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Ex-Liverpool star Walters Exclusive: Regis & Best helped me overcome racists

Mark Walters was not aware that he was the only black footballer in the Scottish Premier League when he signed for Rangers on New Year's Eve 1987.

Gers manager Graeme Souness had warned Walters about potential racial abuse from supporters. He did not see this as a problem though, having experienced plenty of abuse during his six year stint at Aston Villa prior to joining the Scottish giants.

However, in his first match for Rangers, against fierce rivals Celtic nonetheless, Walters was shocked with the level of abuse. Many of the 50,000 crowd made monkey noises when Walters touched the ball and the game had to be stopped in order to clear banana peels off the pitch.

It only worsened against Hearts at Tynecastle two weeks later. That day Walters was pelted with fruit, pig's trotters, darts and a barrage of verbal abuse.

When speaking with Walters, it is quite hard to imagine how one would have continued playing through such disgraceful circumstances. The former England winger says focus and the actions of his idols, such as Clyde Best and Cyrille Regis, helped him persevere.

"When I saw people like Clyde Best, I remember watching him on TV, and people like Cyrille Regis," says Walters in an exclusive interview with TribalFootball.com.

"And if anything it seemed to make him play better and he seemed to shine when he was getting abuse for my local team supporters' at the time. I remember watching West Brom at Villa's ground and a large minority were giving him a load of stick and he just shrugged it off and he scored that day.

"The way he handled him was fantastic so that was the reason why I thought that was the way to go forward. So when it happened to me I looked back at those boys experiences and thought if they could do it I could it and thankfully I knew I had nothing to fall back, no job to fall back on, so if I didn't deal with it properly I would've got thrown out like some peers of mine. So I knew the way forward and was so focused and knew how to deal with it that no people were going to stop me playing well."

Walters opens up about his life and career in his refreshingly honest and eye-opening autobiography, Wingin' It: The Mark Walters Story. The 54-year-old touches on multiple topics across his glittering career with Villa, Rangers, Liverpool and England; including racism, family tragedies and playing for a junior team managed by a serial paedophile. Walters found the process to be healing.

"It was cathartic if you like because there was a few things that I hadn't spoken about in close to 30 odd years," he says. "I'd lost a my child as a stillborn baby and things like that that I hadn't spoken about and kind of bottled up if you'd like. Speaking about that and the football things as well, it was quite cathartic for me and I enjoyed the process."

Talking about Walters career alone would be enough to entertain readers. The two-footed winger became one of England's greatest exports during three-and-a-half seasons in Glasgow, winning three consecutive league titles. But he couldn't pass up the opportunity to rejoin Souness in 1991, this time at Liverpool, who forked out a transfer fee of £1.25m. Despite his initial success at Anfield, including winning the FA Cup in 1992, Walters said the move was 'the biggest mistake' in his career.

After spells at Southampton, Swindon Town and Bristol Rovers, Walters retired in 2002 and eyed a career in management. He earned all his coaching badges and started off at Aston Villa with the under-nines. However, Walters found himself unable to progress at Villa, and then after five years coaching in schools for the Football Association, eventually gave up his management career, which he says was frustrating to accept.

"Yeah I was [upset]. Especially at Aston Villa. There was a couple of jobs going there and I was the only one who played professional football. I would have loved a chance to fail, if you like, if they gave me a chance. I believed I was a good coach, but if they didn't think I was a good coach, the fact that children were coming up to me and asking about my career, how to be a professional footballer.

"I remember a boy asking me how to deal with taking a penalty in front of 60,000 people and all those kind of things I would have loved to have shared with children and youth players and maybe even reserve players I would have loved to have shared those experiences."


To read more about Mark Walters' incredible life, you can purchase Wingin' It: The Mark Walters Story (Pitch Publishing) by Mark Walters & Jeff Holmes by clicking here.


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Andrew Maclean
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Andrew Maclean

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