Des Walker – A Tale Of Two GoalsPosted: December 2, 2015
This article was first published on July 15th 2015
For 59-time England capped Des Walker, death and taxes aren’t the only things guaranteed in life. The former Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday defender enjoyed a glorious 20-year career in football, with a short break towards the end, but the third thing the Londoner won’t be able to avoid is the light-hearted abuse from friends and family that comes with scoring only one solitary goal in a 700+ game career.
Not, of course, that that’s a kind of thing that phases Walker. Never the type of risk-taking player to venture forward, Walker was hugely celebrated during his playing days as one of the quickest and most difficult last-men-back for strikers to get the better of.
“Well, it’s true, I only scored the one goal in my entire career,” Walker confirms, with laughter in his voice. “New Year’s Day 1992, last minute equaliser against Luton Town! It was building up over a good few years, the crowd were always willing for me a score a goal. Every time I took a step forward, they would shout ‘WEEEEEYYYYY!’ I don’t really know what was going through my mind at the time, I just had the ball, laid it off to someone and kept going,” he recounts.
“The goalkeeper we were against that day, Steve Sutton, was actually on loan from us to Luton! So I smacked my left footer into the top corner and everyone was saying ‘ah he let it in, he’s actually a Forest player!’ That took the shine off it a little bit, haha! It was a lovely feeling though, especially for the Forest fans who were always willing for me to score a goal one day.
To this day he still can’t hide from his goals to games ratio. “My son gives me a bit of stick about it though, he says to me ‘you only scored one goal, dad?!’ My friends try and make fun of me for it too.
The centre-half has his own theory why he wasn’t ever too fussed about hitting the back of the net though, as his manager at Sheffield Wednesday, Trevor Francis, would find out. “One day Trevor turned to me and said, ‘Des, you owe me a few goals,’ and I turned to him and told him, ‘If I start scoring goals, you haven’t got enough money to pay me!’
The pandemonium and ecstasy that comes with a last-minute equaliser, let alone the first goal of a player’s career, can overtake a footballer, which is exactly what happened to the then-27-year-old. “God’s honest truth, when my goal went in, I didn’t know what to do. I had never scored before, what do you do?! I went a bit mental and all the boys started jumping on me – and I ended up pulling a muscle in my back! I limped off the pitch with my back in bits and thought, ‘Forget this goalscoring lark, I’ll keep getting injured!’
Despite that being the only goal of his illustrious career, it isn’t the only time he’s put a ball in the back of a net. “Yes, that was one of the more unfortunate moments in my life, that’s for sure,” he says of the infamous 1991 FA Cup Final own-goal which handed Tottenham Hotspur the trophy.
“I saw Gary Mabbutt was up and he was going for it, so I just gambled and got my head on it before he could. To be fair, it was probably one of the only times in my entire life that the ball came straight off the middle of my forehead. Normally it bounces off the side or the top, goes all over the place, but that time it hit it in just the wrong way and I remember thinking ‘that’s going in, that’s going in… oh fuck, that’s in…’ It wasn’t the best day of my career!”
Despite this most unfortunate of incidents, Walker was given huge support from the Forest fans, who appreciated his efforts nonetheless, and knew that a mistake like that would devastate a player.
“After that day the Forest fans were absolutely brilliant to me. I had about three or four thousand letters sent to me as support, not to mention to two thousand or so Tottenham letters thanking me! But the Forest fans were amazing. I was probably the last person they would have expected to let them down that day, and in the end it was me. I was devastated after it though, the cup final is your dream, and it’s terrible when you score an own goal in it to lose it.
For a man of such principles as Walker, under the tutelage of legendary manager Brian Clough, he doesn’t dwell on the events of the 94th minute of the ’91 cup final. “When I look back on it, I’d much rather go for the ball and smack it in my own net, than not go for it and stand there and watch Gary Mabbutt score it instead. I had to go for it, I had to at least try my best to do my job. That’s the only way I can get any consolation out of it, knowing that I did the right thing by going for it. I just could have done with a bit of luck with it going somewhere else. Mabbutt would have definitely put it in had I not, but I can live with the fact that I tried to do the right thing.
“Playing for Brian Clough, the one thing you needed above all else was courage. You had to be willing to stick your neck on the line and give it your all. He’d accept you not being a good player, he’d accept anything like that, but he wouldn’t accept fear. He wouldn’t accept you being too afraid of making a mistake and not going for balls like that. You had to go out there and give everything you got, otherwise you were out looking for another job!”
It’s clear that Walker has great admiration and respect for his former manager at Forest, and that Clough taught him a lot. He was a manager of a different mould, in an era of football totally different to today’s, in Walker’s view.
“He was a rigid man in terms of the fundamental basics of how you conduct yourself. He wasn’t a strict manager, per say. He allowed you to go out and drink whatever you liked and allowed you to do whatever you want, you’re a grown man. His one rule was you had to play well on Saturday, that’s what you got paid for.
“Football is different nowadays, you have to act like a saint all the time! Go to bed early, drink this, eat this, do this, shit at the right time, but you’re allowed to play crap on a Saturday. There’s always comebacks, always excuses for players now. In my day, it was the total opposite, no excuses, none! You just had to perform.”