The York City Fanzine

ISSUE 7 of GLF pays tribute to the former City legend Keith Walwyn - affectionally known as the ‘Big Man’ - who sadly passed away in April of 2003.

In season 1980/81, York City finished 24th, bottom of Division Four and the entire Football League, and had to apply for re-election for a seventh time. During the close season, a strapping, sinewy, young, black striker was signed by York City for £4,000 from Chesterfield. It was to prove an astute acquisition by manager Barry Lyons. In his first season, playing in a struggling team, he scored 25 League and Cup goals - subsequently winning the ‘Clubman of the Year’ award. He matured as a player under the guidance of player-manager Denis Smith and player-coach Viv Busby and would become a colossal and inspirational figure in his six seasons at the club. His fully committed performances in a York shirt won him a place in City fans hearts forever, affording him legendary status. GLF felt duty bound to dedicate a section of issue 7 to the late and great...KEITH WALWYN.

Keith WALWYN became a firm favourite with City fans during his six years at the club. A gargantuan threat in the air, his powerful displays (especially when twinned with the sublime skills of John Byrne) frightened the pants off opposition defences. By the time he left the club, he had become York City’s second highest scorer with 140 goals to his credit.

GLF managed to arrange a Q&A with Keith late last year, and he gladly responded to the questions we sent him, many set by readers of GLF. His answers reached us in February, just two months before the shocking news broke that he had passed away following surgery on his heart. Keith’s death left City fans who witnessed his fully committed performances in a York shirt devastated.

A minutes silence was held at the next home game against Kidderminster, which was immaculately observed. Keith’s wife Liz and two sons James and Matthew were present at the game.

GLF are proud to publish probably his final interview about his career at City and beyond, with kind permission from the Walwyn family. R.I.P. ‘BIG MAN’

GLF: Keith, you were bought by Barry Lyons for £4,000 from Chesterfield. Why didn’t you get more of a chance at Saltergate?

KW: Because they had two good strikers in Ernie Moss and Phil Walker who were playing well together at the time.

GLF: City were a struggling side at the bottom of the old 4th division when you arrived, what appealed to you most about joining?

KW: Joining York City was all about playing regular first team football.

GLF: Do you recall your debut for City in which you scored a goal?

KW: I remember Roy Kay centering the ball to me. I chested it down, and volleyed it across the ‘keeper but unfortunately I don’t recall who it was against. (Away at Tranmere Rovers, 29th Aug 1981 - Ed)

GLF: You managed to forge an excellent partnership with John Byrne in the City frontline. Why did you compliment each other so well?

KW: John liked to go around defenders. I wasn’t bothered whether I went around, through or over defenders to score a goal!

GLF: During the 83/84 Championship season, you netted 25 league goals and John 27. Did you have a side bet to see who would finish top scorer?

KW: No we didn’t have a side bet. We all tried to make goals for one another.

GLF: Were Denis Smith and Viv Busby a factor in you and John Byrne gelling so well?

KW: Yes, because John would have probably left if they hadn’t come to the club. Denis turned John into a more consistent player.

GLF: What is your most vivid memory from the momentous Championship season of 1983/84?

KW: Watching the fans celebrate after the Hartlepool game when we clinched the Championship. The open-top bus ride through York was something I will always remember.

GLF: You scored 140 goals for the club. Any favourites?

KW: Left-footed half volley from 25 yards against Orient away. I didn’t score many left-footers from that distance. Also the headed goal against Hartlepool to win the Championship.

GLF: Did you have a nickname while you were at the club?

KW: Big Man.

GLF: What do you recall from the titanic matches in the FA Cup against Arsenal and then Liverpool twice?

KW: We deserved to win the Arsenal game because they didn’t like playing us on the frozen pitch. The 5th Round home ties against Liverpool in 1985 and 1986 we fully deserved to draw both. In ‘86, we would have beaten them but for a dodgy penalty awarded against Steve Senior. The 1985 replay was a non event - I was only half fit, and Keith Houchen was even worse!

GLF: The ‘goal’ you scored at Anfield in the ‘86 replay which was disallowed - are you convinced it should have stood to put City 2-1 up? Looked good to me!

KW: I thought it was a good goal but it was at Anfield. Lower league teams didn’t beat 1st Division teams in those days, especially on their own ground.

GLF: Do you remember being hit by a bottle thrown by Scouse rogues while celebrating Ricky Sbragia’s late equaliser in the first meeting with Liverpool at BC?

KW: I do remember being hit by the bottle and the other players dragging me away. I was just glad it hadn’t broken on the pitch.

GLF: What would you say was the most memorable moment in your whole career?

KW: I would say my most memorable was scoring on my Professional debut for Chesterfield against Oxford. I lobbed the ‘keeper from 20 yards and ended up scoring two in a 3-0 win.

GLF: Apart from 1984/85 when you missed some of the season through injury, you scored over 20 goals each season at York. Blackpool got your services on the cheap at £35,000 - which was settled by a tribunal. At your peak, what kind of fee do you think you would command in the transfer market today?

KW: Hard to say, but nowadays if you score six goals in as many games, you seem to be worth at least £5m.

GLF: Who was the biggest influence on your career and why?

KW: Billy Dearden and Frank Barlow at Chesterfield; Viv Busby at York. They always made training and scoring fun.

GLF: Who was the best player you played with at City......and the worst dresser?

KW: Best player - John Byrne; Worst Dresser - Keith Houchen!

GLF: Did you ever suffer any embarrassing moments on the field of play?

KW: Scoring an own goal at Valley Parade. Bradford is my home town, and all the friends I grew up with were in ‘The Shed’ cheering on Bradford City.

GLF: Your first son James experienced health problems while you were at City and he subsequently had life-saving heart surgery at Killingbeck Hospital in Leeds. As a gesture of thanks, you and your wife Liz set up a Fund Raising Appeal for the hospital. Quite a lot of money was raised wasn’t it?

KW: Yes, the people of  York helped enormously to raise funds. A few months ago my wife and I put a piece in the local paper to show our appreciation as James is now a healthy young man turned 18 years of age.

GLF: It was a very sad day for City fans when you left the club. What was the reason for leaving for Blackpool?

KW: I just felt it was time for a change.

GLF: One of your biggest assets was your physical presence in and around the penalty area. Would you be booked a lot more in the modern game?

KW: I don’t think I would get booked more. Alan Shearer is physical and he seems to cope okay.

GLF: Any pre-match rituals you undertook?.....Good luck charms, etc?

KW: I didn’t come out before games for warm-ups, especially in Winter. I sat on the radiator!

GLF: Did you ever consider going into management?

KW: Coaching, but not management.

GLF: Did you ever encounter racist chanting while playing for City? If you did, how did you cope with it?

KW: I encountered quite a bit of it, so I took it out on their defenders and ‘keepers. But the best way of all was to put the ball in the net. It was harder for my wife sat in the stand, because she had to listen to it all.

GLF: Did you hang out with any team-mates during nights out in York?

KW: Used to hang around with John Byrne, Gary Ford and Steve Senior mostly.

GLF: Did you have a particular favourite place to eat/drink/club?

KW: We did have a few eating places and clubs we’d like to go to, but I don’t think they are still there. I didn’t frequent a lot of bars, due to the fact I didn’t drink.

GLF: Did you gain any further honours in the game after leaving York?

KW: No.

GLF: What do you make of ex Chairman Douglas Craig’s efforts to sell Bootham Crescent for his own financial benefit, possibly meaning City becoming homeless?

KW: There is always a reason why things are done. I don’t want to say too much, but I do recall his booming voice cheering us on from the Directors box.

GLF: What did you most like about the City of  York?

KW: My wife and I enjoyed our time at York for the friendly people and wonderful City. We still try and keep in touch with friends we made whilst being there.

GLF: Many thanks, Keith.

Fans Tributes:-
I have a number of special memories of Keith - both on and off the field. On the playing side, I will always cherish his dynamic pairing with John Byrne - the best striking duo I’ve seen in my time watching City since my first match in 1975. They seemed to work in tandem perfectly - Keith’s strength, holding up of the ball and bullet-like headers, combined with John Byrne’s pace and trickery, always kept opposition defences at full stretch. A total of 52 League goals (25 Keith; 27John) between them in the Championship season of 1983/84 speaks volumes. Whatever calibre of defender Keith came up against, it didn’t ruffle him. He just seemed to take it in his stride and get on with it, and you could never accuse him of not pulling his weight. Whenever a City shirt adorned his muscular frame, you were guaranteed 100% effort in his no-nonsense style. There was a certain aura surrounding Keith whenever he came into contact with fans off the pitch either outside the ground or elsewhere. Not sure why, but perhaps it was because Keith was the first black player many fans had witnessed in a City shirt and was special in more ways than one. I think I claimed his autograph about 4 times as a young ‘un. Why is once never satisfactory, I wonder, for footballer’s you really admire?
My special ‘off the pitch’ memory, dates back to early 1984, when as a shy 15 year old  I was sent out on work experience from school to Micklegate Sports Shop. I was there for 2 weeks carrying out little tasks and serving customers occasionally. I was filling shelves with footy boots one morning when I heard the doorbell go. I looked round and nearly fell off the stepladders upon which I was perched. It was only the City of York’s most feared and notorious sharpshooters - ‘Mean’ Keith Walwyn and John ‘Blonde-Quiff’ Byrne - in town looking for some new weapons! Another assistant served them whilst I handed down the requested Mitre, Puma, Adidas, Patrick or Gola shooting-boots - all a fluster in such esteemed company. Keith was fearless, strong, talented and very friendly - a true York City legend!     DALEY MAYALL (Editor)

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.”
York City fan.

In September 1999, I was travelling to Fleetwood Golf Club through a small town near Blackpool called Kirkham. As I passed a sports shop in the centre of town I saw a figure that I thought I knew sweeping up outside. I turned back and went into the shop. A young man politely asked: “Can I help you?” I explained that I didn’t really want to buy anything, but thought I’d recognised the figure outside the shop just moments ago. A voice behind me said: “You’re from York aren’t you?” I turned around and stood there was Keith Walwyn - a York City hero of mine. I always remember Keith as a bustling forward who always proved to be a real handful for opposing defenders and I have to say I expected him to be a bit bigger and perhaps louder than he turned out to be. He knew straight away that I was from the York area by my accent although I thought that it had changed significantly after many years in exile. He introduced me to his son who was the young man that I first spoke to and explained that he was a basketball player. It didn’t surprise me because he was so tall. He added that his other son was on the books of Blackburn Rovers but that he wasn’t sure whether he would make the professional ranks. We talked for about 15 minutes about York and his career at City - especially about the ‘GOAL’ at Anfield. He said that it was just one of those things that happen in football. He was just the most perfect gentleman you could wish to meet.

Earlier this year, it was proposed that I might give Keith a lift to the ‘Legends Dinner’ at York Racecourse so I went to see him. He did say that he might have other commitments that particular day, so I left him my phone number. The night before the dinner, he rang to say that he could not come and apologised profusely. A few weeks later he sadly passed away.

I will cherish those brief encounters with Keith forever. - NEIL JACQUES

I recall Keith taking me under his wing when I was mascot for a Lincoln City game in the 1980's. He wasn't playing due to an injury and found me wandering around totally lost and baffled by all the 'giant people' in the hospitality rooms. He picked me up, sat me on the bar, and bought me a lemonade. I will never forget that. It sums the man up completely - a true gentleman!  - MIKE BROWN (City Director)

My son Tim and his friends had been invited to meet the team in the dressing room before a match. They were so excited that they baked biscuits and sold them up and down the road to raise some cash for the Killingbeck Hospital (Leeds) appeal set up by Keith and his wife Liz.

The great day arrived and they (and me as accompanying adult) were met by Viv Busby and taken into the dressing room where they handed over the cash. After talking to the players, they got their autograph books out. When it was Tim's turn, Keith took the book, grinned, looked him in the eye and signed his name accompanied with a great big X. - CAROL ABEL

I remember the first time I saw Keith Walwyn play. I decided that I didn't like him! I didn't like him because  he was playing for Chesterfield reserves v York City reserves at Bootham Crescent and  he ran rings round the City defence and helped Chesterfield to a resounding victory. A couple of days later it was announced that we'd signed him and I was ecstatic. For the next few years I witnessed 'Big Keith' running rings round lots of other defences and I loved it! And who can forget those piercing cries of: “Byrney, Byrney, give me the ball !"  York City fans have got lots of wonderful memories of Keith Walwyn - a true legend, hero and in the words of Ricky Sbragia, ….....MR YORK CITY.

R.I.P. Big Keith - We'll NEVER forget you. - MARY FRAME

I have many great memories of the big man, but somewhat strangely, my fondest memory actually relates to me playing and Keith being a spectator. I was aged nine, a couple of years before I was forced to retire early from the game due to a serious lack of skill, ability and general ineptness. Anyway, I was playing for my local cub team against our local school, in an unevenly matched annual game. I remember we were losing about 7-0 (or possibly 70-0) and we were nearing the final whistle, when I received the ball 30 yards out and placed it into the top corner, leaving the keeper standing. Either that or it was about 7 yards and took a couple of deflections on the way, my memory is a little fuzzy! Anyway, Keith was at the game doing his bit for football in the community, and after the game, I was awarded the man of the match for our team and remember being congratulated by Keith for scoring. I got his autograph and my photo (see right) taken with him, and was the happiest loser around!   - PHIL AKRILL

I recall his high pitched voice clearly as he shreiked for a pass and getting stuck in the net after flying onto a cross - but most of all, his shot along the turf at Gigg Lane, Bury. The away end (now home end) was below pitch level. It missed the post and whacked me straight in the mush. I had proper bent goggles after that! Did anyone else ever play for the junior reds, training in the players gym on an evening? The medicine balls were always rumoured to be used by Keith for heading practice!  - JIM HAIGH

One word which suitably describes Keith is "FEARLESS". My clearest recollections were of defenders and especially goalkeepers having second thoughts on coming out for crosses  in the knowledge that ‘Big Keith’ was somewhere in the vicinity. One game with Halifax sticks in my mind, where both keeper and centre half (Billy Ayre) were carried off on stretchers after collisions - totally innocent clashes as well. We all knew Keith didn't have a malicious bone in his body. Speed, skill, controlled aggression, honest endeavour......Oh, for a player of Keith’s ability at City now. Where are they? - MALCOLM DIXON

The Friends of Bootham Crescent and Harrogate Minstermen were asked by  the York City Supporters’ Trust to rattle their buckets at the last home game of the 2002/03 season against Exeter, as fans had expressed a wish to pay tribute to Keith Walwyn in a practical way. Monies raised were to be forwarded to Keith’s family to use as a tribute to the popular ex-City striker.

GLF can reveal that a grand total of £1,400 was raised and the money, at the request of the Walwyn family is to be donated to the Blackpool Hospital Coronary Unit in Keith’s memory. Fantastic effort, City fans!

Thanks to all those who donated.

A personal message of thanks from Keith’s wife Liz:

“ I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at the club for all the kind condolences that I received and for all the tremendous support that the York City fans have always given to Keith. The respect that was shown during that one-minute silence against Kidderminster was absolutely unbelievable. Whilst I find our current situation very difficult to deal with, the memories that I have of Keith and York City Football Club, at times, makes it a little easier to bear. Thank you again for your kindness.”  

Yours Sincerely,  Liz Walwyn