Walker's Dons career hinged on Mansfield promotion clash in 2019

MK Dons celebrate their promotion in 2019MK Dons celebrate their promotion in 2019
MK Dons celebrate their promotion in 2019 | Getty Images

MK Dons’ all-or-nothing victory over Mansfield Town in 2019, which secured them promotion back to League One, was a nervous one for Laurie Walker for more reasons than the obvious.

Knowing Dons needed to win to return to the third tier, goalkeeper Walker was also on tenterhooks knowing if Paul Tisdale’s side were to miss out, he would not be offered a contract to stay at the club.

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Until that point, Walker was effectively a volunteer goalkeeper. After his release from the club as a teenager, Walker remained in and around the club, helping out in the academy and with the first team keepers under the watch of Paul Heald, who was Dons’ long-time keeper coach.

With the appointment of Tisdale in the summer of 2018, Walker felt his time with the club would come to an end when Mel Gwinnett replaced Heald as the keeper’s coach. But the stopper made a good impression, and was told should Dons make a return to League One, he would be offered a pro deal to stay.

He said: “I was working with Healdy a lot, so when Tis came in and took over, bringing Mel with him, there were questions over whether I could stay. But Mel assured me I was welcome to stay, and then I obviously made enough of an impression for them to offer me a deal.

“It all hinged on whether we got promoted in that Mansfield game. So I was nervous for the team, and on the edge of my seat for my own career too!”

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Walker went on to make five appearances for Dons, including his long-awaited league debut at 29. Departing in January 2022, Walker has since played for Stevenage and Barnet before signing for Solihull Moors last week.

“My time at MK was actually a very small part of my career, but it's ultimately where I made my Football League debut,” Walker continued. “I was always in and around the fold, even after leaving, as a part of the academy.

“Russel Martin was great too, not many managers want to have three decent keepers on their books, but he kept me, let me go on loan to Oldham and continue to play games.

“Liam Manning was very honest, but said with my age I'd realistically only be his second choice, so he allowed me to move on.

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“I've played a lot of games since, had a decent spell at Barnet where I was first choice, Player of the Month as well, but now I've signed for Solihull Moors and we're hoping we can have a good go at the National League next season.”

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