Column: Walker will be a fine ambassador for Worksop

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I hate to say I told you so, but I told you Sam Walker would make the big time.

Journalists love to get sporting predictions right, but very few of the times I’ve ‘called it’ have ever been as satisfying as this one.

WORKSOP, Redlands School, Crown Street.
Worksop table tennis player Sam Walker who won first place at the England and Irish Championships.

WORKSOP, Redlands School, Crown Street. Worksop table tennis player Sam Walker who won first place at the England and Irish Championships.

Seven years ago I wrote in a blog post for the Worksop Guardian website that one day I would watch Sam Walker playing at the highest level, on television.

And this summer the Worksop table tennis wonder will grace the biggest stage of them all, the 2016 Rio Olympics, wearing the colours of Team GB.

If that’s not the big time, I don’t know what is.

He’ll share a canteen in the Athletes’ Village with some of the best known stars of world sport, many of whom will go down as bonafide legends.

TABLE TENNIS PRESENTATIONS   Prize winners, l/r: Sam Walker, Harry Blackburn, Ruby Cowen, Dave Wild and Laura Robinson at the Sheffield Table Tennis League presentations at the Davy Sports Club.   14 May 2010

TABLE TENNIS PRESENTATIONS Prize winners, l/r: Sam Walker, Harry Blackburn, Ruby Cowen, Dave Wild and Laura Robinson at the Sheffield Table Tennis League presentations at the Davy Sports Club. 14 May 2010

He’s been gracing the sports pages of the Worksop Guardian since he was 12 years old.

Covering a sportsman or sportswoman’s career from humble beginnings to outstanding achievement is ordinarily a privilege that only local media enjoys.

The national press obviously aren’t interested when a youngster tops the averages in a district table tennis league.

For a local newspaper, that’s our bread and butter.

Table Tennis Centre, Crown Street, Worksop.
Worksop Guardian's Graham Smyth takes on table tennis national champ, Sam Walker, 13.
Picture: Sam Walker, 13 and Graham Smyth.

Table Tennis Centre, Crown Street, Worksop. Worksop Guardian's Graham Smyth takes on table tennis national champ, Sam Walker, 13. Picture: Sam Walker, 13 and Graham Smyth.

Often we get calls or emails from proud parents, trumpeting their child’s latest achievement.

Sometimes, the achievements might mean a lot to the family but in the wider context of regional sport they don’t merit much more than a mention in a small corner of the paper and a line or two on the website.

Many of these young sporting prospects are mentioned several times before they disappear from the sports pages altogether, forever.

They can give up, lose interest, discover other things, parents get tired of penning emails to the sports editor. Often the achievements begin to pale when the child discovers their level in sport.

In rare cases, a kid keeps showing up. And the achievements get bigger and bigger.

Steve Walker has kept the Worksop Guardian abreast of all the developments in his son Sam’s career.

Mercifully, Steve isn’t one of these pushy parents who wants to thrust the child into the limelight and set them up for a fall with unsubstantiated claims of greatness.

When Sam did something good, Steve would pick up the phone. Not for every little thing, but the big things, the milestones.

The news updates were never sugarcoated.

If a tournament had been tough, Steve said so. If Sam hadn’t played to his full potential, Steve admitted it.

If another player had been too good for Sam, which rarely seemed to be the case, Steve was very up front about it.

There was never a begrudging congratulations to anyone who triumphed over Sam – no sign of the ‘against the run of play’ line that crops up so frequently in junior football reports.

Dealing with the Walker family has always been a pleasure rather than a chore.

It’s not often journalists interact with the sporting wonderkids themselves because talking to young teenagers can often elecit little more than single word replies, shy admissions that they’re quite good at their chosen sport.

As they get older however, speaking to the local press is a sportsman or women’s first lesson in dealing with media enquiries.

In our first dealings with Sam himself, it became clear quite quickly he was well grounded, well brought up, well spoken and genuinely grateful for the Guardian’s support and interest.

The apple has not fallen far from the tree.

I look forward to seeing him play for Team GB in the Olympics, so I can tell people I played against him in 2009. Although truthfully it wasn’t much of a contest, 14-year-old Sam blitzed the ball by me repeatedly.

I’m proud of our association with local sporting success and proud of our nine years worth of coverage for his burgeoning career.

It’s been an interesting story to follow, the local boy cutting the apron strings at the tender age of 16 and leaving his native land for a new life in Germany, with only his table tennis bat giving any sense of familiarity.

Winning national title after national title, representing England, winning medals for his country – the narrative has got better and better for the player and his local newspaper.

At times he’s kept the town’s most successful export Lee Westwood, another sports star who grew up in our columns, off the back page.

And hopefully Walker will go to Brazil this summer and do something worthy of the front page.

An Olympic medal would be a dream come true for him, his family and another feather in Worksop’s sporting cap.

He’s a fine ambassador for the town and will go with the support of thousands of Bassetlaw residents.

Much of that support will come from the Worksop and District Table Tennis League.

If you’re a young boy or girl playing in that league, reading about Walker’s impressive table tennis feats, allow yourself to dream of emulating or even surpassing him.

There’s a blueprint now, a pathway from Redlands Table Tennis Centre to Rio.

The Worksop Guardian will be here to tell your story.