Colin Walsh: Archetypal 80s stalwart
First published in "Forest Review" on Tuesday, 11th February, 2020 versus Charlton Athletic
The early 80s was a period when football became distinctly unfashionable and, remarkably in hindsight, there was even debate whether the game would survive long term.
Certainly, football was an inconvenience the Government could do without and the policing of fans reflected that stance.
In turn, fan behaviour deteriorated until reaching the nadir of 1985 with Millwall fans rioting at Luton, the accidental death of a fan at Birmingham v Leeds and then the heart-breaking events at Heysel where 39 Juventus fans needlessly lost their lives.
Throw in the utterly gut-wrenching tragedy at Bradford (not related to fan behaviour) and football wasn’t even attractive to TV companies, such that the first half of the 1985/86 season was not broadcast on television in the UK.
The first match shown when BBC’s Match of the Day broadcasts resumed in January 1986 was our trip to Manchester United.
Only 13 months before we’d beaten United 3-2 at the City Ground in front of the same cameras, on that occasion turning around a 2-0 half time deficit thanks to Johnny Metgod’s memorable last minute free kick and even more memorable celebration.
Old Trafford was another 3-2 last minute win, this time Young Nigel heading home at the far post conveniently in front of our travelling supporters.
Our other two goals that dark and damp Manchester afternoon were scored by a 1980s stalwart who later also became a firm favourite with tonight’s visitors: Colin Walsh.
Walsh joined us a promising apprentice in 1978 and was occasionally found in the match programme looking very fresh faced on the periphery of team photos in that era (below on front row, third from right) before making his debut in November 1980.
Indeed, Walsh was part of a posse of players introduced to reshape our double European Cup winning side, along with youngsters such as Bryn Gunn, Gary Mills and Stuart Gray, plus a host of mostly unsuccessful high profile signings such as Justin Fashanu.
It was the later incarnation of that side that Walsh found most success, with the likes of Steve Hodge, Peter Davenport, Steve Wigley and Chris Fairclough added to the mix.
Cloughie – yet again - concocted just the right blend of youth and experience, whilst also perfecting deep defending and breaking at speed and with precision.
A recipe for success not really replicated since, well, this season. Maybe a young Frenchman by the name of Lamouchi was taking tactical notes as we reached the UEFA Cup semi-final in 1984 before being cruelly cheated by Anderlecht.
Walsh had a sweet left foot and languid style, usually played on the left but started his career centrally, and was a reliable penalty taker – all, ironically, features of the fellow Scotsman he was seemingly destined to eventually replace, John Robertson. His Shoot pen profile even revealed a shared love of Bryan Ferry.
Like Robbo, Walsh also had a knack of scoring important goals. On that UEFA Cup run in 1983/84, he won and scored a last minute penalty in our fantastic 2-1 away win at PSV Eindhoven, only a couple of weeks after scoring the first ever goal in a live league TV match at Tottenham - yet another first for the club of "firsts".
The goal at Spurs also came just a fortnight after Walsh was inaccurately reported to have broken his neck away at Norwich - where he'd already scored a hat-trick in our eventual 3-2 win.
The match at Carrow Road was notable in that none of Walsh's three goals came from his trusty left foot and, somewhat comically, Cloughie was left alone on the bench with the bucket and sponge.
With physio Tony Verity taking Walsh straight to hospital, sub Mark Smalley replacing the hat trick hero, and coach Ronnie Fenton scouting, any injury would have meant the unusual sight of BC running onto the pitch to dispense his, no doubt, unique healthcare services.
The UEFA Cup run that season got even better with another 2-1 away win at Celtic. We scored two thrilling counter-attack goals in front of 67,000, the second of which was neatly dispatched by Walsh after excellent approach play by Davenport.
Fast forward to those two goals at Old Trafford in January 1986 which, ironically, would be in doubt in this VAR era with a suspicion of handball and then offside.
Both goals were again set up by the irrepressible Davenport before Walsh scored with aplomb with that left foot.
As we neared the end of that season, Cloughie occasionally handed Walsh the armband and talked up the prospect of him being a long-term captain.
He then played through a lengthy pre-season and even sported the new Umbro kit at the 1986/87 pre-season photocall and appeared in the team photo.
The number 11 shirt was still his in the final pre-season friendly against Torpedo Moscow, just three days before the start of the season, but then he was dropped for the opening fixture at Everton.
There were rumours of a contract dispute and a move to Birmingham before he was suddenly gone in September 1986 for £125,000.
His destination was newly-promoted Charlton, then playing at Selhurst Park.
After an unwelcome detour to Upton Park, the Addicks finally returned to their home at The Valley and, just as at Spurs nine years previously, it was Walsh’s left foot making the headlines with the first goal at the new old home.
That goal at 3.07pm on 5th December 1992 against Portsmouth was even immortalised in a banner at The Valley - that day, by the way, we were beating Leeds 4-1 at Elland Road in a rare highlight of our relegation season.
Walsh eventually stayed with Charlton for a decade - and apparently still lives nearby - in total clocking up over 400 matches and 50 goals for ourselves and our visitors.
In the modern era he would be lauded as a leading top flight player. If truth be told, he’s a largely forgotten figure from a largely forgotten era of football.
But not by fans of us and Charlton.