Farewell to Bescott for Roger
It is an association that began back in June 1976 and has seen him spend exactly half of his working life with the club. "I have only ever been a Groundsman and began work in 1952 with Stewart & Lloyds in Bilston," he recalled. "I then moved on to Wednesbury Tube before returning to Stewart & Lloyds as Head Groundsman.
"I built up something of a reputation there and in 1971 was approached by Wolverhampton Wanderers FC. The job really appealed to me as they were a successful top-flight club at the time and, on the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. However at the end of the 1975/76 season I decided that it was time to move on and replied to an advert for the position of Groundsman at a 'West Midlands Football League club'.
"I didn't know which club it was when I applied, but soon found out that it was Walsall and was only too happy to accept the job."
It is a job that has developed over the years - and also saw him 'shared' with Birmingham City during the Ken Wheldon era of the mid-1980s - and culminated with him landing the title of Stadium Manager following our move to Bescot Stadium in 1990. "The job has changed a great deal over the years," he admitted. "At first I was just responsible for the upkeep of the pitch, but now, whilst the pitch has to take top priority, I am also responsible for maintaining the whole stadium, including the synthetic sports pitch and our pitch down the road in Delves.
"Luckily I have received a tremendous amount of help from my assistants Paul Mason and Andrew Perry. We have to work some long and unsociable hours, but the three of us get on extremely well and take great pride and enjoyment in what we do."
Naturally having spent so long with the club Roger has seen many ups and downs, many managers come and go and also had to develop a new pitch from scratch following our move from Fellows Park. "People often say that the Bescot Stadium pitch is not as good as the one at the old ground," he said. "But I believe that the pitch we have here can be as good as any in the country. The trouble is that it has so much wear on it these days, with the seasons seemingly getting longer.
"When I first arrived at Fellows Park the pitch was in a terrible state and I couldn't fail to improve upon it, but by the time we left in 1990 I had set a good standard and obviously moving to a new ground meant that I had to start all over again.
"But I was generally pleased with its development, that was until the summer of 2000 when I gave the go ahead for a 'revolutionary' new machine to be used upon it.
"With just three weeks to go until the start of the season it wrecked the pitch and almost wrecked me." The stresses and strains of the job started to take their toll on Roger as he carried the weight of blame on his shoulders. "It was actually a contractor who came in and got it wrong, but I was the person who brought them in and so I accepted the blame."
Looking back, this is one of very few down points throughout his time with The Saddlers. "Life is certainly never dull here," he admitted. "There have been some exciting promotion and relegation battles plus numerous Cup runs thrown in for good measure.
"I would say that the best was our League Cup run of 1983/84 when we made it to the semi-finals only to narrowly lose out to the mighty Liverpool over two legs after drawing at Anfield. It was such an exciting run with some truly memorable games, including a victory over Arsenal at Highbury."
There have also been many great players to set foot on Roger's pitches over the years, but which Walsall player does he rate as the best? His answer may surprise many of our supporters. "Kevin MacDonald was such a talented player," he said without hesitation. "Even though he was near the end of his playing career when he came here, his class still shone through. I am constantly surprised that he never gets the recognition he deserves for his performances for this club."
So what of the future? "I am really looking forward to my retirement and spending more time with my wife," he said. "50 years is a long time to work and no-one should have to work that long. I have no immediate plans, but I'll certainly be back here to watch games next season.
"I am leaving the pitch in safe hands. Paul Mason has been with me for ten years and is a good lad and a good worker."
The job has been a labour of love for Roger and he is bound to find it hard to let go. "My enthusiasm for the job has never waned. I have continued to keep comprehensive records of everything that has been done to the pitch, plus weather conditions, on a daily basis going right back to 1976, and I expect it will take some time to adjust to retirement.
"But it will be nice not to have the worries that come with the job. I have a responsibility to look after my health and spend plenty of quality time with my wife and family.
"It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience working for the club; it is such a friendly place with some great people involved and the fact that we have managed to maintain our first division status is a fantastic retirement present."
Article reproduced by kind permission of Walsall Football Club