Premier League Clubs Managed: Norwich City (1992-1994), Everton (1994)
Mike Walker turned 72 in late November 2017. He had a professional career that nearly spanned 700 games and is remembered fondly by Norwich City fans as one of their finest-ever managers. By contrast, Everton fans remember his 10-month reign at Goodison Park for all the wrong reasons. He is widely considered by many supporters on Merseyside as Everton’s worst boss.
During his playing days, Walker played as a goalkeeper and this was something that ran through his family. His son, Ian Walker would later be capped at international level by England and play in the Premier League in-goal for Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City. He most notably played for Colchester United, spending 10 seasons as their first-choice goalkeeper. He played 451 times for the club and also turned out in the Football League for Shrewsbury Town, York City, Watford and one appearance for Charlton Athletic.
Taking Norwich to the brink
The highlight was being a part of the Watford side that knocked out Bill Shankly’s mighty Liverpool FC outfit from the FA Cup in 1970. He saved a spot-kick too which endeared himself to many Everton fans. 24 years later, they wouldn’t be so endearing after his ghoulish Goodison reign.
Having ending his playing days with Colchester in 1983, his first managerial role came at the Essex club three years later. Colchester were top of the Fourth Division table in November 1987 and Walker had won 35 of his 79 games in charge, yet was mysteriously sacked by owner Jonathan Crisp to the amazement of everyone at Layer Road. He had just won Manager of the Month honours for the previous month too.
Norwich City were quick to snap Walker up following his shock exit from Colchester. He took charge of their youth team which was a role he would keep until 1992. He was promoted to take control of the first-team just two months before the start of the inaugural Premier League campaign. The Canaries were considered among the favourites for relegation but they continued to defy the odds all season. They beat the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Southampton in the season’s early weeks to top the table and they remained top of the pile at Christmas. Eventually, Manchester United and Aston Villa managed to wear the East Anglian club down but Norwich still finished a fabulous third, despite ending with a negative goal difference.
Walker was seen as one of the most promising managers in British football. His Norwich side were attack-minded, positive and never afraid to take teams on at their own game. It made them one of the most attractive sides in England. In October 1993, Norwich produced one of the biggest shocks in the history of the UEFA Cup. They stunned Bayern Munich in their own backyard to beat them 2-1 in the second round. They became the first English team to win at the Olympic Stadium. A draw back at Carrow Road was enough to see the Bundesliga heavyweights eliminated. They were edged out in the next round by the eventual winners of the competition that season, Inter Milan.
However, relations had soured between Walker and his owner Robert Chase. The manager wanted to take the club forward but couldn’t as Chase was more interested in cashing in on the most prized assets. With Ruel Fox on the verge of being sold to Newcastle United in January 1994, that was the final straw for Mike and he abruptly quit, taking over as Everton manager. Everton had been without a manager for a month before his arrival and they had to pay substantial compensation to Norwich for Walker’s services.
The nightmare of Merseyside
His first game was an exciting 6-2 victory over Swindon Town but it wouldn’t get much better than that. Everton were in the midst of a relegation battle and went into the final day of the season in the bottom three. They needed to beat Wimbledon and hope results went their way. It started disastrously with the Toffees 2-0 down inside 20 minutes but they produced a remarkable recovery to win 3-2. Results did go for the Merseysiders and they stayed up with Sheffield United going down instead.
Walker had signed Anders Limpar and in the summer of 1994, added Vinny Samways from Tottenham Hotspur and Nigerian Daniel Amokachi who had starred at the World Cup. However, fans were annoyed to see fan favourites Peter Beagrie and Tony Cottee discarded so easily. Everton fans were desperate to see the ‘Silver Fox’ as he was nicknamed succeed but his lack of defensive principles and refusal to change tactics would cost him his job.
Everton started 1994-1995 so poorly. They made their worst start to a league season in their proud history and were propping up the table. With four clubs going down that campaign, desperate action was required. A win did arrive at home to West Ham United in early November but the damage had already been done.
Three days after earning a gutsy 0-0 draw at his former club Norwich in a dire game of football, Walker was sacked. On leaving, he said he was “disappointed” and believed the club had “turned the corner.” He took charge of 35 league matches, losing over 50% of these games and winning just six times. It remains the worst reign of any Everton manager in terms of statistics since the end of World War II. After his dismissal, Everton would eventually survive and win the FA Cup under the guidance of Joe Royle.
None of the players would miss him. Mark Ward, who had been a senior figure before his arrival and was eventually banished to the reserves said in his autobiography: “He was a phoney from the start and, although he’d had an impressive 18 months at Norwich, I knew this job was just too big for him.”
With Norwich on a stiff decline, fans at the Norfolk club were very keen to see Walker come back to the club. They had been relegated by the time he was back at the helm in June 1996. He stayed with the Canaries for two seasons but couldn’t rediscover the winning formula from his first reign and left via mutual consent in April 1998 after they failed to return to the Premier League. Since leaving Norwich, Walker has had a spell managing in Cyprus for APOEL, where he resides to this day.