How a glittering football career never materialised for Rotherham boy described as “most wanted junior player in Britain”

A young South Yorkshire footballer was described as “the most wanted junior player in Britain” in a TV programme clip that has just been released by the BBC archives.

Friday, 4th June 2021, 4:00 am
Colin Walker practising his football skills

Colin Walker was just 12 years old in December 1970 when he appeared in BBC programme Nationwide, which looked at how the miner’s son from Sunnyside near Wickersley in Rotherham was being sought by 15 football clubs.

The reporter described how Colin had “become a prize exhibit in the magic roundabout of children’s football”, continuing: “His father Stan is a miner, proud of his son but bewildered by the amount of soccer scouts he’s met in the past three years, and the praise lavished on Colin.

"One scout told him that his boy was better than George Best at the age of 12. He wants to be like Bobby Charlton and he’s been given the impression that he’s well on his way.”

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Colin Walker with Sunnyside pit in the background

The youngster, who began playing for Rother Valley Under-11s at the age of nine, caught the eye of Tommy Docherty when he was Rotherham United manager and saw Colin score three goals. He started training with the club twice a week.

Colin’s mum, who wasn’t named in the clip, described how Docherty kept in touch when he took the manager's job at Aston Villa and had the family stay for a week in a first-class hotel, all expenses paid. The manager called every morning for Colin and a young friend and took them for half a day’s training each day.

After that, clubs such as Sheffield United, Manchester United, Leeds, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs began lining up for the youngster, offering trips to watch games and talk to them.

The inside right, who had scored 20 goals that season, was being watched by up to 15 scouts a week.

Colin Walker's parents talking bout their experiences with football clubs interested in their son

Other boys had already signed ‘schoolboy forms’, which meant that when a youngster turned 15, that club had the exclusive right to offer him an apprenticeship.

“If they don’t, that means he's suddenly on the market again – or, more likely, looking for an ordinary job without necessarily the qualifications he might otherwise have gained.”

The youngster told the reporter he didn’t want to sign until he turned 15: “If I sign up for Rotherham, a team like Manchester might come and I couldn’t go down there.

“If I don’t sign on until I’m 15, I can make my own mind up. I don’t think I’m old enough to make it up now.”

The reporter’s warning words proved prophetic for Colin, now head of academy coaching for Grimsby Town Football Club.

Two years ago, the club website, www.grimsby-townfc.co.uk, referred to a national newspaper report about the TV programme.

Colin told the Sunday Telegraph he never grew in size and at 16 nobody signed him up. He got a job at a steelworks, played in non-league teams and in New Zealand and finally signed for Barnsley aged 22. He scored against Liverpool in the 1982 League Cup.

After another spell in New Zealand, Colin landed a two-year contract at Sheffield Wednesday under Howard Wilkinson after his return home.

Colin said he had no regrets but it can’t have been what that 12-year-old believed his future might be.

To see the BBC clip, find this story on the Retro section of www.thestar.co.uk