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Obituary: Tommy Walker
Tommy Walker, footballer, football manager, born Livingston Station West Lothian 26 May 1915, married 1937 Jean Symington (one son, one daughter), died Edinburgh 11 January 1993.
TOMMY WALKER was my childhood idol; and the idol of thousands of children in Edinburgh and the Lothians.
The greatest inside-forward of the age, 1935-48, Walker was not. Nor would it have occurred to this genuinely modest man to have laid any such claim. His contemporaries 'Raich' Carter, of Sunderland, Derby County and England, and Peter Doherty, of Derby County and Ireland, were endowed with even greater ball skill; Wilf Mannion, of Middlesbrough and England, and Billy Steel, of Greenock Morton, Derby County, and Scotland had even more electricity in their play; Stanley Mortensen, of Blackpool and England, and Jimmy Duncanson, of Rangers and Scotland, more fire-power with head and foot. Yet, particularly when partnered by Jimmy Delaney, of Celtic, Manchester United, and Scotland, on the right wing, Walker was in the first international rank.
Had it not been for the Second World War, he would certainly have won many more than the 21 international caps that came his way, when internationals were sparser than in the modern era.
Walker was born of a shale- mining family in Livingston Station, a village in West Lothian, now swallowed up in the New Town of Livingston. Shale-miners had a vigorous loyalty to one another, and this was a quality which Walker displayed to fellow-players, both on the field and as a manager.
It was on a Saturday afternoon at Wembley, in April 1936, that Walker became an indelible Scottish hero. England had scored. Scotland were a goal down. Then, Eddie Habgood, the Arsenal and England captain, uncharacteristically conceded a penalty. Walker, not yet 21 years of age, stepped forward to take it.
In his book One Hundred Years of Scottish Football, the late John Rafferty graphically recalls what then occurred: 'It was a windy day. He placed the ball on the spot and stepped back. It was blown off. He replaced it and as he moved to take the kick it was blown off again. The crowd were silent, guessing that one so young must be at breaking point . . . Again the ball was placed, firmly driven into the ground and it stayed. Tommy Walker shot the equalising goal as if it were a practice match.'
Though the nerve-wracking aspect of Walker's 'ordeal' was what put that penalty at Wembley 1936 into football lore, the reality as revealed by Walker himself was rather less dramatic. 'I cannot even remember at what end of the ground the penalty kick was given,' he said, 'but I do remember vaguely the ball rolling off the spot. I just replaced it, and hit it.'
In April 1938, Walker was back at Wembley with the Scots to score the single goal which beat England, and put Walker firmly into the pantheon of heroes who had confronted the Auld Enemy.
Then Hitler intervened. Walker, thinking of becoming a Church of Scotland Minister, volunteered for the Royal Corps of Signals, and went to India, where he was one of the stars of Combined Services Football. Years later, Walker told me that his friends of the Fourteenth Army had given him a far deeper perspective to life. Indeed, on his return to Britain, he seriously contemplated studying for the Ministry of the Church of Scotland, and continuing the study in theology, on which he had embarked in 1937. Events and the need to support a family took him to Chelsea Football Club rather than the ministry, but Walker was active in the work of St George's West Church in Edinburgh throughout his life.
In October 1944, Matthews, Carter, Lawton, Hagan, and Denis Compton had laid waste to the Scottish defence at Maine Road, Manchester, scoring eight goals without reply. Things were a little better at Wembley in February 1945, in another wartime international, when England trounced Scotland 6-2.
So in the days, when it was safe for a 13- year-old to squeeze into the terracing of a crowd of 137,000 at Hampden Park, in Glasgow, I went along thinking there was 'nae chance'. But, Walker was back from India, recalled after six years to the Scottish team, and partnered by Jimmy Delaney. Early in the match, he started the move which ended in the diminutive Hibernian winger Jimmy Caskie putting the ball past Frank Swift, and scoring the opening goal. The Hampden Roar exploded as never before or since.
The last time I saw Walker play was in the blue and white, not of Scotland, but of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, when the inside trio of forwards was Walker, Tommy Lawton and Len Goulden. Walker once told me that Goulden was the best partner he ever had in a 'W' formation.
In 1948, Walker returned to be assistant manager of Hearts, and then to succeed the legendary David Maclean as manager of the Heart of Midlothian Football Club, where he had started as a player. As at Chelsea, as a player, Walker recognised the crucial role of the inside trio. Heaven presented him with the memorable 'terrible trio' of Alfie Conn, Willie Bauld, and Jimmy Wardhaugh, who thrilled the citizens of Edinburgh and the Lothians, not only with their goal tally, but their artistry. For a decade, Hearts supporters found life bliss. Last week, Walker's captain, Bobby Parker, reflected: 'It was certainly Tommy Walker's team. My recollection is of Mr Walker's tremendous influence on me and the other young players.'
In the 17 years he managed Hearts, Walker took them to two Scottish League Championships, one Scottish Cup and four League Cup Wins, at a time when Celtic, Aberdeen and Rangers had formidable teams. In the opinion of my father-in-law, John Wheatley, who, albeit sitting in the Appeal Court, and not in a football position, knew the Scottish scene intimately well, Walker was a first-class manager. He believed in encouraging free expression on the field, and applauding individuality.
In the 1960s, more efficiently drilled teams won the honours, and Walker resigned with dignity as manager of Hearts. From 1974 to 1980, he was invited back to the board of directors of his beloved club, having had a spell with Raith Rovers at Kirkcaldy, Dunfermline Athletic, and scouting for Sheffield United.
Wheatley would often say that Walker had been particularly helpful in the formulation of the Government Report he was asked to make, following the Ibrox Disaster, on Crowd Control. Walker was shrewd and charitable in his judgements. He would ascribe such success as he had to a wonderful wife and family.
Shortly after I was elected as an MP, I was interviewed by the editor of the Linlithgow Gazette, a shrewd elderly owl. 'And who was your hero?' 'Frankly, Tommy Walker.' 'That', he mused, 'shows good taste in people]'
Contrary to what was printed in his obituary (19 January), Tommy Walker had no daughter. He is survived by his wife, Jean, and son, Tom.