Jamie Walker on ending his career at Hearts and why Rangers saga was handled badly
Nothing has changed. Jamie Walker remains as quietly spoken now as before he left for Wigan. He can barely be heard across the room inside Hearts’ team hotel near Dublin. Yet his message, or rather the significance of it, will carry across the water to leave defenders in Scotland shuddering.
At 26, Walker is prepared to end his career with Hearts. That could mean another decade or more of him tormenting opponents. Returning on a three-year contract instilled a warm homecoming feeling within the forward. Eighteen months in England didn’t work out and he is back at his formative club ready to clear up several issues. Quietly, of course.
First, he insists he didn’t fall out with manager Craig Levein. Second, he knows he and Hearts should have handled Rangers’ transfer bids for him better. Third, he plans to win over sceptical Tynecastle fans with goals after scoring 40 in his first spell. Fourth, he wants a trophy in maroon to define his career.
That’s a fair bit to be dealing with. For one so softly spoken, Walker provides some hard-hitting chat. “I’ve got such an affiliation with this club. I’ve been here since I was eight and if I was to end my career at Hearts I would be really happy,” he says. “It is home for me. I’m moving back home, so is my family, and most of the coaching staff is the same. I just need to get to know the boys. This trip helps.”
He doesn’t regret joining Wigan despite failing to impose himself. Rangers’ interest in 2017 affected his form and he disagreed with Levein over his future. Walker says they did not part on bad terms, therefore his return was not as awkward as some imagined.
“I don’t have regrets about the departure, but maybe the whole Rangers thing. That turned into a bit of a mess. It was tough and I think maybe the club and myself didn’t deal with that in the best way. It’s all in the past. I’m looking to the future and to doing well for Hearts.
“There was a perception from people on the outside, because of the Rangers situation, that Craig and I didn’t get on. That wasn’t the case. We were both men about it and accepted that what happened, happened. I’ve always got on with Craig and I like him as a manager. He seems to like me as a player and can get the best out of me, so there were no hard feelings between us.”
Walker knows he needs to be persuasive to regain the trust of some Hearts fans now. “I think good performances will do it. I scored a lot of goals when I was first here and that’s what I will look to do again. Hopefully I can turn around any supporters doubting me coming back and show them what a good player I am.”
Wigan didn’t get to see that player. When Walker’s first anniversary there was marked with knee surgery, it was time to come home. “I came back from a loan at Peterborough in January and I wasn’t going to play again that season with injury. That meant an entire year where I hadn’t played a game for Wigan. So it was in my mind that I was going to leave.
“You don’t realise the size of Hearts until you have left. Down there, the money is crazy but you only have 10,000 at games. I could walk about the streets and no-one would really know who I was. Then you come to Hearts and realise what you have. I took playing every week for granted. That anonymity was quite nice sometimes, I could just wander about with my family and have that normality.”
He happily swapped it for more familiar intensity and a second chance to become a Tynecastle legend. “If I was to win a trophy for Hearts it would make my career and be incredible for my family. Also, finishing sixth for this football club is not good enough, so we need to get back up towards the top three or four and into the European places. That will be our aim.”