Joe Walton

Classy Preston North End full-back

Joseph Walton, footballer: born Manchester 5 June 1925; played for Manchester United 1940-48, Preston North End 1948-61, Accrington Stanley 1961-62; married (one son, one daughter); died Preston, Lancashire 31 December 2006.

Joe Walton, one of the classiest uncapped defenders in British football during his 1950s pomp with Preston North End, became the most expensive full-back in the domestic game when Preston paid £12,000 to sign him from Manchester United in March 1948.

The Old Trafford boss Matt Busby, who had agreed to sell the diminutive, wavy-haired Mancunian to one of his chief Lancastrian rivals, did his utmost to persuade the richly promising 22-year-old to remain with the Red Devils. Even as he drove his player to Deepdale to finalise the transfer, the young manager offered to turn the car around and call off the move. But the ambitious Walton, the target of several other major clubs, was tired of life in the shadow of Johnny Carey and John Aston, the two internationals who graced the flanks of Busby's rearguard, and remained adamant that he wanted to leave.

So he did, and, after making only tentative progress for several seasons, he matured into a thoroughbred performer who chalked up 435 senior appearances in nearly 13 years as a Lilywhite, a period during which Preston, inspired by the magnificent Tom Finney, went agonisingly close to lifting both League championship and FA Cup.

Having excelled for both Manchester and Lancashire Schoolboys, Walton enlisted with United as a 14-year-old in 1940, turning professional in October 1943. During the remainder of the Second World War, he became a regular for the Reds in the emergency Football League North competition and was selected three times to represent the Football Association.

The conflict over, he made his senior début against his future employers, Preston, in an FA Cup encounter in January 1946 and within eight months was called up by England to face Scotland in the unofficial international staged at Maine Road, Manchester, to raise money for the Bolton Wanderers disaster fund (33 people had died due to overcrowding at a cup tie that March). No cap was awarded, but Walton made his mark, positioning himself intelligently, tackling cleanly and exhibiting cool assurance with the ball at his feet.

But, back at club level, where Busby was in the process of constructing the first of his three dazzlingly fluent sides, there was a problem. Though Walton could operate with equal facility as a right- or left-back, he was confronted not only by the almost metronomic splendour of Carey and Aston, but also by another enterprising rookie, Billy Redman.

Hence, after enjoying only 23 first-team outings in nearly two peacetime terms, he felt his prospects at Old Trafford were limited and succumbed to Preston's blandishments. Within a month of the switch, he had played for the Football League against the League of Ireland, gained a regular berth in North End's defence, and netted two springtime penalties, though these would turn out to be his last goals for a decade.

However, in 1948/49, with Finney injured for much of the campaign and the influential Scottish wing-half Bill Shankly having retired from playing to embark on a management career, Preston were transformed from a confident top-six outfit into a pallid combination which could not avoid relegation to the Second Division.

That season and the next, Walton retained his place at left-back but his form grew variable. Thus, when the Lilywhites rose from the second flight as champions in 1950/51, the full-back slots were usually filled by Willie Cunningham and Billy Scott, and, although Walton played enough games to earn a medal, he was almost transferred to Grimsby Town, only for the transaction to fall through at the last moment. There was talk of an exchange deal with Blackburn Rovers, too, but that also failed to materialise and gradually the former Manchester United man returned to prominence.

Though he made only a minor contribution as Preston were deprived of the 1952/53 League title on goal average - the method used to separate clubs on the same number of points before the less complicated device of goal difference was introduced - Walton regained the number-three shirt from Scott in 1953/54, and struck up a convincing partnership with Cunningham.

That season he played a key role as the Lilywhites reached the FA Cup final at Wembley, where they were beaten 3-2 by West Bromwich Albion after leading 2-1. Now, barring brief absences through injury, the left-back berth became Walton's personal property for the remainder of a decade during which the team experienced contrasting fortunes.

In 1955/56 they finished only one point above demoted Huddersfield Town, then in 1956/57, under the guidance of a new manager, Cliff Britton, they rose to third in the table. A year later, with Walton a model of reliability and the team reaching its compelling peak, Preston went one better, finishing as runners-up behind Wolverhampton Wanderers. But thereafter they fell away and in 1960/61 were relegated as the bottom club.

By then Walton himself had been supplanted by a younger man, the Irishman John O'Neill, and that February, aged 36, he was sold to lowly Accrington Stanley for £1,590, the fee being paid in four instalments.

However, although impecunious Stanley were already experiencing hard times, that was nothing to what was in store for the Lancastrian strugglers. After Walton had helped them to finish 18th in the Fourth Division at the end of his first campaign, they plunged to the foot of the table during 1961/62, a season which was to end, prematurely and catastrophically for them in March, with the penniless club resigning ignominiously from the Football League because it could not meet its financial commitments. There would be no return until August 2006.

It was a poignant way for Walton's professional career to close, but he still loved the game and served non-League Horwich RMI, near Bolton, as a player-coach. Later he ran a newsagent's shop in Preston, then worked for an electrics firm in the town. Back at Deepdale, he was missed not only for his footballing ability, but also his modesty, his engaging bonhomie and his piano- playing. When Joe Walton left North End, the players' sing-songs were never quite the same again.

Ivan Ponting

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor