Hyundai A-League fans may remember Jeremy Walker. The cherubic, bushy haired Melbourne Heart (now City) full back from Tasmania who’s now smashing it with Westfield FFA Cup outfit Hume City.
Two years ago, after Walker had come through the Heart youth team and made his senior debut in the Hyundai A-League, the club cut him from their roster.
And since then, we haven’t heard much from the player. Until now.
As he looks towards a Round of 32 Westfield FFA Cup debut with the PS4 NPL Victoria outfit, 22-year-old “Jez” filled us in on what he’s been up to.
It all began seven weeks after he was released in mid-2014...
The club-less Tasmanian knew just one person in London who, conveniently, had a spare room.
So with no contacts, no trials, no agents, nothing, Walker flew to the English capital to see where it might take him (Walker has Portuguese and British heritage so a visa wasn’t an issue).
Yet within days, he’d be training under legendary manager Ian Holloway, playing for Millwall in a training game, which later lead to him playing 40 plus games for a Conference club in Essex... but that’s jumping ahead.
Two years ago, with boots in his bag, Walker took a train and turned up at nearby Millwall ostensibly to watch them train but secretly hoping he could blag himself a training spot with the club.
As manager Ian Holloway walked past, the security guard – who’d been chatting with the Aussie lad for an hour – had a word with the gaffer.
Holloway loves Aussies players. And before you could say “Hollowayisms” Walker was handed training gear and told to start training with the team. And three days later he was playing in a trial match with Neil Harris’s Millwall reserves against Conference level teams (Harris is now first team manager at the club).
Not a bad way to celebrate your 21st birthday.
“He [Holloway] asked me if I was a footballer. And asked if I had my gear and gave me a kit and I ended up staying for six weeks, training and playing with the reserves and seniors,” Walker told www.theffacup.com.au.
“To this day that was one of my biggest personal achievements to have Ian Holloway coach me – especially coming from such a low-key background that I do.
“He treated me and everyone treated me really well, which was amazing. It was a bit of a fluke.”
It was pre-season. It was brutal. Up to four double sessions in England aren’t for the faint hearted.
But it was this professional environment where Walker felt comfortable.
The six-week stint showed he could mix with the best. Gym sessions, field sessions, then back home at night to his spare room. It wasn’t the glamour of some footballers in London that's for sure.
Millwall didn’t offer him a contract but another door opened as the Den’s closed.
Walker was signed by Danny Cowley at Essex Conference South outfit Concord Rangers. An inspired move.
Over 40 games later and Walker could look back at his “accidental” first season in England, where Rangers also made it to the first round of the FA Cup.
“We had Mansfield Town away from League Two and we drew 1-1. At home [at the Aspect Arena] we lost 1-0. It was perhaps the biggest game I’d played in and the most important for that club. We got a standing ovation from Mansfield’s fans.”
The first leg featured one of the goals of the round by Rangers as the Conference level side pushed the pros from Town all the way.
Walker followed his Rangers manager to Braintree FC at season’s end – a Conference club in the tier directly below League 2.
“If I’d describe it in one word, Conference football was ‘competitive’. Each team needs three points for promotion or relegation reasons. It’s very direct.
“After five or six games I’d find myself ‘sticking one in the channel’. It was that type of football."
There were Sundays when Walker could barely walk after Saturday's match.
“Team were very compact and had a hunger to win with every single player hungry and desperate to win. A lot of big bodies, very direct and getting thrown around here and there - unlike Millwall under Holloway who were playing a decent brand of football.”
Walker didn’t quite fit. The club needed bigger, taller players to fill the breach in defence and the Tasmanian was restricted to a handful of off-the-bench cameos. Cowley has since left to join Lincoln City. Walker left England.
That’s football. So the 22-year-old full back returned after a huge learning experience over 18 roller-coaster months in London.
Hume – one of the more professional outfits in the NPL - came in for him and he now has an FFA Cup showcase on the national stage on Fox Sports.
Walker is training a full-time load to replicate a full-time environment, but ask any footballer, and they’ll tell you it’s tough doing extras on your own.
The defender has proved he’s made of tough stuff. Moving from a small town in Tasmania (“Ulverston, where you walk down the street and everyone says g’day to you”) to Melbourne and the A-League, where Del Piero famously complimented him.
Then to fly to the other side of the world knowing no-one, blagging your way into a big club and surviving the heavy load of a Millwall pre-season, to surviving a brutal Conference season and a half – it shows he’s got some ticker.
So A-League scouts, get down to the ABD Stadium for the opening night of this year’s FFA Cup on July 27.
You sense Jeremy Walker’s football adventures are far from over.