The recognition comes after years of canvassing by not only Hearts fans, but also Scottish football fans and Scottish sports writers.
Stephen Halliday, writing in these pages in September, stressed that there was a powerful case to be made to acclaim the forward as the country’s greatest player of all time. He described Walker’s then absence from the roll of honour as being “the equivalent of Benny Lynch being left out of the Scottish Boxing Hall of Fame”. The column has clearly helped focus minds. Along with five other respected names from Scottish football, Walker was celebrated last night at a dinner at Hampden Park.
While the delay in honouring the player capped 29 times over 12 years by Scotland has been lamented in the pages of The Scotsman among other places, last night’s news is timely in one sense. The belated recognition comes 100 years after Walker was given a testimonial gift of a watch and 250 sovereign coins – towards the cost of which the Scottish Football Association contributed £100.
It was the first time the SFA had made such gesture. The watch bore an inscription: “Presented to Robert J Walker, together with a purse of sovereigns, by the SFA and his many admirers, in appreciation of his services to Scottish football - 2nd January 1913”.
The news that his photograph will finally be installed in the Hall of Fame at the SFA’s Hampden base has been welcomed by Hearts. “Bobby Walker is an iconic figure in the rich history of Heart of Midlothian football club and we are both proud and delighted to see him take his place in the Scottish football Hall of Fame,” said a club spokesperson last night.
Alex Knight, a former club archivist, noted the length of time it has taken to add Walker to the list of distinguished names. “It is not before time, he should have been first on the list in my opinion,” he said. “He was the Ronaldo of his day.”
Walker shares the record for caps against England, playing 11 times against the Auld Enemy. He was he first player to score 100 league goals for Hearts, while his tally of 33 goals against Hibs remains a record total in the Edinburgh derby. Hearts’ 1901 Scottish Cup final win over Celtic was known as “Walker’s final” after he stamped his authority on the game in a 4-3 victory.
He also inspired a style of play known as “Walkerism” which was distinguished by clever footwork.
Although he died aged only 51, he had already packed much into his life. In Walker’s time, Scotland only played three internationals a year and so the 29 caps that he won must be placed in special context. He belongs in the company of those such as Kenny Dalglish, who heads the list of cap winners on 102 appearances for his country, and has been hailed as British football’s first superstar, a precursor to the likes of David Beckham.
At the turn of the previous century, he was handed a sign-on fee of £39 – said at the time to have been 13 times the weekly wage – to keep him at Tynecastle in the face of interest from south of the Border, to where a player drain had begun.
And yet Walker was unfailingly modest about his talent. “I would rather play than speak,” he once said.
Others were left to do the talking on his behalf. Jackie Robertson, who captained Scotland when Walker player, said: “You would think Bobby Walker had eight feet. You go to tackle him where his feet were but they’re away by the time you get there.”
Walker honed a dribbling style that bamboozled opposition players. “It can be seen now that Walker’s style was not slow but subtle and he anticipated a long line of thinking inside-forwards that have been the backbone of so many Scottish teams and the delight of Scottish crowds,” writes John Cairney, in his book A Scottish Football Hall of Fame, from 1998.
This publication had no association with the official Scottish football Hall of Fame, which was inaugurated in 2004. Since then 83 names have been inducted. Dismay has been the reaction of those alert to the details of Walker’s extraordinary career each time a fresh group of former players, managers and other respected figures has been added to the list.
Scottish football fans are allowed to nominate players, managers and officials whom they think should be recognised for their contribution to Scottish football. A panel of experts from the game and the media then consider the nominees and whittle the numbers down. Some have noted that any Scottish football hall of fame that did not include Walker lacked credibility.
Walker’s renown travelled far. When Hearts toured Norway on their first overseas tour in 1912, King Haakon VII of Norway made a point of seeing him play. Frank Johnston, an English football writer, reflected in the 1934 edition of the Football Encyclopedia that Walker was “the greatest natural footballer who ever played”. At that time, he had been retired for 20 years.
But it was at Hearts where he was most dearly loved and appreciated. He signed for the Tynecastle club from Dalry Primrose although there has been some debate as to whether this was a club in Dalry, Edinburgh, or Dalry, Ayrshire. Wherever it was that he grew up, he was known as the “Houdini of Dalry”. It was clear that he felt very much at home at Hearts, where he later became a director.
As Cairney notes: “He knew no other club, and had no wish to.” Walker is buried in North Merchiston cemetery in Gorgie. In September a group of Hearts supporters received praise for tending to his grave’s upkeep after the plot, where his mother and brother Alexander, who was killed in the First World War, are also buried, was allowed to become overgrown with weeds.
Walker’s reputation as a footballer has never needed restoring. However, there is a feeling that something has now been repaired by his admittance to an exclusive list of Scottish football greats.
The latest batch of inductees into the Hall of Fame
THE Aberdonian was a cultured defender for his hometown club and then played for Manchester United for 11 years, where he replaced Bobby Charlton as club captain. He finished his career with Oldham Athletic.
He originally made his name at Aberdeen and was voted player of the year by the Scottish football writers in 1971. He is the only player to captain winning Scottish and English FA Cup final sides – for Aberdeen in 1970 (when he was only 21), when they defeated Celtic, and for United in 1977, in the victory over Liverpool. When he signed for United in 1972 for £120,000 he was the club’s record signing and lived up to the billing.
He was one of the pillars of Tommy Docherty’s side as United sought to recover after the despair of relegation from the First Division in ’73-’74 – Buchan’s second season. He led them back up the following year. In all, Buchan played nearly 500 times for United, scoring four goals.
Buchan played 34 times for Scotland, appearing in the 1974 and 1978 World Cup finals. He retired as a player after his Oldham spell, but then also managed briefly at Burnley. Now 64, he currently works for the Professional Footballers Association.
KNOWN to one and all as The Doc, Docherty, now 85, has distinguished himself as a player, manager and raconteur in a long career in football.
Although he played briefly for Celtic, he made his name in England with Preston North End and Arsenal. He did have a short spell at Chelsea before joining the club’s coaching staff. The list of clubs he has managed stretches to 14. He managed Scotland in the early 1970s, giving Kenny Dalglish his first cap and qualifying for the 1974 World Cup. He then left to join Manchester United, where he found trying circumstances at the Old Trafford club.
They were relegated to the Second Division under him but he led them back to the First Division in 1974-75. The following season they finished third and reached the FA Cup final. United won the trophy under him the following year and yet, the most memorable part of his United reign is perhaps his sacking after an extra-marital affair with the wife of the United physio became public. Docherty and Mary Brown later married and are still together. Because of his colourful managerial history, it is perhaps forgotten what a good player he was at wing-half. Docherty played 25 times for Scotland and appeared at the 1954 World Cup finals in Switzerland.
BORN in Glasgow, Gray is regarded as a part of the furniture at Leeds United, whom he joined for straight from school aged 16. He was only 17 when he made his full debut on the first day of 1966.
He played for the Elland Road club for 20 years, making 561 appearances on the left wing (and later left back) while scoring 68 goals. One of them is regarded as one of the best ever scored by a Leeds player, when he beat several men in a run from the corner flag against Burnley in 1970. He also scored a 30-yard chip in the same game. He won six major honours with Leeds and was never booked. He played 12 times for Scotland, but injury curtailed his international ambitions. He missed the 1974 World Cup finals because of injury and his comparatively meagre cap total does not reflect his talent. Nevertheless, he was considered to be one of the most stylish wingers in the English game and was inducted in the English Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Manager Don Revie memorably summed up his style with the comment “when he plays on snow, he doesn’t leave any footprints”. He managed Leeds United between 1982 and 1985 and again in 2003-04. Now 65, he is an ambassador at the Elland Road club.
THE popular goalkeeper played over 400 times for Partick Thistle and was in the team that defeated Celtic in the 1971 League Cup final. As a Thistle player, he played in two World Cup finals for Scotland – at Argentina in 1978 and in Spain four years later.
He remains associated with a time of great Scottish success although it was not always a good time to be a Scottish goalkeeper. Rough could do little about goals such as the Netherlands’ Johnny Rep’s in 1978. But Rough made his name as a fine shot-stopper in both of these successful qualification campaigns.
His penultimate cap in a career that spanned 53 games for Scotland came at Ninian Park in 1985 on the night when Jock Stein tragically passed away. He replaced Jim Leighton at half-time in the World Cup decider against Wales. Rough, by then a Hibs player, was picked in the squad for a third World Cup finals later that year but did not feature in Mexico.
After losing his place at Hibs to Andy Goram, Rough had a brief spell in America, then joined Celtic as a stand-in for the injured Pat Bonner. He later played for Hamilton Accies and Ayr United. He is now an entertaining phone-in radio host, where he is known to the listeners and callers as Roughy.
BORN in Errol, James Scotland Symon started his playing career with Dundee and also played with Portsmouth before joining Rangers, where he won a league title. He won a single Scotland cap (and also represented Scotland at cricket).
It is as a manager where he truly left his mark. He helped turn East Fife into one of the best sides in the country after leading them to the ‘B’ Division championship in 1947-48. Perhaps more significantly, in the same season East Fife lifted the League Cup. As a First Division side, they won the League Cup again in 1949-50, and also reached the Scottish Cup final, where they lost to Rangers.
Symon moved to Preston North End, whom he led to the FA Cup final in his only full season there, before returning to Scotland to take over at Rangers as successor to the retired Bill Struth. He remains a pivotal figure in the Ibrox club’s history after leading them to six championships, four Scottish Cups and five League Cups. He was also the first man to manage Rangers in Europe and reached the European Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1961, losing to Fiorentina and 1967, when they lost to Bayern Munich. He was sacked in the same year after rejecting the offer of a general manager role, and with the side top of the league. He died in 1985 at the age of 73.