A Tribute to Harry Walker

A tribute to Coventry Rugby legend and former England international Harry Walker has been written by Steve ‘Scribble’ Evans.

Steve joined the Coventry Evening Telegraph’s sports desk in 1979 and covered Coventry Rugby until 1987, when he was promoted to Chief Sports Writer.

In total, Steve spent 42 years in journalism before retiring from the Telegraph in 2008. During his time Steve came to know and become good friends with Harry.

Harry made his first appearance for Coventry at the age of 17, as a flanker in the second XV, and after two games there he converted to prop. He broke into the first XV at the age of 18 and played there for some 20 years.

After retiring as a player at the age of 37 in 1952, Harry went on to fill just about every major role at the Coventry Club up to President, most recently being club patron.

 

Harry 1 (2)

Harry Walker (1915 – 2018)

“Harry Walker, Harry Walker is a horse’s arse….”

The unforgettable opening line to a song chorused hundreds of times by legions of players spanning the generations across the decades.

Don’t for one minute assume that Harry took offence. Quite the contrary. He could often be seen at the front of the team coach, like Andre Previn’s grandad in the orchestra pit, waving his arms about encouraging the lads to embark on a second verse.

In the pre-professional days of play-hard, shake hands and booze-hard, Harry was a rugger bugger of the highest order. And when we sang “his” song at the Cowshed Lunch to mark his 103rd birthday at the Butts Park Arena in February, his grin was a gummy giveaway to the affection that was being showered upon him by more than 100 assembled ex-players.

Even the BBC cameraman recording the event started chuckling as the words became apparent. Suffice to say, the Dubbing Editor had never been busier back in the studio.

I was privileged, honoured, to cover Cov for the Coventry Evening Telegraph for almost a decade. And I’d dial Keresley 4842 virtually every day for team news. And the receiver would be lifted to a loud, gruff, barking response: “WALKER.”

I have a theory about the day Harry was born in 1915. I’m convinced he arrived carved in granite to a thunderclap and a bolt of lightning. The city of Coventry would never be quite the same again. The man affectionately dubbed “H” had landed! Thinking about it, there could be no more fitting nick-name than “H” – the shape of rugby posts that would ultimately shape his life and his legacy.

He never knew his father, who was killed in the First World War when Harry was a baby. He was raised clinging to his mother’s apron strings. She did a brilliant job and bequeathed to us, this club, this city, this county, this country, a son destined for rugby folklore.

One of Harry’s best mates was the old Gloucester prop ‘Digger’ Morris. They locked antlers many times in blood-and-thunder battles. He loved talking about the times they knocked seven bells out of each other but, back in the clubhouse over a pint or three, they’d be long-lost brothers, despite sharing black eyes like a pair of pubescent panda bears. Digger wrote an autobiography entitled “Never Stay Down”. I bought it, thanks to Harry’s recommendation. It gave me an insight into just what goes on in the mysterious world of the Front Row.

In hindsight, now that Harry is lost to us forever, I wish I’d collared him and suggested ghost-writing his life’s slings and arrows.

I have always put forward the theory that there is a two-inch difference between the players of the amateur and professional eras, and it has nothing to do with the size of the male appendage. Measure the distance between the heart and the wallet. Back in the day, players who came from Coventry schools like Bablake, King Henry VIII, and others, played for no monetary gain. They shared blood, sweat and beers for the pride of representing their birthplace city. T’is just my humble opinion.

Harry always led from the front, but always protected the players’ backs. Even on the Bermuda Tour of 1980. We spent a month on the island and “H” organised 50cc Puch mopeds for all of us to get about. There must have been 26 of us in that blue-shirted convoy. In alphabetical terms, it was an A-Z. I looked over my shoulder and there was “H” in position Z, the tail-gunner, chugging along at the rear. 

For me, it exploded the myth that a mother hen always leads its chicks. But he was leading us. In his own protective way. Watching our backs…a mother hen cluck-clucking while chug-chugging.

Harry loved his players. We lost one of those Bermuda touring players a few years ago. Hooker Andy Farrington succumbed to cancer at an indecently young age. The lads shouldered his casket into Holy Trinity Church, Attleborough, Nuneaton, to the strains of “He Ain’t Heavy, he’s my brother”.  In the pews, I sat with Graham Robbins and Dick Travers. We blubbered like three blubbering Blubber Whales. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Harry was outside afterwards, forlorn, head bowed. He’d lost one of his chicks.

Now we are preparing to gather at Coventry’s magnificent Holy Trinity Church on July 3 to say farewell to “H”. There’ll be tears, for sure, but don’t be surprised if, as his casket is exiting, you hear faint murmerings breaking out along the lines of Harry being an equine cavity.

Trust me, he’d expect nothing less. 

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