'Supportiveness of the fans is my happiest memory' MIKE WALKER: The escape route and the exit door

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A GOOD year, or a bad year? "Well, an interesting one. It has mirrored football itself, really - the highs, the lows." Thus speaks Mike Walker of a period in which he resigned from one job and was sacked from another. But he is more a defiant Edi th Piafthan a wistful Frank Sinatra. "I don't regret anything," he insists, although acrimony remains between him and his former employers.

All was harmony last New Year's Day. The Norwich City he then managed won 1-0 at Southampton with a goal by Chris Sutton to move up to sixth in the Premiership. Then Everton, seeking a successor to Howard Kendall, made two approaches for him to the Norwich chairman, Robert Chase.

Chase spurned both, and with them Walker's subsequent requests for a pay rise, new contract and more say in the selling of players. So Walker, believing after some frank conversation with his chairman that he might anyway be sacked in the summer, took "acalculated gamble" and resigned, hoping that Everton would still want him. They did, and the Premier League later found them guilty of "indirectly inducing" him to leave through media leaks and fined them £75,000 with £50,000 in compensation going to Norwich.

The liaison lasted 10 months, from 7 January to 8 November, until, with delivery becoming overdue as Everton propped up the Premiership, his new chairman Peter Johnson called him in and bounced him out. Now he is back home in Norwich, caught between wanting to return to football and seeking, via legal action, payment for the three years left on his contract, which was said to be worth £650,000.

Talking to him about his experiences reminds you of the story of the man with the shovel at the circus whose job it was to clear up after the elephants. "Why do you keep doing it? Why don't you quit?" he was asked. "What, and leave show business?" came the reply. The year, Walker says, has not soured him against football management and he remains keen to return when time and job is right.

"I don't know what it is but if there is a job going with a Third Division club which has no money, there'll be 50 applicants," he says. But he does know what it is. "It was a relief to be out of it for the first week after I left Everton but then I started to get bored. It's working with players, seeing them get better, thinking you can make a difference, watching things you try coming right."

And he maintains that was the case at Goodison, the team having gone three games unbeaten when the sack came at the beginning of two weeks without a game before the Merseyside derby. "I didn't expect it to come at all, although people have said to me that if it had happened two or three weeks before they could have understood it, if not agreed with it.

"Others have said, 'You know why - if you had won the Liverpool game, you would have been a hero and they couldn't have got rid of you.' Plans were already made, it's pretty obvious." Walker, in fact, was not Johnson's prime candidate last January but anacceptable compromise to the two factions then fighting for control of the club. Clearly, Joe Royle was the chairman's choice.

When he arrived, Walker was surprised at the state of the club. "Standards had slipped," he says. "The fitness of the players wasn't as it should have been and they didn't do enough physical work. I have spoken recently to Chris Sutton and he has been surprised at how much they do at Blackburn Rovers but if you are going to be winners, you have to. But the main thing at Everton was the passing. They thought they were a passing team but I didn't think they did it very well."

A low point was the return to Norwich in March and a 3-0 defeat, the home side's first win in the two and a half months since his departure. In another twist in the plot involving him and the two clubs, his last game in charge of Everton was a 0-0 draw between the pair.

The peak was the 3-2 win over Wimbledon on the final day of last season when Everton came from 2-0 down to stave off relegation. "It wasn't a classic match but the passion of it, the way the fans got behind us and what it meant to everybody made it special. In fact, the supportiveness of the fans is my happiest memory."

The new season, however, saw more of what had brought Everton to that state in the first place. Their run of nine games without a win was their worst start in 106 years of league competition. The Royle ascent was imminent. Was Walker shocked when the endcame? "I said after being sacked at Colchester that nothing in the game would shock me again; so, no, I wasn't."

It has been said that Walker was taken aback by the amount of attention he received at a big club, as opposed to Norfolk; that he was unable to cope with buying players for big money, having been more used to selling them. He denies both criticisms. "I know the chairman was surprised at the attention, coming from Tranmere Rovers, but I wasn't. Norwich may be a small city but it is not that small a club. We had finished third in the championship and been into Europe, beating Bayern Munich. As for buyingplayers, the problem was that the consortium was not in place really until the summer, by which time I was being quoted silly prices I wasn't prepared to pay."

The £2.2 million for the midfielder Vinny Samways was too much, he agrees, "but I badly needed a passer". He and the £3m Daniel Amokachi can still prove their worth, he believes, "but whether the new manager rates them is another matter".

Then there is Duncan Ferguson. "He could have had six goals in his first four games under me but he hits the woodwork, draws great saves. Then against Liverpool, he gets a cross, knocks it in and suddenly he's a hero. You know, I've never believed in luck - you are not unlucky if you are losing and not lucky if you are winning - but I think I have changed my mind. Duncan was always going to score. It was just a matter of waiting."

Now, for Walker, it is also a matter of waiting; for his money, for a new offer. He did not have a holiday in 1994, preferring to work through the summer at Goodison. "I thought about going to Tenerife like Ron Atkinson did after he left Aston Villa but I don't have his money," he says.

Christmas was unusual for a man who has spent the last 30 years involved in football, during which he had previously been unemployed for only four days. Such is his delicate relationship still with Norwich that he did not go to watch his son Ian keeping goal for Tottenham at Carrow Road on Boxing Day.

He is all in favour of the new initiative by the League Managers' Association to establish a code of conduct on contracts between club and manager.

"I have been on both sides, having walked out and been sacked and you continuously have problems," he says. "I wouldn't mind being tied to a club but you can't stop ambition if people want to progress. Then, there should be a penalty, I agree, but also if you are sacked, you should be paid up.

"The most disturbing thing about my case with Everton was a club spokesman saying when I took legal action that this was normal procedure. It shouldn't be like that."

How will it be in 1995? Paid up, and employed, Walker hopes. "I don't consider myself a failure, because I didn't have time to fail. I still believe in football and in trying to play good football." The game is fortunate that it still appeals even to those it makes suffer.

Comments