat off to him.

“He brought a discipline to me. There were no late nights before games anymore. It was refreshing. He instilled the things in me that he wanted me to do, not what I thought I could do. He was a breath of fresh air.”

Houghton had actually arrived at the Saddlers from Luton with the intention of playing for Kenny Hibbitt in 1994.

“I joined Luton from Spurs and my first season there was really up and down and then,” Scott recalls. “So during the close season, I’d got my head in the right place.

“I spent the whole pre-season in the gym and when I went back I was the fittest of all the players. I thought ‘this is going to be my season’ but Pleaty (David Pleat) had made his mind up that I wasn’t going to be part of his plans.

“So very quickly I ended up playing three pre-season friendlies for Walsall under Kenny.

Chris Nicholls

“I was really surprised by how good the team was. I felt I was in last chance saloon but I knew I was going to a decent side with a decent chance.

“It was a really good side with a top set of players and I enjoyed it. I was called back to Luton and played the first few games of the season but the writing was on the wall.

“Then, in late August, early September, I finally signed for Walsall. I think it was actually on the day Kenny left, which was a bit of a shame.