BY HIS own admission, Jamie Walker has massive shoes to fill. Being a descendant of the Hearts legend Tommy Walker brings huge expectation.
Perhaps that is behind the 19-year-old’s drive to improve. He has undergone extra fitness work away from Riccarton, including boxing and running, all with the hope of becoming a first-team regular.
So far, the winger from Wester Hailes is doing his family proud. He heads to Dingwall tomorrow seeking a third consecutive start in his first season in senior football as part of a young Hearts team making waves.
Interviewing Walker is like stepping back in time. It could easily be his great, great Uncle Tommy standing there. With the jet black hair, piercing stare and unbridled love of Hearts, Jamie is a Walker in every way. Playing in the Tynecastle first team fulfils a childhood dream and one he is determined not to take lightly.
“Tommy was my great, great uncle and I’d love to do half the stuff he did here at Hearts,” Walker told the Evening News. Tommy, pictured below, was an inside forward during the 1930s and 1940s, is regarded as one of the greatest players ever to grace Gorgie. He is also the most successful manager in the club’s history. He died in January 1993, six months before Jamie was born.
“It’s big boots to fill, but I hope I can do it by showing the fans what I can do on the pitch. No-one really knew he was a relative of mine until recently. Since it came out a few people have asked me about it.
“No-one had asked me, so I never really said anything about it. I was kind of keeping the pressure off. Hopefully it can help me that people know about it now.
“That comparison between me and him is there, but I’ll just try and do what I can do. If I can do half of what he did then I’ll be happy with that.
“Darren Murray, our under-20 coach, has helped me a lot over the years. He has done a lot of extra training with me one-on-one this season and he has helped me so much. I can’t thank him enough.
I went to boxing, I went for extra running and extra physical training. It was all stuff without the ball, just fitness work, and it has been really beneficial. I’m really thankful to Darren for that. I wanted to bulk up, be stronger and fitter and improve on that side.
“The SPL is physical and loads of young players aren’t built really big, so that can make it difficult. You need to get working in the gym and look after yourself on the pitch.”
Walker’s talent on the ball is evident to anyone who has witnessed his 11 appearances for Hearts this season. His understanding with fellow Riccarton academy graduates like Jason Holt and Callum Tapping has been a major feature of recent matches.
He is also showing greater endeavour off the ball as per the demand of manager John McGlynn. The complaint levelled at Walker earlier this season was that he tended to “switch off” too often when his team didn’t have possession. It led to him being left out of games when, possibly, his creative ability going forward was needed. That now seems to have changed. Walker freely admits he wasn’t too keen on tracking rampaging full-backs deep into his own half, but he has learned why it is a necessary part of football.
“As a wide player and an attacking player, you want to get forward, create chances and score goals,” he continued.
“Going back and helping out defensively is part of the game and you need to learn. I think I’ve learned more of that over the past few months.
“I’ve been working on my fitness away from the training ground. That’s what the gaffer told me I really need to work on. He knows I’ve got good ability. Now that I’ve been working hard and shown him I can do it, I need to keep doing it all the time.
“I’ve been working hard and when my chance has come I’ve just tried to take it. It has been great playing more regularly recently and I want to keep that up, so I need to keep impressing the gaffer every day to keep my place.
“It’s hard getting into the team. Even when things aren’t going right, you really need to keep going and keep working. I’ve played a lot in the past few weeks and that’s been great, but I still think I’ve got a lot more to show. I’ve played quite well, but there’s a lot more to come.”
Indeed there is, and Walker is eager to play his part. Hearts compete in the Scottish Communities League Cup final on March 17 and harbour ambitions of a top-six finish in the Scottish Premier League. Arguably Walker’s best display at first-team level came last Saturday in the League Cup semi-final at Easter Road.
“Saturday was the biggest game of my career so far. It was a brilliant atmosphere and I felt great playing in front of such a big crowd,” he said. “It was a proud moment for my family. If I keep working hard, hopefully I’ll get a chance to play in the final.”
He has other, more personal targets to aim for before then. “I’ve still not score yet, so I want to get a goal. To play in the League Cup final is an aim, and to win it would be my best achievement so far.”
If he pulls it off, there would be no-one prouder than Uncle Tommy.