Nick Atthey was born on May 8th, 1946 on Tyneside and as a youngster played for East Stanley Junior school XI. His family moved to Coventry where he attended Foxford school and he played for Coventry boys who won the Birmingham and District Shield. He joined Walsall as an apprentice professional footballer in 1961.
Nick explained, "A local Coventry scout had noticed me, and Ron Jukes, with his wide contacts got to hear of me and things developed. Bill Moore was Walsall's manager at the time and I had an affinity with him as.' like myself he was from the North East so we had a connection. As you can imagine it was a bit of an upheaval leaving home at 15 and for five years I lived in digs on the Dickenson estate opposite Fellows Park so I had no excuse to be late for training!"
Bill Moore signed Nick up as a full professional in the July of 1963, however he left the club in the November of that year and was replaced by Alf Wood who had only been taken on as coach a month previously. Of this period Nick explained, " Alf Wood had been a Coventry goalkeeper as a player and following bit of friction between him and existing trainer Vic Potts, Alf turned to Coventry's young trainer Arthur Cox to come in to replace him. That's how Cox arrived at Fellows Park."
Nick made his debut in the final game of the season, in a 0-3 defeat at QPR on May 1st 1964 and the following season had an outing against Workington Town in September then had to wait until the end of October for his next appearance at Carlisle. However that was a bit of a landmark in Nick's early days as a pro, as he played in every single game after that till the season's end, a good run of 30 games.
1965-6 season will always be remembered by the supporters for the cup games that were a bit special. Nick takes up the story, "We played West Bromwich Albion in the League Cup which was at that time before a record attendance for that competition ( 41,188 ) and a great occasion. I scored, or at least I thought I'd scored however George Kirby I think it was, was in an offside position."
Then there was that great FA Cup run where in the 3rd Round Walsall beat First Division Stoke City 2-0 at the Victoria Ground before going out the next round away at Norwich City. Of the Stoke game Nick recalled, " A great performance, with Jimmy Mc Morran bravely playing on after being injured ( no substitutes in those days ) and I have a photograph of myself and fellow players protesting to the referee after a shot from one of their players went through a hole in the side netting. We may have lost in the next round but it was still such a good day and we travelled with the supporters by train."
Nick gave an insight regarding Colin Taylor. "He was such a funny man as well as a fine football. A real joker. One very hot day in pre season, a real scorcher, we were running down the Sutton Road past the Three Crowns pub and I was with Colin. Arthur Cox was always running about half a mile behind us making sure nobody was slacking or skiving off. Colin suddenly said he felt ill and pulled up outside a house. An old dear came out and offered poor Colin a cup of tea. He was just about to drink it when up jogs Arthur and inquired what was going on? He took the cup off him and drank it himself and told him he'd had his little rest, now carry on! "
"Another time we were on a club tour heading to Luxembourg and Germany. Colin was a smoker, like other players in those days and the stewardess came up all concerned because there was a
smell of burning on the plane. What Colin hadn't noticed was that fag ash had dropped on his shirt and was burning a hole in it!"
Nick mentioned an incident that happened in the Football League Cup game at Fellows Park on September 12th, 1966 again against Stoke City. "There had been a bit of history between George Kirby and Maurice Setters, who was a right dirty so and so, and George gained his revenge. We won a free kick and George ran up fast from 20 yards, with no intention at all of playing the ball and dropped the nut right on the back of his neck. Setters dropped to the floor horizontally. Their trainer was using smelling salts etc to revive him.. But at the end of the game they'd got their arms around each other and moved on. That's how it was in those days."
Nick starred in some more terrific cup games in the 1967-8 season against West Ham in the FLC and the four games against Crystal Palace and Liverpool in the FA Cup. He has painful memories of the Liverpool away replay on a foggy night, "Ron Yates did me, I was stretchered off with a damaged ankle and Bob Paisley who was second in command to Bill Shankly, came in afterwards to check if I was OK."
Annoyingly, Nick was injured in a game leading up to the Tottenham Hotspur FA Cup tie in January 1969, so missed out, but he did get to play against the great Jimmy Greaves many years later, " I was up against Jimmy whilst playing for Telford and he for Barnet. We had a chat regarding that
cup game at Fellows Park where he had scored the winner."
Nick recalls more painful times in the early 1970's. "I suffered a dislocated ankle which was very painful indeed and kept me out for a long time. I also had cartilage operations on both legs." The dislocation was in the 1971-2 season which restricted him to just 10 appearances. There was an interesting line about Bernie Wright, "Against Manchester City in the Football League cup in 1973 Bernie set out to kick Rodney Marsh and he gave him an almighty kick right at the start!"
Moving on to the great run in the FA Cup in 1974-5 , Nick picked out a couple of things from the 4th Round tie with Newcastle United. "It was a bit special for me, that one. In truth, it never should have been played with the state of the pitch. I remember the police chief in charge ( Inspector Cyril Adams ) leaning on the referee in the pitch inspections with the amount of Geordies hanging around everywhere. I had some family down from the North East staying with me. Following our 1-0 win they never spoke to me all weekend after that!" A word on match winner George Andrews, "I've never seen anyone with heading ability like him."
At the end of that season Nick had a well deserved testimonial game against Leeds United that ended in a 3-3 draw. Nick scored a goal for saddlers and one of the Leeds scorers was Allan Clarke. Both men joined Walsall on the same day all those years ago and remain great friends to this day. The attendance for that exciting game was a healthy 8,458 supporters. Bernie Wright and Gary Shelton were the other Walsall scorers.
Nick had two more seasons at Fellows Park and was unfortunately released along with George Andrews in May 1977. What a travesty that was with many fans, myself included, disappointed with Dave Mackay's decision to free them when they both clearly had more to offer. Nick though said of his departure, "It was just one of those things that you have no control of. I enjoyed my time at Walsall, I loved every minute of it. I wouldn't want to change a thing. I had 14 great years there and the supporters were great to me then, and now of course."
Asked about in time in football after Walsall Nick replied, " I first went to Telford under Geoff Hurst and learned a lot about the game from him. I was there about 18 months. I then had a spell at Tamworth under Dave Robinson, my old Walsall team mate, before spells at Rushall Olympic, then Blakenall before turning to Sunday football playing for Walsall Glass, whose firm was owned by Peter Kelly, a big Walsall fan.
As for some of the best players he played with, Colin Taylor was mentioned and there was a special word for Colin Harrison. "Colin was so versatile and could slot in anywhere with two good feet. He was the complete footballer." Nick is proud of reaching the 500 game milestone for Walsall and rightly so. For the record, he played 502 senior games of which 439 were in the football league (17 goals) 42 in the FA Cup, and 21 in the FL Cup ( 1 goal ). Only Jimmy Walker and Colin Harrison have played in more total games for Walsall FC.
Nick has supported ISSA on a couple of events so far and would be a most welcome guest at many others and pre-match at the Railway Club.
On a personal note Nick, thanks for your time it was a pleasure to speak to you and hear your many wonderful recollections.
Nick Atthey pictured at a recent ISSA event.