Signed: April 1921 from Dumbarton
Departed: May 1923 to Nottingham Forest
- Record signing at the time
- Record sale at the time
- Record number of goals in a league season.
- Record number of goals in all competitions for a season
- 1922 Barcelona Cup winner
- First player to score in 10 successive matches
- First player to score more than 2 hat-tricks for the club
- First player to score 20, 30 and 40 league goals in a season
- First player to score 20, 30 and 40 goals in all competitions
- Only player to score 40 or more league goals in a top-flight season
- Only player to score 50 plus goals in all competitions in a season
- Only player to score 5 individual league hat-tricks in a season
- Only player to score 7 domestic hat tricks in a season
- Only player to score consecutive hat-tricks in matches
- Goal to game ratio is the best of any Saints player
- His nine hat-tricks for the club was a record at the time
- Fought in WWI
Glasgow born Duncan Walker was brought into this world in October 1899, and little did his parents know that one of the most phenomenal goal scorers in Scottish football history was in their sprawling family which now consisted of five children.
Better known as ‘Dunky’ of course in Paisley, Walker signed for Dumbarton as a youngster in 1918 after playing for Kilsyth Rangers and fighting as a young teenager in World War I (changing his date of birth to sign up, like many did as he was too young) where the Glaswegian was a regular for the Army side and his reputation for scoring goals began, although the serious stuff with the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders was obviously his primary concern.
The Sons however decided to loan twenty-year-old Walker to non-league Bo’ness in 1919 when the war ended. where the forward played in the same team as future Saints legendary goalkeeper Jock Bradford. Walker quickly became a crowd favourite at his loan club and was a regular goal scorer prompting Dumbarton to recall him back to Boghead where over the next couple of years he scored just over a goal every other game for the Sons with thirty-three goals in sixty matches.
This good form and potential of the young centre forward alerted Saints manager John Cochrane, and towards the end of a disastrous 1920/21 season where Saints finished bottom of the league and were only spared a first ever relegation by a re-election vote, the club record transfer fee was smashed in April 1921 when Walker became the first £1,000 plus transfer in history at Paisley, but the forward failed to score in the last three matches of that campaign, with his debut bizarrely a ‘home’ match played at Easter Road against Hearts as Love Street was being reconstructed.
The forward relocated to Albion Street in the town but had to wait four months to make his Saints debut in Paisley such was the length of pre-season back in those days, and on the twentieth of August 1921 Queens Park made the short trip for the Division One season opener where a new look Saints side took the field at Love Street, which also included Robert Stevenson who had been signed from Morton, and defender Joe Till, an £800 recruitment who was a team mate of Walker at Dumbarton.
This spending spree by Cochrane resulted in a total outlay of £2,150, which was more than the club had spent on all transfers since 1908! The figure is a modern day outlay of £103,500 which may not seem like a lot but was a substantial sum in the years after the First World War.
If Cochrane felt nervous about such extravagant spending and whether his new men would make an impact, then he didn’t have to wait very long to find out. Walker exploded onto the scene at Paisley like something nobody had ever seen before and early in the match he opened the scoring on his actual home debut, and by full time he had scored four of Saints five goals in a 5-0 win, with Stevenson grabbing the other.
This was the most impressive individual home debut in Saints short history, and probably remains so, but with Hamilton Accies up next only three days later, could Walker and the team keep this blistering start to the season going? Incredibly the answer was a resounding ‘Yes’ and Walker scored four times again in another 5-0 victory, with Stevenson once more grabbing the other goal. This was no fluke though, and Walker just continued scoring goals at a quite astonishing rate throughout the season.
With the brilliant James Thomson on the left wing and Scottish international Denis Lawson on the other, Walker could hardly put a foot wrong throughout a campaign where everything the forward touched seemed to hit the net. By 1921 no player in Saints short thirty-one league season history had ever reached twenty goals in a season, yet Walker had that total by the 3rd of November 1921, just fifteen matches into the season and eighteen into his Saints career.
In the league season, Walker scored five hat-tricks and found net the net in thirty one of thirty-eight matches he appeared in during the 1921/22 season, taking his total to a quite astonishing 45 goals in the top-flight, a Scottish and European record at the time. In the Scottish Cup, he managed another eleven goals, including two hat-tricks which took him to 56 goals for the season in the 43 matches he played in. To put this into context, Steven Thompson scored 54 goals for Saints over five seasons.
Unsurprisingly, this remains a Saints record, and it is simply inconceivable that it will ever be beaten in the modern game. Incredibly (or not so given the history of Saints players being called up to the Scottish national team) Walker was overlooked by the Scotland selection committee for the internationals in early to mid-1922, leaving the English media to ponder why such form was being disregarded.
On the 2nd of April 1922, sports newspaper “The Athletic” commented that the selectors had surely made “a mistake” in overlooking the prolific marksmen, stating he had:
“…..demolished all the Scottish records of Hugh Ferguson and William Reid – and yet he is not considered worthy of his place in any Scottish representative eleven”.
It appears bias was something very prominent back then also when it came to Scotland appearances. The player Walker had beaten with his individual goal tally for that season in all competitions was Hugh Ferguson of Motherwell, a centre forward who scored 284 goals in 288 matches for the Lanarkshire side between 1916 and 1925 but failed to get one Scotland cap, despite continuing this form in England for Cardiff City.
William Reid, who Walker had comprehensively beaten with his league tally on the other hand was also a prolific scorer for Morton, Third Lanark, Motherwell and Portsmouth, yet only received any international recognition when he moved in 1909 to Rangers, where his goal to game ratio actually declined. Make of that what you wish!
However, at the time, the 45 league goals scored by Walker was the highest ever recorded in Scotland and Europe; and on the domestic front, only two players in the history of Scottish football managed more goals in one campaign than the Saints great; Jimmy McGrory of Celtic and Willie McFadyen of Motherwell. Incredibly all three played at the same time of Scottish football along with Davie McCrae, another phenomenal St Mirren goalscorer.
Understandably, interest in Walker was high due to this unparalleled form, and his reputation soared even further as Saints made the trip to Spain after the season had finished as they were invited to open the new stadium of Catalan Giants FC Barcelona, with Walker featuring centrally on the poster promoting the fixture.
The first ever match at the Les Cortes was therefore played by Saints against the Catalans, but Saints lost 2-1 on the 20th May 1922 and then 1-0 the following day, with both sides keeping more or less the same starting XI’s! Four days later, the official match to mark the opening of the ground was played between Saints and then English giants Notts County, and with the backing of the home support who rallied behind the Paisley men as they stayed on the field at half time to stay acclimatised in the roasting Catalan sun, Walker scored twice to clinch a fine 2-1 win for Saints and lift the Barcelona Cup.
Walker scored another seven goals as Saints toured the rest of Spain over the next few weeks, adding another nine goals in total to the fifty-six he had scored in the Scottish domestic season. It is accurate to say the £1,100 spent by John Cochrane to take him to Paisley had been a gamble that paid off!
Walker started the next season in great form again by scoring in the first three matches, but he was unable to repeat the almost unbelievable story of the year before despite reaching a still very impressive twenty goals for the season, which of course was more than anybody had ever managed in a single season before he signed for Saints.
Perhaps the sale of Denis Lawson to Cardiff City in November 1922 was the reason for Walker’s drop in his own phenomenal standards as the service the winger provided was exceptional, but English heavyweights Nottingham Forest had seen enough of the centre forward to be convinced of his quality and paid Saints £2,225 in May 1923 to take Walker south, a club record fee for a player at the time.
Walker continued his scoring his exploits in England with Forest by scoring seventeen times in the league during his top flight debut season, however injuries were now beginning to make a lasting impact on a player undoubtedly singled out by the opposition during a time where ‘protection for players’ consisted of the referee giving a defender a harsh look after volleying a forward into the terracing.
The forward missed large chunks of the next few years with what appeared to be a chronic knee issue and managed only sixteen more goals in the following three seasons interrupted almost continuously by injury. In fact, Walker played only eleven matches in his last two seasons in England but scored eight times making his still impressive thirty-three goals in eighty-eight games for Forest not truly reflect his goal-scoring powers.
By 1927 Walker was back playing for Bo’ness who had been promoted to the top division in Scotland, but he was effectively finished by this point and managed only four more career appearances before retiring at the age of just twenty-eight in April of the following year. Walker had scored 142 goals in 238 career appearances.
The town of Bo’ness brought other issues for Walker other than injury however, and he made the front page of the newspapers for committing adultery, a scandalous misdemeanour at the time which would have caused much anxiety during the trial for the former Saints man when it was admitted in court he had a child with a bar tender of a Bo’ness pub, and his marriage to Mabel Walker effectively annulled.
However, despite this Walker was considered a great family man by the people that mattered and had five children, with his only son almost making the grade at Aberdeen as a defender, although he did play amateur for Ferniegair Violet in the late 1930’s.
Despite this high-profile court case, in December 1931 the great centre forward was named president of his adopted club Bo’ness, before embarking on a brief coaching and management career in the Juniors at Vale of Clyde in the mid 1930’s. In 1939 although now forty years of age, Walker signed up to fight in WWII, however the old knee injury suffered during his playing days meant he failed the medical and he had to make do with life at home throughout this particular war, but courage was not something Walker lacked clearly.
In 1959 Gerry Baker beat Walker’s quickest ever games taken to reach twenty in a season for Saints and sadly a few years after this Duncan Walker passed away in 1963, but content in the knowledge his name is scattered all over the St Mirren record books and his legend surely guaranteed in Paisley, making his exclusion from the club hall of fame peculiar indeed.