Bradford City v Doncaster Rovers: Jamie Walker ready to embrace ‘Great Expectations’ at Mark Hughes’s Bantams

IN TRUTH, the 2022-23 season started for Bradford City back in early May and not today.

Jamie Walker was right at the heart of it; a key figure flanked by two chief protagonists.

The Scottish winger, playing the final game of a tantalising loan spell, was substituted in the 77th minute of City’s final game of the last campaign on May 7, – a dead rubber against Carlisle United – to cries of ‘Sign him up’ from Bantams supporters.

Chief executive officer Ryan Sparks and manager Mark Hughes then got to work to do just that on that very same night.

Bradford City's Jamie Walker playing for the club on loan in March. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

The following evening, at the club’s end-of-season awards night, it was announced on stage that Walker would be signing for the next two years amid a fair bit of fanfare.

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A welter of expectation comes with that and a record third-tier crowd at City this afternoon will bear further testament.

Walker played 240 times for boyhood club Hearts and has major experience of pressure from playing in the Edinburgh footballing goldfish bowl, which has more intensity than you might imagine. He is one of those who can be counted upon as being ready for what is to come.

New start: jjust a day after the end of the season, Jamie Walker became the first of 13 new signings by City for the forthcoming 2022/23 League Two campaign they hope will end in promotion. (Picture: BCAFC)

Walker told The Yorkshire Post: “Coming to Bradford and playing in front of big crowds, that’s never really fazed me. I have played in cup finals for Hearts and at Ibrox and Celtic Park and places like that.

“I never realised how big Bradford was. I knew it was a big club, but obviously I was surprised at how big it actually was.

“I got used to it at Hearts and it is something I thrive on. It was a big part of me coming as well.

“I knew it was a big club and had played at the stadium before when I was in England on loan. But it did really surprise me when I was at the club in terms of actually how big it was.

Bradford City manager Mark Hughes shoulders great expectations in the coming season. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

“I have been at Wigan when they were in the Championship and Peterborough. Bradford are a much bigger football club. That was part of my decision.

“No disrespect, but if it was a smaller club in League Two or maybe if I’d options in League One, I’d have maybe opted to go back home. But I do hope that in the next couple of years that we can hopefully achieve something and get the club back to where it should be.”

On a season of unfinished business after two forgettable previous spells ‘down south’ in the EFL, he acknowledged: “Definitely. I never really played when I went to Wigan and Peterborough.

“I am getting older now and hopefully I can really kick on and show people what I can do.

“If we can really get going and start the season well and get the supporters behind us, we can hopefully achieve something special.”

Getting the deal done nice and early has given Walker the time to plan for moving his loved ones to Yorkshire in good time.

Walker is preparing to move into his new house in Shipley early next month – and girlfriend Courtney and their two children will be there to join him.

City have organised schools for the kids, which he is grateful for and was a ‘big part’ in his decision to head to the club.

In terms of his Bradford experience, everyone is ‘all in’ and expect regular match-day support to arrive from north of the border as well.

Working at close quarters with one of English football’s most revered players on a day-to-day basis in City manager Hughes made the brochure that bit more glossy and alluring for Walker.

Walker said: “On the training ground and in training, he is quite relaxed.

“Usually when a new manager comes to the football club, especially in League Two or the lower leagues, he would need to maybe earn the respect of the players.

“But Mark Hughes doesn’t need to do that, does he?

“As soon as he comes in, players respected him and took on board the information that he was giving everyone.

“He doesn’t really touch the ball (much) to be fair in training, but you saw his skill at the stadium (against Scunthorpe on the touchline), so he has obviously still got a bit about him.”

Canvassing the opinions of three close friends in football who have played at the club has further vindicated Walker’s decision to opt for Bradford, who had to fight off interest from SPL clubs St Johnstone and Livingston to bring him in initially on loan in January.

Glowing references arrived from Devante Cole, Marc McNulty and Andy Halliday, with the latter having regaled tales of his stint in West Yorkshire – and one particular feted moment – continually to Walker during their time together at Tynecastle.

Walker continued: “I know a few people who played at Bradford. Devante Cole is one of my good friends and Andy Halliday and I know Marc McNulty from back home in Edinburgh.

“Andy was the obvious one to talk to as he was in the same team as me (at Hearts).

“I am sick of hearing about him scoring that goal against Chelsea anyway!

“But he told me about the club and how big it was and I am delighted I am here for two years now.”