Author Jeff Holmes is no stranger to writing books on Rangers footballing greats, from managing colossal Jock Wallace to forgotten hero David Meiklejohn. But upon the release of his seventeenth book ‘Wingin’ it’; Holmes has perhaps covered some of the most difficult topics of his literary career. The life of Scotland’s first black footballer, Mark Walters.
“I asked Mark what he thought was some of the highlights of his life and career, and he said without a doubt signing for Glasgow Rangers.”
It was during the festive period of 1987, that Mark Walters took his first step through the main entrance of the iconic Ibrox façade. Answering the call from the then Rangers gaffer Graeme Souness, whose famous revolution was only just beginning.
Souness had managed to pinch Walter’s from the grasp of English football club Everton, when he paid Aston Villa £500,000 for the player’s services. A fee which pales in comparison to what Walters would go on to achieve, not only for Rangers Football Club, but for himself.
In Walters three and a half years at Rangers, he was an integral part of a team in which won three Scottish Premier Division titles and two Scottish cups. But Walters’ time in Scotland didn’t go without controversy as Jeff Holmes recalls.
“When Mark came up to Glasgow he was the only black player in Scotland, he had been waned that he was maybe going to get a bit of stick. In football rivalries people tend to pick up on players differences to try hurt them or trying to get them to not play as well.”
In Walters’ first game, a baptism of fire at Parkhead, he was subjected to large bouts of racism. An unfortunate taste of what was to come.
“At Celtic, Mark said there was around 50,000 people there and most of them were home fans. And because Mark played as a winger and played so wide he could hear the abuse more and see the things getting thrown.”
But it wasn’t until three weeks later, in a game against Heart of Midlothian F.C. at Tynecastle, that the vile racism would reach its peak. With objects such as pig’s feet, golf balls and darts being hurled at the young Mark Walters.
“At Parkhead there was still a wee bit of a gap between the touchline and the stands, whereas at Tynecastle there was virtually no gap. I mean when a player takes a throw in he can be patted on the head. So they were virtually right on top of Mark and he says that was the worst. Not only because of the fans but because of the abuse from some of the players on the park, who were giving him a torrid time.”
Both the Scottish media and Hearts were quick to condemn the horrific abuse Mark Walters received, with some fans being handed lifetime bans for participating in the racist attacks. The events that happened at both Parkhead and Tynecastle only go to show the mental toughness in which Mark Walters possess.
There was one man Walters’ looked up to in particular that helped him overcome the racism and bigotry.
“When he [Mark] was a young player at Villa he looked up to player called Cyrille Regis. He was a black pioneer, he was the guy that was out there playing centre forward, taking the hits when there was not many black players around.”
“Mark was really inspired by him [Regis]. He said there were a lot of black kids, like himself, who couldn’t handle the abuse. But Marks opinion was, if Cyrille can do it, then so can I.”
Even now, over 30 years since Walters first graced the pitch at Ibrox, Jeff Holmes speaks of how the Rangers’ fans admiration for the player is still as strong as ever.
“We did book signings in WH Smith Argyll street and Waterstones in Braehead, and as your walking to these signings the amount of people that stop him for pictures and autographs. Its incredible”
What Walters achieved in his time with Rangers is truly inspirational. Not only did he win a raft of trophies for the famous club, but he also overcame one of the biggest obstacles a young black man can face in racism.
Wingin’ It: The Mark Walters story is available now from all good book sellers (£18.99)