1983/4 Review

I've supported York City all my life, I don't expect much. Occasionally we'll put together a good side and have some short lived success. I'm too young to remember us shaking the football world by taking the (once) mighty Newcastle to a replay in the FA Cup semi final. Too young even to remember our early promotion successes (and relegation a season later).

Subsequent promotions followed. The MacDougall / Boyer years, a brief flirtation with the old Division 2, our only championship and Wembley glory bring back happy memories. Throw in recent cup successes over Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton and supporting City isn't too bad. Most of our successes have been the reward for dour hard working teams.

When Denis Smith first arrived at York in 1982, he probably envisaged a month on loan and back to Stoke. But with Barry Swallow as caretaker manager, a permanent replacement was needed. In May, Denis Smith took the role. 3 wins and 5 defeats whilst he was on loan suggested an inconsistent team and inconsistent players.

The seeds were sown during the 1982/3 season, Smith's side had an impressive home record, but were let down on their travels, finishing 7th. Even so, the 1983/4 season started in front of a crowd of just 2,772 for the first home game. 11,297 saw the 1-1 draw against local rivals Doncaster in April as the average home gate was 5,008 across the season.

1983/4, our record breaking Division 4 Championship season was different. The first club ever to obtain 100 points in a season. From one to eleven, not only were we solid and effective; we also had class and flair, the team had an air of invincibility about it, from veteran Roger Jones in goal through to the strikers. Its foundations date to the arrival of Denis Smith as player manager in May 1982.

He signed some former colleagues and added a few hungry youngsters to what we already had, namely John Byrne, a young reserve striker who we couldn't give away, and Keith Walwyn, a barnstorming striker who didn't know how to give less than 110%. With Smith in charge, he would've scored at any level (although Blackpool and Carlisle fans might disagree!).

Smith's first season saw use progress steadily, despite being almost unbeatable at home, a slow start and poor away form kept us just outside the promotion race. The spring time signing of John MacPhail completed the jigsaw. A free transfer signing from Sheffield United, reviving the tradition on which our previous promotion side was based, he provided the on pitch confidence, cockiness and exuberance that Smith provided off pitch.

His class in defence was readily apparent. Meanwhile the young reserve striker, John Byrne, was now established up front. Smith and his assistant Viv Busby had removed all his self doubts and got him to belief in his outstanding skills; he was later to play for Eire, QPR and Sunderland. With Walwyn, they formed a lethal strike force.

As much as anything, during the 1983/4 Championship season, it was Smith's motivation and bravado that inspired us to greater things. He attributed defeats to offside goals, free kicks that weren't, penalties conceded outside the area or blind referees, usually a combination of all of them. Smith deflected any poor individual performance as something "to put right in training". More often than not, it was.

Looking back, it is players, not games that come to mind. With our defence it was unusual to concede more than one, whilst our strikers, despite being profligate in front of goal, would usually score 2 or 3. Going top in October, we steadily pulled clear, finishing as runaway champions, by an all time record 15 points. It was made all the better by bettering Billy Bremner's Doncaster. As we went top, the Wrexham game is one that does spring to mind, going 2 goals down very early, the side kept playing in their usual style, no panic, just the knowledge that if the team kept attacking, we would score. We won 3-2.

Many club records were broken along the way. Another game that stands out, for the wrong reasons, was a 3-0 defeat at Blackpool in front of BBC "Match Of The Day" cameras, missing our big chance to show off in front of the country. Our match day shirts sported a sponsor's name for the first time in our history that day.

As the transfer deadline approached in March, Keith Walwyn turned down a £70,000 move to top flight Coventry, preferring to stay with his mates in York.

Come April, the inevitable became reality. Promotion was assured, then the Championship, records tumbled as York City became the first team ever to score 100 points in a season with a win over Bury in our final home game of the season. City had secured a first ever league title, winning the Canon sponsored League Division 4 with ease, playing some superlative football throughout. After the Bury game, a trophy presentation and open top bus celebration around the narrow streets of York, with me, many others that were old enough to know better, chasing it along its entire route. Incidentally, Sid Storey, one of our 1955 FA Cup heroes, drove the bus.

The only disappointment (excluding the squad's naff "Here We Go" / "Hello Den Got a New Striker" single with John Byrne extolling the virtues of the team travelling to away games by train funded by Persil vouchers) was a final day defeat where we failed to reach a 100 goals to add to our 101 points.

For York, good teams come together about every decade. In each of the next 2 seasons, we took Liverpool to Round 5 FA Cup replays and stayed in the promotion race until March. As the championship winning side, which cost just £20,000 to assemble, broke up, we couldn't find (or afford) adequate replacements. We dropped back to the basement with an almighty thump in 1988 where we remained until our Wembley play off success in 1993 when it all came together again.

City set new Football League records that season, becoming the first ever club to score 100 or more points (101) in a season and a record 16 point margin over the runners up. Both have subsequently been beaten, however, a number of club records were also set:

  • Most wins: 31
  • Most away wins: 13 (equalled in 2006/7)
  • Most goals: 96
  • Most doubles: 11
  • Most clean sheets: 20 (equalled in 1993/4 and bettered by 2 in 2013/4)
  • Scored in every home game
  • Failed to score in only 5 matches.

City's success was noted by the PFA who selected 4 York players (Roger Jones, John MacPhail, Keith Walwyn and John Byrne) in the Division 4 team of the season.

Denis Smith remembers his City glory days and check out our web site for live action of that memorable season

Where Are They Now

The following first appeared in The Sunday Times in 2009

On April 6, 2024, the 83/4 team were City's hospitality lounge guests, later in the day, they were warmly received when they did a pitch walk.

Keith Walwyn

The following first appeared in the City fanzine, Ginners Left Foot

For all his ill-health of recent years, news of Keith Walwyn’s death still came as a huge shock, because to me, and a whole generation of York City supporters, Keith was INDESTRUCTIBLE. To stand on the old Shipton Street terrace and see him bearing down on some hapless opposition goalkeeper was the footballing equivalent of a day trip to heaven. He wasn’t always a pretty site - not an artiste in the way of his partner, John Byrne - but he was incredibly effective, full of menace and with those trademark sweatbands on either wrist. The image of Keith leaping through the air to meet a Gary Ford cross will always be imprinted on my mind. It happened so many times, never more so than in that record-breaking Fourth Division Championship season, when he seemed to score every week. Distance, or in this case time, lends enchantment to the view, of course, however, I can think of no finer lower division centre-forward. And he wasn’t a bad defender either! But for a piece of weak refereeing at Anfield, he would have scored a famous FA Cup winner against Liverpool and grabbed some merited headlines. As it was, he rarely graced the national stage, content to lead York’s line with bravery, panache and bags of goals. There was, truly, only one Keith Walwyn.Jon Champion - ITV Commentator

Back in the mid-eighties, Keith and his wife Liz, launched an appeal to raise funds for Killingbeck Hospital in Leeds who had saved the life of their son James, still only a toddler at the time. Myself and a mate thought it might be a laugh and a good stunt to raise some money by kicking a football to the Easter Monday away game at Donny. In fact we got a lot of interest, and it turned into quite a big project. Keith and Liz were really good in helping us to organise various things, and as a result, I made a couple of visits to their house to sort a few things out with them. I remember on the first occasion sitting on their sofa, supping tea and thinking to myself ”I can’t believe I’m sat in the presence of a legend!” To be honest, I probably couldn’t have felt more overawed if I’d been asked over for lunch with Elvis at Graceland, followed by a kick-about in the garden with Martin Luther King and James Dean. Anyway, I swear that Keith had to duck down to walk through the door frame into the kitchen! The biggest impression that Keith left me with though, was his modesty. Already a fans favourite at Bootham Crescent, Keith went out of his way to avoid publicity, and seemed genuinely surprised and delighted with the plaudits he received. The term ‘gentle giant’ is commonly used, but I always felt like it was tailor-made just for Keith; one of the few people able to combine not inconsiderable fame and success with a down-to-earth outlook, a heart of gold and an obvious love for his family. Hearing about Keith’s death in April 2003, was a real shocker; and I’m sure he will be dreadfully missed by Liz and the boys, as well as York City fans everywhere. By coincidence a couple of days after the news broke, I happened to be clearing out some old papers, and came across a hand-written note from Keith and Liz, thanking us for raising the money for Killingbeck. Like I say, probably just a coincidence, but still very poignant. I’m sure for most of us, Keith was the true ‘Millennium Hero’ and for me, the privilege of knowing him, even for a very short time many years ago, will always be a great honour. "Thanks Keith.”Ian Savage - York City fan.