Ha'Way Back When: How ex-Walsall ace Will Grigg went from non-league scoring sensation to international fame and Sunderland spotlight

Cast your mind back to the summer of 2013, long before THAT chant, and Will Grigg was at a crucial juncture.

By Mark Donnelly
Saturday, 16 March, 2019, 09:45
Sunderland striker Will Grigg was previously an academy graduate at Walsall

Grigg, then a promising youngster at Walsall, enjoyed a breakthrough season in the Black Country as he netted twenty goals for the Saddlers.

That form saw him offered a four-year deal by the club that had plucked him from non-league and nurtured his progression - but he turned it down to sign for League One rivals Brentford.

During his time at the club, Grigg was likened to former Walsall product Troy Deeney - who went on to star for Watford in the Premier League.

The striker was plucked from non-league outfit Stratford Town in 2008, turning down the chance of a scholarship with West Bromwich Albion to join the Saddlers.

He made his first-team debut in December of the same year, in a 0-0 draw with Cheltenham, but it came as little shock to Grigg.

“I made my debut at Cheltenham when I was still in my second year with the youth team,” he reflected.

“But I had been training for most of the year with the first team so felt part of it.”

First-team opportunities were forthcoming on an occasional basis from them on, with the frontman not nailing down a regular starting place until the 2012/13 campaign.

And when the chance came, Grigg grasped it with both hands - netting 20 times in 45 appearances in what proved to be a watershed season in his career.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

After such a fine year, there was talk of Premier League interest. Southampton, Aston Villa and Norwich City were all linked with a swoop before Grigg opted to snub Walsall’s attractive offer to join Brentford.

But there will be no bad blood when Grigg once again locks horns with his former employers at the Stadium of Light this weekend.

The striker parted on good terms when he departed six years ago, and the Saddlers pocketed a tidy fee of up to £500,000 after a tribunal ruled that the Bees would have to shell out for the future Northern Ireland international.

Then-manager Dean Smith, who later went on to manage Brentford himself, was far from disappointed with Grigg - instead feeling his agent had failed him.

“We've worked extremely hard on Will. We started negotiating a new deal with him many months ago, we've had a number of chats over the phone and offered him the best contract we've ever offered to a player in this league.

"Reports that I was angry about it are miles away from it.

"I was just disappointed that his agent hasn't done better for him. I thought he could have got Will into the Championship."

Grigg would eventually progress into the Championship, earning promotion with the London-based side before later firing Wigan Athletic to the second tier.

Now he’s aiming to do the same with Sunderland - and some goals against his former side wouldn’t go amiss as the Black Cats aim for the top two.