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Walker in 2003
|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|
At club level he played in seven cup finals for Nottingham Forest at Wembley, winning five of them. He was Forest's player of the year three times. On four straight occasions at Forest he was selected for the PFA Team of the Year. At Sheffield Wednesday he picked up another club player of the year accolade. He played in twenty seasons of senior football. All but the last three of those were in the top flight in either England or Italy.
Walker 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. Forest finished third and qualified for the UEFA Cup. In a minor statistical anomaly in Walker's nine seasons of first team football at Forest, they only finished the league in three different positions - third (three times), eighth (four times) and ninth (twice).
In 1987 Walker earned the first of his club player of the year awards at Forest.
Forest won the Football League Centenary Tournament in April 1988 (their first senior trophy since 1981). They finished third in the league in 1988. That form also carried them to the semi-finals of that season's FA Cup with Walker in outstanding form.
With Forest now chasing a unique cup treble tragedy struck a week after the League Cup triumph. Forest and Liverpool met for the second season in a row in the FA Cup semi-finals. The Hillsborough disaster claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans. When the emotion laden rescheduled game took place Forest struggled as Liverpool won 3–1. Forest finished third in the First Division for a second successive year. However they 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 was selected for the PFA Team of the Year for the first time.
Walker won his second League Cup winner's medal when Forest retained the trophy in 1990 with victory over Oldham Athletic. He earned his second Forest player of the year accolade. He was also selected for the PFA Team of the Year for the second successive season.
Despite English clubs being re-admitted to Europe for the 1990–91 season, places in the competition were initially limited, and 1990 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.
Walker scored an own goal in the 1991 FA Cup Final that lost 2–1 to Tottenham Hotspur. Roy Keane played in central midfield for Forest; years later in his autobiography, Keane admitted he should not have declared himself fit to play as he had not recovered from injury. Yet again Walker missed the chance of playing in Europe. The otherwise excellent consistency of his form earned him a third successive selection for the PFA Team of the Year.
On New Year's Day 1992, Walker scored his only goal in professional football, the equaliser in a 1–1 draw against Luton. That season Forest won the Full Members Cup for a second time beating Southampton 3-2 after extra time. Forest reached another League Cup final but lost to Manchester United. Forest had now played in seven domestic cup finals at Wembley in five seasons, winning five of the finals. Walker signed off from Forest as their player of the year for the third time in six seasons. He also earned a fourth successive selection for the PFA Team of the Year. One other player was selected in the same four PFA Teams of the Year, Walker's teammate Stuart Pearce who earned selection five seasons in a row.
After the Euro 1992 finals he was sold for £1.5 million to Italian side Sampdoria coached by Sven-Göran Eriksson. Samp finished the season placed seventh in Serie A. Despite playing 30 of Sampdoria's league games he was largely played out of position at full back. He stayed just one season before returning to England.
Sampdoria had been runners-up in the 1992 European Cup Final in the season prior to Walker's arrival, however they finished sixth in 1992 in Serie A. Nor did they win the 1992 Coppa Italia. Thus they took no part in any UEFA competition in Walker's 1992-93 season there.
Walker joined Sheffield Wednesday for £2.7 million in 1993. He made more than 300 appearances for the club under eight different managers in eight years. He quickly became a favourite of the fans earning their player of the year award at the end of his first season. He also picked up the captain's armband. His time at Sheffield Wednesday brought mixed fortunes, although he played in the overwhelming majority of the club's games following his arrival.
In that first season, Wednesday finished seventh in the Premier League, but were defeated in what was effectively their last chance of silverware in February. They suffered a hefty defeat at the hands of Manchester United in the semi-finals of the League Cup. In 1994–95, Wednesday finished in 13th and 15th in 1995–96. Wednesday were never in any acute danger of relegation on either occasion. In the 1995–96 season, Wednesday played four games in the group stage of the Intertoto Cup.
The 1996–97 season began brilliantly for Wednesday topping the Premier League at the end of August. However they were unable to keep up their excellent form. They finished the season in seventh as they had three seasons before. They also had the best FA Cup run in Walker's time their reaching the last eight. In the next two seasons Wednesday finished 16th and 12th respectively in the top division.
They were then relegated in 1999–2000. Walker played in seven seasons of top tier football with Wednesday to add to his nine at Forest and one with Sampdoria. In a disappointing 2000–01 season in the 24 team second tier Wednesday finished 17th. Amid Sheffield Wednesday's growing financial strain associated with their fall from the top league, Walker was released from his contract in 2001.
Return to Forest
He briefly trained with his ex-Forest teammate Nigel Clough at Burton Albion (where he was manager) and a short stint in the US playing for the MetroStars in their 9/11 benefit matches against D.C. United. Forest manager, Paul Hart then asked if Walker could train with Forest, who were now 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.
On 16 May 2005, a testimonial match was held in his honour – this drew 13,886 spectators with guest appearances from Stuart Pearce, Ian Wright, Emile Heskey and Nigel Clough. Controversy was caused when the player was arrested several hours later for being drunk and disorderly. He became first team coach at Forest afterwards but left in January 2005 when Gary Megson was appointed as manager.
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 against competition from Adams, Terry Butcher and Mark Wright.
1990 World Cup
At the 1990 FIFA World Cup, Walker started all seven of the games in which England would play, gaining international acclaim. Playing in a three-man defence alongside Wright and Butcher, Walker shrugged off knocks and fatigue to enjoy a superb tournament, which ended when England were knocked out in a penalty shootout by West Germany in the semi-finals. Rob Bagchi, writing for The Guardian in 2010, praised his performances, arguing that Walker's "speed, anticipation and mastery of the fair tackle were reminiscent of Bobby Moore."
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 from 53 internationals played by England.
Walker then travelled with the England squad to the 1992 UEFA European Football Championship in Sweden but England failed to get beyond the group stages. Walker's trademark excellent defending made him one of the few bright spots of the England performance.
World Cup 1994 qualification
On 28 April 1993, in a 1994 World Cup qualifier, England were leading 2–1 against the Netherlands. With four minutes remaining the exceptionally paced Marc Overmars became the first person in Walker's then 52 internationals to beat the defender for speed. With little choice Walker brought the Dutchman down. Peter van Vossen put the penalty away and the game ended 2–2.
Four days later, on 2 June 1993, England's hopes of qualifying were dealt a further blow during a 0–2 loss away to Norway. Walker's defensive authority was compromised by Taylor's imposition of an untested wing back system. Walker was largely at fault for the first goal. After committing a foul near the corner flag Walker began to argue with the referee. He was caught out with a quick free kick leading to a cross for Øyvind Leonhardsen to score.
Walker played in a three-game Summer tour of the host nation of the following year's finals, USA. He then missed other crucial qualifiers, a 3–0 win over Poland and a decisive 0–2 loss against the Netherlands in Rotterdam. Walker played in England's last qualifier in the group in November 1993. San Marino scored the fastest World Cup goal ever after just eight seconds capitalising on an under hit Stuart Pearce pass back. England won 7–1 but failed to make the finals (they had needed to win by seven clear goals and hope that the Netherlands lost in Poland, but the Dutch won anyway so England's result was academic). This was Taylor's last match in charge of the England team. No subsequent England Manager picked Walker despite him continuing to play professionally at club level for the next 11 years.
Walker's international career ended with 59 caps and no goals.
Walker was a pacey and hard-tackling central defender regarded for the consistently high quality of his defending through the first half of his playing career. Defensively he was among the best markers and timers of the tackle of the television era in English football. His speed allowed him to repeatedly recover difficult situations for his teams. Gary Lineker named Walker in the best One to Eleven that Lineker played beside during his career. Lineker said of him, "Des wasn't the greatest footballer in the world but he was unbelievably quick and had a brilliant defensive mind. Brian Clough used to stick him on me when we played - he always put man-to-man which was quite unusual in those days - and he used to sing that song 'You'll never beat Des Walker!' - he used to drive you mad when you were playing against him!".
At set pieces for his teams, Walker would stay back to provide defensive cover rather than supplement the attack, reflected in that fact that he only scored once in around 800 senior games.
He played in 20 seasons of senior football, with all but the last three of those in the top flight. Other than a brief spell in the USA he only played for three clubs, none of which were ever genuine contenders for a league championship. He played in seven cup finals with Nottingham Forest at Wembley, winning five. Perhaps a more useful indication of the consistency of his excellence are the individual accolades he collected when at his peak: in the last six seasons of his first spell at Forest he was Player of the Year three times, in the last four of those seasons he was selected for the PFA Team of the Year each time, on his return from his season in Italy he was Sheffield Wednesday's player of the year in his first season there, and following his full international debut in 1988 he became the quickest player to collect 50 full England caps, taking just over four years to do so.
Walker rarely missed matches. He incurred a remarkably low number of bookings during the first 10 years of his career, despite often dispossessing opponents with sliding challenges from all directions. While not being the tallest centre-back 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.
|Club||Season||League||National Cup||League Cup||Other[A]||Total|
|Nottingham Forest||1983–84||First Division||4||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||4||0|
|Sheffield Wednesday||1993–94||Premier League||42||0||4||0||7||0||—||53||0|
|Nottingham Forest||2002–03||First Division||31||0||0||0||0||0||2||0||33||0|
- Nottingham Forest
- Football League Cup: 1988–89, 1989–90
- Full Members Cup: 1988–89, 1991–92
- Football League Centenary Tournament: 1988
- PFA First Division Team of the Year: 1988–89, 1989–90, 1990–91, 1991–92
- PFA Team of the Century (1977–1996): 2007
- Club Player of the Year awards: 4 seasons
- "Des Walker: Derby County bring in Nottingham Forest legend". Bbc.co.uk. 8 February 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
- Richard Williams (23 May 1993). "Football: No time to show you are fallible: Des Walker was the man England could rely upon above all others. But as two vital World Cup games approach, is that still the case? Richard Williams reports". The Independent. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
- "Lonely man in the middle | Football". The Guardian. 26 April 2003. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
- "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.
- "Forest fans honour legend Walker". BBC Sport. 17 May 2005. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
- Taylor, Daniel (17 May 2005). "Drunk Walker arrested". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
- Bagchi, Rob (26 May 2010). "Italia 90 had its moments at about 4am on Australia's backpacker trail". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
- "Football: World Cup Football: England undone by Walker's blunder:". independent.co.uk. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 March 2016. Retrieved 8 March 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "The Joy of Six: Shock falls from grace". The Guardian. 12 March 2010.
- "1993 (June 2) Norway 2-England 0 (World Cup Qualifier)". YouTube. 1 December 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
- "THE LIST: Nos 10–1 of the best defenders to have graced English football". Daily Mail. London. 27 March 2009.
- "Gary Lineker picks his #One2Eleven on The Fantasy Football Club". Skysports.com. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 March 2015. Retrieved 18 March 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Des Walker says son Tyler has much more talent than he did". Bbc.co.uk. 25 September 2015. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
- "Youngsters Rowan and Walker sign pro deals". Qpr.co.uk. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
- Des Walker at the English National Football Archive (subscription required)
- Strack-Zimmermann, Benjamin. "Des Walker". National-football-teams.com. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 September 2012. Retrieved 9 March 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Team of the Century: 1977-1996 - Souness, Robson & Hoddle...not a bad midfield trio!". GiveMeFootball.com. Give Me Football. 30 August 2007. Archived from the original on 22 October 2008. Retrieved 22 September 2016.