The Life And Times Of Chris Marsh.

Chris Marsh was born in Sedgley on January 14th, 1970 and went on to make 478 first team appearances scoring 30 goals at first team level for Walsall from 1988 to 2001 in a variety of positions even playing in goal on a few occasions. He was discovered by scout Steve Joesbury and Chris takes up the story and his early years at Fellows Park... " I played for Brierley Hill and Dudley schoolboys and the West Midlands County. I was 15 and had three options. Coventry (Funnily enough!) Aston Villa and Walsall. You have to sum up your chances of making it. I had faith in my ability but Walsall seemed such a friendly club and it proved to be a great decision. I signed YTS forms and Alan Buckley and Garry Pendrey were very good to me. When Tommy Coakley came in he believed in me and after a couple of good performances for the reserves in the Midland Intermediate League I was thrilled to come on as sub against Rotherham United and I thought I had scored within seconds of coming on. I dummied past a defender and struck a left foot shot that went in. I went numb as I thought I'd scored but David Kelly came over and said it had been ruled out as Trevor Christie was in an offside position. I was just 17." There was an eight month wait for his full debut and it was at the ground where he had watched his early heroes play - The Hawthorns... " I made my full debut at West Bromwich Albion and was so pleased with myself for getting my chance there, of all places, and what is now at Championship level. I used to go and watch the Albion with my dad and my grandfather, who used to play for the Baggies in the 1930's.

There was another 7 starts and 10 further appearances coming off the bench for young Chris in that season that saw Saddlers relegated back to the 3rd division. In the February of that 88-89 season John Barnwell had took over and of Barney, Chris noted, "He was good to me although he never played me for such a long time. Then In October 1989 he threw me into the left back berth - a position I'd never previously played in! That was a Friday night game at Tranmere Rovers. He kept me in for another couple of games then I was out in the cold again. I did wonder if I would have any future as it was towards the end of my contract - but he gave me a new two year deal."

Chris played in the last ever league game at Fellows Park against Rotherham United and said he had many happy memories from the old place and from his YTS days and remembers helping Roger Johnson tending the pitch as well as doing all the menial tasks he had to carry out in those days. Kenny Hibbitt arrived in the summer of 1990 and Chris played in the historic first ever league game at Bescot Stadium v. Torquay United. Under Hibbitt he became a first team regular and Chris spoke highly of his new boss..."He had no money to play with, was new to management and of course came with having a fantastic playing career. He got a bit frustrated with us at times because we were nowhere as good as he was but he was a good coach. It showed what he was up against when he was signing the likes of Colin Methven for just £2,500. Colin was a terrific player and we had players like Scot Ollerenshaw who was underrated."

In the early part of his time at Bescot, Chris was singled out by a section of the crowd and he remembers, "I had the season of hell from them. When the team line up was announced - No1 Ron Green ( cheers) No 2 Chris Marsh BOOOO! and the rest of the team had cheers. It hurt me especially as I had family members sitting in the stand listening to it. But I won them over and came out at the other end as I was determined to be a better player. But what I will say, it is part of football and I'm really proud to say I turned it around with the fans. It's really strange because I'm glad it happened, strangely enough. It made me a better player and when I go back these days it makes me so proud when the fans tell me they liked watching me play."

There were three or four occasions when Jimmy Walker was injured and sent off in games and he got his wish to play in goal... "I said to goalkeeper coach Mick Kearns, 'Its a piece of piss (being in goal), I don't know what all the fuss is about!' He said Ok , you can come and train with the keepers on Monday.' I never felt so tired as I did that day. But I loved every minute of being in goal in the matches."

"There was talk of a £300,000 dream move to Liverpool. Ron Yeats was their scout who really seemed keen on me and they must have watched me 20 times (from October 1992 onwards) but I had a cartilage twist and I thought I'd blown my chances. However there was a telephone call from Yeats assuring me to get fit and they would still be interested and they would do a deal at the end of the season. Unfortunately their manager, Graeme Souness, was sacked at the end of that season and that was that, the deal that was about to happen was off. It was like winning the lottery but losing your ticket!

In 1994 Hibbitt lost his job and was replaced by Chris Nicholl whom Chris has so much respect for... "Big Chris was the best manager I ever played under. He was such an imposing old school manager. I would say he was intimidating but very fair. He said to us all , ' as long as you give me 110% you will be alright. If you try something on the pitch that don't come off - I don't care. What I want from you is to give me sweat, blood and snot!" Under Nicholl, Walsall were promoted in his first season in charge and Chris started 44 games in all competitions. One of his goals that stick in the memory is his splendid goal against Leeds United in the FA Cup. There was a successful testimonial season against his beloved West Brom in May 1997 and his testimonial year also included a cricket match at Gorway

Ray Graydon was the next in the Bescot hot seat after Nicholl's departure. The 3-1 home win over Oldham Athletic in 1998-9 sealed our promotion to the second tier and 'Marshy' scored our second goal, that effectively clinched promotion, in that never to be forgotten day. The 2000-1 season had been indifferent for Chris and he knew his time at Walsall FC was drawing to an end..."My season was stop start partly down to injury and also indifferences with Ray Graydon and I asked to be put on the transfer list in January 2001. My wish was granted and I joined Wycombe Wanderers in the March. Sir Ray got rid of me and it was probably the right decision. I was getting old and picking up loads of injuries. Walsall got 30 grand which I knew would help them so no hard feelings my end. I have nothing but total respect for Ray - an absolute gentleman."

The deal was announced the day before the transfer deadline and brought to the end of his Walsall career in which he made 478 first team appearances scoring 30 goals. However it soon became apparent to Chris that manager Laurie Sanchez's style of play wasn't for him... "Sanch had a two step rule - step one trap the ball. Step two boot it up the field. I said to him, 'Are you having a laugh?!' I played the ball out as I'd always done and he barked out at me, 'I dare you to do it again.' I did and he brought me off." Chris was destined to play just 12 games at the back of that season as there was a call from a familiar team mate..

"Kevin Wilson, who was manager of Northampton Town, came in for me and although I had to take a drop in wages I was happy to sign as I wanted to play football. I had a good couple of years there but was released in 2003 . There was a call from Roy Mc Farland who was in charge at Chesterfield who said see how you go but I knew that pushing 34 I didn't really want to do my self an injustice and decided to call it a day." Chris made 43 FL appearances for The Cobblers. So in total Chris played around 540 senior games for his three clubs and would have played more if not for injuries in his final few years.

After football, Chris tried his hand at a number of business interests with various degrees of success. There was also coaching spells for him in Australia and America. There was one dark period - just before Christmas of 2017 - when he suffered a brain haemorrhage. In his own words, "I was 12 hours from death." Thankfully he recovered and Saddlers fans enjoyed his weekly column in the Express and Star when he didn't hold back and his opinions were well received by supporters. Then came a call from another ex- Saddler to offer him employment.. "I had a call from Robbo (Mark Robins) asking me to be Coventry City's kit man. I was delighted to be back in the game and I only lived about a mile from the training ground."

Chris Marsh, affectionately known as the 'Step Over' King by Saddlers fans, will always be remembered for his versatility, honest 100% effort and sense of fun - remember the time he 'stole' the minibus when Tom Bradley left it running at Lilleshall and to cheer the lads up hid it behind a bush?! Tom and Sir Ray thought it had been stolen! Graydon fined him a fortnight's wages but the incident certainly gave everyone else a laugh!

ISSA would like to thank Marshy for his time and co-operation and hope to see him 'back home' at an event in the future.

Manager Chris Nicholl with the 'Step Over' King Chris Marsh.

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