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Irish Hammer 12:30 Fri Oct 15
One from the Archives - Jimmy Walker, one of the good guys
This is an old one, written 12 years ago, enjoy...

Farewell Jimmy Walker: One of Football's Good Guys

It is unusual for a reserve goalkeeper quietly released by his club at the end of the season to stir the fans' emotions. Yet no West Ham supporter will forget the contribution made by Jimmy Walker after his departure from Upton Park yesterday. The game is full of footballers who take themselves far too seriously; he does not belong to that group.

A goalkeeper who is second-choice for his team can have cause to become sullen with opportunities for matches rare. With West Ham approaching their second season in The Championship, their manager Alan Pardew signed Walker from Walsall in the summer of 2004 as back-up to Stephen Bywater. Little was known about a man whose football had been played exclusively in the lower leagues.

Yet fans looking for a reference point had one. In January 2001, West Ham were given an away draw at Walsall in the third round of the FA Cup. Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Trevor Sinclair and Fredi Kanoute each started and the Premier League side won an engrossing match 3-2. One performance stayed in the memory however - that of the home goalkeeper, Jimmy Walker, whose many saves kept the final score respectable.

How, one wondered, could this excellent goalkeeper not be plying his trade in the top flight? The answer was simple: size. Walker suffered from Napoleon syndrome. At just 5'11", he was judged too small. A goalkeeper can work on his catching, kicking or shot-stopping. Growing taller is a physical impossibility.

Walker had to wait his turn at West Ham. Bywater was first choice, although many were unsure whether he was truly capable. Hesitancy off his line and poor kicking were worrying features in his make-up.

So when Walker was picked for a Carling Cup match, interest in him was high. His only problem was that the tie was away to Jose Mourinho's Chelsea. Yet he performed as if his very life depended on it. There were 6,000 West Ham fans at Stamford Bridge that night and none will ever forget it.

Predictably shot after shot rained in on the West Ham goal. Joe Cole, by now a Chelsea player, was in a threatening mood and appeared determined to score. He could not beat Walker. Only Mateja Kezman could, and only the once.

Kezman's goal turned out to be the winner, but the game's narrative swung away from the outcome of the match near its end. With 15 minutes remaining, Tomas Repka fouled Arjen Robben in the box and a penalty was awarded - at the West Ham end. Immediately Frank Lampard grabbed the ball. This was his moment to finally silence the taunts of the West Ham support. This was his penalty.

He struck the ball hard and slightly of the ground, down the middle, almost as if he was hoping to burst the net and send the ball into the crowd. Walker dived to his left. He had been tricked by simple bludgeonry. Yet the net did not burst. Lampard was lifting his hands, but not in celebration, to put them to his head. The ball had spun high up in the air and away from the goal. Somehow Walker had saved the penalty with a combination of knee, leg and luck.

The away support erupted, their foe beaten, a cult hero spawned. In one moment, in his short West Ham career, Walker had sealed his place in the hearts of every West Ham for ever. If he didn't appreciate it that the time, he soon would.

He was back on the bench in the next game however. There were no complaints. He simply waited. He earned a run in the side in January, but an error-strewn display in a 4-2 defeat against Wolves let Bywater back in. Walker did not feature again until April.

By then Pardew was desperate. West Ham were in serious danger of not making the Playoffs and the financial consequences did not bear thinking about. Walker was thrown in for a crucial match at the league leaders, Wigan Athletic, that West Ham did not dare lose. Pardew never did make it easy for him.

With Walker sure of himself in goal, West Ham won the match 2-1. Walker was not dropped again and West Ham eventually reached the Playoff final, where they faced Preston North End. The better side throughout, Bobby Zamora gave the Hammers a merited lead after 57 minutes.

West Ham had performed so well that Walker had barely been called upon - then, out of nowhere, disaster struck. Coming well off his line to catch a high ball from Preston's defence, in mid-air Walker realised he had left his area. In an attempt to end his descent in the box, he twisted his leg back, inevitably tearing the cruciate ligament in his knee upon landing. To compound matters, he had landed outside the box. He was spared a red card for deliberate by a sympathetic referee and after seven minutes of injury time, West Ham held on.

For Walker, though, his Premier League career was over before it had even begun. Few doubted he would have been West Ham's goalkeeper in their first season back. Roy Carroll was signed from Manchester United instead.

The day after the Play-off final, I headed to an open-top bus parade to celebrate West Ham's promotion. Near enough to the bus to speak to the players, I chanced upon Walker. "How's the knee, Jimmy?" I shouted. His answer, delivered humorously and with a wide smile, was cheerily blunt: "Fucked!" Not many players are so open or self-deprecating. On a day of great celebration, that memory stands out.

Having recovered from his lengthy injury, Walker made only two more appearances for West Ham. Indeed his final memorable fact came after a match in which he had not been involved. West Ham qualified for the UEFA Cup in 2006 but their campaign ended with a heavy first round defeat to Palermo.

After the second leg, lost 3-0 in Italy, the away support were kept in the stadium for some time. In an empty stadium, Walker took it upon himself to lift what had been a miserable night. Shooting against a vacant goal, he met a cross with a stunning bicycle kick which cracked against the crossbar. To cheers, he eventually put in the rebound before accepting his fans' chants of appreciation.

Funny and down-to-earth, he will be sorely missed. Everyone liked Jimmy Walker. Maybe just not Frank Lampard.

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

Pav BML 12:15 Mon Oct 18
Re: One from the Archives - Jimmy Walker, one of the good guys
Highly recommend listening/watching his two parter on the podcast under the cosh. Very funny guy.

m11 9:51 Sun Oct 17
Re: One from the Archives - Jimmy Walker, one of the good guys
Popular character with the supporters. My abiding memory of him was in the second leg of the play off semi final at Portman Road (what a night), when an Ipswich player smashed a long range shot at him, it hit his chest and went just over the bar.
The look of relief on his face when it didn't go in was a picture.
I knew then our luck was in that night

stewey 7:29 Sat Oct 16
Re: One from the Archives - Jimmy Walker, one of the good guys
I think he is in the prestige second hand motor trade

chevy chase 2:29 Sat Oct 16
Re: One from the Archives - Jimmy Walker, one of the good guys

The Fonz 10:59 Fri Oct 15
Re: One from the Archives - Jimmy Walker, one of the good guys
Use to love reading his column in the programme as a kid.

Top man.

Lato 11:11 Fri Oct 15
Re: One from the Archives - Jimmy Walker, one of the good guys
Thanks Irish.

Great character is our Jimmy and oh and that penalty save!

Thanks Irish 10:09 Fri Oct 15
Re: One from the Archives - Jimmy Walker, one of the good guys
Thanks Irish

Coffee 8:30 Fri Oct 15
Re: One from the Archives - Jimmy Walker, one of the good guys
Nice one, Irish. Thanks, as always.

Irish Hammer 12:31 Fri Oct 15
Re: One from the Archives - Jimmy Walker, one of the good guys
Whats he's up to now:
In 2013, Walker replaced Barry Richardson as the first team goalkeeper coach at Peterborough United. On 21 February 2015, Walker left Peterborough following the sacking of manager Darren Ferguson. He has since worked at Gillingham, Lincoln City, Sunderland. He joined Ipswich Town as goalkeeping coach in 2018.

In April 2021, Walker left his position at Ipswich.

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