If football administration has never attracted the same acclaim as the game itself, then one of the most deserving recipients of praise for his work on the essential governance of the sport would never have been dismayed. Ernie Walker, who was secretary of the Scottish Football Association for 13 years, served football out of a sense of passionate support, but also his faith in order and discipline.
Walker was the game's figurehead in Scotland during turbulent times, but he never flinched from his principles or his desire to promote the best interests of the sport and the national cause. Even his spell as a visionary, when he headed a Review Commission into the state of the game – branded by the media as a Think Tank – proved to be significant. It was ridiculed at the time, yet many of its recommendations are now considered vital to Scottish football's development.
Walker was born in Glasgow and went to school close to Hampden Stadium, where he would eventually rise to prominence. After national service, in which he developed an upright bearing that always made him appear stern and forbidding, Walker spent 10 years for a textile manufacturer, but when the company closed down, he became chief clark at the SFA.
The role was often mundane (it included selling tickets for the 1960 European Cup final between Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt), but Walker was passionate about football, and was a natural administrator, diligent and methodical. He became assistant secretary, then in 1977 replaced Willie Allan at the head of the organisation, just before the disastrous 1978 World Cup campaign that saw Willie Johnston fail a drugs test and Scotland return home at the end of the group stage in mortification.
There were other traumas during his reign, including the 1980 Scottish Cup final riot, when Old Firm supporters fought on the Hampden pitch after the final whistle, and that led to a ban on alcohol sales at football stadiums, which Walker supported. He was capable of innovative thinking, and was keen on summer football and a winter break, but was also stringent. He was always smartly dressed and could seem dour, but was capable of wry humour. He earned the nickname "The Ayatollah" for the disciplinary measures he imposed on footballers, managers and clubs, but accepted it with typical good grace, and even enjoyed its gently mocking portrayal of him as an authoritarian figure.
Walker lobbied hard for Jock Stein to be appointed Scotland manager, despite their regular confrontations over the years in disciplinary matters. Walker was an implacable figure, but shrewd; he introduced "Scotland The Brave" as the song played before internationals, after "God Save The Queen" was booed by Scottish fans, and he was heartfelt when he said after Scotland's ugly meeting with Uruguay at the 1986 World Cup that "we found ourselves on the field with cheats and cowards and we were associated with the scum of world football".
He survived censure for those remarks, and carried on despite the emotional toll of Stein's death on the touchline as Scotland defeated Wales to reach the 1986 finals. After retirement from the SFA, having attended a historic five World Cup finals, he sat on Uefa committees and embarked on the Review Commission, enlisting among others Rinus Michels, the legendary Dutch coach, to assist. He also indulged his lifelong passion for golf, and had fought prostate cancer for the last 15 years. He is survived by his wife Anne and his son and daughters.
Ernest John Munro Walker, football administrator: born Glasgow 7 July 1928; OBE, CBE; married (one son, two daughters); died Glasgow 14 May 2011.Reuse content