THE MAN largely responsible for extending the football career of gifted Irishman Paul McGrath briefly had a place in Brighton & Hove Albion’s midfield.
Jim Walker spent 13 months with the Albion after six years at Derby County. He was later Aston Villa’s physiotherapist for 17 years.
Despite Brighton beating Crystal Palace in the opening game of the 1974-75 season — Peter Taylor’s first in sole charge following the controversial departure of Brian Clough — subsequent early season results were poor.
With close season signing Ernie Machin nursing an injury, and Peter O’Sullivan out of the side for a disciplinary issue, midfield reinforcements were needed.
Taylor returned to his old club in September 1974 to sign Walker and youngster Tommy Mason for a combined £25,000 fee.
Having made an almost wholesale change to the squad at the end of the 1973-74 season, it was perhaps not surprising Taylor turned to some players he knew.
Walker had played his part in Derby’s rise from Second Division obscurity to First Division champions under Clough and Taylor but was essentially a squad player. In seven years at Derby, he only made 42 appearances.
He collected a Second Division Championship medal in 1969, when he played 26 games, and was part of the squad which secured the club’s first ever Division One Championship title in 1972. In 1970 he had been loaned to Clough and Taylor’s old club Hartlepool where he played 10 games.
As well as Walker and Mason, Taylor also brought in former Ram Alan Lewis as cover at left back for Harry Wilson, and ex-Derby striker Ricky Marlowe, who had moved to Shrewsbury, followed the old assistant manager to Brighton.
Doubtless with an eye to an upcoming transfer, Taylor also knew he would need midfield reinforcements because Billy McEwan and Ronnie Welch were the makeweights in a deal to land right back Ken Tiler from Chesterfield.
In only his second game for Brighton, Walker got on the scoresheet in a 2-1 defeat away to Charlton. In the return fixture the following March, an Evening Argus photographer captured a great picture of him on a rain-soaked afternoon at the Goldstone splashing through the mud.
Walker was a regular through to the middle of March but apart from one other start was then substitute through to the end of the season. Although he was still at the club for the start of the following season, he played only twice before being sold for £6,000 to Peterborough United.
As a native of Cheshire — he came from Northwich and played for the local non-league team Northwich Victoria before joining Derby in 1968 — he hankered for a move back to the north west and in November 1976 linked up with an old friend, Alan Oakes, the former Manchester City stalwart who was the manager of Chester City.
Jim made the left back spot his own at Sealand Road and clocked up over 170 appearances in five years in a side which had Peter Ward’s former strike partner Ian Mellor up front and a young Welsh striker called Ian Rush beginning to show some promise!
Eventually an achilles injury brought a premature end to Walker’s career at the age of 34 and he became a physiotherapist and coach with the club.
In 1983 he joined his former Derby teammate Dave Mackay in Kuwait as a coach at Al Arabi and after two years returned to the UK to become physio at Blackburn Rovers. In 1986 he took over as physio at Villa.
Walker worked for six different managers at Villa Park, including Ron Atkinson and Graham Taylor, and it was his careful handling of former Manchester United defender McGrath that made him the Irishman’s best friend.
When asked in the Villan on the Spot feature on avfc.co.uk who was the biggest influence on his career, McGrath replied: “No question about it, Jim Walker the club physio in my time at Villa Park. He was brilliant for me and was responsible for me playing as long as I did. Most of the time spent at the training ground was lifting weights with my legs to strengthen the quadriceps which helped protect my knees. I also did lots of exercise bike work, probably three or four times a week.”
In the One-on-One feature in FourFourTwo magazine: McGrath declared: “The Villa physio Jim Walker, who is more than a friend – a hero of mine – is basically the one that kept my career going. If I hadn’t had Jim on my side, I would have probably finished playing about four seasons earlier than I did.
“Jim created a regime where I just went in and did 10 minutes on the bike each morning and that was about it. Some days I would just have a bath. The games would look after my fitness.”
Walker’s time with Villa came to an end when he became assistant manager to Paul Merson at Walsall in 2004. After that, he briefly returned to Peterborough as physio before taking up the role of senior physio at the famous golf resort hotel The Belfry.
In an interview with the Royal Sutton Coldfield Observer five years ago, Walker told them: “I have been lucky in my career because I was an average footballer who went on to work with some top managers.
“It was a great advantage to have played because I knew what the lads were going through. I understood what it felt like to be injured and not playing football and I understood the frustration that after six weeks of injury you need to be patient and build up your fitness levels instead of walking straight back into the first team.”
Read more here:
- Pictures from my scrapbook show Evening Argus shots of Walker pirouetting through Goldstone puddles against Charlton Athletic and Peter Taylor signing Walker and Mason for the Albion.