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Obituary: Ernie Walker, OBE, CBE, football administrator

SFA secretary through five World Cups and a host of footballing controversies

Ernest John Munro Walker, OBE, CBE, football administrator.

Born: 7 July, 1928, in Glasgow.

Died: 14 May, 2011, in Glasgow, aged 82.

Ernie Walker was the football fan who gained the toughest job in the game in Scotland - secretary of the Scottish Football Association. In his 13-year reign at the SFA's then headquarters at Park Gardens in Glasgow, he gained a reputation as a stickler for discipline on the pitch, and a man who fought Scottish football's corner off it.

It is perhaps less appreciated that he was something of a visionary who, in his retirement, presided over a much-derided think tank - typically, Walker always insisted on its proper name, the Review Commission - whose recommendations such as regional "centres of coaching excellence" were largely ignored by clubs at the time but are now being belatedly implemented by football's authorities.

Walker was a man of stern countenance, but he had a disarming sense of humour, His love of football and the Scottish team was beyond doubt. He was also successful in his time as secretary - the national side qualified for five successive World Cups, a record which, sadly at this point, seems unlikely to be beaten.

Born in Glasgow as the son of a police inspector, Ernie Walker was educated at Queen's Park Secondary School, not far from Hampden Park which would play such an important part in his life.

He was called up for national service in 1946, and served in Palestine and elsewhere with the Royal Horse Artillery. His military bearing - he invariably sat and stood straight-backed - came from those days, while his love of football was learned on the streets of his native city.

He joined a textile manufacturer on leaving the army in 1948, and after ten years' service he was in line for promotion to director-secretary when the business abruptly closed. Made redundant along with 400 others, Walker applied for the post of chief clerk at the SFA where the then secretary, Sir George Graham, was being replaced by assistant secretary Willie Allan.

In due course, Walker himself replaced Allan, but not until after serving a long apprenticeship as assistant secretary which included the most basic of duties in the lower ranks of the association.

He was one of just eight staff responsible for the sale of tickets for the 1960 European Cup final between Real Madrid and Ein-tracht Frankfurt at Hampden Park, which attracted a record crowd of 127,620. Walker delighted in telling how a grateful Uefa gave the eight a bonus of six pounds, five shillings each, with which he bought a golf caddy car.

Taking over from Allan in 1977, Walker was thrust into the limelight a year later when Scotland's foray to the World Cup in Argentina went disastrously wrong under the late Ally MacLeod.A failed drugs test by Willie Johnston, dissension among players and a media savaging of the squad made Walker a somewhat put-upon but nevertheless dignified national figure.

Over the period of his secretaryship he had to deal with several major controversies, not the least of which was the infamous Old Firm riot after the Scottish Cup Final of 1980. Walker had already identified alcohol as the main cause of many problems, and the ban on drink inside Scottish sports grounds was largely due to him.

After wincing when Scottish fans began to boo God Save the Queen, it was Walker who insisted on the playing of Scotland the Brave as Scotland's anthem at the World Cup in 1982. This was seen as pandering to Nationalist sentiment and was raised at Cabinet level, where recently- released papers showed that even the Iron Lady, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, did not fancy a scrap with Walker.

Later, in an unguarded moment, he replied to the question of the anthem by saying: "They can play She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain for all I care, if it makes any difference to the team."

Walker tried and failed to introduce summer matches or a winter break, but was more successful in delaying the introduction of wall-to-wall live television coverage of football which he correctly saw would alter the sport entirely.

He cracked down on dirty play and misbehaving managers alike, and was given the nickname "The Ayatollah" by then Partick Thistle manager Bertie Auld, one of Celtic's Lisbon Lions, and with typically good humour, accepted it as a compliment.

His worst experience in the job came on the night of 10 September, 1985. As manager of Celtic, Jock Stein had several run-ins with Walker on disciplinary grounds, but Walker was instrumental in appointing Stein as national team manager, and though inclined to argue, they became good friends. It was Walker who rushed to Stein's side when the latter collapsed with a heart attack at the World Cup qualifying match against Wales in Ninian Park, Cardiff, and the SFA secretary could not hide his grief and shock when he announced that Stein had died.

In 1986, Uruguayan players tried to hack and kick the Scottish players at every opportunity in the World Cup in Mexico. Walker called them "scum" but had to apologise for the remark, even though Scots and neutrals alike agreed with him.

Walker was not afraid to push the Scottish case. He accused Saudi Arabia of playing over-age players in the 1989 under-16 World Cup final at Hampden, and called for an inquiry into alleged bribery of the referee in the European Cup semi-final in 1984 when Dundee United were harshly penalised by the official; in both cases, he was proven correct many years later.

After his retirement from the SFA, Walker chaired the Health Education Board for Scotland as well as heading Uefa's stadia and security committee and later acting as a consultant to it.He was also a director of Euro-Sportring, which organises international youth football tournaments, and had particular responsibility for Uefa's links with emerging nations in Eastern Europe.

Walker enjoyed travelling to distant lands on Uefa's behalf, and he listed travel as one of his favourite occupations in a Who's Who in Scotland entry. He also enjoyed fishing, but his greatest recreation outside football was golf, which he played with some accomplishment. During the run-up to the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, Walker was juggling his duties with the role of being club captain at Haggs Castle on the south side of Glasgow.

In 1995, Walker persuaded legendary Dutch coach Rinus Michels, Swedish FA secretary Lars-Christer Olsson, Lord Ranald MacLean, Tony Higgins of the Professional Footballers Association and supporters' representative Martin Rose to join his much-misunderstood Review Commission. Walker remained convinced to the end that had all its conclusions been implemented, Scottish football would be in a much better state.

It says much about the respect in which Walker was held that, despite many jousts with the media over the years, he became vice-president of the journalists' charity, the Newspaper Press Fund.

He was twice honoured by the Queen, being made an OBE in the New Year's Honours List of 1988 for services to football, and being invested CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours of 1995 for services to health education in Scotland.

Walker fought a long and valiant battle against prostate cancer, with which he was first diagnosed about 15 years ago. He continued to give his views on Scottish football and play golf at Haggs Castle until shortly before his illness overtook him.

He is survived by his wife Anne, son Alan and daughters Lesley and Alison.

Details of his funeral service and an appropriate tribute by the SFA will be announced in due course.

 
 
 

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