Just last week I wrote about a returning Saddlers hero, never once thinking that just a few days later I would be saying goodbye to a legend, writes Walsall FC blogger Mark Jones.
It was a bit of a shock that our backroom staff was reduced and that it happened so suddenly, especially after the recent departure of Richard O’Kelly.
So farewell Wacka, you will forever be one of our greatest ever players.
I’ve paid tribute to Jimmy Walker on many occasions in the past, our record appearance holder is one of my all-time favourites, and stands out as the best goalkeeper I’ve ever seen. On top of that Jimmy was a real star.
In an era when people bemoan the lack of ‘characters’ in the game, Jimmy had charisma and personality by the bucket-load.
It’s a real pity that things haven’t worked out this season with the coaching role and I can only surmise that not being able to play would have been driving him up the wall.
Good luck Wacka in whatever you do. You go with everyone’s best wishes.
In other news David Kelly has jumped ship to team up with his mate at a club who are on their fourth manager since last summer. What could possibly go wrong there?
I don’t want to end on a downer, as Walsall fans we have enough of those. Today should be about the one, the only James Walker, so I’m going to end with a classic bit of WFC blog gold from the archives. W
With a few slight updates, the following is what I wrote in the week before Wacka’s record breaking appearance last January.
Super Jim: 530 not out
Playing 530 (or 534) games for one club in the modern era takes some doing. Especially when you play for a club that has great difficulty managing to hang on to its better players.
Add in spells at other clubs lasting well over six years and it’s not hard to see why Jimmy Walker’s achievement in breaking Colin Harrison’s all-time Walsall FC. appearance record is worthy of so much praise and attention.
I am old enough to remember seeing Colin Harrison set the record and it was a privilege to see Jimmy Walker overtake it at Griffin Park last January.
Whether or not I get to see it broken again is doubtful. By someone else that is, Wacka broke his own record in every game he played after Brentford.
Of course, the young Jimmy making his debut in that win over Gillingham on that October Saturday back in 1993 would barely recognise the club now.
In those days we were a team full of free transfers and raw youngsters struggling to make an impact in the lower divisions.
Cup runs were something we could only dream of as we played in front of barely 3,000 fans in a stadium we didn’t own and paid rent to a company heavily connected to the club’s owner.
Jimmy is without doubt the best goalkeeper I ahve ever seen play for Walsall, he’s arguably the best keeper ever to play in the lower divisions.
I would go as far as to say if he was six foot-plus he would have many many England caps - and consequently considerably fewer Walsall appearances.
In fact, the name Walker is right up there in my top five all-time favourite Saddlers of all time, along with the esteemed names of Rammell, O’Connor, Viveash and, of course, Buckley who ironically hails from the same corner of Notts.
So this is my tribute to the career of the man who has kept 154 clean sheets for the club:
Early Days – Wacka kept a ridiculous number of clean sheets in those first few months following his debut.
At the time nobody really expected him to keep Mark Gayle - the reigning Player of the Season - out of the side and, this being Walsall, you waited for the inevitable dip in form.
Thankfully, it never came, but a combination of Kenny Hibbitt’s misfiring side and a nasty injury meant that there was a disappointing, low key ending to the season. For me, the standout game came about a month into Jimmy’s career.
At home to John Beck’s Anti-Football Preston - the ultimate long-ball, set-piece monstrosity - and their arrogant ‘too big for this league’ fans, Wacka gave a brave and faultless display full of confidence. Some bloke called Jason Lillis notched twice and we laughed heartily.
Scarborough-Bury May 1995 – Chances were limited for Jimmy in his second season with Trevor Wood coming in as first-choice keeper and doing a decent job as we battled it out with Chesterfield for automatic promotion.
Then, with the club ridiculously having to play a Tuesday-Thursday final game double header, cometh the man.
Jimmy was magnificent coming off the bench for the injured Wood as we clung on for three points at Scarborough and then played out the 0-0 we needed against Bury 48 hours later.
My personal memory is of a save in about the 493rd minute of the seemingly endless second half at Gigg Lane, where Wacka plucked out a long-range effort destined for the top-left corner as if it were a tap in from the mascot in the warm-up. Majestic!
The whole of 1998-99 - My favourite ever season with a team who never knew when it was beaten. Sir Ray’s side was full of leaders and real characters, ideal for a personality like Wacka.
Jimmy was tremendous throughout the season as we achieved that memorable promotion. Typifying, this season were the final 10-plus minutes at Lincoln in April after Darren Wrack had put us one up.
Looking to clinch a 14th away win of the season and facing up to an inevitable aerial bombardment, there was never any doubt that Wacka and Co wouldn’t be leaving with yet another clean sheet.
Super Jim came up with the goods once more, Man City bottled it and the rest is Saddlers folklore.
A Local Skirmish - August 28th 1999 at the Golden Graveyard, 10 minutes into the second half and Walker had to be alert in rushing out of his area to deal with the threat of Colin Larkin who was through on goal.
To say Wacka lived up to his name would be a bit of an understatement. Like any true Saddler would have done he took the ball, the man, everything.
We waited for the inevitable red card but for once the refereeing gods were with us. Not only did he escape a caution, but it even ended up as a throw-in, 2-1 to the Saddlers!
Ipswich 2000 – The season ended in relegation despite some fine performances from our man in green.
We were 2-0 down with about 20 minutes to go at Portman Road, there was a subdued atmosphere as the result suited neither team.
Then, with the great man about to take a goal-kick, the chant of ‘Super Jimmy Walker’ started up.
Jimmy’s response of a clenched fist salute towards the away end was typical of the man and seemed to sum up the attitude of the team.
It also became the catalyst for 2000 Saddlers to sing ourselves hoarse in one final act of defiance before bowing out of Division One.
We were down but we went down with pride, and we seemed to know that somehow we would be back. Match of the Day – Walsall fans have always known about Jimmy’s ability.
After the FA Cup Third Round clash - those were the days - with West Ham in 2001, a wider audience got to see what he could do against his future employers.
There is a triple save that defies belief, well worth looking up. Then there was the testimonial – not many players get them these days, but Jimmy’s was fully merited.
I interrupted a family holiday - in Somerset mind, not abroad or anything - just to get back for the game, simply because I felt I had to be there to pay tribute to the man.
Millwall, Gillingham and Best Wishes – 2003-04 proved to be the end of an era. Colin Lee’s deficiencies as a manager, which many of us were fully aware of, were finally exposed as we slid cluelessly towards relegation.
Like his four predecessors, Lee owed a lot to Jimmy Walker, who was still our best and most consistent performer.
Astonishingly, I have actually heard people blame Wacka’s dismissal at Millwall and subsequent three-match ban as the entire reason for our demise that season.
What actually happened that day was that Wacka was sent off after an altercation with Dennis Wise, while going up for an injury-time corner to try and rescue a replay in an otherwise insipid performance typical of that era.
In my book, at least, the defeat was obviously hurting and he was showing a bit of passion and pride in the shirt.
He can hardly be blamed for his manager’s inability to provide adequate cover or the team’s ineptitude in his absence.
And how many points did he win the team that season? Loads.
The defining game of 2003-04 was the disgraceful capitulation at Gillingham on Easter Monday, the game that prompted the overdue demise of Lee.
We lost 3-0, which killed our goal difference, yet without Jimmy’s heroics that day it’s no exaggeration to say it could easily have been six, seven or eight.
After relegation, Jimmy left for a well-deserved crack at a bigger club. No one I know begrudged him his move.
When he came back, Clayton McDonald was good, the rest were average. We saw him fleetingly in a Colchester kit, which was just plain wrong.
Then finally, with the club in a desperate situation in the final weeks of the Hutchings reign, Super Jim was back.
As a measure of how far we’d fallen in his six-year absence, his first clean sheet came as we were embarrassingly outplayed by Fleetwood.
Jimmy was superb that night, rolling back the years to defy the non-leaguers single handedly as we scraped a win from somewhere.
It’s hard to imagine how we’d have pulled off the Great Escape of 2011 without him and it was fitting that, in what proved to be his final home game in 2012, Wacka played his part in keeping us up again.
Then in his last ever game as a Saddler, he kept a clean sheet in a win against a team we hate in front of a noisy Walsall contingent. It was just like old times.
Jimmy Walker you are a genuine Walsall legend. Thank you for everything Super Jim.