When 19 year-old Gary Childs joined Walsall initially for a one month loan from West Bromwich Albion in October 1983 few eyebrows were raised by Walsall fans. Little did we know that Alan Buckley and Gary Pendrey had their sights on the midfielder for some time. Albion team mate, experienced goalkeeper Tony Godden, also signed loan forms on the same day. Gary had a few outings in WBA's first team and had won England Youth honours whilst at The Hawthorns which Gary and his parents are very proud of. His debut came in a 1-0 win at Rotherham United slotting in perfectly along side David Preece and Craig Shakespeare in such a youthful midfield that became the focal point of Buckley's brilliant Walsall side in that era. I caught up with Gary and asked him on how The Buck influenced him to sign...
" I had originally chosen to sign for WBA due to the homely feel of the club. Having played there for the first team the previous season I felt frustrated by the lack of opportunities under manager Ron Wylie. When Alan Buckley came in for me, initially on loan, I was told by Albion to go and gain more experience before returning to push hard for a place back in their first team."
"Before I signed for Walsall Football Club, I had only heard good things about Alan Buckley and his style of play and his footballing beliefs. For Alan to show the confidence in me to play for the team was in turn a big confidence boost for me. Knowing he liked the way I played the game was the icing on the cake. I got the same feeling signing for Walsall - such a homely club. Speaking to Alan I knew I would enjoy it After playing a few games I was ready to commit myself to Alan's team and was delighted to be given the chance to pursue my career at Walsall."
Gary settled into the team so well and was getting rave reviews for his consistent performances in the Third Division and also played his part in the super show of the 2-0 win at Second Division Barnsley in the Milk Cup, with the reward being a home tie against rivals Shrewsbury Town , who were 9th in the Second Division. Gary became the hero of Walsall when he hammered home a terrific 25 yarder in the 86th minute to earn his club a trip the Highbury too face Arsenal in the last 16 of the competition.
The local papers came up with headlines like 'Gary glitters with late goal as Walsall deliver KO punch' and 'Childs first is a Saddlers screamer.' It certainly was a nice way for him to open his Walsall goal account. After the game Gary expressed his wish to sign on a full time basis at Fellows Park. He got his wish and in his book 'Pass And Move - My Story' Alan Buckley wrote of his new signing, "I thought that Gary would be a great addition to the squad. He was young, hungry and skilful and would certainly enhance the way I wanted to play the game. Gary cost just £15,000 and was a great signing."
After a brilliant October, in which Buckley had won the Manager of The Month award, November saw that fantastic 2-1 win at Arsenal in the Milk Cup and two wins and draws in the League as momentum built on not only the midfield but how the whole team were functioning. Before another memorable night at Rotherham in the Milk Cup, Gary scored another brilliant goal at Deepdale, where his cracking 30 yard drive in the 12th minute proved to be the match winner against Preston. Gary played his part in the fine 4-2 win at Millmoor and by the time we reached the Semi Final with Liverpool , The Saddlers were now top of the table and on the crest of a wave. Around this time Gary made history in being the first Saddler to score in what was then the Associated Members Cup, in a 3-1 win v. Northampton Town.
Nobody will ever forget that night at Anfied in the first leg and an extended highlights edition of Match Of The Day showed the nation what Walsall were all about. Gary recalled that night with immense pride, "Playing in the Semi Final first leg at Anfield with Walsall that night was one of my finest moments in football - right up there with my First Division debut and my England youth caps previously. To run out to that famous 'This is Anfield ' sign to hear the roar and see the amazing travelling Walsall support brings a tingle to me even now. It was a fantastic result against such talented players and in their back yard too."
Alan went for Kevin Summerfield for the return leg at Fellows Park with Gary on the bench. When asked for an overview of that 1983-4 season, Gary replied, "Looking back now, I felt as a young pro that the 83-4 season was so long what with all the league and cup games we had to play and the emotion of that Milk Cup run left me physically and emotionally drained. I personally felt that I had played my heart out and found it all so hard."
1984-5 saw more Milk Cup memorable ties with Coventry and Chelsea along with the following saw Gary being a first team regular and yet another was the 7-3 demolition of Preston in the FA Cup in which he notched two goals. He helped guide the team to 6th spot - the season before the play offs were introduced. It came as a massive blow to everyone when Alan Buckley and Garry Pendrey lost their jobs at Fellows Park and although Gary played 25 league games under Tommy Coakley at the start of his tenure he missed out on the cup games against Birmingham and Watford and it became clear that he wasn't really at the forefront of Coakley's mind and he moved to Birmingham City in the summer of 1987 for a £21,500 transfer to link up again with Garry Pendrey who was Blues manager.
Of his Walsall departure, Gary observed, "Tommy Coakley was a nice man but left 90% of the coaching to Gerry Sweeney I didn't feel enough confidence was shown in me by them in what I had to offer which led to my departure at the end of that season and go and work for Garry again. It was still a wrench to leave Fellows Park but I felt I had no choice having felt the golden days had gone with Alan's departure". Gary's record for Walsall was 23 goals in 184 games.
He played for Blues 55 times in his spell at St Andrews but then in 1989 came a call from Mr Buckley who was now at Grimsby and Gary takes up the story, "Me joining Grimsby was a no brainer as Alan was the only manager who really got me and appreciated what I was capable of completely. His strength was drilling his sides so they knew their jobs precisely into playing the game on the floor. It made the game simple but effective and he had the knack of putting well balanced teams together who could do exactly as he wanted. Alan took no prisoners though, and if you didn't carry out his orders you certainly knew about it. I use a lot of ethics and beliefs in my coaching now so you could say I believed in what he did strongly."
Gary was instrumental in helping Grimsby to two successive promotions in his first two seasons at Blundell Park and remained there until 1997 playing in 233 FL games for them and bagging 26 goals. In total playing in around 300 games for The Mariners and in all first team career games for his four clubs played in over 500 games. He joined Wisbech Town and later Boston Town. He also had a spell as Community Officer at Grimsby before settling into his current roll of Sports Development Manager at Grimsby Institute Of Further And Higher Education. He has also been involved in property development too.