Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ernie Walker 1928-2011

When Ernie Walker was in charge of the SFA everything in the world was perfect.

Obviously it wasn't.

But when I were a lad and Ernie ruled the roost Scotland qualified for World Cups. All the time. Five qualifications in a row he presided over.

Ah, to be back in the day for just one shining moment of optimism.

Was Ernie, who died at the weekend, perfect? Who is?

But he was a visible character who gave the SFA a public face that garnered respect. How we long for that now.

I hadn't realised he had a role in appointing Matt Busby as Scotland coach. That means he was instrumental in securing the services of Busby, Jock Stein and Alex Ferguson. Not bad going.

His relationship with Stein probably defined his reign. His relationship with Ferguson was perhaps less affectionate.

"I warned you about that shit, Johnston," Walker told Fergie following some MoJo high jinx during Scotland's 1986 World Cup play off trip to Australia.

He was a Scotland fan too. It was as a fan that he met Graeme Souness in the depths of the stand the night Jock Stein died. Unable to watch the tense end to the game they found each other and repaired to a hospitality bar. The news that eventually reached them was worse than any result.

He was also a fan when he summed up the 1986 game against Uruguay:

“There was no game of football here today. We found ourselves on the field with cheats and cowards and we were associated with the scum of world football.”

He got a bit of a carpeting for that. Survived it though. And he was obviously a bit of player to survive the intricacies of international football governance for so long.

Walker's death drew this reaction from Lennart Johansson, former president of UEFA:

"Some days the sun is shining bright, but then all of a sudden clouds and rain disturb us. This is what happened when I discovered that my old friend, Ernie Walker, has passed away."

Younger readers might also be surprised to learn that before the McLeish Report, Scottish football had other blueprints for revolution that it chose to ignore.

That was the fate of Ernie's much lauded think tank - an initiative that also involved Rinus Michels - on Scottish football.

Some of what Walker recommended back in 1995 is now being implemented. The slow turning world of Scottish football is no place for visionaries.

Ernie was also instrumental in formalising the training of coaches in Scotland. That we have spent too long at the mercy of the Largs Mafia is not to underestimate the positives that the coaching scheme has delivered or the graduates that have gone on to greatness.

In truth Ernie's SFA reign should have been treated in much the same way as "post-Queen" republicans would treat the monarchy.

Walker, as the incumbent, linked the age of Busby with the age of Andy Roxburgh. He held back the tide of TV football for as long as he could.

By the time he retired in 1990 the world had changed and football had changed with it. The moment should have been seized for revolution. Maybe he realised that himself when using that think tank to recommend changes that the SFA had no stomach to implement.

Five World Cups though. And a certain bonhomie that seemed to win him friends across the game.

Maybe we could do with a dose of the Ayatollah right now.