Keith Walwyn

York City's best ever player? Keith Walwyn would be many people's nomination

The Early Years

Born on the island of Nevis, a part of Saint Kitts and Nevis, in 1956, Keith Walwyn played non league football as a youngster and was unsuccessful in a number of trials with League clubs (Barnsley, Bradford City and Preston included). He joined Winterton Rangers in 1979, a Lincolnshire based club playing in the Yorkshire Football League, it was a successor to the Midlands League, effectively at a level below the Northern Premier League in the days when the non league pyramid didn’t provide the opportunities available today.

Quickly, Keith made an impact at a club who had had decent runs in the FA Cup qualifying rounds and FA Vase in the early 1970s. Within months he started to make a name for himself and in November 1979, he joined Chesterfield for £5,000.

A leading Division (tier) 3 side, Chesterfield were blessed with a number of quality strikers, headed by the prolific lower league scorer Ernie Moss and supported by the likes of Alan Birch and Alan Crawford, effectively Keith was 6th choice striker.

Although in a season and a half, he was a regular scorer for their reserve side, 27 goals in the 1980/1 season, Keith managed just 3 first team appearances, scoring twice.

So it was no surprise that he was allowed to leave for £4,000 in July 1981, probably Barry Lyons' best peice of work as City's managerCity's manager.

1981/2

I saw Keith make his first City appearance at Bootham Crescent, a pre-season friendly. I went home convinced that finally in Eddie Flood we had found a worthy successor to Phil Burrows at left back. Upfront, I wasn’t impressed by Keith Walwyn, not the first person whose first impression was that he was clumsy and cumbersome.

City struggled during the 1981/2 season, eventually finishing 17th. Scoring on his debut, Keith finished the season with 25 goals, Paul Aimson in 1971 being our last striker to reach that mark. Keith was a worthy winner of our Player Of The Season trophy, although in truth, given our results, he had little competition, but in a sea of mediocrity, he always gave at least 100% and for someone who always attracted much fearful tackling from opponents,he always played fair but hard.

Manager Barry Lyons was relieved of his duties, as was Kevin Randall, his caretaker replacement. The season ended with Barry Swallow in caretaker charge. Upfront, Keith missed an effective co-striker, John Byrne being his usual partner, but still a youngster trying to make his mark in the side.

I remember the season for the 4-0 win over Aldershot. A decent side, they had the highly rated Glen Johnson in goal. His baldness attracted some baiting from behind the goal, whilst on the pitch he seemed in awe of Keith, he was a nervous wreck every time City won a corner following a collision between the pair of them at an early City corner. Behaviour that was to be repeated as City beat Aldershot in all 6 meetings during Keith's first 3 seasons with City.

The season ended with Denis Smith being appointed as player manager and bringing in Viv Busby as his assistant.

1982/3

For the 1982/3 season, City fielded a more settled line up, bolstered by Smith’s new signings, mainly defenders.

Upfront, he’d seen enough of Keith and John Byrne to know he had strikers he could rely upon. Viv Busby set to work on John Byrne, his confidence soared. The impressive skills he’d regularly shown in training were now on display for all to see during matches. City had a strike force to be feared.

At Bootham Crescent, City were virtually unstoppable, it was poor away form that kept City just outside the 4 promotion places, eventually finishing 7th, 4 points away from promotion.

Keith netted 24 goals (including a hat trick against Mansfield in November) and John Byrne scored 14 times, double his tally from a season earlier.

1983/4

1983/4 is the season that many City supporters would name as their best ever season supporting City. Impervious in the league, City hit top spot on October 29 and gradually pulled clear of the chasing pack. That season, City increased their points tally from 79 to 101, becoming the first ever side to reach 100 points in a season. Our 96 league goals was a club record beating the 92 scored during the 1954/5 season. It seemed like every game was a highlight, many teams beaten before kick off when they saw big Keith leading the line.

Keith finished the season with 25 goals, John Byrne once again doubled his previous season’s tally to 28. Its impossible to underestimate the benefits a young John Byrne got from playing alongside Keith, his silky skills allowed to flourish as opposing defenders had 2 contrasting strikers to try to subdue.

By now, Keith’s form was attracting the attention of bigger clubs. The common put down being that he lacked a good first touch. It was to City’s benefit that scouts ignored his immense strength, his aerial ability (in both boxes), his work rate and his goals.

As the March 1984 transfer deadline approached, City did receive a bid from top flight Coventry (3 years before their FA Cup Final success) for his services. Reports said the bid was a £70,000 part exchange offer which included Coventry squad striker Dave Bamber. Keith turned down the offer.

Whilst pleased he wanted to remain with City, it is with a little regret that he didn’t accept the offer and have the opportunity to show prowess at the highest level.

1984/5

Promotion saw little change to City’s line up. The season started with an 8-2 aggregate win over Doncaster, big local rivals at the time and runners up to City a season earlier. Improbably Keith didn’t score. John Byrne scored 3 and impressed in the next round against QPR earning a six figure transfer to the London side.

Dale Banton arrived at City as Bryne’s replacement for half the fee that City had received. Small and skilful, his football education had included 6 years as a West Ham youngster. He had the skill and footballing brain, but a stop start first City season (he was cup tied) meant we didn't see the best of a Walwyn / Banton partnership. At times, stood behind the goal, Banton’s footballing brain appeared a couple of yards faster Keith’s movement.

In the league, City were among the pacemakers, topping the table briefly in October, but the season is best remembered for the FA Cup run. Routine wins set up a game with Arsenal in Round 4. On an icy pitch, everyone struggled to keep their footing, despite that, the Arsenal defence took a tremendous physical battering from Keith, City won the game with a late penalty.

Next up was Liverpool. Another icy pitch saw City draw 1-1, Ricky Sbragia scoring City’s equaliser in a goalmouth melee after Keith’s header had hit the crossbar before City lost the replay.

Injured just before the Liverpool games, Keith was patched up and made sure Liverpool knew they’d been in a tough couple of games. Unfortunately, Keith’s achilles tendon injury meant that he didn’t play again for City after February that season.

Banton scored 13 goals in his first (part) season and his injury hit season, the only time with City that Keith suffered a major injury, he scored 12 goals.

For me, one big highlight from that season was the 7-1 win over Gillingham in November 1984. With torrential rain falling through the game, the pitch was heavily waterlogged, most players seemed to struggle to stay on their feet. The conditions seemed to suit just one player, Keith Walwyn. He kept his footing (a few whole hearted sliding tackles excepted), he seemed to glide above the water, the ball glued to his feet as he ran towards (and past) the Gills’ defenders, scoring one himself and helping to set up a Keith Houchen hat trick, it was possibly the finest centre forward display I’ve ever seen by a City striker.

1985/6

The 1985/ 6 season saw a near repeat of the previous season. Always on the fringes of the promotion race, City once again faded, finishing 7th, a place higher than a year season earlier.

Undoubtedly, the highlight was another FA Cup run. 4 routine home wins set up another Round 5 tie with Liverpool at Bootham Crescent. City possibly had more of the game than a year earlier, again Keith played a major part in City’s goal, controlling a loose ball with his back to goal before laying off an inch perfect pass for Gary Ford to fire home.

The Anfield replay will live in the memories of City supporters (and Liverpool defenders) who saw it. A full strength Liverpool side were in danger of going out to City. Keith put the ball into the net to give City a late 2-1 lead, running onto a through ball, he slotted it home as 2 defenders and Bruce Grobbelaar collided. Urged to stay down, Grobbelaar did so and the referee disallowed the goal. To this day, the legends of the Liverpool defence would openly admit the goal should have stood. At the time, with City the dominant side, its possible City would have won. It was only extra time when City ran out of steam.

Keith scored a personal best 29 goals that season.

Liverpool's defender's admit they were lucky.

1986/7

With City’s side starting to show its age and break up, City struggled during the 1986/7 season.

City’s age old problem of being unable / unwilling to pay the transfer fees and wages to match to replace outgoing star players who’d arrived on free transfers and commensurate wages had struck again. John MacPhail, Malcolm Crosby and Keith Houchen were not adequately replaced.

An early season highlight was a 4-2 win at Roker Park over Sunderland, then still considered to be a big club, in the League Cup. The defeat shocked the Rokerites, to this day, their older supporters still remember the night Keith put them to the sword with a hat trick.

Keith scored his usual amount of goals, 25 to be exact, in a season where City finished 20th, one place above the relegation zone. To put those 25 goals into perspective, City scored just 55 in the league, the fewest in any of Keith’s seasons with City, it had been 69 in his first season and 96 in the 1983/4 Division 4 Championship winning season. It could easily be argued that as City’s standards slipped, Keith’s standards rose.

Keith ended the season with a second City Player Of The Season award.

In the summer of 1987, out of contract, Keith declined City’s new contract offer and joined Blackpool for a tribunal agreed £35,000, even then, a pittance for someone of his ability. It was only half of what Coventry had offered 3 years earlier.

As Ricky Sbragia once said, "The best thing about Keith was that he was so honest and so brave as a player. You would never want to play against him but you would always want him in your side. He was a great team-mate. On his day Keith was a world beater". As he showed against Liverpool and Arsenal, he was more than a match for international defenders.

With his all action style, Keith was popular with every City supporter and the City player every opposition fan feared. Many adjectives could be used to describe Keith. Powerful, aggressive, wholehearted and robust included. About the only adjective you could never use was dirty.

In total, Keith played 291 games and score 140 goals (119 in the league) for City, becoming our second all time top scorer behind Norman Wilkinson. His 21 cup goals make him City’s all time top scorer of cup goals ahead of Richard Brodie (18) and Norman Wilkinson (16). Wilkinson took 12 seasons and 401 games to Keith’s 6 seasons.

After City

Unfortunately, Keith never achieved the same heights again after he left City. At both Blackpool and Carlisle, he averaged about one goal every 4 games (it was one in 2 with City). His footballing career ended with a loan spell in non league with Kettering in 1991 when he collapsed during a game and was forced to retire.

With a pacemaker fitted, he continued to enjoy family life and opened a sports’ shop in Lancashire. Much later, the first thing a work colleague said to me on hearing I was a York City supporter, was to say Keith was lovely and charming man when he had been serving him in his sports shop.

He sadly passed away on the operating table in 2003. Read more.

Weeks earlier, Keith had received a warm round of applause at York’s Barbican when attending an early York City Supporters' Trust event, a few years after his last appearance in a City shirty, when despite being under doctor’s orders, he played for 25 minutes in Alan Little’s testimonial game at Bootham Crescent.

Keith’s son, Matt, had a non league footballing career, the highlight being his 2 goals in the 2008 FA Vase Final at Wembley, a late substitute, he scored twice in the last 10 minutes to help earn Kirkham & Wesham (who changed their name to AFC Fylde immediately after the final) a 2-1 win over Lowestoft.

Matt had pulled on a City shirt in 2006 when taking his dad’s place in City’s 1984 side in a Supporters Trust fundraiser. In 2015, he went one better than Keith when making 2 full international appearances for Saint Kitts and Nevis.

Ginners Left Foot

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.

Footnote:

In his autobiography, "You Can Have Chips: The Autobiography Of Steve Wignall", he tells of a game in November 1985 when Brentford visited York on a snow covered pitch with soft underfoot conditions. He notes Keith Walwyn and Dale Banton had already scored 23 goals in the first 4 months of the season, so with both sides, separated by one point the top 7, a tough game was expected. Wignall (and his defensive partners, Terry Hurlock and Terry Evans) were expecting a tough game. "We were heading for a clean sheet. Not many teams would manage that Bootham Crescent that season. Late in the second half, a loose ball dropped between me and Walwyn. Most centre forwards would just try to nick the ball as the defender flew into the tackle. But not Keith. He competed for every ball with anybody. It was a 50:50 ball so we both launched into the challenge. Unfortunately for me, my back foot slipped on the dodgy surface and I arrived a little too early for the ball. I knew the second we made contact I was in trouble". Wignall limped on until the end, but his right medial knee ligament was torn and he was out for 3 months whilst Keith Walwyn went on to score a late winner.

Keith Walwyn (a Daley Mayall tribute)

City on TV including the 1980s cup games.

Keith Walwyn Song Book

Tune: Seasons In The Sun (Terry Jacks)

He was long, he was tall, he was brilliant at football
He was big, he was mean, he was a human goal machine
Many a man would stand in his way
But they soon moved aside when Keith began to play.

He was never that mobile and technically weak
But no-one ever touched Keith Walwyn at his peak
He was strong and determined and fearsomely bold
And I cried the day that Keith Walwyn was sold.

It’s a long time ago but remember the sight
Of big Keith Walwyn in full flight
And to this day I can still recall
That piercing cry of “Gimme The Ball”!

Well soon there came that fateful day (Howay the lads)
When Keith faced Liverpool in a fifth round replay (Keith! Keith! Keith!”)
Grown men wept and cried aloud
When Keith’s late winner was disallowed.

Tune: Red Barron

10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or more
Big Keith Walwyn’s gonna score
Many men died trying to end that spree
Of the big black striker from York City.