Grimsby Town Academy Coach, Colin Walker was once “the most wanted junior player in Britain” – according to a BBC Television archive feature from 1970.
As a 12-year-old boy, growing up near Rotherham, he was being chased by no less than 15 top professional clubs – including the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Leeds United.
Colin was described as by the BBC reporter of the time as “a prize exhibit in the magic roundabout of children’s football”.
The report, includes interviews with Colin, his parents, and various schoolmasters.
Meeting Matt Busby and George Best.
Speaking in the Sunday Telegraph, Colin describes that he had visited Old Trafford, where Matt Busby told him that he was to be taken to the Cliff training ground to meet the first team. Colin describes being told to go outside, where a car was waiting to give him a lift. “The driver turned round to say hello,” he recalls, “and it was George Best.”
As Colin explains in the 1970 video, he wanted to wait until he was 15 to sign schoolboy forms. In the intervening years, he did not grow at all. Aged 16, not even Rotherham United would offer him an apprenticeship.
He got a job in a steelworks, but he continued playing and in December 1976, aged 17, Barnsley offered him a professional deal.
“I went over to sign the deal, but it had snowed really heavily,” Colin told the Sunday Telegraph.
“Nobody was there. I went to watch my mates instead in the Rotherham association league. They only had nine men so I agreed to play. I broke my leg.”
The Barnsley contract offer was withdrawn. He worked as a bin man and played for Retford Town in the Midland League. He broke his leg again in the same place. He admits he was drinking too much.
“I wasn’t a very nice person to be around so I got a kick up the --- from my parents.”
In 1979 he agreed to play a pre-season game for Matlock Town and scored a hat-trick. He was back in the game but was not making enough to give up the bins until he was persuaded to play a season in New Zealand. At Gisborne City he w league’s leading goalscorer. He came back to England in 1980 and finally signed a professional contract at Barnsley, his first at the age of 22, five years after that first broken leg and 10 after he was billed by the BBC as the country’s best schoolboy player. He played at Anfield in the League Cup in 1982 and scored against Liverpool, then the European champions, in the replay at Oakwell that ended in defeat for Barnsley.
New Zealand International career.
By 1983, with his first-team chances at Oakwell limited, he emigrated to New Zealand and was again the league’s leading goalscorer. He took citizenship and played in the 1986 World Cup qualifiers, scoring a famous goal for the All Whites against Israel.
Finally making his top-flight debut.
His wife Karen never settled in New Zealand and he followed her back to Yorkshire in 1986. Howard Wilkinson asked him to come into Sheffield Wednesday to make up the numbers for pre-season and ended up giving him a two-year contract. He scored a 15-minute hat-trick in the second half County and then, on Oct 18, 1986, at White Hart Lane, the best junior player in the country finally made his top-flight first division debut. He was 28. Colin had got there. “Did it work out as I thought it might?” he says, “No, not at all. Did I want a better playing career? You have to say yes. But it wasn’t to be. I have no regrets.”