Face to face: Peter Walton

His nickname was Ten Bellies, twice the man Gazza's best friend is presumably!

His nickname was Ten Bellies, twice the man Gazza's best friend is presumably!

In fact, Peter Walton is built like a stud bull, more a mountain of raw muscle than a quivering blancmange of considerable expanse.

International flankers are often thus - plenty of meat on the hoof.

Eighteen and a half stone of it in his prime. An extra stone now.

Having been a championship winner and Scottish international with the Newcastle Falcons, he's currently teaching the club's forwards how to throw their weight around to the fullest effect.

Actually it WAS Gazza who nicknamed Walton Ten Bellies, but not Paul Gascoigne, the Geordie scallywag who lit up 1990s soccer.

This was Gary Armstrong, a team-mate at the Falcons and Scotland and, according to Walton, "the best player I ever played with".

Walton didn't mind. "You'd have to be a miserable sort of guy to object - in any case, I've always been a big `un. No good trying to pretend otherwise."

Describing what Armstrong brought to the table, Peter said: "He was the hardest, dirtiest, and best player ever. If you could bottle what he had you'd be a millionaire. It wasn't about skill, it was about passion and commitment."

Those two commodities are what top the list of priorities for Walton. Passion and commitment, to be found in local kids and brought to Kingston Park to be nurtured, moulded and developed into gilt-edged rugby professionals.

Walton, an academy coach until his recent elevation to first-team duties, believes the future of the Falcons is shining bright because of an array of homegrown kids with a burning pride and passion in their own club.

"I really do believe we're producing some of the best youngsters in the country," Peter told me. "They are the backbone of this club and will give us a terrific future. I'm genuinely excited about them.

"These kids are all from Northumberland, Durham and Cumbria and they're not here for the money. I don't like that and rugby has acquired the disease that is ripe in football - mercenaries out to make a quick buck.

"There is a need for quality players of experience to be drafted in, there always will be. But what we want are men like Matt Burke (above, right), the best foreigner to play for the Falcons.

"He's a man of real pride. However, the bulk of the side should be homegrown.

"Rugby has suffered since going pro because the passion for your own club isn't there the way it was when we were all amateur playing together as mates.

"I had that at Alnwick. I'm grateful I experienced rugby both amateur and professional, but some pros these days have no roots, no camaraderie.

"I used to play regardless. I was never fit half of the time because I suffered bad knee and neck injuries, but I wanted to play on. It was the same with Gary Armstrong.

"What I'm delighted about with the Falcons is that we've got kids with passion and pride, which is a huge help on the pitch.

"We have 65 lads aged from 11 to 18. We nurture them, make certain they have an education by encouraging them to go to university locally, and then offer the best pro terms at 21.

"Jamie Noon and Jonny Wilkinson (below) came through our academy system, but the next wave has more depth. Mathew Tait is a forerunner but there are so many others.

"Lee Dickson is the closest thing I've ever seen to Gary Armstrong. Even Gary's brother said that when he saw Lee in the Hawick Sevens.

"Unfortunately, Dickson is out for the season with cruciate ligament damage, but long-term he'll be fine.

"When it comes to toughness Davy Wilson, who is from South Shields, is a good example of what I'm on about."

It's now club policy, laid down by owner Dave Thompson and head coach Rob Andrew, that the academy is the way to go.

Where once the Falcons bought a championship-winning side off the shelf because there was a dire need to establish the club quickly in pro rugby, they are now looking long term at the area's youth.

While Walton has signed a new three-and-a-half-year contract to be the forwards' coach, he refuses to lose touch with the academy.

"It's what rugby is all about and in John Fletcher we have the best coach I've ever worked with," said Peter. "He's a Haydon Bridge boy who played with me at Northampton but broke his leg. We think along the same lines. I'll always keep my links with the academy."

Thirty-six years old, Peter has revived and refreshed the Falcons forward play reverting, he says, to the tried and trusted format of the championship winning year of which he was a part, of course. It's brought instant improvement and a home quarter-final draw in the European Challenge Cup, with a home semi to follow if, as hoped, it's required.

"We've gone back to our old ways," he told me while paying due homage to fitness coach Steve Black and the unheralded Bob Morton.

"They work in the gym on the forwards and are terrific," maintained Walton.

"They used to get me in shape - Blackie everyone knows all about and Bob is smashing with the kids, taking time out to talk with them and encourage them."

That Walton himself is a passionate man driven to lift Newcastle to greater heights shines through our talk.

"I've got a wonderful life," admitted Peter. "I've been paid to do farming and play or coach rugby, my great loves."

Page 2: A real rose and thistle!

A real rose and thistle!

Peter Walton played for both Scotland and England - because the Scots couldn't make their mind up whether or not he qualified for them!

Walton was born in Alnwick but is of North Northumberland farming stock from near Wooler. However, he took on a tartan shade at boarding school and admits: "I ended up feeling Scottish!"

Having skippered Scotland Schools he then played for England Colts before throwing his considerable frame behind the Scottish cause once more - gaining 24 caps, winning the Five Nations Championship, and playing in two World Cup finals.

"After going to Wooler Primary School, I became a boarder at Marchiston Castle School, in Edinburgh, which is a renowned rugby academy that has produced a host of internationals," said Peter. "I captained Scotland Schoolboys, beating and drawing with England, and wrote to inquire if that qualified me to play for Scotland at a higher level.

"I was told it didn't so I went on to represent England at Under-19s. When I made the North of England squad I got a phone call from the Exiles coach asking if I wanted to play for Scotland. It turned out I had a residential qualification from boarding school after all and I had no hesitation in accepting. I felt Scottish - I was even called Jock when I played for England Colts!"

Walton won his first full cap while at Northampton and went on to represent the country of his adoption alongside the likes of fellow Falcons Doddie Weir, Gary Armstrong, George Graham and Alan Tait.

"We won the championship in 1999 when Wales beat England at Wembley," said Walton, "and I played in the World Cup finals of 1995 in South Africa and `99 over here."

Scotland have since fallen headlong from grace and are currently trying to regroup under Walton's old schools coach Frank Hadden, who was, shall we say, not his mentor.

"I didn't get on with him too well," shrugged an honest Peter who went on: "It's the same old trouble - we need to get back our passion and pride. There are too many foreigners playing."

Page 3: Call from out of the blue sparked off new life

Call from out of the blue sparked off new life

Just as Peter Walton faced up to the belief that he'd never play rugby again because of a knee injury, professionalism exploded upon the sport and Rob Andrew invited him to join the Newcastle Falcons fantasy ride.

From the depths of despair, Walton the farmer and auctioneer suddenly found himself with a new full-time career.

Peter had returned home from a three-year stint with Northampton following two knee operations and was preparing for a future at Wooler Mart when his life changed completely.

"I honestly felt I'd never play again," he told me. "I was going back to my roots. West Hartlepool, Hawick and Melrose were sniffing but I wasn't too interested.

"Then out of the blue, rugby went pro and I received a phone call from Rob Andrew (right). I'd played against him when he was with Wasps and England but I didn't know him that well.

"I remember I was sorting out some cattle near Berwick when I was told that Sir John Hall would like to see me. They sent me to a specialist who said he could get me playing again. It was all very exciting.

"I was one of the first signed under the Hall and Andrew revolution but I only went semi-pro at first. I still worked the marts.

"In our first season we managed to avoid relegation, in the second we were promoted, and in the third we won the championship. It was unbelievable, a fairytale."

Walton was a bench man during most of the championship run, thrown on for the last 20 minutes to finish off the opposition, but after Dean Ryan was sidelined with concu-ssion he was plucked out of the chorus and given his big chance centre stage.

He scored a vital try against Saracens at Kingston Park, forcing himself over the line from five metres with England's Danny Grewcock and others clinging to him like tugs.

"It was a crucial win for us because Sarries were second," recalled Walton. "It was one of Jonny Wilkinson's first games.

"I played in our final match at Harlequins when we clinched the title. That's a precious moment. We'd watched Newcastle United at Wembley in the FA Cup final the previous day and they didn't get a kick.

"John Hall got what he wanted. We still see him from time to time, he has a soft spot for the club. He used to come on the team coach and play cards with the lads. The banter was great. He couldn't get that with the football.

"We owe everything to him because pro rugby had to be established very quickly in Newcastle. The old Gosforth crew didn't want him but the base had to be put in quickly and he did it with his money."

Page 4: Rugby is in family

Rugby is in family

Top coach Peter Walton helps to run the tiny tots of Alnwick Under-7s - where his daughter is the top try scorer!

Peter and his wife Diana live overlooking the Alnwick rugby pitches and daughter Lucy is an eager participant.

"I help with the coaching," smiled Walton. "Lucy is only six but she's very sporty and is the top try scorer. She's also receiving coaching from a golf pro so you never know what the future holds.

"Our son Jack, on the other hand, plays for the Under-8s but all he wants to be is a farmer."

Diana, who Peter met at college, is a fervent hockey player - and a good one, he says - who is trying to help find sports facilities in Alnwick. His mother used to play curling for England, a sport Walton himself indulged in at school in Edinburgh, while dad was a goalkeeper and cricketer.

Brothers Mick and Andrew complete a very sporting family. Their sport, like that of Peter, is rugby.

"Mick, a prop, played for Scotland Schools and England Colts just like me," said Peter. "He was picked for Northumberland at just 21 and could have gone a long way but a knee injury ended all that. And Andrew got glandular fever at 20, suffered liver damage, and packed the game in."

Mick is now a farmer and Andrew an auctioneer. They keep it in the family, do the Waltons!

Peter admitted: "If I won the lottery I'd buy a farm and be a gentleman farmer."

Page 5: A highly successful career

A highly successful career

An enthusiastic amateur rugby player, Peter Walton worked as an auctioneer with the then Newcastle United chairman George Forbes.

Which took him to St James' Park as a spectator before residing permanently a few miles across the city at Kingston Park.

Walton began with Alnwick, had a highly successful season playing for Newcastle Gosforth, and then moved down to Northampton before he was paid for pleasure.

In between he mixed with foreign royalty and multi-millionaires at the Royal Agricultural College near Cheltenham. "I've still got great friends all over the world from that time," he revealed. The Gosforth experience may have been fleeting but it was also fruitful.

He played alongside Richard Arnold in the back row, "and I ended up the second top try scorer in the country with 28 tries." That led to Northampton calling and another exciting chapter in the continuing tale of Peter Walton.

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