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Karen Walker

Category: Female Player
Year Inducted: 2007

Profile by Robert Galvin, the author of Football's Greatest Heroes, the official book of the National Football Museum Hall of Fame:

Often hailed as the best header of a ball in the game, Karen Walker ended her career as the leading goalscoring in the history of the England women's team.

‘A big, strong, old-fashioned centre-forward who knew where the goal was' – to quote her own words – Walker found the net 40 times in 83 appearances for her country, between 1987 and 2003.

Walker bowed out at the top: voted player of the year in a poll of her team-mates and backroom staff, she was captain of England when she retired from international football.

At club level, she also ended on a high note: in her last game before hanging up her boots, she played for Leeds United in the Cup final – her twelfth appearance in the showpiece fixture, a record in the women's game.

Walker made all but the last of those appearances in the colours of Doncaster Belles, the club she joined at the age of 15. Within a year or so, she had established herself in the first team, playing against women twice her age.

For much of the ensuing two decades, the Belles were the outstanding team in the country. ‘I played 11 FA Cup finals with them, winning five and losing six,' she recalled. ‘We won the national title twice and one double.'

During one remarkable Cup run with the Belles, Walker scored a hat-trick in every round, including the final against Southampton. ‘Hopefully,' she said, ‘no-one will ever match that particular record.'

The third of those goals was a trademark header, delivered from a position near the penalty spot. A county-standard basketball player in her teens, Walker had a prodigious leap. As many as two-thirds of her goals were headers, especially early on. ‘I nearly always went to the back post, then attacked the ball,' she said. ‘I jumped well and I was very brave.' The cuts, bruises and occasional concussions she sustained were proof of that.

‘Karen terrified defenders with her ability in the air,' said Hope Powell, the England coach. ‘She had a great team spirit and passion for the game.'

In 2004, nearing the end of her career, Walker left the Belles in order to join local rivals Leeds United. ‘It was a big step for me to leave Donny, but I needed a new challenge,' she said. In her first seven games she scored 12 goals.

Following her retirement as a player, Walker was invited to appear as a studio pundit during the BBC's extensive coverage of the Women's World Cup in China in 2007.

England would finish runners-up in their group behind Germany, the World Cup holders, before bowing out against the United States in the quarter-finals.

‘When it came to my turn, I simply said what I thought,' Walker said later. ‘Overall, it was a wonderful experience. Something that I can always say that I've done.'

Summing up her playing career, Walker said, modestly: ‘I was never the fastest or the most skilful player but I knew where the goal was, and I was never scared to miss.'