There’s a belief, bound up in fact, that goalkeepers do not make good managers. So when Everton moved to appoint Mike Walker in January 1994, following Howard Kendall’s resignation a month earlier, Everton’s board should, perhaps, have been more cautious.
Walker had been a lower-league goalkeeper in the 1960s and 1970s, laying out a lengthy career at a variety of inauspicious postings – Reading, Shrewsbury, York, Watford and Colchester. Although he won Wales under-23 honours, his playing career is perhaps best remembered for a penalty save when Watford knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup quarter finals in 1970.
In 1986 Walker was appointed manager of Colchester United, for whom he had played more than 450 times, but his reign lasted just a year and he was sacked with his team top of the Fourth Division. He took charge of Norwich City’s youth team in 1987, and in May 1992 succeeded Dave Stringer as manager. His debut season, the Premier League’s inaugural campaign, was an outstanding success. Norwich led the league for much of the season, before slipping back to third position – the highest in their history. They did so with extremely limited resources and Walker based his success around a mixture of unheralded veterans and exciting young players, such as Chris Sutton and Ruel Fox. The following season, Norwich knocked Bayern Munich out of the UEFA Cup, before succumbing to Inter Milan. Walker made his mark on Evertonians in September 1993, when his Norwich team humbled Everton 5-1 at Goodison – Everton’s biggest home defeat in more than a decade.
Following the departure of Kendall, Walker was a popular choice as boss: a bright manager who would bring the clean sweep the club so desperately needed. Such optimism was heightened by resounding victories over Swindon Town and Chelsea early on in his career. But hope soon turned to despondency as defeat after defeat followed. Only the famous Wimbledon game on the final day of the 1993/94 season kept Everton from relegation.
That summer Walker was given a transfer war chest of a magnitude unknown since the late-1980s. But although he was linked to a succession of illustrious internationals, such as Muller, Jurgen Klinsmann and Martin Dahlin, he seemed incapable of getting anybody to sign. Everton opened the 1994/95 season with Vinny Samways the only new face in the team. Although a string of signings came soon after – Daniel Amokachi, David Burrows and Duncan Ferguson – it was too late to stop Everton’s worst ever start to a season. The first win of the campaign came only at the start of November, and although there were some signs that Walker had started to turn things around, a week later he was sacked– just ten months and six wins into his Goodison reign.
Walker’s regime was an absolute disaster in terms of results. He was disliked by many of the squad and brought in players like Brett Angell and Burrows – swapped for the prolific Tony Cottee – who are considered among the worst to wear the blue shirt. Yet he was also responsible for the signings of favourites such as Joe Parkinson (an unknown bargain from Bournemouth), Anders Limpar, Amokachi and Ferguson.
Moreover, he inherited a team in a dire state. Although Everton finished the 1992/93 season thirteenth they were just four points off relegation and sold their best player, Peter Beardsley that summer having already lost Martin Keown mid-season. They had lost five straight league games when he took over and lay in seventeenth place.
'Standards are not as high as they should be,’ he told the Independent in April 1994. ‘They've been allowed to slip. People talk about resurrecting Everton and winning things again, but we've got to raise our levels of performance everywhere before we can do it. I don't think the players train hard enough. They think a little running session is hard work, but we're only talking about what was normal at Norwich. The Everton lads hadn't been used to doing any running. Their training routine was a few five-a-sides and a bit of head tennis. That was it. It shows. That's why they can't do certain things I want. They're not fit enough.'
In 1996 he returned to manage Norwich City, but was sacked at the end of the 1997/98 season having failed to restore tem to the Premier League. Later he managed in Cyprus before dropping out of the game.