The Scot from the Vale of Leven – John Walker

Trying to compile an inventory of Scotsmen who have played football for Everton is like compressing springs in an old iron bedstead. Just when you think your task is complete, another one jumps up. The latest addition to this list is John Walker.

John Walker

He was born on 4 November 1869, in Bonhill, Dunbartonshire and was the second child of John, a carter (driver of horse-drawn vehicles), and his wife, Jane. He was training to be an engine fitter when he began his career with the Alexandria-based Vale of Leven club and represented them in several Scottish FA Cup games prior to them becoming founder members of the Scottish League.

 In 1890 he signed for a Grimsby Town side who had just been accepted as founder members of the Football League Division Two. Walker, playing at centre-half, took part in the Lincolnshire club’s inaugural match on what was then their home ground at Abbey Park. The visitors were Northwich Victoria and the home side won 2-1. The Scot, it was noted, was ‘an energetic defender but was sometimes inclined towards poor judgement.’ He went on to make thirteen appearances for Grimsby before going out on loan to Gainsborough Trinity. The move followed an incident that saw him jump into the crowd to confront a critical spectator before the forces of the law intervened.

In March 1893, John Walker arrived in Liverpool for a trial period, hoping to make a permanent move to Goodison Park. No fee was mentioned, but Everton did agree to play a benefit match for the aid of the Grimsby club on 20 April. Everton were preparing for their first appearance in an FA Cup Final, so the arrival of Walker went unnoticed. The club offered him a temporary wage of thirty shillings per week, and he made his debut in a 5-0 home win over the St Bernard club from Edinburgh. Walker also took part in the game against Grimsby Town which was to be played in Hull.

The ‘dribbling code’ had yet to find favour in the Humberside seaport so the game took place on the Holderness Road rugby ground where 3,000 people paid for admission.  Walker took up position in the middle of a half-back line that included Alex Latta and John Jamieson. Goals from James McMillan and Jack Elliott had given Everton the lead but a late rally by the Mariners earned them a 2-2 draw.  Walker was then granted a two-year contract and a wage during the winter months of £2 per week.

He took his place in the Combination side and on 18 September, he replaced John Holt in the senior side, scoring in a 4 – 2 home win over Aston Villa. The following week he took part in the return game at Perry Barr, where Everton lost 3-1, and then returned to the Combination XI. On 18 November, Walker was selected to represent Everton for a third time, in the away game against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The weather was fine when the party left Lime Street Station, but when they reached the Molineux Ground a blinding snowstorm had developed. Nevertheless, the game commenced and Everton had built up a 2-0 lead when the referee decided to abandon the game during the half-time interval. Walker then played one more Football League game, a 4-3 home win over Burnley, and returned to the Combination side, as Everton finished in sixth place behind champions Aston Villa who recorded an average home gate of 10,660. Everton, however, had averaged 13,800.

The next season the club executive decided to place the reserve pool of players in the Lancashire Combination where Walker made regular appearances. In October 1894, he was a member of the side who took a Manx Ferry to the Isle of Man in order to play a charity game in aid of Nobles Park Hospital. The occasion, which was ruined by the weather, saw the visitors win 12-0. His side went on to win the Lancashire Combination with ease, scoring 137 goals, but the Scot was not retained when the season terminated.

In May 1895, he signed for Football League Division Two side, Leicester Fosse. He became a regular member of the half-back line and reappeared on Merseyside on 9 November 1895 when Leicester Fosse played Liverpool at Anfield. The home side were led by former Everton player Fred Geary who scored twice as his side won 3-1. Liverpool went on to top the division while Leicester Fosse finished mid-table. During the 1896 close season, John Walker married Ethel Edge at West Derby registry office in Liverpool and returned with her to Leicester where they took up residence at 117 Filbert Street. He went on to make 113 appearances for the Midland club before a broken leg in a game against Grimsby Town put an end to his career. On 19 October 1899, Everton arrived at Filbert Street to play a benefit game for their ex-player, who now had two young daughters, Agnes and Elsie. Two goals from Robert Gray, plus one apiece from Bishop and Proudfoot, gave the visitors a 4-0 victory.

The 1901 census found the Walker family had returned to Liverpool and were living off Goodison Road in Eton Street, where John had returned to his trade as an engine fitter. Ten years later, the family were recorded living at Avondale Road in Morecambe and the number of children had increased to five. Evelyn and John had both been born in Liverpool, while the youngest family member, Robert, had been born in the Lancashire seaside resort. John was now working as a ship boiler cleaner. The family later moved to 33 Harewood Avenue in Morecambe, where John Walker passed away on 9 December 1935. He was buried at Heysham Cemetery and survived by his five children.

By Tony Onslow

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