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Six months ago Brentford ‘poached’ Will Grigg from Walsall and all hell broke loose. As we ease into the 2nd half of the season, things seem to have calmed down a bit with Brentford sitting top of the league, Walsall playing decent football and dislodging big spending Peterborough from the final playoff place.

BillytheBee caught up with Vital Walsall editor Kev Paddock (@VitalWalsall) and chewed the fat over Febian Brandy’s return, Walsall’s impending playoff final with Wolves and how he’s fighting homophobia in football.

What was your first match?

A few of my family live in Northampton and on the weekend when we went to visit, Walsall were playing there (don’t think there was any coincidence, my dad planned it well!) so we decided to go to the then Northampton cricket ground.
When we arrived I remember seeing a huge mole hill in our goal area, very similar to the sleeping policemen that knacker the suspension on your car! – Football pitches and stadiums were so much better back then.
We won 1-0 thanks to a goal by Rodney Macdonald….and then I was hooked.
My sister was born not long after and I had chance to name her..but my folks didnt think Rodney was appropriate for a girl!

We played you guys at the beginning of the season and we ground out a 1-0 win. Our season got worse from there before getting better whereas you guys seem to have been fairly consistent – with many other fans saying you are playing decent football. Are you pleased with how your season has been going?

I couldn’t be happier. We have one of the smallest budgets in League 1 yet we find ourselves out playing some of the more free spending sides. Our victories over Wolves and Peterborough are the most memorable.

The average age of our squad is 24 and the way we play football is the right way. I think I can count on one hand the amount of times our possession for the whole 90 minutes has dipped below 60%.

Then you throw in the fact we have conceded less that 1 goal a game, speaks highly for a youthful team. Currently we sit 6th in League 1 and whilst we can dream of a play off against Wolves, I will be more cautious and wait until April before getting excited!

Has manager Dean Smith and Walsall fans got over his bitterness over Will Grigg leaving yet?

He will find out on Saturday! Joking aside I honestly don’t think Will Grigg was liked by a lot of Walsall fans even when he was here, he was the boo boy target two years ago so a move to a team in our division didnt go down too well!

He hasn’t scored many for you guys so the bitterness has eased off! – Saying that though he will probably score on Saturday!

Dean Smith has openly said how much he likes Will Grigg as a person and Ginger Mourinho is too much of a nice guy to be bitter.

What are the odds of Smithy mentioning “Brentford’s budget” in his pre-match interview? I’ll give you 5 to 1 on

Its certain! The folk of Walsall – Smith included – are brought up having to work hard for a living and at the moment Walsall has been hit badly by the economy crisis so to see their football club able to compete. It gives the folk of Walsall a belief that they can fight on so to speak.

With the budget etc I think Dean Smith is head and shoulders above the rest in this league.

I’m envious of Brentford’s budget and plans of a new stadium. It is exciting times to be a Brentford fan and as normal Walsall will fall behind. But we continue to make profit each season and would rather have a long future ahead of us than “going for the dream” like Portsmouth then spending years afterwards trying to survive. Whilst our club is ran by Jeff Bonser we will have a football club.

Getting Febian Brandy back on loan from Sheffield Utd is a great bit of business from Mr Smith there. Let them pay his wages and loan him back paying a fraction of that weekly fee. Brentford have just signed Alan Judge from Blackburn and highly rated Chuba Akpom from Arsenal on loan and a possible defender before the weekend. Any other activity for you guys in the window?

Signing Brandy has had a 50/50 split from Walsall fans. Some were happy to see him back, some even booed him when he came on Tuesday night.

Brandy will terrorise defenders when he can be bothered and to get him cheaper than last season is quite nice and gives us chance to find a proven goal scorer! We have scored just 27 times this season and our front man Westcarr has gone a little stale recently, we are linked to Stephen Elliott.

Alan Judge was a fantastic signing! I remember him scoring against us for Notts County a few years ago and completely terrorised our defence. With him, Clayton Donaldson and Saunders, you guys are promoted already!

Lalkovic is a class player. He’ll be going into battle with his Chelsea team-mate George Saville on Saturday which should be interesting.

Milan is a match winner. If the game is scruffy and needs a moment of brilliance then he’s your man. He doesn’t track back which would p@ss me off as an ex full back but when he goes forward its good to watch!

Apart from Milan we have Paul Downing at the heart of the defence – he will be a championship defender before too long – hopefully with us! Our team isn’t the same without “the general” Adam Chambers, all our work goes through him and he very rarely wastes a pass. As well as the grit and determination we have Romaine Sawyers, very skilful and tricky! Watch out for him and Milan!

Tomas Hitzelberger recently came out claiming homosexuality isn’t a serious topic for discussion in England, Germany or Italy. You were subjected to homophobic abuse by ex-Walsall defender Manny Smith on twitter who was eventually fined by the FA. I know in the end Smith apologised but didn’t that really p@ss you off?

At the time it happened I was seriously thinking of pulling the plug on the 25 years of supporting Walsall, as my hard earned money was contributing to his wages. However as I got talking to Manny I realised that it wasn’t malicious by him but a lack of understanding and education from the hierarchy within football as to what words were acceptable to use. That’s why I decided to try and make more people aware of diversity within sport, mainly football.

Is the type of banter like “You should be playing in pink” and “Does your boyfriend think you’re here” sung to Brighton fans humorous harmless fun or do you think it puts of potential mates of yours from coming to matches as it makes them feel uncomfortable?

It’s not directed at me so I don’t feel uncomfortable and neither would friends. However, there is no place for it in the “beautiful game”, racism is very rare on the terraces now and homophobia will soon be.

I know the clubs and authorities say “We don’t condone homophobic chanting and will take action” but in reality is this enough? I’m black and despite the reassurances, many of my friends still refuse to come to games because they say the environment occasionally makes them feel uncomfortable. Whether they are right or wrong to feel that way is irrelevant as the reality is they have made a decision for whatever reason not to spend their money on the gate. Surely from an business perspective, it’s up to the clubs to go all out to tackle these issues head-on, going out of their way to make groups of fans who may not traditionally attend matches feel extra welcome?

Absolutely. Clubs are often hiding behind the FA or FIFA and expect them to do something to follow suit but the clubs need to act and act now! I know there are “One game, one community” and “kick it out” campaigns but clubs will often only opt in once a season when the annual event comes around.

I have tried to push open sessions to talk to football fans and clubs directly to raise issues but it fell on deaf ears. However in defence of the clubs I can see an increase in bans for improper conduct by supporters and long may it continue!

I remember meeting Justin Fashanu when he played for Hibs in the 90s in an Edinburgh night club. We had gone up there on one of our many Brentford trips to Falkirk. He was an angry young man and believed that the system had let him down. Interestingly, there have been no playing players come out since Fashanu – why is that?

Fear. it can only be that. I think the difference is now we are more accepting to someone being gay.

We have recently had Robbie Rogers and Tomas Hitzelsperger come out but both had to wait until they retired to do so. They both put it down to not knowing until later life but its the fear of stepping onto the football pitch that stops them. Imagine 20,000 fans knowing something about you like that. You would have no place to hide and it would affect your performance and career. Hopefully one day a sportsman/woman coming out wont need to be headline news!

Interestingly a survey by Univ of Staffordshire said that 90% of fans wouldn’t hold any hostility to a player coming out and would back him fully if he played for their team. On the flip side, the FA tried to shoot an anti-homophobia video but couldn’t get any players to endorse it so they cancelled it. Isnt it a bit of chicken and egg here?

Yes it is. However the survey was mis-informative, as most supporters would back their player however if he played for opposition then the feeling wouldn’t be so forgiving.

The FA now need to go back to Robbie Rogers and Tomas Hitzelsperger and make the video using those two. They are seen as role models within football now and many of the gay community warm to that idea.

You personally play a pro-active role in promoting diversity in football. Have things got better on the Walsall terraces?

When I first had the incident with Manny Smith it wasn’t because I was gay that led to abit of a backlash. It was the fact that I had brought the public eye to Walsall at a time when we were fighting relegation.

Luckily we stayed up and the criticism has died down but I can honestly say I haven’t heard one derisory comment from any Saddler for years. We aren’t a bad bunch!

You organised a football match between football supporters groups which helped highlight homophobia within the “beautiful game”. Is there anything else that fans can do?

Last season I arranged a match between our own supporters trust side and the largest LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) side from the Midlands. It was a major success and made some of our own supporters understand they gay community a lot more. It was something that I wanted to do on a national level however I hit a brick wall as many supporters trust sides didn’t want to take part.

Back to the weekend, head to head, Brentford are way ahead at the moment winning 34 games to the Walsall’s 22 with 20 games drawn. Do you think can buck the trend?

It will be tough! Brentford are the best side in League 1 and given our record against you, it will be our hardest challenge this season im stopping the Buzzing Bee’s (sorry had to use that at some point!)

However Saturdays game will be a tester for us and a benchmark to what level we find ourselves at.

We have had a few draws lately against you so I would take another on Saturday.

Give us a score prediction

1 -1. Donaldson for you guys as he always scores against us and Sawyers for us deep into the second half.

Give us a 1, 2 and playoff winner prediction

1. Brentford
2. Preston
Play Off Winner – Walsall, of course. Beating Wolves in the final!

Where do you recommend away fans hang out out pre-match?

Many fans tend to drink in the pubs around New St station but if not, The Saddlers club can be found on the car park of the stadium and is a friendly atmosphere – will need to pay 50p to get in though!

The Parkbrook is located around the corner from the Stadium and has relatively cheap beer.

If you venture away from the stadium and into town there’s a pub called The Starting Gate that is supposed to be haunted!

Thanks to Kev for a keeping us abreast of all the latest news and views from Walsall. You can catch him in twitter – @vitalwalsall or check out the Vital Walsall website for news and banter