Stuart Watkiss was born on May 8th, 1966 in Wolverhampton. He may not have signed for Walsall until August, 1993, but there was a spell earlier in his career he came under Alan Buckley's radar around 1984 and the pair were destined to become the management duo at Grimsby Town in 2008.
"I had an extended trial for Walsall whilst Alan Buckley was in charge. This was after my release from Wolves for whom I made two first team appearances, against Sunderland and away at Arsenal. That was under Graham Hawkins and it was a great experience for a 17 year old. I had captained their youth team that included Tim Flowers and I had also captained their reserve team. I was released by Tommy Docherty, who I thought wasn't all that good to be perfectly honest and I felt I did not get the correct support. At Walsall, they had the likes of Peter Hart, Colin Brazier and Phil Hawker."
"Then came a spell at Crewe under Dario Gradi, playing alongside the likes of David Platt, Geoff Thomas and John Pemberton. I was restricted by injuries there. I was offered a contract to stay and played a couple of games but I fell out of love with football and had a couple of years out of the game. Eventually I started playing in Wolverhampton League Division 5 with Wednesfield Social. I worked for my dad at his post office in Low Hill before taking up a job at Wolverhampton head post office and signed for Rushall Olympic."
Then, in 1993, came the part of Stuart's life where everything changed as he got to live his dream job to become a professional footballer and settle down to what has become a fascinating on-going career.
"I played for Rushall Olympic against Walsall reserves in a pre season friendly. I hadn't seen Kenny for years. On the Thursday I had a call from general manager Paul Taylor but for a few moments I thought it was a wind up from one of the Rushall lads. After realising that it really was him, he asked me if I could play for Walsall against Telford on the Saturday. I said I'd have to clear it with Rushall first and I got to play."
"On the morning of the game I managed to lose one of my contact lenses and I didn't have any spares but I had the notion that one contact was better than none! All went well in the game, we won 4-1 and as I got changed, slowly, Kenny was alone waiting for me. I thanked him for the opportunity of letting me play. He told me not to speak to anyone, especially the media and said I will see you back at Bescot in an hour. Just do it.'
"I did just that and Kenny and Paul sorted me out a contract there and then. Things had happened so quickly for me over those few days. On the Monday I handed in my letter of resignation to the Post Office, did it all by the book, but they were great and let me go right away. Jimmy walker signed for the club on the same day. On the Tuesday I found myself playing against Aston Villa at Besot, up against Guy Whittingham who they had signed for £1 million and the following Saturday I played in the final pre-season game at Northwich Victoria."
Stuart only missed 8 of the 56 total games for Saddlers in that 1993-4 season and played in the team against Hednesford Town who won the Birmingham Senior Cup . It was a big challenge for the 26 year old but there was an award for him at the end of the season.
"I felt I played well in the first two thirds of the season but not so well in the last third of the season but it was good to win the supporters Player Of The Season. In the very first game of the 1994-5 season I got sent off against Fulham. There were injuries too. I had been playing but not training and I was having scans." By now Chris Nicholl came in to replace Kenny Hibbitt and this was to
have a profound effect on Stuart. "It was a surprise and a massive disappointment to see Kenny go, but in Chris Nicholl I thought yes, OK, a big name, be a decent appointment. After 3 or 4 games I wasn't fit due to an underlying problem and went in to see him. 'Gaffer I've got a problem. Something's not right, its not a normal injury. He said, 'Okay we'll send you off for scans and see what comes back.' I needed an operation on my achilles."
"A week later, on the Friday night, I got to the radio just in time to hear a caller on WM say to Chris Nicholl, 'Are you going to get somebody in to replace Stuart Watkiss? He replied, 'Watkiss? Watkiss a decent player? I've not seen this. Parasites who take the money."
"I was going to the hotel to wait for him. Jimmy Walker said to me, 'Did you hear it last night? Tom Bradley comes up to me, 'Did you hear the gaffer last night?' As the players arrived one by one they all asked the same question. Sitting in the stand people were asking if I'd heard what the gaffer said. 100 people must have asked me the same question that day. I found him in the boot room. I said I heard you on the radio and what you said was unfair. I don't agree with you. I came to you and told about my injury.. 'Good', he replied. 'What do you mean by that? I enquired. 'Unless a player breaks his leg he's not injured.'
"In the foyer we exchanged words again. I told him that's it, I'm handing in a transfer request. 'I want it now.' he snapped. There was a formal letter handed in. We never spoke for about 10 weeks. We'd pass each other by in the corridor. In the first team Charlie Palmer and Stuart Ryder were doing well without me. I was fit and was given a couple of reserve games. I was the only pro not travelling away. I was bombed out. One day he came in after training with a big box of biscuits and he offered one to everyone - except me. The lads were all embarrassed. I just walked out."
"Just after the home FA Cup tie against Leeds we played Torquay away. On the Thursday Tom Bradley came up to me and said. 'You're going to Torquay. Gaffer says you're in the squad.' So I get on the coach, not picked in the team, sat in the stand. On arrival back at Bescot he said to each player 'in turn, ' See you Monday 9 am.' When it came to my turn, 'See you Sunday , 9am.' On that Sunday there was just him and me in the deserted stadium. 'I want you to do 12 one minute laps with a minute in between."
"For the replay at Leeds, Tom Bradley came up to me, ' You're travelling to Elland Road.' At 5.30pm he walks into the hotel room. Wayne Evans and I were rooming together. Evo was asleep I was sat there with a couple of chocolate bars and a coke. He said to Evo, 'You don't play.' Then turned to me and said, 'You play'. 'I'd not played for 3 months and I'm up against one of the Wallace brothers. I thought at 2-2 after 90 minutes that we'd edged it. I did OK."
"A couple of days later, we had a practice game. To start the game he throwed the ball in the air and shouted 'Head it.' 'I ducked under it. Because I hadn't headed it he told me to 'F'ck off. Get yourself off.' I thought that's it. I'm not coming back."
"Just before the end of the season we had another row. It was customary for the non-players to run on the pitch at the end of a game. As I got back to the players in the bar , one said to me, 'He's got your missus in his office.' I saw the red mist again and I stormed in to his office and said, If you've got a problem with me, sort it with me. Just you and me. My son was also in his office and he was upset."
Despite being on the list, some early season form and performances earned Stuart signed a new deal despite rejecting a new contract in the summer. Adrian Viveash came in, initially on a month's loan. Nicholl was changing the composition of the squad as he put Stuart and Trevor Wood on the transfer list and Charlie Palmer too in an effort to obtain funds for other players. Derek Mountfield was drafted in and Stuart's days were numbered.
"I played in the first few games of the season and I thought Ade Viveash was a great signing. I saw Ade and me being a good partnership but I was left out again in the fringes. Derek Mountfield passed his medical and signed. Then came the move to Hereford. I was sad and gutted when I left Walsall. For 15 or 16 months I loved it there. The football, the players, the social, the fans - they were great to me. Could I have handled it better? Yes. Could Chris Nicholl have handled it better? Yes. Were we two men alike, personalities clashed? I was gutted when Kenny left. Chris Nicholl did not fancy me. I didn't want to leave, but I felt I had to. One thing I learned from that experience - treat players with respect. I uphold that now in my management career."
" I was sorry to hear of Chris's current plight. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. We did speak a couple of times some years later. I know Chris is held in the highest esteem by Walsall fans and rightly so. It was just unfortunate for me that we didn't get on at the time but its part and parcel of the game and was such a long time ago and it does go on at other clubs."
"I was signed by Graham Turner at Hereford and he was great. I linked up again with Dean Smith"
After 19 appearances for Hereford Stuart moved on to Mansfield Town in July, 1996 for whom he turned out 40 times. This was the start of a great spell for him as he held every position possible there.
Stuart's coaching and management career to be featured in the future.