Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The Tragedy Of Dick Walker

Reproduced here with kind permission is the story of Billy Walker by historian John Simkin. For further fascinating insights into the history of West Ham United you should check out the Spartacus Educational site...

The case of Dick Walker is one of the most distressing in West Ham's history. Charles Richard (Dick) Walker was born in Hackney on 22nd July 1913. The family moved to Dagenham when he was a child and after leaving school he played football for Becontree Athletic. In 1932 Walker was spotted by one of West Ham's scouts. After an extended trial he signed for the club in 1933. He made his debut as right-half against Burnley in August, 1934. He played two more games that season.

Walker made his debut as right-half against Burnley in August, 1934. It was not until the 1936-37 season that Walker replaced Jim Barrett at centre half and became a regular member of the West Ham United team. In the 1937-38 season Walker played in 32 of the 42 league games. The following season he played 43 league and cup games and some journalists thought that he was good enough to play for England.

Walker held his place in the team up until the outbreak of the Second World War. According to Tony Hogg, the author of Who's Who of West Ham United (2005): "Had it not been for the war it is highly probable that he would have been capped for England and also challenged Jimmy Ruffell's appearance record for Hammers."

Most professional footballers were given the opportunity to become Physical Training instructors in the British Army. However, Walker decided to volunteer for active service. Promoted to the rank of sergeant he served with an infantry battalion who fought from El Alamein to Italy and was several times mentioned in dispatches. He also represented the Army at football while in the Middle East.

After the war he replaced Charlie Bicknell as captain of the club. Ken Brown lived in the same road in Dagenham as Walker: "He was a wonderful man. I lived in the same street as him. The kids would watch him walk the length of the road to where his mum lived and we would look out of the window and be amazed that this was Dick Walker!"

In August 1950 Ted Fenton took over from Charlie Paynter as manager of West Ham United. Walker clashed with Fenton. "I didn't like him and he didn't like me". Walker saw Fenton's actions as: "A matter of taking over from someone popular and wanting to show you're in charge."

Walker remained a regular member of the team until the 1951-52 season. Walker played his last game for the first-team against Plymouth Argyle on 18th February 1953. Over the next four years he continued to turn-out for the reserves and helped to coach the young players at the club. This was something he was very good at and during this period a number of young players reached the first-team.

Ken Brown has fond memories of Walker: "I was a bit of a skinny lad and Dick Walker thought I should put on weight otherwise, according to Dick, I should never last. Andy Malcolm had a car and Dick would take the two of us up to Soho every Friday night for a glass of stout and a big steak and kidney pie, full of meat and gravy." John Lyall also praised Walker's attitude towards the young players at the club. He would be given responsibility for those young players who Lyall described as "Dagenham-type lads".

At the end of the 1956-1957 season Walker's playing contract was not renewed by Fenton. Instead he offered Walker a job "to attend to the players boots" at £4 a week. In other words, the former captain ended up doing the job he had done as a groundstaff boy 25 years previously. It is believed that Fenton treated Walker badly because he was so popular with the players and fans that he feared he would replace him as manager of West Ham United.

Following his testimonial match against Sparta Rotterdam in 1957 Walker left the club. Walker worked as a coach for Dagenham F.C. and later became a full-time scout for Sp*rs. It was criminal that Walker was not given a job at Upton Park. He suffered from bad health and spent long spells in hospital. According to former team-mate, Tommy Dixon, ended up as a tramp. Dick Walker died in February 1988.

Charles Korr, in his book West Ham United (1986) provides a good illustration of why Dick Walker was so much loved by the West Ham fans:

None of the players who remained at West Ham after the post-war shake-up was more representative of the character of the club than Dick Walker. He joined West Ham just after it slipped from the first division. By the time he seized a place in the League side from "Big" Jim Barrett, the club had settled into the mediocrity that marked its time in the second division. Walker had a tough first few years; there were many fans who still called for the return of his popular predecessor. More than a decade later, Malcolm Allison would face the same kind of reaction when he took over from Walker. No one would ever have described Walker as a skilful player, least of all Walker himself: "I couldn't play, but I could stop those that-would. West Ham was a hard club." Walker's assessment does not square with the post-1958 opinion that West Ham has always tried to play skilful and elegant, if not winning, football, but it seems closer to reality. He was a great favourite with the West Ham crowd for years. For many of them, including members of the football press, he typified what made West Ham a different club, and the Boleyn Ground a unique place to play. Walker's effort for his team was total, and supporters responded to that. They had a special place in their affections for the sometimes self-deprecating humour that Walker demonstrated when he exchanged jokes with the crowd leaning over the "chicken run". No one ever mistook his humour for not caring about the game: any opposing players who did would have been brought down to earth abruptly. Walker personified the East Londoner's need to work hard for anything he wanted and the humour that acted as a buffer against the harshness of everyday life. He combined that with a kind of swagger that made people realize that playing football for West Ham was something special.

1 comment:

Marley said...

What a very sad story.
I remember seeing Dick Walker playing for West Ham around 1947 / 48 when I used to go to Upton Park with my late father.
My eternal memory of him was how often he was clattered by Ernie Gregory's fist as , between them they cleared many a cross from the penalty area.
After the cold sponge , he always resumed.
In fact , in those days , players rarely got hurt and the West Ham defence would be the same throughout the 42 games of the season


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