Some years ago we lived for a time in Winstanley Road, one of the streets of terraced houses in Wellingborough town centre.
That certainly doesn’t warrant a blue plaque. But I would suggest there ought to be one a few doors up, at number 52.
Because one of the town’s – and the county’s – most celebrated all-round sportsmen was born there 130 years ago today, on March 1, 1888.
His ‘official’ first names – Frederick Ingram – probably won’t ring too many bells. He was better known from boyhood by the nickname bestowed by his chums at Victoria School after the old lady who ran the sweet shop nearby – ‘Fanny’.
And the son of Edward and Jane Walden went on to represent his country at football, enjoy a long career in county cricket and umpire at Test level.
Not bad for a lad barely five feet two inches tall…
His career requires a little explanation for the younger generation of sports fans, used to the so-called ‘beautiful game’ occupying at least nine months of the year – and more when there’s a major international tournament during the summer.
The seasons then overlapped little if at all, allowing the likes of Fanny to earn a living as both a professional cricketer and footballer.
Soccer came first for him, at least chronologically.
Working in an iron foundry as the ‘day job’, he turned out for various clubs in Wellingborough – White Cross, All Saints and Redwell – from where he was transferred to Northampton Town at ten shillings a week.
Given that (according to a newspaper account at the time of his death) he reckoned the five bob he was getting at Redwell “quite a fortune”, he must have felt like a Euromillions winner when Herbert Chapman took him to the County Ground in 1909.
He used to tell the story of being stopped by a gateman. “I’m a player,” Fanny insisted. “You’d better go to the boys’ entrance,” replied the resident jobsworth.
The little chap from Wellingborough made such an impression that Tottenham Hotspur came calling, signing him for £1,750 – then a Northampton record – in April 1913.
The punters weren’t happy at the club’s decision to let him go, and managed to raise a few hundred quid in an unsuccessful attempt to stop him heading down to the smoke.
In the event, he stayed with Spurs until the tail-end of his playing days – and won two England caps, against Scotland at Hampden Park in 1914 and Wales at Anfield eight years later.
He subsequently returned to the Cobblers for a spell, deciding to hang up his football boots not long before his 40th birthday.
His cricket career ran pretty much in parallel, although those who look no further than statistics might be surprised that it lasted as long as it did.
Between his Northamptonshire debut against Nottinghamshire in 1910 and retirement 19 years later, Walden made 259 appearances for the County – but never reached 1,000 runs in a season, scoring only five centuries with a batting average of 18.84, and picked up 119 wickets with his little dobbers.
One of his tons came off Surrey’s attack at Northampton in 1920 – a performance somewhat overshadowed by Percy Fender’s record-breaking hundred in 35 minutes for the visitors.
Perhaps Walden’s finest effort with the bat was 122 against Warwickshire in 1926, coming in with the side struggling at 123-6 and sharing a seventh-wicket stand worth 229 with Wilfrid Timms.
What the stats can’t tell us, though, is how many runs he saved for Northamptonshire in the field.
‘His soccer training enabled him to run exceedingly fast and he could pick up cleanly and return to the wicket in a flash and amazingly accurately,’ wrote Jim Coldham in his 1959 club history.
‘No-one could afford to take liberties with Fanny Walden at cover – he deceived many by standing so deep.
‘In 1919, when he ran out the first two members of the Australian Imperial Forces team at Northampton, he was amongst the first half-dozen fielders in the country.’
It goes without saying that professional sport wasn’t the passport to affluence it can be today.
He had a sports outfitter’s business for a while – offering the ‘Fanny Walden Football Boot’ for 15/9d a pair (plus postage) in 1920.
He requested a benefit from Northamptonshire three times before they eventually granted it in 1927, but the weather didn’t play ball as rain affected the match set aside for him, against Gloucestershire.
He had the good sense to take out pluvius insurance, and some of his Cobblers team-mates helped out by taking the collecting tins around the ground.
But Walden himself was out for 2 and 0, and an irate letter-writer to the local ‘paper claimed that ‘interest dwindled early because Northants gave the match to Gloucestershire through four of the best bats in the side giving a simple “spoon” catch to Mills, the bowler.’
The game was over in two days. Not the money-spinner Fanny was hoping for, or deserved.
He finished as a county cricketer in 1929 but immediately joined the first-class umpires list, and was sufficiently well-thought-of to make the Test panel five years later.
His eleven international matches ‘in the middle’ included a couple of humdingers during the 1938 Ashes series – at Lord’s, where Wally Hammond stroked a classic 240, and then at The Oval as England crushed Australia by an innings and loads following Len Hutton’s marathon knock of 364.
‘Who is that little boy umpiring?’ a young spectator is supposed to have asked. ‘He daren’t say “not out” to that big man bowling!’
He stood in his final Championship game a few days before the outbreak of war in 1939. Nearly ten years later he collapsed at work, in the Peacock Hotel on Northampton’s Market Square, and died in hospital aged 61.
The local press remembered the ‘five-shillings-a-week footballer who became an international’ while a memorial fund was established ‘primarily to give a start in life to his young son, Bob, to whom he was devotedly attached.’
Sport didn’t make Fanny a rich man – except perhaps in memories.