Obituary: Arnold ‘Boxer’ Walker – The fearless halfback who bridged the West Cumbrian divide

ARNOLD ‘BOXER’ WALKER (April 15, 1952 – May 12, 2022)

West Cumbrian neighbours Workington Town and Whitehaven might be arch-rivals – but local hero Arnold ‘Boxer’ Walker proved a big hit with fans of both.

The entertaining scrum-half and expert field-goal kicker, who has died aged 70 after fighting cancer, won a cap apiece for England and Great Britain (it was reckoned he would have had more had he moved to a higher-profile club in Lancashire or Yorkshire rather than choosing to stay close to home).

The one-time miner also played 19 times (scoring eight tries and kicking twelve goals) for Cumbria, captaining them to consecutive County Championship titles and a memorable victory over New Zealand in the early Eighties, during a career which featured 195 appearances, 53 tries, two goals and 35 field-goals for Workington and 78 appearances, eleven tries, 42 goals and 35 field-goals for hometown Whitehaven.

Born in Whitehaven, Walker had his nickname since childhood after being given a pair of boxing gloves one Christmas (“I wore them every day,” he later recalled).

A sporting all-rounder, he was a talented schoolboy footballer who was offered trials at both Carlisle United and then-fellow Football League club Workington, but Rugby League was his preferred option.

Flaxen-haired and 5ft 6in tall, he might have looked more like a choir boy than a tough guy, but playing for Whitehaven-based amateur club Kells, it soon became clear that as well as having pace, intuition and good hands, he wasn’t intimidated by bigger men.

Walker, indeed, seemed fearless and reckless in equal measure, and his career was finally ended by a broken neck sustained during a game at Widnes at early in the 1983/84 campaign.

Two seasons earlier, his neck injury caused a Whitehaven versus Hull KR fixture to be abandoned, but he was back in action just six weeks later.

Workington signed him in 1971, and he helped them win promotion from the Second Division in 1975/76.

With Walker pulling the strings, a decent side was emerging at Derwent Park, and Town reached four successive Lancashire Cup finals.

He kicked two field-goals and won the man-of-the-match award as Workington lifted the trophy in 1977/78, beating Wigan 16-13 at Wilderspool, and also claimed the man-of-the-match award in the following season’s final, despite a 15-13 defeat by Widnes at Central Park.

The 1979/80 final, won 11-0 by Widnes at The Willows, was Walker’s last game for Workington, who accepted Whitehaven’s £30,000 offer.

The Recreation Ground club were in Division Two, but in his first full season, he was a key man and landed 22 field-goals as promotion was won.

That campaign also brought the first of Cumbria’s successive county crowns and featured their 9-3 victory over New Zealand at Whitehaven.

Shortly after that, Walker faced the tourists again, this time in a Great Britain shirt in the 10-2 win in the third Test at Elland Road which levelled the series (the first was drawn).

Later that season, he played for England in their 5-1 European Championship defeat by France at Headingley, accounting for the point with his field-goal.

While Whitehaven were relegated in 1981/82, Walker played his part as they returned the top flight at the first attempt.

The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.