Club News

Leaders of Men: Tommy Walker

18th March 2020

Over the course of the season, Club Historian David Speed has written in-depth profiles on the club's former managers. Each profile has been printed in this season's match programmes and in the coming days and weeks, we'll be reproducing some of them online. 

You can purchase programmes from this season HERE.

We start off with the one and only: Tommy Walker.

Tommy Walker

During a lifetime of service to Hearts, Tommy Walker enhanced the reputation of the club worldwide. When he was Manager, his teams were acclaimed for their skillful style and sporting approach. This perfectly mirrored the architect, a revered figure in Hearts’ history and one of Scotland’s greatest football ambassadors.

Born at Livingston Station in May 1915, Tommy left school at the age of fourteen and worked in a paper mill and then a shale-oil works. In March 1932, he was taken onto Hearts’ ground staff with the former Schoolboy Internationalist having gained juvenile experience with Livingston Violet and Broxburn Rangers. He then tasted junior football with Linlithgow Rose until May 1932 when, at the age of seventeen, he was able to sign a professional contract for Hearts.

Midfield Maestro

Tommy’s brilliant ball control, and his wonderful passing and dribbling skills, quickly set him on the path to become Britain’s finest playmaker. In fact, within months of his debut, Hearts had English clubs enquiring about his transfer. This continued throughout Tommy’s career, to the dismay of Hearts’ fans, who even held protest meetings when Arsenal looked set to secure his transfer in 1935 with a then astonishing offer of £12,000. All the Londoners could negotiate was first-refusal.
When only nineteen, Tommy earned the first of 20 consecutive International caps. His most famous appearance in dark blue undoubtedly came at Wembley in 1936 when he earned Scotland a 1-1 draw with a penalty kick, holding his nerve after the ball was repeatedly blown off the spot. Two years later he returned to Wembley to score the only goal in Scotland’s victory, one of nine he netted for his country.
Tommy also earned five League International caps and represented Scotland eleven times in Wartime/Victory Internationals. In addition, he appeared ten times for the SFA on a tour of North America in 1935 and, in August that year, Tommy played in the Jubilee Trust Fund game against England. He would have been Hearts’ most capped player, but for the Second World War.

He was modest, but The Scotsman in February 1936 noted, “whether going through on his own or sending out an inviting pass to a colleague, he was always a menace to his opponents. Added to that , the readiness and power of his shooting made him the complete footballer.”

Serving his country

Tommy assisted Hearts to second place in the League in 1937-38 and to the Cup Semi-finals in 1934-35. He was also the inspiration behind the club reaching the Wartime Cup Final in 1940-41 and to become runners-up in the East & North Division in 1939-40. Although he had no winners’ medals to show for his efforts there was a market for quality entertainment and Tommy Walker, and his Hearts colleagues, earned the highest accolades in this regard.

Hearts star man received a Testimonial in April 1938 when 19,061 fans watched the maroons defeat Derby County by 2-1. Around this time Tommy expressed an intertest in joining the Ministry, but this ambition was frustrated in September 1939 by the outbreak of the Second World War. He enlisted in the Royal Signals Corps and Tommy was a Captain in the Welfare Division. During over five years of service, he spent long periods overseas, however, when at home, Hearts’ idol always turned out in maroon and he was also a guest player with Chelsea and Bradford Park Avenue.

Tommy played many Army International and representative games, and while overseas, his touring team boosted morale among the troops. He was certainly a popular figure when Hearts visited Germany in June 1946 and Tommy scored two goals as the Combined Services were defeated by 3-2.

Having played for Chelsea during the War, Tommy was seen as the man to bring out the best in their young team. As a result, in September 1946, the Londoners paid £6,000 for his transfer.

Hearts' ideal Manager

In December 1948, Tommy returned to Edinburgh as Assistant Manager/Secretary under Davie McLean. When he stopped playing, Tommy had scored a mighty 224 goals in in 408 competitive matches for Hearts.
On Mr. McLean’s untimely death in February 1951, Tommy took over the team affairs and fashioned brilliantly balanced squads that led Hearts through its finest era. In record breaking style, his team won the League Championship twice; the Scottish Cup once; and the Scottish League Cup four times. In addition, he led Hearts on several prestigious overseas tours and into Europe for the first time. Despite this success, he never took credit, he gave it.

Hearts’ new Manager did face some early challenges. Although his team reached the Scottish Cup Semi-Finals twice (1951-52 and 1952-53) and finished runners-up in the League in 1953-54, the supporters were restless after more barren years and the huge success of local rivals, Hibernian. In fact, in January 1953, Tommy Walker had to deny rumours that he was going out of football.

Nevertheless, one-by-one, his plans came to fruition. This included a significant improvement in fitness after John Harvey was promoted to Trainer in May 1952. Tommy also rationalized the scouting staff and for several years, he took part in practice matches in order to closely assess his squad. Among Tommy’s masterstrokes was handing key-roles to John Cumming and Davie Mackay. These two gave Hearts a formidable backbone and Hearts no longer folded after losing a goal.

Succes at long last

Overseas tours to Germany and Sweden increased the Manager’s knowledge of his players and team spirit was greatly enhanced, particularly after the tour of South Africa in the summer of 1954. In October that year, Hearts beat Motherwell in the League Cup Final to bring major honours back to Tynecastle for the first time since 1906. This long-awaited breakthrough was the start of something really big.

Tommy Walker went on to fashion some dynamic squads that added three more successes in the League Cup: in 1958-59; 1959-60; and 1962-63. Hearts also won the Scottish Cup Final in 1955-56 (3-1 against Celtic) and were League Champions in 1957-58 and 1959-60. The first League success was achieved in remarkable style with record goals scored (132) and points won (62 under the two points for a win system). He also led Hearts into Europe for the first time.

For generations, Hearts had been admired for the quality of their football and classy individual players. Walker had added key-men to the squad he inherited and produced winners through proper direction; quality training; sound recruitment; and harnessing individual genius. This was not appreciated in the west where most preferred Hearts to be good losers and not challenge the dominance of the Old Firm.

In 1958, Tommy Walker was suggested as a future Manager of Scotland and then in November 1960, he received an OBE from Her Majesty the Queen for his services to football. This was welcomed throughout the game and was a great honour to Tommy, his family, and the Heart of Midlothian Football Club. Despite all that he had achieved, he never took credit, he gave it.

In addition to the winning campaigns, Hearts were also runners-up in the League in 1953-54; 1956-57; 1958-59; and 1964-65. The team reached the League Cup Final in 1961-62, and the reserves successfully supported the senior side.

Changing Times

Scottish football faced many challenges in the 1960s, with rising costs and falling attendances, due to the range of leisure facilities now within reach of the public. Hearts also had to upgrade the ground, with floodlights and covered accommodation, and the sale of Mackay, Thomson and Young was necessary to balance the budget. In addition, in 1961, the Football League abolished its £20 per week maximum wage and the drain of quality players to England gathered pace. Clubs now had to survive on fund-raising groups to make-up for missing spectators.

Players who remained demanded more money and Tommy had to rebuild under strained circumstances. Although it was not his preferred method, he entered the transfer market, but it was impossible to recruit the same quality as the club had possessed in the fifties. Tommy also had to deal with social changes and disciplinary issues that he had never previously encountered. In addition, tactics had moved away from five forwards and Scotland started to see an influx of Scandinavian players.

Tommy Walker faced up to the challenges with fortitude, but when Hearts lost the League Championship on the final day of the 1964-65 season, this proved to be a watershed for the Manager. Hearts fell to seventh in the League in 1965-66 and to address the decline, it was agreed to appoint a full-time Secretary, because office work had become onerous. The Manager required more time with the players and Tommy recommended that John Harvey take overall control of training and scouting, with Donald McLeod as Trainer and John Cumming his assistant.

Nevertheless, the Directors felt that an irreparable breach had grown between the Manager and the dressing room, and because they intended to invoke the six-month option clause in his contract, Tommy Walker resigned on 3 October 1966.

Although he held positions with Dunfermline Athletic and Raith Rovers, his heart lay at Tynecastle Park. In a very popular move, Tommy returned as a Director in October 1974 and served on the board until his retirement in 1980. Tommy Walker was a real star, with infinite talent and class, both on and off the field. His contribution to the fame and reputation of the Hearts is unsurpassed and it was indeed a sad day when he passed away in January 1993 at St.Columba’s Hospice.

By David Speed