Tommy Walker

Newcastle winger with exceptional pace
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The Independent Online

Tommy Walker was an oft-undervalued gem during Newcastle United's most recent golden era, the first half of the 1950s, when he featured prominently in two successive FA Cup triumphs. Although the majority of the Magpies' headlines were garnered by the likes of the dashing Tyneside idol Jackie Milburn, the Chilean goal-getter George Robledo and the extravagantly gifted Scottish flankman Bobby Mitchell, the modest Walker, too, made a telling contribution to an exhilaratingly entertaining team.

Thomas Jackson Walker, footballer and newsagent: born Cramlington, Northumberland 14 November 1923; played for Newcastle United 1941-54, Oldham Athletic 1954-57, 1957-59, Chesterfield 1957; married (one son); died Manchester 13 June 2005.

Tommy Walker was an oft-undervalued gem during Newcastle United's most recent golden era, the first half of the 1950s, when he featured prominently in two successive FA Cup triumphs. Although the majority of the Magpies' headlines were garnered by the likes of the dashing Tyneside idol Jackie Milburn, the Chilean goal-getter George Robledo and the extravagantly gifted Scottish flankman Bobby Mitchell, the modest Walker, too, made a telling contribution to an exhilaratingly entertaining team.

A one-time professional sprinter who won handicap races at Powderhall, Edinburgh, Walker was a direct and penetrative winger whose exceptional pace and selfless industry created countless scoring opportunities for his starry colleagues. Indeed, so searing was his acceleration that pre-match advice from one manager, George Martin, tended to be limited to the pithy instruction: "Show 'em your backside, Tommy."

The wiry Walker, dark-haired and gaunt-faced, was at his lung-bursting peak as Newcastle, his local club, defeated Blackpool 2-0 at Wembley in 1951, then returned a year later for a 1-0 victory over Arsenal, who had been reduced to 10 men by injury to Walley Barnes.

Against national institution Stanley Matthews and his fellow Seasiders, Walker had been particularly compelling, helping to create one of the most spectacular goals ever witnessed at the famous old stadium. Carrying the ball out of his own half, he motored past two would-be markers before finding the tiny schemer Ernie Taylor, whose impudent backheel was hammered into the Blackpool net by Milburn from 25 yards.

Walker was spotted as a schoolboy centre-half in the late 1930s, being recruited by the Magpies from Netherton Juniors in 1941 and impressing in unofficial wartime competition, including a guest stint with West Ham United. By the end of the Second World War he had been converted into a winger versatile enough to patrol either touchline and, having returned to St James' Park, he made his senior début for Second Division Newcastle at home to Coventry City in September 1946.

It was not easy breaking into a side pushing for promotion to the top flight and the newcomer managed only a handful of appearances that season; then his second term - at the end of which United did reach the First Division, as runners-up to Birmingham City - was curtailed by a broken arm suffered in training.

However, in 1948/49 he blossomed as the Geordies surprised many observers by cutting a swathe through the ranks of the élite, topping the table shortly before Christmas and finishing the campaign in a hugely creditable fourth place.

The side was buttressed by doughty defenders such as the centre-half Frank Brennan and the right-back Bobby Cowell, with whom Walker struck up a productive understanding, and driven by the dynamic half-backs Joe Harvey and Charlie Crowe. But the essential appeal of an unforgettable team was a swashbuckling forward line whose names tripped off the tongues of United fans like a beloved litany: Walker, Taylor, Milburn, Robeldo and Mitchell.

A key element in their success was the vivid contrast between the hard-running Walker on one flank and the beguilingly intricate Mitchell on the other, although the former's input was not solely related to speed. He was a crisp and powerful striker of the ball, too, and quite a few of his 38 goals in 204 senior outings for the club were propelled from long distance.

Although the Newcastle side of the mid-20th century tends, reasonably enough, to be revered for its FA Cup exploits (in 1955, after Walker had departed, United lifted the trophy for the third time in five years), their League achievements were not negligible, with First Division placings of fifth in 1949/50 and fourth in 1950/51.

After that, however, they slipped into mid-table and, in February 1954, the 31-year-old Walker was sold by Stan Seymour to Second Division Oldham Athletic for £2,500 and became a favourite at Boundary Park. Thus many supporters were aggrieved when he was transferred to Chesterfield for £1,250 in February 1957, having been released by his new boss Ted Goodier as part of his team reconstruction process.

Soon, though, there were second thoughts and the Tynesider returned to Oldham in the following summer, remaining popular there until his retirement in April 1959 to become a newsagent in Middleton, Manchester.

Ivan Ponting



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