Walker waiting in the wings

Glenn Moore talks to the former Norwich City and Everton manager who is desperate for another chance in the game after 17 months on the sidelines
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It is not a position which is ever listed at the Job Centre, sandwiched between "catering worker'' and "temporary secretary". Nor is there much point in scanning the situations vacant: jobs are rarely advertised and usually spoken for.

Being an out-of-work football manager is like being a cannibalistic vulture - you sit and wait to profit at a contemporary's expense.

"It is the nature of the job," said Mike Walker, who is now in his 17th month out of the profession after being sacked by Everton. "You are always waiting for someone else to lose their job. Some clubs advertise but 90 per cent of the time the job is taken anyway. Look at Watford - one minute Glenn Roeder is under pressure, the next he is gone and Graham Taylor is in. The same applied to me at Everton.''

Everton was to be the stage for Walker to confirm his ability. After a moderate playing career he began in management at Colchester, before being bizarrely sacked after taking them to the top of the old Fourth Division.

After four days' unemployment Walker became Norwich City's reserve coach, later taking over as manager. Under him Norwich finished third in the league and had a exuberant Uefa Cup run.

Then, in January 1994, Walker walked out to join Everton. Fourteen matches and one win into the next season he was sacked. That was in November 1994. Aside from some media and scouting work, he has been out of the game since.

Part of that, Walker admits, is his own fault. He waited for a decent settlement from Everton, then he waited for a decent opportunity. The former (estimates vary from pounds 200,000 to pounds 500,000, Walker will not say) was achieved after eight months' legal bargaining. He is still waiting for the latter.

"Eight months is quick compared to some people - if you take a job in the meantime it slices off what you are owed," he said. "That is the norm. It is scandalous.''

While the nine-month old "manager's charter'' should improve matters in the Premiership - only Roy McFarland, who is close to settling with Bolton, has tested it - the Endsleigh remains a lawyer's paradise.

Since his settlement, Walker, a fit-looking 50, has been close to both the Welsh and Irish national jobs, and was interviewed by Leicester and Luton. Leicester's late switch to Martin O'Neill probably cost him both as he had turned down Luton in the interim. He was also wrongly linked to Swansea and Peterborough. He had not applied. For the moment, he is aiming higher.

"I had a good grounding at the bottom - putting the washing on and all that - but I do not particularly want to go back to that level. I have done it.

"At some of those clubs you are on a hiding to nothing, you do not get paid well, if you produce good players they are sold for next to nothing and you do not get the money to spend.

"Look at Liam Brady, he took the Brighton job to get back in the game and he could not do anything - that does not look good on the CV. There have not been many jobs of which I have thought: `I would like to have a crack at that'.''

Indeed, though 23 clubs have changed managers this season only nine have been in the top two divisions and four of those were "closed'' appointments, including Bolton's.

Not that Walker is sitting at home, hand by the phone, eyes on Teletext. He has become a partner in a skip hire business, a move which provoked tabloid headlines like "Mike's in the Dumps''. This spawned rumours that he had turned his back on the game. "Not true. Even when I was manager of Norwich I was looking for something outside the game to fall back on.

"I thought it was better than sitting on my backside doing nothing. Everyone gets the impression that because I had a good pay-off I must be loaded and can play golf every day. It might have been for Kevin Keegan, who is financially secure, but I have spent all my career in the lower leagues and I was not that well paid at Norwich. That is why I made a stand at Everton, I was not going to be abused by the chairman.''

"The business has kept me occupied - and it has added a few things to my CV, I can erect fences and all sorts - but it is no substitute for football. Nothing compares to playing at Bayern Munich in a European cup and winning."

Memories of Norwich's win in Munich, the first by an English club, have been rekindled by Nottingham Forest's Uefa Cup tie with Bayern, which resumes at the City Ground on Tuesday. "It was probably the highlight of my career.''

There have been a few Norwich fans thinking the same. Since Walker's departure the club have plummeted - and they are still selling players. Although there was resentment when Walker left, such is the hatred of Robert Chase, the chairman, fans have been chanting Walker's name at matches. Walker was linked to a possible takeover by director Jimmy Jones, which was recently repelled by Chase. Though he says he would have to think about it - "the way things have been allowed to slip'' - he would certainly be tempted if Chase was ousted and he was approached.

As for the hounding of Chase - who banned Walker from working for Radio Five Live at Carrow Road - Walker has no sympathy. "He has brought it upon himself. He was happy just to sit above the relegation line in the Premier Division, if you do that you will eventually get relegated.''

Walker is not short of confidence but, after 16 months, doubts have inevitably entered his mind. It would only be natural if he wondered if he will ever get another job.

If he does not it will be a waste of talent. Walker's Norwich played a genuine sweeper, not a third centre-back, and passed the ball better than anyone. Even now some of the better Premiership sides are behind them tactically.

"I thought I would have got back in by now, it has been a long time. In a couple of years' time I may think `cut your losses and work lower down', but what is the point of being in the game if you are not trying to win something?

"People say `why do they keep coming back? Why do they want another job?' You know the pitfalls, you know there are ruthless chairmen. It is the winning, but it is also seeing something produced. I was delighted when Chelsea started getting results, Glenn Hoddle stuck to his beliefs and it has turned round. I admire that sort of football, you need to be strong to play that way.

"I still get satisfaction of seeing other people doing well. Then you think: `I could do that, given the chance'...''


NAME: Michael Stewart Gordon Walker.

BIRTHDATE: 28 September, 1945.



STATUS: Married with three children.

MANAGERIAL CAREER: Jan 1983-Nov 1994.

EVERTON: Manager Jan-Nov 1994: Developed David Unsworth and Tony Grant, won one and drew two of last three matches in charge.

NORWICH CITY: Manager June 1992-Jan 1994: Guided Norwich to highest League finish (third in 1992-1993 Premiership) and into Europe for first time.

Became first English club to win away to Bayern Munich in 1993-1994 Uefa Cup.

NORWICH CITY: Reserve team manager Nov 1987-June 1992: Developed Chris Sutton and Ruel Fox.

COLCHESTER UNITED: Manager May 1986-Nov 1987: Steered club to top of Fourth Division and was manager of month when dismissed.

Promotion play-off finalists 1986-1987.

COLCHESTER UNITED: Assistant manager Jan 1983-May 1986.

PLAYING CAREER: Made more than 650 appearances as a goalkeeper during 20-year career from 1964-1983.

Played for Shrewsbury, York, Watford, Charlton (loan), and Colchester, for whom made 451 appearances.

Third Division champions with Watford, 1968-69, FA Cup semi-finalist 1969-70.

Promotion to Third Division with Colchester 1973-74.

Wales Under-23 international.

OTHER: Son, Ian, is a goalkeeper with Tottenham and an England Under- 21 international. Been involved in media and scouting since leaving Everton and taking eight to resolve contractual dispute.