Walker looking to Wembley final
Walker looking to Wembley final

Veteran keeper Andy Walker goes into the FA Vase semi finals with Cray Valley looking to complete arguably one of the most incredible comebacks in the competition’s history.

For during the 2015/2016, Walker received a horrific broken leg whilst playing for Thamesmead Town at Great Wakering Rovers, and spent time recovering knowing that before he even considered playing again, he had to learn to walk again. But this weekend, the 37 year old shot stopper will take his place against Canterbury City just 180 minutes away from the Arch.

Talking exclusively to KSN, Walker admitted, “I never dreamed it. I did go through a period after the injury where I didn’t think football would still be part of my life and something that I’ve done and been a part of for many years really is a daunting thought!”

But then to go to Cray Valley by the Gaffer, I’ve got stronger and stronger with each game and managed to get my strength and performances back and to get on the run that we’re on and looking at what potentially we could do is just unbelievable, and I couldn’t dream for any better. We’ve still got tough games to go and two massively tough games in the Vase, but the return’s not gone too badly so far!”

Going into the weekend, Cray Valley have stormed up to second place in the League table to be just two points behind leaders Corinthian with nine games left, “The most important competition we play in undoubtedly is the League as we need to get Cray Valley up the Leagues because it’s the way that the club is set up,” Walker reiterated, “but I think that the Vase is an excellent competition.”

“Throughout my whole career, every FA competition I’ve been involved in – the Cup you’re looking for a big day out; the Trophy again you’re looking for a big day out with no real aspirations about winning the competition or even getting to the Wembley Final whereas in the Vase, when you’re playing in the highest League in it there’s a possibility that one day you could be involved in the Final which is incredible for all the players and clubs involved!

Reflecting on the worst afternoon of his career, Walker was pessimistic. “At the time when I had the injury – and it was a bad one,” he said, “I, in my own mind believed that I could get back, but it was by no means anywhere near a certainty. But the reaction from the football world – you do this week in, week out and just go about your business and you don’t realise that you make any impact.”

“Until that is, something like this happens and then well wishers and the efforts that people were going through to look after me was astounding and I’ll forever appreciate that. And that was a lot of the drive that drove me on making me promise myself that I would get back firstly and when I do get back try to enjoy it much more than before, because I don’t think the worst thing in football is losing, I think the worst thing in football is not being able to play which was a huge lesson for me!”

I started back at Maldon and Tiptree and although the knee wasn’t too bad, I didn’t give anywhere near enough credit what being out for a whole year would do to my form – I needed time to get back and play games and get my form back. So, when Kevin gave me the opportunity to come down here to an excellent club where everyone involved is just superb, I jumped at the chance. One because we’ve got history playing with each other at Maidstone and two it gave me a platform to challenge for things and really help out.

And so, twenty years after starting his career with Colchester United and playing for numerous sides around the County, the veteran keeper is finally knocking on the door of the national stadium – not that Walker himself will look beyond the next ten days as he explained, “I can’t dream – it’s literally a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“I can’t let myself dream – people will talk to me about it, but I won’t even entertain the word “Wembley” as like I say, we have two tough games and I think if your mindset is anything but “you’re still a long way with a big, big job to do” then you run the risk of not doing the job and come crashing down from a great height.”

“So, we must keep doing what we’re doing and treat Canterbury just like anyone else – they are a fantastic side having beaten some top, top sides in the competition – they are in the Semi Final of the Vase and that doesn’t just happen, you have to be a good side to get this far.

And that’s why I can’t even dream until that second game’s over, and I know that I cant even dream about it!”