Ernie Walker, the man with a clear vision for Scottish football, dies at 83

ERNIE Walker, the former secretary of the Scottish Football Association and one of the leading figures in the game during the last decades of the 20th century, died yesterday after being ill for many years. He was 83.

Walker's period at the helm of the SFA, where he served as assistant secretary before succeeding Willie Allan in the top job in 1977, was one of unparalleled succession for the national team. As assistant secretary he had seen Scotland return from the 1974 World Cup in Germany as the only undefeated team in the tournament. As secretary he saw them compete in the following four World Cups as well - and in 1982, against government advice, oversaw the replacement of God Save The Queen as the team's national anthem with Scotland The Brave.

Invariably immaculately dressed, Walker ran a tight ship. Caricatured on occasion as an unsmiling bureaucrat, he in fact had a delightfully dry sense of humour, the subtlety of which often went over the heads of his detractors.

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And, while his everyday concern was with the maintenance of good order in Scottish football as it actually existed, he was just as interested in Scottish football as it might be. Above all, his work on the SFA's Think Tank was proof of this. A thoroughgoing review of every aspect of the game and how it could be improved, the Think Tank benefited from the involvement of many individuals, among them the Dutch coaching legend Rinus Michels, but it was with the name of Ernie Walker that it became inextricably associated.

"It is with sadness that the Scottish FA has learned of the death of its former secretary, Ernie Walker," a statement on the SFA website read yesterday. "Ernie died peacefully after a long illness."

Walker, the statement continued, was "an administrator whose knowledge of the game was respected throughout world football. He was chairman of Uefa's Stadia Committee for more than a decade, co-authoring reference books in this area, and was an advisor on many other aspects of the game."

George Peat, the current president of the SFA, paid a personal tribute to the former secretary. "On behalf of the Scottish FA I would like to convey by condolences to the Walker family," Peat said.

"Ernie was renowned throughout the game as a first-class administrator and a first-class gentleman. Indeed, one of the first people to contact me upon hearing the news was Theodore Theodoridis, Uefa's Deputy General Secretary.

"Ernie was renowned for his negotiation skills and his impact on the Scottish FA and the game in this country continues to be felt. It is symbolic that Ernie's passing has coincided with another review of Scottish football, conducted by Henry McLeish.

"In many ways, Ernie was a visionary who cared deeply about the national game. I am sure Ernie will have approved of the changes that the Scottish FA is currently undertaking to rejuvenate both the organisation and the game as a whole."

It might equally be the case that Walker would have disapproved of the lack of change in the national governing body, for there were many elements of his Think Tank which were applauded as terribly good ideas, and then conveniently forgotten by the various interest groups within Scottish football. The Think Tank reported in 1995; 15 years on, its direct descendant, the McLeish Report, appears in danger of going down the same path of neglect, albeit for somewhat different reasons.

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Walker had been officially retired for five years when his Think Tank reported back. In 1990, after that historic fifth consecutive World Cup appearance, he was succeeded by Jim Farry, who had been secretary of the Scottish Football League. Walker maintained an active interest in SFA affairs after standing down, and the following year let it be known he thought a completely new national stadium preferable to what eventually transpired, the redevelopment of Hampden.

Farry, who would stay in his new post until 1999, was only 56 when he died last November, and Peat remembered him in his statement too. "It is a tragedy that we have lost Ernie and his successor, Jim Farry, in recent months; two men who presided over a golden era for Scottish football and the national team," he said.

Craig Brown, the former Scotland coach who is now Aberdeen manager, knew both Walker and Farry well. Speaking of the former last year, he offered a simple verdict which would be shared by many of his generation. "When it came to administrators in our game, the very best, in my opinion, was Ernie Walker," he said.