I find the rough treatment meted out to ex-players tiresome when they return to their old clubs (except for those special circumstances where they made a mess before departing, of course!) I’d rather look at how an old boy is doing and feel pride that they’re doing okay without us. Carlos Edwards set up a goal last week; John Ruddy continues to carve out a career in the England squad which no-one would have anticipated from his brief stint in a Wrexham shirt; Jake Speight must still be out there, somewhere. I wish nothing but the best to them all.
I’m particularly pleased to be able to keep tabs on Declan Walker’s progress though. I always felt a little sad that his time at The Racecourse wasn’t quite turning out as it might have done, and it’s good to see him doing so well for Bangor City this season.
It’s through the miracle of Sgorio that I can watch his progress, of course. The superb highlights show gives great coverage of the Welsh Premier League (Let’s be honest: its quality is beyond the actual scale of a league which struggles to draw in crowds, and that’s massively to S4C‘s credit. The WPL is a competition which deserves support and is a great deal more interesting than the thin media coverage it attracts would suggest. Sgorio is a wonderful example of a regional television station fulfilling its brief and bringing the local community into the front room.)
Anyway, thanks to Sgorio I can see Mark McGregor cut his managerial teeth, watch Steve Abbott bang the goals in, and sympathise as Mark Jones, Ryan Valentine and Conall Murtagh plough through Bala’s boggy pitch.
I’ve also been able to take satisfaction in how well Walker has found his feet in his new environment. It’s good to see, as he deserved better at The Racecourse, but fate intervened. I recall the buzz around his debut at Hayes on the last day of the 2009-10 season very clearly: here was a young lad who was doing exciting things in the reserves, slamming in long range goals at will. And of course, he had Dean Saunders making his case, and Deano never shied away from bragging things up!
Walker lived up to the hype in that match, putting in an eye-catching stint for one so young and showing real confidence with a couple of trademark long range thumps which whistled just off target. Here was a precocious one to watch!
The trouble began soon afterwards. After an adventurous pre-season in which Saunders had experimented with split centre backs allowing Walker and Johnny Hunt to play as highly advanced full backs, Walker started the season as first choice right back. With hindsight, this probably was too much too soon. Walker’s attacking capabilities were obvious, but his defending was a work in progress, and with a shaky Chris Blackburn inside him at centre back, the defence was leaky.
Walker started the first five games of the season, and after an opening day clean sheet we conceded ten goals and won just two points from the following four matches. Surely Walker, a quiet character at the best of times, couldn’t have drawn much confidence from that, but worse was to follow as he was sent off on loan to Droylesden and banished from the first team squad. He managed just one more first team appearance that season, on the last day as Saunders selected a youth team to protect his first team for the upcoming play-offs.
Worse was to come. A serious injury massively curtailed his progress. When he returned a year later Andy Morrell was boss, and he clearly also believed in Walker’s potential, again starting the season with the youngster at right back. Walker was still the man he had been before the injury defensively, and a little zip seemed to have gone from his attacking play. Who knows how things might have gone if circumstances had been different: the likes of Waynne Phillips, Shaun Pejic and Bryan Hughes come to mind as players who have taken a step backwards in their youthful progress only to come back better than before. Morrell, with his tight non-league budget, simply couldn’t afford that luxury. Walker had to find a new club in the summer: there was no scope for any other outcome.
But it looks like there might just be a happy ending. Switch on Sgorio on a Monday night and see Walker bounding forward as he did in his formative years. That nasty long range shot is still there; just last weekend it nearly earned Bangor a notable result against TNS. It’s great to see him looking more like his old self, and at twenty-one there’s plenty of scope for him to develop further.
I’m not saying it’ll be at The Racecourse, but I’ve a funny feeling Declan Walker, after a restorative spell terrifying the goalkeepers of Wales, will come again.