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The Tragedy of Dick Walker

John Simkin

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The case of Dick Walker is one of the most distressing in West Ham's history. Charles Richard (Dick) Walker was born in Hackney on 22nd July 1913. The family moved to Dagenham when he was a child and after leaving school he played football for Becontree Athletic. In 1932 Walker was spotted by one of West Ham's scouts. After an extended trial he signed for the club in 1933. He made his debut as right-half against Burnley in August, 1934. He played two more games that season.

Walker made his debut as right-half against Burnley in August, 1934. It was not until the 1936-37 season that Walker replaced Jim Barrett at centre half and became a regular member of the West Ham United team. In the 1937-38 season Walker played in 32 of the 42 league games. The following season he played 43 league and cup games and some journalists thought that he was good enough to play for England.

Walker held his place in the team up until the outbreak of the Second World War. According to Tony Hogg, the author of Who's Who of West Ham United (2005): "Had it not been for the war it is highly probable that he would have been capped for England and also challenged Jimmy Ruffell's appearance record for Hammers."

Most professional footballers were given the opportunity to become Physical Training instructors in the British Army. However, Walker decided to volunteer for active service. Promoted to the rank of sergeant he served with an infantry battalion who fought from El Alamein to Italy and was several times mentioned in dispatches. He also represented the Army at football while in the Middle East.

After the war he replaced Charlie Bicknell as captain of the club. Ken Brown lived in the same road in Dagenham as Walker: "He was a wonderful man. I lived in the same street as him. The kids would watch him walk the length of the road to where his mum lived and we would look out of the window and be amazed that this was Dick Walker!"

In August 1950 Ted Fenton took over from Charlie Paynter as manager of West Ham United. Walker clashed with Fenton. "I didn't like him and he didn't like me". Walker saw Fenton's actions as: "A matter of taking over from someone popular and wanting to show you're in charge."

Walker remained a regular member of the team until the 1951-52 season. Walker played his last game for the first-team against Plymouth Argyle on 18th February 1953. Over the next four years he continued to turn-out for the reserves and helped to coach the young players at the club. This was something he was very good at and during this period a number of young players reached the first-team.

Ken Brown has fond memories of Walker: "I was a bit of a skinny lad and Dick Walker thought I should put on weight otherwise, according to Dick, I should never last. Andy Malcolm had a car and Dick would take the two of us up to Soho every Friday night for a glass of stout and a big steak and kidney pie, full of meat and gravy." John Lyall also praised Walker's attitude towards the young players at the club. He would be given responsibility for those young players who Lyall described as "Dagenham-type lads".

At the end of the 1956-1957 season Walker's playing contract was not renewed by Fenton. Instead he offered Walker a job "to attend to the players boots" at £4 a week. In other words, the former captain ended up doing the job he had done as a groundstaff boy 25 years previously. It is believed that Fenton treated Walker badly because he was so popular with the players and fans that he feared he would replace him as manager of West Ham United.

Following his testimonial match against Sparta Rotterdam in 1957 Walker left the club. Walker worked as a coach for Dagenham F.C. and later became a full-time scout for Spurs. It was criminal that Walker was not given a job at Upton Park. He suffered from bad health and spent long spells in hospital. According to former team-mate, Tommy Dixon, ended up as a tramp. Dick Walker died in February 1988.


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Nothing could be more different than the way footballers were treated then with today. One of the reasons why professional footballers have always come from the working-class is because of the wages they were paid before the removal of the maximum wage in 1961.

After the First World War professional footballers received a maximum weekly wage of £10. In 1920 the Football League Management Committee proposed a reduction to £9 per week maximum. Some members of the Association Footballers Union called for strike action. However, large numbers of players resigned from the union and the Football League was able to impose the £9 maximum wage. The following year it was reduced to £8 for a 37 weeks playing season and £6 for the 15 weeks close season.

This was a higher wage than most manual jobs but less than most other jobs. Therefore, schoolteachers like the great West Ham striker, Harry Stapley, refused to sign as a professional. The same was true of George Webb, the first West Ham player to play for England. These men could not afford to become a professional footballer.

Dick Walker readily agreed to become a professional footballer when he was offered a contract in 1931. It was of course the time of the Great Depression. His father had been unemployed for many years and the family’s main source of income were the wages of his two sisters. At the age of 13 Walker was chosen to play for Dagenham Boys. His father was unemployed at the time and so the family had great difficulty raising the 3 shillings to buy a pair of football boots.

Walker was also unemployed after he left school at 14. However, just before he was signed by West Ham, he got a job as an electrician’s mate. Walker was never in a position to pay to see a professional football match. He once said: “The first professional football match I ever saw, I was in.”

The vast majority of footballers were unable to build up any funds by the time they retired. They also had the added problem of finding housing when they retired (most clubs supplied them with rented houses while they were playing). There was only a very limited number of coaching jobs available. These went to the players who had been “yes men” as players.

The real tragedy of this case was that Dick Walker was a very talented youth coach. He had been doing this job under Malcolm Allison while playing for the reserves. However, that was a problem because Ted Fenton hated Walker and Allison with a passion. He was not strong enough to get rid of Allison but he could get away with sacking Walker.

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  • 5 months later...

I had an interesting email yesterday from the son of Dick Walker who now lives in Australia. It was mainly complimentary about my web page on his father, but he was keen to correct one quote that I used: “I am mortified to read that Tommy Dixon stated how Dick had suffered from mental illness was in & out of hospital & ended up a TRAMP! Dick developed Alzheimers' in the last couple of years of his life & became a recluse confined to his house. He was not a tramp, & I object strongly to this term. Sadly he was very different to the immaculate, suited, everyone’s friend, cheeky chappie mate during this sad time.”

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