Gosforth born goalkeeper Willis “Willie” Walker started his football career with junior club Clayworth in 1910 and spent 1911-12 on the books at Sheffield United without making a first team appearance. In 1912 he joined Midland League Doncaster Rovers where he started off as understudy to Harry Bromage, and took over as first choice keeper for the 1913-14 season when he appeared in all 36 League fixtures, and this led to a move to Second Division Leeds City in May 1914. His Football League debut came at Arsenal in February 1915 but the suspension of peacetime football due to the First World War soon crimped his Leeds career after only 14 appearances and he served in The Royal Navy.
On resumption he was Leeds’ incumbent glovesman for the first eight games of the 1919-20 season before the club was expelled from the League due to financial irregularities. At the subsequent player auction in October 1920 Walker was auctioned for the joint 4th highest sum, £800, to South Shields and he immediately took over in goal from incumbent Ernie Hoffman. He was ever present during 1921-22 and 1922-23 and by the time he joined Bradford Park Avenue in May 1925, having been displaced in November 1924 by Lance Richardson, he had played 201 times for Shields. A single season in Yorkshire saw 36 appearances before he joined Stockport County in August 1926, where he made a further 20 appearances before retirement.
Walker was also a notable cricketer. His cricket began at Sheffield United Cricket Club whilst he was playing football for Sheffield United. He later played County cricket for Nottinghamshire, making his debut in 1913. On joining the club he cut two years off his age as well as claiming he was born in the County. He established himself as the regular no.3 in the Notts team after John Gunn retired in 1925.
Neville Cardus in 1929 commented: “I have yet to see Walker attempt a drive and not achieve a drive. But then he so seldom ventures on a ball that he does not well and truly see pitching. He is a batsman of economy, a batsman who plays by the book of arithmetic, but he adds up his runs without a blot.”
He went on to score 18,259 runs before ending his time with the County club in 1937 after 406 first class matches. As a right-handed batsman he averaged 32.37, scoring 31 centuries with a highest score of 165 not out, topping 1,000 runs in 10 seasons. He received a benefit year in 1933, a season that proved the best of his career. Despite such a successful career he never played for England.
NB this photograph shows Walker diving to save in an unidentified South Shields match c.1923.