By Tony Dewhurst
A goalkeepers job is perhaps the most taxing one in football, the most dangerous and sometimes the least glamorous, because it is an established fact that the best of them make the job look easy and only when they make a mistake are they noticed.
For a decade Mick Kearns was Walsall's first choice 'keeper and his thirty year association with the npower League 1 club sees him remain an integral figure at The Banks's Stadium as Community Manager and Goalkeeping Coach.
"Somebody told me the other day I'm the second longest serving Community Manager in England, and I'm as proud of that as what I achieved in my career with Walsall and Ireland," he said.
Kearns took charge of Walsall's community project in 1989, when the Saddlers were playing half a mile away from their current home at Fellows Park, now the site of a supermarket on the edge of Spaghetti Junction.
"There's a tremendous enduring value in the community scheme, but at some clubs I think it is tolerated rather than them embracing what is a wonderful concept.
"Walsall Football Club has always embraced the community project.
"I go to the Walsall board and say, 'I've got this idea and they tell me, 'Go and do it Mick.'
"They have always seen how it fits together, that powerful link between the community and what goes on out there on the pitch."
He added: "It is a hugely important social tool. We create an interest in the town in Walsall Football Club via a schools or health project for people to come here on a Saturday.
"Our philosophy, and the way that I drive my staff, is that the children are the most important people in anything that we do.
"I can walk past the Family Stand on a match day and there are the children of parents we saw when the scheme started, and that's special for me because it is a fresh generation of Walsall fans.
"Coaches can inspire people and hopefully I've done that with this community scheme too."
Kearn's Community Officer Adam Davy jokes that a handshake from Kearns, a friendly bear of a man, would leave you needing an appointment at Accident and Emergency.
"Mick is not only a great figure head of Walsall's community programme and Walsall's most capped player - but has enormous respect in the town," said Davy.
"I suppose it is quite an old fashioned scheme, but that has never held us back in terms of what we do in the community.
"We keep football at the heart of what we do and we've built massively strong connections with the schools and colleges.
"We've Wolverhampton Wanderers, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and Birmingham City very close by, and we've got an average attendance of 3,500 fans and a 12,000 capacity stadium, so we've got to work very hard to keep those connections with the community strong."
Mention the possibility of retirement to Kearns, who sits as a local magistrate, is a member of the FA Disciplinary Panel and can regularly be heard on local radio commentating on Walsall's fortunes and coaches ever day, Kearns just smiles.
"I remember the first community training session we put on, there was 92 kids and a bag of footballs," said Kearns.
"Now we employ 22 people that are directly involved with Walsall's community scheme.
"We want the children to leave with a smile on their face so that they are looking forward to coming next time."
Kearns, who won 22 caps for Ireland, says Gordon Banks was the finest goalkeeper he ever saw.
"Banks would make routine saves that would be out of this world for others," he said.
"Confidence and resilience are the two most important attributes - and not conceding is all goalkeepers think about.
"If you finish a game without letting a goal in, it is like an outfield player scoring a hat-trick.
"It may not fill you with as much joy, but that's all you strive for.
"Working as Walsall's Community manager has brought me a lot of joy, and I still enjoy every minute of it."
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