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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
footballHe started just four months ago
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Arts and Entertainment
(L-R) Amanda Peet as Tina Morris, Melanie Lynskey as Michelle Pierson, Abby Ryder Fortson as Sophie Pierson, Mark Duplass as Brett Pierson and Steve Zissis as Alex Pappas in Togetherness
TV First US networks like HBO shook up drama - now it's comedy's turn
Pool with a view: the mMarina Bay Sands in Singapore
travel From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
The will of Helen Beatrix Heelis, better known as Beatrix Potter, was among those to be archived
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Nigel Farage: 'I don't know anybody in politics as poor as we are'
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect