Monday, 23 August 2010
Until the arrival of Gilles Rousset in 1995, it’s fair to say Henry Smith made the Hearts goalkeeping position pretty much his own at Tynecastle. There was only one serious challenge to Henry’s fourteen year reign, which came when manager Alex MacDonald paid the not inconsiderable sum of £125,000 to Rangers for Nicky Walker in 1989.
Born in Aberdeen in 1962, Walker began his career as a teenager with tonight’s opponents Elgin City in the Highland League. His talent was obvious even at an early age and he was only 17 years old when he signed for Leicester City. However, the youngster didn’t settle in England and joined Jock Wallace’s Motherwell a year later. When Wallace answered the call to rejoin Rangers following the departure of manager John Greig in 1983, he wasted little time in taking Walker with him to Ibrox.
Despite Rangers struggling at this time, Walker was the number one number one in Govan. However, this was a time when Aberdeen and Dundee United were top dogs in Scottish football and when Hearts also threatened to pass Rangers by in season 1985/86, the Ibrox hierarchy took drastic action. Jock Wallace was sacked and Graeme Souness was appointed manager in the spring of 1986. The ‘Souness Revolution’ was immediate with one of the former Liverpool player’s first signings being England goalkeeper Chris Woods. Walker was no longer first choice and fell down the pecking order. He was delighted to join Hearts in 1989.
Walker vied for the Hearts goalkeeping shirt with Henry Smith but it wasn’t until the arrival of Joe Jordan as Hearts manager in 1990 that Walker became the established first choice as keeper following Smith’s loss of form. Indeed, Walker made such an impression he played for Scotland against Germany in 1993. However, when Joe Jordan left Hearts in 1993 and Sandy Clark took over as manager, Henry Smith was again the first choice and Walker found himself in a similar scenario to the one he was in at Ibrox. Hearts appointed Tommy McLean as manager in 1994 and he brought in another goalkeeper, the highly rated Craig Nelson from Partick Thistle - with Walker heading to Firhill as part exchange.
Walker enjoyed a new lease of life in Glasgow and two years later, he was on his way to his hometown club when Aberdeen paid £60,000 for his services. After three years at Pittodrie, Walker spent brief spells at Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle. He then concentrated on his family’s shortbread business in the Highlands.
Today Nicky Walker still has an active role in football - he is goalkeeping coach at Highland League side Strathspey Thistle.