Interview: Mark Walton

Image: Barrington Coombs/EMPICS via Getty

Daniel Smith spoke to former keeper Mark Walton about his time at the club. Mark was the number one during the famous 1996/97 promotion under Micky Adams and he’s shared his memories of that glorious campaign as well as his views of playing for the club in general.

DS – When you were a kid did you always want to be a Goalkeeper and were there any keepers that you aspired to be?

MW – I started playing for my local club (Georgetown boys club) and actually played left-wing or centre-forward. I never really had any desire to play in goal initially. I then played a few games in goal when I was 13 and nestled into the role. I suffered severe asthma around the age of 12 so it was probably a place that I could play without any implication for my inadequate lung capacity. Three keepers inspired me, Phil Parkes of West Ham, Jimmy Rimmer of Aston Villa and Swansea’s Neville Southall. All very different but every one of the outstanding practitioners of their craft.

DS – How did the move to Fulham come about and what made you want to sign for the club?

MW – Long Story! Here is an abridged version. I was released by Norwich after refusing to sign a contract. An offer to play in Hong Kong arrived and I took it. Sadly, there were major issues with the people running the club who didn’t pay 5 of the British players there! I came home and was unemployed. I ended up signing for a non-league club in Norwich called Wroxham. I played a couple of games and Colchester United asked me to sign for them, which I was keen to do. Wroxham demanded £10,000 as they stated I had signed a contract with them which was news to me! Sadly, this was the case and I refused to play for them as I thought they had been underhand in their dealings. So, I went back to Wales to live. Trained at Merthyr F.C. and then moved back to Norwich and worked for a local builder. I played cricket at this time and a member of the club Tony Bailey was a major Fulham fan. Without my knowing he had written a letter to Mickey Adams and recommended he had a look at me… Mickey telephoned me and invited me for a trial! After three weeks, I was offered a year’s contract.

DS – Who was the best player during your time at the club?

MW – Probably in my career Fulham had more players in 3 seasons than any other club I can remember! There were some very good players that played for the club and I am digging deep to narrow it down! Originally the player I admired was Paul Watson, cultured, calm and very knowledgeable for a young player. Moving on Chris Coleman was an iconic figure and a leader of men.

DS – What was Micky Adams like to play for?

MW – Difficult. Micky, was very driven and very successful and thoroughly deserves every accolade he gets from the time he spent at Fulham. To think of where they were when he took over and where he left the club is one hell of a transformation. Micky was difficult to work for as there was no other opinion other than his, but it was very successful so who am I to question it!

DS – Which game stands out for you in a Fulham shirt?

MW – There are quite a few for different reasons… I always wanted to play for Norwich v Ipswich but it never happened. My first few weeks at Fulham give me the opportunity to play against them in a two-legged cup match which was enjoyable for me personally. Carlisle (away), Northampton (home & away) as we were neck and neck with these teams and there were good crowds at these games and there was something at stake which means the adrenalin is running a little higher than usual. I also remember playing against Bournemouth and not having a good afternoon and that sealed my future at the club.

DS – When I was 8 years old, I took a penalty against you at the Putney End when the club held a family fun day. You saved it which scarred me for life & to make matters worse, my mum was filming it and still has the footage! Any chance of a second crack at this so that you can let me score and have closure?

MW – Scoring wouldn’t be a problem as my current capacity to move is compromised! Please count yourself very unfortunate to have had a penalty saved by me & if the opportunity arises you can happily smash one past me!

DS After promotion, it wasn’t long before Micky was replaced by Ray Wilkins. Do you feel this was pivotal in you losing the number one jersey to Maik Taylor or was Al Fayed always pushing for new players anyway?

MW – I genuinely thought Ray was a great bloke and have nothing but respect for him. The writing was on the wall when Maik arrived, so it was a matter of when I went rather than anything else. I was at a stage in my career that I just wanted to play so moving was a necessity. In retrospect, I probably should have thought harder about my decision to join Brighton. 

DS – Did you have any kind of relationship and/or dialect with either Jimmy Hill or Kevin Keegan?

MW – I chatted to Kevin Keegan at training and played a few games for him. I wouldn’t say that I had any kind of relationship with him. I met Jimmy Hill a few times and he was cordial and polite to me but our paths very rarely crossed.

DS – Who were your closest friends in the team and have you kept in touch with anyone from your time at the club?

MW – We had a tremendous close group of players the first year I was there and probably one of the happiest times in my career. I met Paul Watson in Cardiff around a month ago which was good. We played together at Brighton so I always got on well with him. I got on really well with Simon Morgan and Mick Conroy, I speak to Simon a few times a year and Mick lives in Australia so we exchange messages occasionally. 

DS – I’m guessing that the biggest game of your career was playing for Norwich City in the 1992 FA Cup semi against Sunderland. What are your memories (aside from the result) of that game?

MW – Just a tragedy that we didn’t win and get to Wembley! Great excitement in the build-up and a great occasion. Fairly average game to be truthful but we had enough of the game to get the result we needed, so the mind very occasionally asks the question what if? 

DS – You played in the famous win up at Carlisle United. How did you celebrate when McAree smashed the ball into the net?

MW – Probably in relief and thinking whatever you do now don’t throw one in!!!! Great strike and another good memory…

DS – As you have mentioned already, it was a close group of players. Were there any funny stories or pranks that spring to mind?

MW – Numerous however, the mind at the moment is working hard to remember. One moment that sticks in my mind was that we played Darlington away. Top of the table clash and they had a few players carried off and we turned them over… in the changing rooms after some of their stewards and the police come into the changing room to raise concerns about the team’s behaviour – great to see a group sticking together under extreme pressure. At that moment, I knew that we would be successful. I remember actually being asked to sing on stage at Parsons Green Royal British Legion Club which was a little unusual!!

DS – Although you went via Gillingham and Norwich City very briefly, it was only a matter of months after leaving Fulham that you ended up at Brighton. Several players in the team did exactly the same when leaving Fulham. Would you put that down to the Micky Adams factor, the location or just coincidence?

MW – My assumption is that Micky wanted to play in a certain way and he knew the parts he wanted to fit the jigsaw. When he came to Brighton he inherited a few players but also attracted a few which was good for him & the club.

DS – The Cottage looks a bit different now with the terraces being replaced by stands. Have you been back to the Cottage since you left the club and what did you think of our ground compared to all the others you’ve played in?

MW – I loved playing there, I have been outside quite a few times recently but I haven’t been back inside. I would like to have a look around one day. I think it is an iconic ground.

DS – What are you up to nowadays? Ever fancied a crack at management?

MW – Life has taken a few twists over the years! I became a mature student and ended up getting a first-class degree and master’s degree followed by a PGCE. I currently teach which I find enjoyable. I am heavily involved in cricket in Wales which was always a passion of mine. Last year due to a sad loss within Cricket in Wales, I ended up becoming performance manager for age group cricket in Wales which was an enjoyable challenge. I have never fancied management however; I always thought I may have been a reasonable coach (way too easy to say that without doing it)!! I did some commentary work last year for BBC Norfolk and thoroughly enjoyed it, so maybe there will be some opportunities there over the coming months.

DS – Finally, pie or pasty – Which filling?

MW – Pie – beef and onion.