Walsall has long been associated with leather. ‘Saddlers’ is both the name of the town’s shopping centre and the nickname of its football team. The main local tourist attraction is the Leather Museum.
There you’ll find the very football, locally manufactured, that was used when Walsall FC famously beat the great Arsenal side of 1933 in the FA Cup. Apart from another couple of cup upsets, this 2-0 victory represents the main achievement of a club whose history dates back to the inaugural year of the Football League, 1888. Four years later, the then named Walsall Town Swifts were founder members of the Second Division.
A small market town until the Industrial Revolution, Walsall has long since been swallowed up in the sprawling West Midlands conurbation – Walsall’s neat, functional Bescot Stadium, aka Banks’s Stadium, stands in the shadow of a manic, clogged section of the M6, one of the busiest stretches of road in Europe.
One of the first of the wave of English new-builds, the ground replaced Fellows Park a quarter of a mile away. Now the site of a supermarket, Fellows Park was the Saddlers’ home for just under a century. The club had moved there from West Bromwich Road – WBA and Wolves remain Walsall’s longest-serving rivals, though the club’s near constant presence in the third flight since World War I means that in modern times, Shrewsbury and Port Vale have come to elicit more acrimony.
These days, it seems Walsall is on the up. The business park surrounding the Bescot reflects the more diverse, small-scale industry on which the area now survives.
Trains from London Euston (cheapest online singles £17) also require a change at Birmingham New Street.
Local Walsall Yellow Cars (01922 722 233) quotes £21 for a taxi from the airport to Walsall.
Several bus companies provide local transport in Walsall – see Network West Midlands.
The nearest hotel to Banks’s Stadium is the Park Inn, a mid-to-upper range chain in the Radisson group with its own bar and restaurants. It’s conveniently set on Bescot Crescent 50 metres behind the away end, directly across the car park.
Two more hotels are also handy for the stadium, set either side of the roundabout where Birmingham Road and Broadway meet. Metro Inns Walsall is part of a modest budget chain, newly refurbishment with a bar and restaurant while the County Hotel is a long-established, family-owned institution, popular for weddings. From Broadway, turn left down Alexandra Road to Bescot Crescent – or take bus No.637 from the roundabout.
North-east of Walsall, on leafy Lichfield Road, the Beverley is well run and nicely furnished, with its own bar and restaurant while slightly closer to town, the Daldrada (No.40, 01922 628 475) is a small budget B&B. For each, take bus Nos.8, 8A, 10 or 10A to Walsall bus station on St Paul’s Street then Nos.45 or 401E to the ground.
Set west of town by the M6 motorway, the Village Urban Resort caters to the business traveller with its state-of-the-art gym, pool and sauna, while on the other side of the roundabout is a Holiday Inn Express. From here to the stadium, take bus No.529 from Wolverhampton Road at the top of the slip road to St Paul’s Street in town, then the Nos.45 or 401E.
In town, close to St Paul’s Street bus station and a quick hop to the stadium by bus Nos.45 or 401E, The Pitch is a large modern chain sports bar. Round the corner, St Matthews Hall is a Wetherspoons set in a magnificent pillared building on Lichfield Road. Nearby on Darwall Street, the Tap & Tanner is a popular modern pub with TV football.
On Walsall High Street, the Black Country Arms offers traditional hand-pulled ales and live music.
Just north of the town centre by the Walsall Canal, the George Stephenson focuses on TV sports and twofer meal deals. It’s a family-friendly spot open from breakfast, with a nice wooded setting.
If you’re with the car or happy to get to town by bus or taxi, there are plenty of recommendable choices in Walsall’s immediate vicinity. In Pelsall, three miles east, the rural Railway Inn is a cosy place to watch the match over a fine ale. The Old House at Home is similarly rustic, and goes big on pub food.
Near Bloxwich station, the faux-Tudor Romping Cat (96-97 Elmore Green Road) has been recently refurbished to show off the cosy interior set within a Grade II listed building. Close by at No.60, the Spring Cottage is another traditional local.
In North Bloxwich near the golf club, One Man & His Dog is a sprawling, pleasant pub and restaurant on Turnberry Road.