Birmingham & Black Country

Walsall fans travel to Wembley for Johnstone's Paint Trophy final

Chloe, Kirsty and Alan Lycett Image copyright Picasa
Image caption Chloe, Kirsty and Alan Lycett are among thousands of Walsall fans at Wembley where their team will play for the first time in its 127-year history

Thousands of Walsall fans travelled Wembley to watch their club compete there for the first time in its 127-year history.

The League One team played Bristol City in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final.

It was one of the best-attended games in the UK this weekend, with more than 70,000 tickets sold - 30,000 to Walsall fans.

Bristol City won the match 2-0, becoming the first team to win the competition three times.

Image caption Graeme Brookes has walked 127 miles from Walsall to Wembley to raise money for Walsall Society for the Blind, in memory of his grandfather who was a big Saddlers fan

Before kick-off, Walsall manager Dean Smith, who began his playing career at the club, said: "You go into competitions all the time to go and win things.

"This is a cup final and there'll only be three cup winners this season in England and hopefully we've got a 50-50 chance to be one of them."

Former Aston Villa goalkeeper Nigel Spink was one of the hundreds of Walsall fans to drive down to Wembley on Sunday. He said spirits were good, although they became caught up in traffic close to Wembley Stadium.

Image copyright Nigel Spink
Image caption Nigel Spink and companions ready to set off for Wembley. They got stuck in traffic on the M40

Walsall had been one of just four of the 92 clubs in the top four divisions never to have played at Wembley. Their appearance in Sunday's final left Hartlepool United, Accrington Stanley and Crawley Town as the remaining three not to have been to the national stadium.

Image caption Thirty thousand tickets were sold to Walsall fans

Forty-six coaches taking fans to London left from a retail park next to Walsall's Bescot Stadium, along with other coaches from various venues in and around the town, the club said.

Image caption Former Walsall club captains Andy Butler and Martin O'Connor talk to BBC WM's Richard Wilford on Wembley Way

Fans travelling by rail were advised to give themselves plenty of time to get there due to engineering work on the Chiltern line between Birmingham and Wembley.

Image caption Phil Lloyd bought his hat for Walsall's play-off final in Cardiff at 2001 and kept hold of it, just in case

Fan Mike Olley said the team's "spectacular" away form led him to place a £50 bet on his team to win.

"I was at Barnsley last weekend which wasn't the greatest display, but really we do play very well away from home," he said.

"We've had some spectacular victories away this season and that's what's given me the confidence to put the bet on.

"I've worked out that my [Wembley] ticket has really cost me about 40p for every year of the 127 years we've not got to Wembley."

Image caption Walsall manager Dean Smith said he was very proud of his players

Phil Lloyd, 48, from Walsall, wearing a jester-type Saddlers hat, said he had bought the hat for the team's Second Division play-off final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in 2001.

"I kept onto it.

Image caption Laura and Glenys Thomas are from a big family of Walsall fans and were keen to get their picture taken by the Bobby Moore statue

"I have never been to Wembley."

Glenys Thomas, 50, of Walsall, travelled on a coach and said the atmosphere was "fantastic".

"Everyone was just so excited and having a laugh," she said.

"I have never been to Wembley before and we might not see this again in our lifetime."

Mayor of Walsall Pete Smith said what the manager had done for the town and club was "absolutely fantastic".

He said: "He must be a very proud man to be the first manager to take Walsall to Wembley in its 127-year history."

Dean Smith's son, Jamie, 17, who is hoping to earn a professional contract with the Saddlers, said: "(From) his first season when he went in charge and kept them up [in League One] to getting them to Wembley now is quite an astonishing achievement."

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