Club historian David Bull remembers Johnny Walker, who has died aged 90.
In 1947, Glasgow-born Johnny Walker, aged 18, left junior football in Scotland to join Wolverhampton Wanderers. His chances of breaking into their powerful first team were not helped by doing National Service in the Army Service Corps as a typist sharing an office, none too amicably, with Jimmy Hill.
He made his debut in February 1950 and, by the time he left Wolves 32 months later, he had scored 21 goals in 37 First Division appearances for them. And he’d been the leading scorer, with five goals, in their 1950/51 FA Cup run to the semi-final.
But manager Stan Cullis signed 17-year-old Peter Broadbent during that run, paying a record fee for a teenager who would seriously intensify the competition for Johnny’s inside-forward shirt.
After one more full season at Molineux, Johnny stepped down a division in October 1952. Having declined a move to Luton Town, he instead made his Southampton debut against the Hatters, scoring the first of his 52 goals for the Saints. Relegation at the end of that 1952/53 season meant that Johnny would spend the rest of his Dell days in Division III (South).
By the time he played his 186th and last game for the Saints in November 1957, shortly before his 29th birthday, he had become a mentor to teenage winger, Terry Paine. Playing at inside-forward to him in the Reserves, Johnny had been hugely impressed and told manager Ted Bates so.
The following Saturday, they were in the first team together. No wonder, then, that, on learning of Johnny’s death, Terry e-mailed to assure me that he can “still remember his kindness and help when I first made it in the first team.”
This was an age when inside-forwards could still be expected both to fetch-and-carry for their wing-partners and to be in the box to score from their crosses. That Johnny could dual-task is reflected in a debate, conducted for the purpose of his 2013 profile in All the Saints, between two Saints fans who watched him in their teens.
One remembered him as “slick in the box”; the other as “a popular forager”. That popularity was surely enhanced by the way he swung an arm or two as he ran, earning himself the nickname of “Windmill Walker”. Johnny had acquired that habit at Molineux, when celebrating a goal – long before Mick Channon developed it – but he would do it also in open play.
Johnny was transferred in December 1957 to Reading, where he thrived. In seven-and-a-half seasons, he made over 300 appearances, finishing up at right-back and later being voted one of the Royals’ Top 100 players of all-time. Club historian David Downs has described him as “one of the most charismatic and inspirational skippers Reading have ever had.”
In his retirement, he had a couple of delivery jobs and then worked for the Royal Mail. He also helped out with Reading’s youngsters for a while – Neil Webb and all – in a role that he modestly described as “talking to them, rather than coaching” and scouted a bit for manager Maurice Evans.
Johnny participated keenly in events organised by the Saints historians, whom he repeatedly welcomed to his home in Theale – or maybe to his local pub, even though he gave up beer and whisky (despite a name like Johnny Walker) in 1976, to become a coke-only drinker.
Admitted to the Royal Berkshire Hospital on January 19th, Johnny died four days later.
JOHN YOUNG HILLEY WALKER
17th December 1928 - 23rd January 2019
Johnny Walker's funeral will take place on Wednesday 20th February at 12.15pm at the Reading Crematorium, which is in the grounds of the Henley Road Cemetery in Caversham, RG4 5LP. All welcome.