27 May 2020
HALL OF FAME - ARNOLD 'BOXER' WALKER
They don't make many like this...…..195 games, 53 tries, 2 goals and 35 drop goals and endless stories!
ARNOLD 'BOXER' WALKER.
Arnold 'Boxer' Walker – Workington Town, Whitehaven RLFC, Cumbria RL, England and Great Britain International!
Arnold Walker was born at 111 Windermere Road, Woodhouse on 15th April 1952, where he lived until he was 4 years old, when his family moved on to 18 Mid Street, Kells. He was the youngest of 3 children, following his brother Alan and sister Margaret, with Arnold earning the nickname “Boxer” at 5 years old after he received a pair of boxing gloves and a punch bag as a Christmas present from his uncle Arnold. He wore the gloves every day and the name just stuck. He went to school first at St Mary’s Catholic School in Kells, and even at this early age, his parents recognised that he had a gift for sport and by the time he arrived at St Begh’s secondary school at the age of 11, he already had a formidable reputation. Boxer proudly represented the school at every sport. He was captain of all the school teams, swimming, football, rugby league, and cricket. Sport was in his blood. The school football team were especially successful and Boxer was invited for trials at Carlisle United and Workington Reds. At this age it looked likely that he could be successful at any of these sports, but given the influence of his family and those he looked up to as hero’s, namely Kells rugby league players, his pathway was chosen, and 'Boxer' was soon to play for the Cumberland under 15s.
After school, his development in rugby league continued at Arrowthwaite youth club, where he also represented Cumberland Under-17’s and then made the progression to Kells Rugby League Club, where he was soon part of a very successful under-19’s team. He was establishing a formidable reputation, captaining the Under-19s and open age teams, and by then was also attracting attention from a number of professional clubs hoping to entice Boxer away from the amateur game, including Whitehaven, Barrow, Hull Kingston Rovers, Warrington, & Leeds. They kept asking, but he kept saying no.
He turned Tom Mitchell down three times also, but finally, in a lay-by at Grasslot just outside Maryport, he met Tom and agreed to join Workington Town, signing his name on the back of a cigarette packet in exchange for £750, a considerable sum in 1970. It was agreed that Boxer would play for Kells for the remainder of the season before turning professional with Town the following year. Speaking in his Book Tom Mitchell says -”When I first saw him play at 16, Boxer was already directing the efforts of a mature amateur pack, even then. I was at the corner flag when an opposition forward crossed and the dressing down he gave his team mates behind the posts was unbelievable – a true competitor. I pursued his signature for two years – well worth the frustrating process”. Boxer played a handful of ‘A’ team games before making his debut substituting for Jacky Newall, away at Huyton on 24th October 1971, scoring the winning try in the final 5 minutes. Reporting on his performance, Eric B Easterbrook wrote this prophetic account in the Times and Star. “Walker has thrilled the band of diehard spectators at ’A’ team matches, he is only small but he is a quick thinker who gets through more work than anyone else on the field, his tackling is superb, often pulling down men twice his size”. He would win plenty more matches for Town over the next eight years, which was to become a golden age for the club.
Boxer’s home debut came as a substitute against Castleford the following week, with the programme notes reading: “One thing that has come from the enforced absence of Harry Whitaker is the baptism in senior football of the youthful Arnold (Boxer) Walker. Still just a boy in years he appears to have in his make up a bit of most, if not all, the things that go towards making a good footballer, and particularly a good scrum half. This terrier type is going to give a lot of pleasure to the loving followers around here for many years to come”. Prior to his arrival, the club had seen something of a demise in fortunes and Boxer joined Workington at a time when the club was embarking on a team- building process. Gradually the revival came, and a top class team consisting mainly of home grown players started to bring back glory to Town.
As scrum-halves go, Boxer was one of the best, and at one stage in his career, ‘Open Rugby Magazine’ placed him at the top of their prestigious world rankings. He had all the attributes of a natural scrum-half, speed, intuition, good hands and the ability to gee up his team-mates. He was never frightened to try anything, maybe that was why he got away with so much, he would try things which that if they came off he was a hero, when they didn’t he would get some stick, but the more things he tried, the more the defence stood back. Watching Workington Town now was exciting, the action was non-stop and relentless with Boxer making complex decisions quickly. He lit up the Workington attack, taking the ball at first receiver, as the backs and forwards scattered around him. The town pack followed Boxer obediently, without question, so certain were they that the pass would be delivered at the appropriate time, in a perfect spiral, begging to be converted into a telling break. Then there was his defence, he was often described as ‘a robust player’ perhaps a phrase employed by cautious journalists with one eye on the laws of libel. he had it in his head that if he didn’t do it to them first, they’d do it to him, that was the way he was brought up, if you go into a tackle half-hearted and with your eyes closed, you’d come off worse, and while there were some big forwards, he wasn’t frightened of anyone.
Boxer enjoyed nine glorious seasons at Derwent Park as Town began to challenge for honours. In 1973, 1974 and 1975 they contested three losing Lancashire Cup semi-finals but gained compensation when they won promotion back to Division one. They then contested four consecutive Lancashire Cup Finals, 1976, 77, 78 & 79. Boxer played in all four, with the most memorable of these being in 1977 when Town thrillingly beat Wigan 16-13 at Warrington.
He won the 'Man of the match' award that day, kicking 2 drop-goals and inspiring his team with the kind of dominant performance he had become renowned for, and a prolific drop-goaler, he landed at least one in every round of the 1977 Lancashire Cup, when Town saw off Salford, Widnes and St Helens to reach the final. Uniquely, Boxer won the man of the match award again in 1978, despite being on the losing side to Widnes 15 points to 12.
Commenting on Boxer in his book Tom Mitchell wrote:“Best summed up as a tireless top class manipulator of the scrum. NOT THE quietest of players in terms of giving advice to referees and fellow players alike. Just as well that not everything he said was understood by referees. Versatile referee Billy Thompson did however understand. After that momentous achievement by Town, a Cumberland club having the nerve to seize the Lancashire Cup in a splendid final against Wigan, no less, I walked across the pitch in the gloom with Mr Thomson after the game, from the scene of jubilation to the official reception. Enquired I, “Billy, what was all that finger wagging about which you gave to our scrum half?” It had come towards the end of the game. ”Cheeky young man, that” said the ref who had awarded a kickable penalty to Wigan. Addressing the ref, Walker had said “You can do what you like Billy, but there is no way you can swing this match Wigan’s way – we are booked for a fortnight in Benidorm if we win this one and I am going, no fear”
The 1978/79 season saw Workington Town achieve what was their best ever position in Division One, when they won thirteen of their thirty three fixtures and drew three to complete the season in ninth position in the league which meant that they just missed out on a place in the Premiership Play-off, with Boxer the top of the appearances during the season, playing in 30 games. Before the season started they were invited to take part in the Wigan Sevens competition and duly came away with the trophy. Boxer of course was a member of the team. Boxer played in his fourth consecutive Lancashire Cup Final when Widnes defeated Town 11 points to nil on 8 December 1979 at The Willows, Salford, which turned out to be his last game for Town. During this great era Town had competed in no less than 58 cup ties, with 34 won, 3 drawn and 21 lost, which was quite an impressive record, but now some of Town’s top players were leaving the club.
When Boxer was reluctantly placed on the transfer list by Town late in 1979, it was generally thought that he would go further afield and the question was “which big club would he go to” but in fact he went to arch rivals Whitehaven in January 1980 amid a blaze of publicity shattering their transfer fee record by tenfold when he joined his home town club for £30,000 in 1980, making him the second most expensive Rugby League player of his time, and making him a talisman for Haven’s new confidence and status in Cumbria Rugby League. His first full season at Whitehaven was sensational. When they gained promotion to Division one, with Arnold dropping 22 goals, more than anyone else in the league, also adding 13 goals and 4 tries to his personal points aggregate. Playing in division one for the 1981/82 season and in a home game versus Hull K R on 11 October 1981, he received a serious neck injury that brought the game to a premature end, but amazingly, just 6 weeks later he was back finishing the season as player coach, with Haven returning to the lower division at the end of the season. The following season saw Haven achieving promotion again with Boxer calling the shots from the half-back position. So came 1983-84 and Haven were back in the big time, but just 2 games into that Division One campaign Boxer’s career came to an abrupt halt. Playing on a bone hard surface at Naughton Park he was tackled by a Widnes forward and suffered a broken neck, which signalled the end of a glittering career so cruelly, and so painfully, cut short. His Haven career may have only lasted 70 games, plus 8 as substitute, but few individuals had more dramatic impact on the club than “Boxer”, having earned a reputation for being a hard man on the pitch due to his insatiable appetite for battle and fearless style of play no matter who the opposition.
Boxer represented Cumbria on 19 occasions with his debut for his county being on 27 October 1973 at scrum-half against opponents Australia at the Recreation Ground. He scored the first of his 8 tries for Cumbria on 20 December 1975 against Other Nationalities at Craven Park, Barrow with Cumbria winning 21 points to 13. As skipper of Cumbria he led them to two successive Championship triumphs in 1981 (their first since 1966) and again in 1982, together with a memorable County success on 8 October 1980 against the New Zealand tourists when he scored the winning try in a 9 points to 3 victory at Whitehaven. Having appeared for Cumbria many times it was a travesty that he had yet to appear in a Great Britain jersey, his inclusion in the GB team to face the 1978 Australians seemed a formality but he was overlooked in favour of Steve Nash and then Roger Millward, and later missed out on the 1979 tour to Australia, and it appeared that Boxer’s chance for international recognition had gone for ever. His opportunity did eventually come when he was at Whitehaven.
It was a serious facial injury which denied him his first Test place against the Kiwis in 1980, though he did still recover to play in the third test, becoming Whitehaven’s 4th Great Britain Test player. It was on 15 November 1980 that he was drafted into the GB team for the third test against New Zealand at Leeds, and typically he made more tackles than anyone else, 28, as Great Britain levelled the series with a 10 points to 2 win. Three months later he made his only other international appearance, also at Leeds, only to find himself on the losing side as England were defeated by 5 points to 1 by France on 21 February 1981. Boxer Walker has played professional ruby league for both Workington & Whitehaven clubs, and has the unusual honour of still being loved by both sets of fans despite the fierce rivalry that exists between them.
In all he amassed a total of 294 first team appearances in the 12 years of his professional career.He was capped 19 times for Cumberland (8 of these as captain) scoring 8 tries and 12 goals, was capped for Great Britain and England, and played 195 games for Town from 1971 to 1980, scoring 53 tries, 2 goals, 35 drop goals and 198 points.
This is the exact script written by Tony Boyd when 'Boxer' Walker was inducted as the 15th member of our Hall of Fame and I would like to both thank and praise Tony for such an excellent piece.
Hall of Fame inductees are voted for by the Vice Presidents, if you would like to join please call Tony Boyd on 07850552229 for further informatio