Sunday, 25 November 2012

Pat Walker

1982 : OTP Oulu (Finland)
1983 - 86 : Häcken (Sweden)
1987 - 91 : GIF Sundsvall (Sweden)
1992 - 93 : Varbergs (Sweden)
1994 - 96 : Kalmar (Sweden)
2002 - 04 : GF Sundsvall (Sweden)
2005 - 07 : Örebro (Sweden)
2008 - 11 : Sandefjord (Norway)
2011 : Assyriska (Sweden)

Patrick Joseph Walker was an Irish footballer, born in Carlow in 1959. He played for Gillingham between 1977 and 1981, making over 50 appearances in the English Football League and receiving 2 caps for the Irish Under 21s in the late 70s. 

In 1982 he moved to Finland and signed for OTP Oulu. He stayed just a few months with the side, playing in the Ykkönen,  Finland's second tier. Oulu is a city in Northern Finland, and OTP were one of four small sides in the city at the time. In 2002, the four sides merged to form AC Oulu, who still play today in the Ykkönen.

Following his brief spell in Finland, he returned to Ireland and played one season with Bohemians. After 15 games with the Gypsies and seeing his career in 'domestic' leagues slow down, he bravely decided to move to Sweden and signed for Häcken. Bollklubben Häcken, as they are formally known, were founded in 1940 in the port of Gothenburg, Sweden's second largest city, and play home matches at the 7,000 capacity Rambergsvallen

Walker arrived just as the club were preparing for their first season in the Allsvenskan, Sweden's top flight. Unfortunately, he couldn't save the club from relegation back to the Division 2. Häcken won just two matches all season, and only scored 12 goals. He remained with the club for the next three seasons, but never managed to help them back to the top flight. In reality, he was a squad player, and only managed 15 appearances in his entire time at the club.

After being released by Häcken, Walker signed for GIF Sundsvall, and returned to the Allvenskan. Sundsvall have a long history, being founded in 1903. Nicknamed Giffarna, they play home matches at the Norrporten Arena, which holds 8,500 spectators.

In 1987 when Walker signed, Sundsvall had just achieved promotion back to the top flight. They finished that year in 10th place, narrowly avoiding relegation as a result. The next season, they came in 5th, just missing out on a place in the UEFA Cup, however the following year they were relegated. Walker retired from playing in 1991, at the age of 32. But by now his heart was in Sweden, as well as his two Swedish-born sons, and so he stayed in the country to earn his coaching badges.

A year after retiring, he was offered his first chance of management with minor club Varbergs BoIS FC. It was with Varbergs that Walker's two sons learnt their trade. His time with Varbergs was a tough one though, as he failed to ever get the club out of relegation dogfights from Sweden's third tier. In 1994, he left the club to take up a new role at Kalmar FF, in the second division. His stint at Kalmar was unsuccessful too, and he left coaching for the first time in 1996.

His return to football in 2002, came at the club where he had spent his most enjoyable years. He was recalled by Sundsvall to manage their side for the upcoming season. Under his reign, the side finished the Allsvenskan in 8th place, missing European football but well avoiding danger of relegation. In fact, that season the Irishman's charges finished ahead of regional giants such as Malmo and IFK Goteborg.

The following year, his side finished in 12th and were forced into a relegation play-off against none other than Walker's first Swedish club, Häcken. A fortuitous 2-1 away win at the Rambergsvallen was followed by a 0-1 loss at home. Sundsvall slid through on the away goals rule.

The 2004 season of Allsvenskan was another good one for Walker. With his limited squad and limited budget, he guided them to 7th, finishing higher than the likes of Elfsborg, Helsingborgs and AIK. One side that were relegated that season, in spite of finishing safely in 8th was Örebro  Following the season's end, the Swedish FA denied them an Allsvenskan licence for 2005, due to their precarious financial conditions.

Walker himself probably wouldn't have cared less, had it not for his sacking from Sundsvall that winter. The following spring he was offered the job at none other than Örebro.

Örebro Sportklubb are one of Sweden's biggest clubs, and anybody involved in football in the country would dream of managing them. England manager Roy Hodgson had even coached the side between 1983 and 1985.

For Walker however, the experience was bitter-sweet, as he came to the club when they were in financial dire straits and preparing for life in Division 1 (Superettan). He did however manage to hold on to most of the squad, and a highly impressive pre-season followed. Expectations were so high that the fans even took to booing the players in the season't first game, despite beating Bodens IF 3-0 at the Behrn ArenaThis would be the last win for a while, as spring would be disastrous for the club and they found themselves battling relegation. A more impressive Autumn saw them finish in 5th, but some way off promotion. 

Walker, while with Orebro
Walker's older son Robert, made his breakthrough with Örebro the next season, and earned a call up to Sweden's Under 19's. A few other impressive signings that year saw Walker's side improve drastically, and they finished that year at the helm of the Superettan and back in the top flight.

Walker's great achievement of bringing the side back to the top, in spite of his troubles and obstacles, was met with a sacking however when Örebro s start to the season was deemed unimpressive. A 4-1 home reversal was the last straw, and the Carlow native was out of a job, again.

That year, he was offered a new role, in a different country. Norwegian club Sandefjord Fotball, a professional side founded in 1998, came knocking. Hailing from the town of the same name in Southern Norway, Sandefjord had bounced between the country's top two divisions since 2002. In 2008, they were gearing up for a season in the Adeccoligaen, Norway's Second Division. 

The previous year they'd been relegated under controversial manager Tor Thodesen, and this had resulted in the players going to the Board of Directors and requesting a new coach. Their request was rejected however, as the Board kept faith with Thodesen. This wouldn't last long however, as their start in the Adeccoligaen that year was abysmal. Thodesen was sacked, and Walker was the new man.

'The Wizard' at Sandefjord

In just eight games at the Arena, Walker managed to steer Sandefjord from relegation contenders to 2nd place. His miraculous success was such, that fans and media in Norway began calling him 'the Wizard'. 2nd was where they finished, and Walker's hugely impressive stint was awarded with automatic promotion for the club and a new contract for himself.

Their first season back in the Tippeligaen was a success, and they finished in 8th, their highest league placing to date. But in 2010, against managers like Henning Berg and Uwe Rösler, Walker couldn't help but see his side finish bottom and suffer another relegation. He only lasted a month back in the Adeccoligaen as he was harshly sacked following a slow start. Sandefjord would eventually finish in 3rd, narrowly missing out on promotion.

For Walker, it was time to take stock of his situation. A host of jobs in Sweden and Norway had brought moderate success, but also bitter disappointment. He had secured some great milestones for his clubs, but was never given the chance to really build his own dynasty.

His last job in management, to date, was back in the Swedish Superettan at Assyriska Foreningen. Formed by Syrian migrants in 1974, it has played primarily in Sweden's second tier, although did play one season in the Allsvenskan in 2005. The club is seen as something of a substitute national team for Syrian-Swedes, and even those outside Sweden who are critical of Syria's regime. Assyriska became the focus of international attention in 2010, when one of their players Eddie Moussa was shot and killed, allegedly because of his brother's underworld connections.

Walker joined the club in May 2011, with Assyriska in 7th place, after manager Rikard Norling was snatched up by Malmo. He could only guide the club to 9th, while old club Sundsvall were promoted. In November, he was sacked and replaced by Bosnian Valentic Azrudin.

Walker is now 52 and without a job. His career might well have been damaged badly by his last job. Whether he will enter management again in Sweden or elsewhere remains to be seen, but we salute him for his work in the relative outposts of football.

Of his two sons; Kevin is now playing with Sundsvall, Walker's old club, in the Allsvenskan. Older brother Robert is with BK Forward, in Sweden's third tier. Both of them are still eligible to play for Ireland, and at 23, there is still always a possibility that Kevin might.

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