Brian Caswell was born on February 14th 1956 in Wednesbury and Attended Mesty Croft junior school and was spotted around the age of 5 or 6 by his head teacher - who just happened to be
Ron Jukes , the 'super scout' who was responsible for signing so many quality players for Walsall FC and other clubs over many years. But initially it wasn't the playing position he was seeking. Brian recalls, "To my horror he insisted on putting me in goal! I had to make do with that for some time and I even had to endure catching sessions." I remember we lost one game 6-0 against Hillary Street school and 5-0 against another. I'd had enough punishment!" Eventually common sense prevailed and he did escape from being between the posts.
He went on to Wood Green Secondary School and was called up by Staffordshire schools and England schools and was taken on by Walsall FC on leaving school in July 1971. Such was his progress that he made his first team debut on April 7th, 1973, aged 17 in a 3-2 win against Chesterfield at left back before he'd signed professional forms. He was given his debut by Jim Mc Ewan who was in temporary charge of team affairs. Brian acknowledged some from around that time who didn't quite make it. "There were several good young players around then. Players like Brian Beresford, who scored a hat trick at the end of the 1971-2 in a 7-1 win against the Singapore National XI is one who springs to mind."
He had already appeared in 9 early season games before being selected for his biggest game to date. "I was delighted to have been selected for the Football League Cup home tie against Manchester City up against their players like Rodney Marsh, Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee etc."
That season he went on to make 14 appearances and 1974-5 he made 21 league starts but was disappointed to miss out on the glamour games in that fantastic FA Cup run. By now Doug Fraser was in charge of team affairs and quipped, "I played in the first round at Ashford but Doug never picked me for the Manchester United, Newcastle and Birmingham games. I must have upset him or maybe he was lacking his tots of whiskey!"
1975-6 proved to be a very frustrating and traumatic season for Brian, so much so that he was thinking of packing up the pro game altogether at his lowest point. He wasn't getting many games and felt under valued. Around this time he recalled going in to see Ken Wheldon to ask for a rise. Brian sighed, " I went in asking for a better deal. He asked why I thought I deserved more and I said my missus works at Marks and Spencer and she's getting more money than me. Without even looking up Wheldon's reply was well you'd better go and work for Marks and Spencer then!" How typical of our chairman.
Thankfully after a long-running dispute over pay and his contract he did sign a new one in the Summer of 1976 and things really took off for him. He started 36 league games and played at Old Trafford in the 0-1 FA Cup defeat to Manchester United and in a disappointing season that saw Fraser lose his job and Dave Mackay came in, he was the shining light and deservedly won the Player Of The Season award and also the Sports Argus one and said "It was a good season for me. I was very pleased to have won the award and established myself in the team." He won that award with 37% of the total votes cast and was one of the youngest ever to have scooped it at that point.
He remarked a few instances of how "Mad Miah" (Dennehy) kept the lads entertained. "For some reason Wheldon had given him an advance of £400 which Miah was delighted to receive. A lot of money in those days. He came into training a few days later all of a panic and was clearly distressed. When we asked him why, he blurted that he had buried the money in his garden for safe keeping but couldn't remember where he had buried it! He had spent hours looking for it. On another occasion he had a got himself a new car but was vexed as he couldn't find the station he wanted to listen to on its radio - so he took the car back! A few times we'd be eating lunch in a hotel and he'd go to reception to make or take a call. He was that loud shouting away we could hear every word!"
Moving on to the Dave Mackay era, Brian was complimentary towards the management team of Mackay, his assistant Des Anderson and coach Neil Martin and gave an insight into the competitive
nature of his boss. "We used to train in the field by the West Midland College and for 5 a sides he always joined in. He was as hard as nails playing in his mid 40's and always wanted to be on the winning side. He'd make us keep playing what seemed like hours until his side had scored enough goals to win! "
Brian also saw Mackay's uncompassionate side too. In the league game against Port Vale (24.9.1977) a bad injury occurred. Brian takes up the story, " Just a few minutes into the game Kenny Beech, of all people, clattered into me. After treatment on the pitch I managed to continue and at half time was with the club doctor and Mackay stormed in asking what's the fuss about and insisted I went out there for the second half even though I knew I'd done damage to my ankle. I somehow saw the game out, meanwhile Alf Wood was replaced for one of his little niggling injuries.
The following morning my ankle had blown up badly. I went for tests and X-rays revealed a double bone break on my ankle. " Meanwhile Mackay's quote to the local press was, "We had no idea the injury was as serious as it is. He did exceptionally well to carry on after getting hurt early on."
Thankfully he was back in action by early December and played in those FA Cup clashes with First Division Leicester City and Arsenal. Regarding the Leicester scalp and the goal scorer Alun Evans, Brian revealed, " Alun was a very skilful player but did very little training in the week he was just mainly playing in the games. His one knee was so bad, in fact I've never seen a knee like it. On the Sunday morning he's be in the treatment room having his knee drained. It looked awful with bits of bone amongst it. Watching him play though you would never have thought it." Of the atmosphere in Fellows Park on those big games he said, " It was wonderful playing before big crowds and it made all the difference." There was still time for Brian to play in 30 league games that season despite his ankle breaks.
1978-9 was a season of turmoil for everyone with Mackay, Anderson then Martin going to Saudi to earn big money and although from the return to training onwards that season Saddlers used 4 managers - Mackay, Alan Buckley (acting manager) then hiring and firing Alan Ashman and Frank Sibley in quick succession, he still felt the team were too good to go down. He only missed 3 games that season. 1979-80 of course saw Walsall promoted from Division 4 at the first attempt and praised the likes of Donald Penn, Ian Paul, Mark Rees, Paul Waddington and '2-Yard Ted' (Roy Mc Donough) and the other young players who played their part in the promotion push.
Regarding the final vital game at Sheffield United, he said. " We knew their lot would come running on at the end of the game to get us. I made sure I was at the other end! When we were awarded the penalty will all expected Buck to grab the ball because he wanted to take everything! But Donald made sure he grabbed it. And as for Ron Green's penalty.. don't ever tell him it was a good save, he fell on the ball the fat buggar!" Again Brian was as consistent as ever with another 41 league appearances under his belt.
At the end of the 1982-3 Brian had a testimonial game against West Bromwich Albion, the club he supported as a boy, which ended up a 3-3 draw with Brian himself scoring one of the goals with Alan Birch and Ollie Kearns also on target. 1983-4 was a memorable year for everyone connected with Walsall FC. He was pleased to see the signing of Ally Brown even if it was for that one season and Brian played in 7 of the 9 games in that terrific Milk Cup run. 1984-5 proved to be his last season with Saddlers. He had played in a total of 454 senior games and scoring 19 goals. Exactly 400 of those appearances were in the league (17 goals) 25 were in the FA Cup (2 goals) 29 FL Cup apps and 4 other apps.
Brian spoke of the lead up to the parting of the ways. " I was contacted by Bill Kitchener for my family and I to fly over to the USA in the summer for three months as he asked me if I was thinking of doing some coaching when my playing days were over and after I talked it over with my wife and kids we decided we'd like to go. I saw Ken Wheldon and Alan Buckley the next day and they said yes no problem. I phoned Bill back to tell him the way was clear but the next day Wheldon and Buck called me in and said they had changed their minds and said no. They claimed it would not be fair on the lads as they were back in for pre-season on the Thursday and I wouldn't be back till the Monday. I told them Thank you very much. I've enjoyed my time here. I knew that was it."
" I could not believe what I was hearing. After 14 years with Walsall and a senior pro I thought I deserved better. A call came from Doncaster manager Billy Bremner for me to go up and see him for a chat and I thought why not. Things went well and while I was in his office he phoned Wheldon and asked him how much he wanted for me because I wasn't going back. Wheldon said I don't think so - he'll sign for me eventually. Billy said well you can ask him if you like - he's here sitting next to me!"
Brian's exit was tinged with sadness though and admitted, " I would have stayed at Walsall for life as player, then coach even manager one day, who knows. He played 15 games for Doncaster Rovers then after just a few months Bremner moved to Leeds United to become their manager and took him with him. He managed 8 games for the Elland Road club before the end was in sight.
"I Had some bad injuries at Leeds that took a long time to clear up. I went on loan to Wolves and played just the one game for them at Cardiff then eventually I knew I would have to retire from playing because of all the injuries." He then did coaching for a few years starting out at Birmingham City, Stoke, Telford (assisting Wayne Clarke) before becoming Youth Coach at Northampton Town and the final port of call was Shrewsbury Town working with Chic Bates.
When asked what came after football he chuckled, " I got myself a proper job at last! I worked for BMW in Birmingham on the corporate side which was enjoyable too. Returning finally to his football career at Walsall he commented on Alan Buckley (the player) and said, " Buck was a terrific finisher I don't think you'll ever see anybody like that down there again. Mind you if it wasn't for the knock downs from George Andrews and Bernie Wright and even some of my crosses I laid on for him he wouldn't have been so successful. " Too right Brian.
Bringing things right up to date he recently visited the Railway Club for the first time pre-match and this is what he had to say, " It was a great experience I really enjoyed it. Chatting to my former team mates and you the fans. It reminded me a bit of the atmosphere of the old Saddlers Club in Wallows Lane back in the day when that too was rammed with proper football fans." He said he would gladly come again next season , "But not when Kenny and Rico are there, I can't compete with them anymore!
Brian pictured during his recent visit to the Railway Club.