Few could have imagined that when Keith Walker put pen to paper on 23rd November 1989 and signed for Swansea City, that over ten years later Swansea City fans would be acknowledging a man that unfortunately had quit professional football only the day before.
Keith arrived at the club with two fellow Scotsmen, Paul Chalmers and John Hughes. The other two departed our shores relatively quickly but Keith stayed on and became one of the favourite faces at the Vetch field in the 1990s.
Over 300 games in a Swansea shirt and 9 goals, Keith controlled the Swansea defence with apparent ease and is one of the main reasons why our defence has remained so solid.
As with anything, all good things must come to an end and with this in mind, two Swansea City internet fans, Gary Martin and Nick Rees hatched the idea of an evening in which the internet fans could pay tribute to their hero.
Two differing ideas of when the evening was first thought up had one thing in common – it was started over a pint (or a can) of beer. Was this a pipe dream or could it be turned into reality? Would people pay up to spend an evening with the players? Could they really make money as a thanks to a great player?
The answer to all three was yes and on Saturday 22nd January 2000, 240+ people turned up, ironically at Swansea Rugby club to pay homage to the man we know fondly as Sky. Even more appropriately, that afternoon, Swansea City had won their 9th consecutive league match, beating a 38-year old club record to boot.
Also there was a large part of the first team squad, indicating just how popular and well respected Keith Walker was at Swansea City.
An evening of horse racing we were promised and what an evening it turned out to be.
Horses and Races had been sponsored by many fans on the internet all too keen to show how much the great man would be missed on the terraces. Even more money was placed in bets by the Swansea fans and players. Fittingly, Keith had a winner on the first horse, many more won on the races, many more lost. Nobody seemed to care, a great night was being had by all.
Keith wandered round the tables, speaking to the people that had shouted his name for so long. He didn’t know them from Adam and was visibly moved by the fact that all these people were there for him and him alone.
Other players mingled, posed for photos and generally joined in the spirit (or did they drink them?) of things.
Keith donated some of his personal football memorabilia, a signed shirt from Everton, Derby, Leeds and Swansea City. The Swansea shirt fetched over £100. Bearing in mind that this could be bought in the club shop for £20 and signed at the club gates, it again shows the fans feelings towards Keith Walker.
All around the room you could see people enjoying themselves and having one of the nights of their lives.
To me it bought home a side of the players that you very rarely see. We, as fans, worship them from the terraces, we share their highs and lows on the pitch but very rarely do we see them in such an informal and relaxed atmosphere.
Keith Walker himself wore a huge smile all night. It wasn’t a smile motivated by the money he was making, it was a smile that almost said ‘I made the right decision in Swansea City’ it was almost a smile that said ‘I’ve only been doing my job’ and there was a touch of sadness there that said ‘I’m going to miss you all’
Not surprisingly, Keith was presented with the ‘Internet player of the decade award’ – an award truly deserved. In the day of the modern professional footballer it is very rare to find loyalty in a player. Keith has shown that this exists and at the end of the day happiness is more important than anything.
Keith has seen highs at Swansea (Wembley 94) and lows (Wembley 97) but all the time he has stayed in the white shirt and worn it with pride. Few fans will ever forget ‘that’ goal at Ninian and for memories like that we all thanked him.
Undoubtedly, everyone in that room will wish Keith Walker all the best in his future career and for him and his family to have a long and successful future.
Everyone who was in that room should feel proud for being part of a great send off for a great player. A big thanks to all those involved in the organising and I’m sure a big thanks from Keith himself for turning up and supporting him.
Thanks for the memories Keith – you will be sorely missed.