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HoylandOwl Meets… Des Walker…

HoylandOwl Meets… Des Walker…

Des Walker, simply put, is a legend in English football.
Walker had a career that spanned 22 years and during which he featured for just three clubs, something which doesn’t seem to happen anymore in a time of big transfer fees, wages and signing on fees. He picked up numerous accolades and became one of the most revered defenders that the English game has produced.

Starting out with Nottingham Forest in 1983, Walker appeared 346 times and scored his only goal in his career, before moving to Italy with Sampdoria for £1.5m. Whilst in Italy he featured, mainly as a full back, 30 times in Serie A then moved back to England to the Wednesday in the summer of 1993. The Owls paid almost £3m for his services, and you could easily say he was value for money after 361 appearances in almost nine years at Hillsborough. “You’ll Never Beat, Des Walker,” was the chant that rang round many a stadium during his time with the Owls before he left to return to Forest in 2002.

Back at the City Ground he featured a further 62 times before calling time on his career in February 2005 as one of the best defenders to have graced the pitches of England, Europe and the world as he also collected 59 England caps playing in international tournaments and being part of the great English Italia 90 team along the way.

Since retiring from playing, Walker had a spell away from the game working as a lorry driver and now he’s coaching the players of tomorrow at Derby County where he looks after the Under 14 side at the iPro Stadium.

Last weekend we were given the chance to have a brief chat with Walker as he joined Brian Deane in Firth Park to help open the newest Paddy Power branch in the city, before then being involved in an informal chat Q&A with a group of supporters from both sides of the Sheffield divide.

It has been said over the years by some that Walker, didn’t really have much affection for the Wednesday. But he quickly denied that was the case at all.

“I played football at the highest level here, the fans were great with me. It’s a great club, I love the city and that’s why I stayed so long because I really enjoyed it.” Walker said.

I played with a lot of good players here, Dan Petrescu, Roland Nilsson, Hirsty, Waddler, Shez, Carlton. I was lucky in my career really to have played with some really good players and against quite a few too of course. That’s the highlight for me in my career, the players who I played with and against.”

What was even more interesting was how pragmatic he was about his time in football and with the Wednesday. Walker is a straight talking man who has a lot to say for himself and while many may see that as a sign of arrogance, he’s not a man who strikes as being that at all, he was just focused on doing what he was paid to do.

“I think I did my job for Wednesday. If I didn’t then I know I wouldn’t sleep at night.

“I gave every ounce of blood, sweat and tears that I had and I don’t think I could have done any better than I did. I can’t think of any game when I thought I should have tried any more, I don’t have any regrets on that at any point in my career. I wish I could keep playing like every player does but I can’t.

“But I think if I’ve no regrets then I can move on in life. I was lucky; I hardly missed any games at all in almost nine years at Wednesday. So when I left, there were no regrets of injuries or anything and I left having had a great time at the club.

“Yes, it would have been nice to have won something while I was with Wednesday, but you don’t have no divine right to win anything. Half the fun is in trying, if it was easy it wouldn’t be no fun.”


Football has changed to many since the times of Walker gracing the Hillsborough turf, but the former Wednesday defender doesn’t think it’s changed all that much. Although people may just see things differently in what is essentially still a ‘simple game,’ but outside influences may well be a factor in the era of the blanket TV Coverage of our great game.

“To me the game itself is no different at all. Yes it was more physical in the past but you didn’t have to pander to television every game.

“Now you have to pander to them, they don’t pay all that money to let you dictate how it goes, they pay all that money for them to dictate. That’s why Newcastle played on Friday night to open the season and why Wednesday played their first game on Sunday. If they think the game should be more attacking, they’ll put pressure for changes in the rules to make that happen and over the years you’ll see certain things that players did before that they can’t do now because they’d be classed as a mass murderer or something!!”


Now Walker’s son, Tyler, is forging his own path as a young professional and he’s 28 appearances (and three goals) into his burgeoning career. But he’s not shepherding the strikers around the field like his father, he’s the striker trying to cut a path through the defences in the English Football League. But Walker Snr, isn’t about to tell his son how to play the game as he wants the 19-year-old to experience things in his own way.



”With my son, I don’t advise him on anything but that’s not because I don’t know how to. I do know where a forward plays as I have had to mark them all my life but the way for him to learn is by playing. When he was eight all I did was simplify the game for him, and he’ll use that formula. I could tell you or him what a centre forward’s job is, I just can’t tell you how to do it!!

“I’ve never known no manager, player or coach tell you how to do it, so I don’t try. I know his job is to get hold of the ball and put it into the back of the net. You find a way to get hold of the ball, some do it by using pace, some people do it by timing and some do it by just positioning but you have to get the ball up the field.”

He continued: “Now I believe I worked with the master, Brian Clough, and he showed me football is a very, very simple game the difficulty is that sometimes you’ll come up against people who are better than you but the game itself still remains simple. You can’t go about it any differently, if you’re a centre half and you don’t head it then your whole team are going backwards and it’s a long way to go back the other way to get where you’re supposed to be going. So if you’re a centre half, I suggest you head it and then all the team go the way we want to. It’s so simple. Some people say you need to go from A-B-C-D, other people do it the way what they do, it’s not for me to criticise them, I just see it the way I see it.”

Whilst talk is of goals Walker only scored one in his career, many wanted him to score at Wednesday and arguably thought his performances warranted one but he didn’t really ever see it as a priority of putting the ball in the net, he thought more of keeping it away from his own goal.

“I wasn’t paid to score goals. Yes I can look back and say I scored a goal but played badly defending, what does that mean? It was always going to be hard to score when you touch the ball 90 yards from the other team’s goal! I didn’t go up for corners or anything like that because my job was to win the ball and give it to someone else who is better than me. Well, not just that he’s better but he’s 15-20 yards further up the field than me.

“If I was to play a pass to the strikers the ball was going too far, anyone can read a pass that’s coming all the way from the back. You have to be a bad defender for a pass coming from the back to beat you. You need to give it to a midfielder, then he can slide a pass through, it’s much shorter and a lot harder to read. That’s just the simplicity of the game, as I said earlier, I learned from the master.

“Some people think that if you’re playing centre half now you’re a proper ball player, but if you’re a good player, a proper player with the ball then why aren’t you playing in midfield? That’s where good players are. If you’re good enough you’ll play in midfield.”


Of all the players Walker played with throughout his career, one team stands out as the best. Not one player, but a team. One, which is memorable in this country for almost replicating what, happened in 1966. An England team packed full of individuals with a team ethic like no other.

“The players I played with in England’s 1990 side would take some beating. As a team or as individuals, Barnes, Waddle, Robson, Lineker, Beardsley, Butcher, Pearce, Gascoigne, that team stands in it’s own right. Of course as I say it would have been hard to beat them as individuals but certainly as a team. I was lucky to play with Waddler here in Sheffield as well, these are world class players and they were really up there. Then there were people like Viv Anderson, Mancini, John Robertson and Gary Birtles, the list is endless.

“Then to have played against people like Diego Maradona and Marco Van Basten was also a real honour so that’s why I say that’s the highlight of my career. Of course it’s great to win things because you’ve achieved something you all set as a goal at the start of the season but I always look back and tend to think the players I played with and against bring me my biggest memories. They are what come to mind first when I look back.”


Players like these would have commanded huge transfer fees in the current climate of the £90m pound transfer… What would a modern day Des Walker be worth?

“You can take that out of it, it’s not about how much you’re worth it’s about doing the job well. I look back and I know I did my job well, there’s not a game when I thought I could have tried more, it didn’t exist. Some people’s ability is god given; you are what you are. Maybe I was paid more than most, but I’m sure the managers expected more from me than most. So I made sure I tried to deliver more than most.

“Whenever I went for a new contract I did want more, but that’s because before I went in there and asked, I’d already delivered. There comes a time when someone can’t deliver so you can’t pay him.

“Some people may think what they get paid has no relation to how they play now, that’s just what they get paid. I’d be thinking… Well if I’m paying you more than anyone else, then I’d want more from you than I want from anyone else. If that’s not happening, it would annoy me if I was the manager, because I’d see it as I’m paying him to deliver and he’s not.”


He continued: “The problem is they can’t get rid of the players on 80 or 90 grand a week because a manager’s just took say £50m from the chairman, then you can’t go and say ‘sorry, I’ve just wasted your £50m,’ so there’s a U turn and players keep getting played. But you’re making the team worse.

“I can remember Brian Clough buying a player for a lot of money and the chairman came in and he said, “Chairman, sorry… I just wasted your money.” And the manager kept the player out of the team. Now the thing is as players, we knew that and we had his respect. But if a player is still being picked, as the manager hasn’t got the bottle to drop him you won’t get that respect.

“Big managers make big decisions, like Mourinho, he can go in at Man United and say, ‘Off you go Giggs.’ And it doesn’t matter what was said, he would be going.

Anyone can make the small decisions, do you take Wayne Rooney to the European Championships? So if he hasn’t good enough to be his club’s striker and he’s in midfield, then why do you take him? Big managers make those decisions. Do you think Brian Clough would have made that big decision? I know what he would have done.”


Moving forward onto Wednesday and their chances in the Championship this season, Walker says that he has high hopes for a side, which has been built in the right way and has plenty of promise while other clubs may find it a little more difficult than they may have anticipated.

“I think Villa and Newcastle will struggle until maybe November. They have players who took them down, they’re on big money and it’s about how they can get rid of those players. Norwich have a steadier squad and I think they’ll cope better with the Championship.

“I remember when I played in the Championship for the first time after being relegated. It was a battle for 90 minutes, and it was like I forgot how to play football. In the top division it’s not a battle for 90 minutes, you don’t get players hitting like they do down there. The Newcastle and Villa players aren’t used to that and it could take them until November to do that.

“Benitez will know who is good enough and who isn’t after being there last season and seeing who wanted it or not. But he can’t just get rid of them. They’ve spent a lot of money and these players are on big money and it depends on if they can sell them on, that will be their biggest problem, not bringing players in.

“Of course, I’d love to see Wednesday to go up, as well as Forest and Derby. There are three big clubs who I’d love to see back in the Premier League.


During his time as a player, many fans would say we saw or heard little from Des Walker in the press. Maybe he would say he didn’t need to talk to them; all his talking was done on the pitch and it would be hard to argue against that view. He was a defender who was tough and uncompromising, but honest and respectful too. Much like his whole outlook on life. He’s certainly got my respect that’s for sure.

Thanks to PaddyPower for inviting us down to their store opening on Bellhouse Road at Firth Park and thanks to Des Walker for a fascinating 15 minutes which will live with me for quite some time.

What do you remember of Des Walker? Is he the best centre back you’ve seen play for the Wednesday? Or where does he rank amongst the club’s greats?

Come discuss with us on the forum…. HERE….  

Unread article 11/08/2016 at 14:08

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