||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (March 2010)|
|Full name||Desmond Sinclair Walker|
|Date of birth||26 November 1965|
|Place of birth||Hackney, England|
|Height||6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
† Appearances (Goals).
Desmond Sinclair "Des" Walker (born 26 November 1965 in Homerton, London) is a former England international footballer who is best remembered for his spells with Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday.
Walker, a pacy and hard-tackling central defender, was spotted playing locally in London and was signed by Forest in 1980 as an apprentice. Known for being unafraid of pitching youngsters into the first team if they were good enough, Forest manager Brian Clough, trying to build a second great side after his ageing European Cup winning team broke up, gave Walker his debut in March 1984 at the age of 18, just two months before the end of the 1983–84 First Division campaign in which Forest finished third and qualified for the UEFA Cup.
Forest made progress with Walker and his fellow young graduates from the youth academy gaining ground and plaudits. Further top half-finishes in the League were followed by a run to the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1988 with Walker in outstanding form, to the extent that calls began to come from football observers for England coach Bobby Robson to select Walker to play for his country.
Tragedy struck a week after the League Cup triumph, however, when Forest and Liverpool met for the second season in a row in the FA Cup semi-finals, and the Hillsborough disaster claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans. When the game was re-scheduled, Walker struggled against a rampant Liverpool side who won 3–1.
The following year, Forest won their first trophy for nine seasons when, with Walker again in outstanding form, they won the League Cup with a 3–1 victory at Wembley over Luton Town. They also finished third in the First Division, but were unable to compete in the UEFA Cup as the ban on English clubs in European competition, arising from the Heysel tragedy of 1985, still had one season to run
Walker got his second League Cup winner's medal when Forest retained the trophy in 1990 with victory over Oldham Athletic and, despite a disappointing League season for Forest, Walker was a certain name on the list of 22 players whom Robson took to the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy.
Despite English clubs being re-admitted to Europe for the 1990–91 season, places in the competition were initially limited, and League Cup winners Forest were not included; the only UEFA Cup place that season went to league runners-up Aston Villa. Walker was now in his 25th year, and despite playing for one of England's most successful clubs, he had not yet been given a chance to prove himself in European competition.
On New Year's Day 1992, Walker scored his only goal in professional football, the equaliser in a 1–1 draw against Luton.
Later that season, Forest reached another League Cup final, but lost it to Manchester United. Walker then travelled with the England squad to Euro 92 in Sweden but England failed to get beyond the group stages.
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After the Euro 1992, he was sold to Italian side Sampdoria, coached by Sven-Göran Eriksson, for £1.5 million. Walker's pace suffered after a long-term injury and his England career was cut short as a result. He lasted just one season at Sampdoria, before returning to England to join Sheffield Wednesday for £2.7 million.
Between 1993 and 2001, Walker made more than 300 appearances for Sheffield Wednesday under eight different managers. He again became a favourite of the fans and picked up the captain's armband. Amid Sheffield Wednesday's growing financial strain associated with their precipitous fall from the upper league Walker was released from his contract in 2001.
In his first season, Wednesday finished seventh in the Premier League, but blew what was effectively their last chance of silverware in February, when suffering a hefty defeat at the hands of Manchester United in the semi-finals of the League Cup. 1994–95 and 1995–96 brought bottom-half finishes, although Wednesday were never in any acute danger of relegation.
1996–97 began brilliantly for Wednesday, who topped the Premier League at the end of August. However, they were unable to keep up their excellent form, and seventh place in the final table wasn't even enough for a UEFA Cup place.
His time at Sheffield Wednesday brought mixed fortunes, although he played in the overwhelming majority of the club's games following his arrival in 1993.
Wednesday finished in the bottom half of the Premier League during the next two seasons before finally being relegated in 1999–2000. They narrowly avoided a second successive relegation in 2000–01, after which Walker left Hillsborough after eight years.
Return to Forest
He briefly trained with his ex-Forest team-mate Nigel Clough at Burton Albion (where he was manager) and a short stint in the US playing for the New York Metro Stars in their 9/11 benefit matches against DC United. Forest manager, Paul Hart then asked if Walker could train with Forest, who were now a struggling in the second tier of English football. In July 2002, Walker signed for Forest on a permanent basis.
Walker made almost 60 more appearances in his second spell for Forest, nearly a decade after he had left them, and finally left the club at the age of 38 with a total of 354 appearances for the club to his name – and one goal. His final competitive appearance for Forest came against Wigan Athletic on 7 August 2004.
A testimonial match was held in his honour – this drew thousands of spectators but controversy was caused when the player was arrested several hours later. He became first team coach at Forest afterwards but left in January 2005 when Gary Megson was appointed as manager.
Des took part in the Hong Kong Soccer Sevens in 2009, and was seen wearing a Denver Nuggets jersey alongside local football hero Tim Cresswell formerly of USRC.
Walker made his international debut as a substitute for Tony Adams in a game against Denmark in 1988. It was not long before Walker was a regular starter in the side, with competition for central defensive places hot at the time – Adams, Terry Butcher and Mark Wright were all also in contention.
At Italia 90 Walker started all seven of the games in which England would play, gaining international acclaim which was only overshadowed by another new young star in Paul Gascoigne. Playing in a three-man defence alongside Wright and Butcher (Adams did not make the squad), Walker shrugged off knocks and fatigue to enjoy a superb tournament, which ended when England were knocked out on penalties by West Germany in the semi-finals.
Walker subsequently became England's defensive linchpin after Butcher decided to retire, continuing to feature regularly after Graham Taylor had taken over as manager. As an almost ever-present during a period when England played a relatively large number of internationals, Walker became the fastest player in history to reach 50 caps, a feat he accomplished in just over four years.
Walker's form continued to progress at club level, although he did score an own goal in the 1991 FA Cup Final which blew Nottingham Forest's chances of FA Cup glory against Tottenham Hotspur, and yet again Walker was robbed of the chance of playing in Europe.
World Cup 1994 qualification
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Walker played in all but one of the qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup. In a crucial 1994 World Cup Qualifier England were leading 2–1 against Holland when Walker fouled Dutch winger Marc Overmars inside England's penalty area with four minutes remaining. The penalty was converted and England were facing a struggle to make it to the finals in the United States.
Walker continued to make major mistakes and had a very poor performance against Poland, twice conceding possession, once just outside the penalty box leading to Poland's goal, and nearly gifting Poland a second goal through a mix up with Chris Woods.
England's hopes of qualifying were dealt a huge blow during a 0–2 loss to Norway. Walker was largely at fault for the first goal. After committing a foul near the corner flag Walker began to argue with the referee, only to be caught out with a quick free kick which was crossed for Øyvind Leonhardsen to score. Walker also made other errors which nearly increased Norway's advantage.
Walker was dropped for other crucial qualifiers, a 3–0 win over Poland and a devastating 0–2 loss against Holland. Walker was included in Taylor's last match in November 1993. It proved to be one of the most infamous, as San Marino scored the fastest World Cup goal ever after just eight seconds. England won 7–1 but failed to make the finals in America in 1994 (they had needed to win by seven clear goals and hope that Holland lost in Poland, but the Dutch won anyway so England's result was academic). It also proved to be Walker's last game for England, although he continued to play professionally at club level for the next 11 years.
After England failed to get through to the finals in the US, Walker's international career ended with 59 caps and no goals.
Walker rarely missed matches but was often criticised for his inconsistent distribution. Defensively he was probably one of the best markers and timers of the tackle of all time, and incurred a remarkably low number of bookings during the first 10 years of his career despite his often dispossessing opponents with sliding challenges from all directions. Despite not being the tallest centre-half he could leap to beat the tallest forwards in the air and his pace meant even the quickest and most skilful forwards very rarely got any change from him.
At the height of his career, Forest, Owls and England fans frequently chanted "You'll never beat Des Walker." This was turned into "You'll never meet Des Walker" as a private joke among journalists, commenting on Walker's refusal to talk to the press at this point.
- Nottingham Forest
- PFA Team of the Year: 1988–89, 1989–90, 1990–91, 1991–92
- Shefield Wednesday Player of the Season: 1994
|Club||Season||League||FA Cup||League Cup||Other||Total|
- Lawford, Mark (17 February 2009). "Charles, Platt, Souness, Walker, Rush and Gascoigne – the best and worst British footballers who've played in Italy". Daily Mail (London).
- "Walker seals Forest return". BBC Sport. 5 July 2002. Retrieved 19 August 2011.
- "Wigan 1–1 Nottm Forest". BBC. 7 August 2004. Retrieved 12 March 2010.
- "THE LIST: Nos 10–1 of the best defenders to have graced English football". Daily Mail (London). 27 March 2009.
- Des Walker, Post War English & Scottish Football League A – Z Player's Database
- Des Walker on RSSSF-site
- Overview of career on FA.com