York City were today in mourning after the shock death of one of its modern-day greats Keith Walwyn.

The battering-ram forward - second in City's all-time goalscoring records - died in hospital last night after an operation on his heart. He was aged 47. He leaves a widow Liz and two sons, James and Matthew.

Glowing tributes were paid to the striker from figures connected with the club, past and present. after Walwyn endeared himself to the Bootham Crescent faithful during his eventful years as a Minsterman between 1981 and 1987.

Said former club chairman Douglas Craig: "This is a sad day for all York City supporters who were there when Keith Walwyn played for us.

"Everybody who knew Keith had a tremendous liking for him and a tremendous respect. He didn't have a vicious bone in his body.

"He was an old-fashioned centre-forward - big, bustling, brave. He always gave you 90 minutes and he was feared by the opposition not because he was dirty in any way but because he was such a handful.

"When this thing happens people say all sorts of nice things and some of them are tongue in cheek. But as far as Keith is concerned he was a bloody good bloke and one of the best centre-forwards York City ever had."

City's current board today announced there will be a minute's silence in tribute to Walwyn ahead of the Easter Monday visit of Kidderminster to Bootham Crescent.

Former team-mate Ricky Sbragia, now reserve team coach at Manchester United, said today: "To me Keith was Mr York City.

"I always picture him as one of the most loveable and jolly people you could ever meet.

"This is a major shock. 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."

Said Sophie McGill, the club's communications director: "It is obviously very tragic. Keith Walwyn was so well thought of by everybody and he was a great servant to York City Football Club.

"We send our heartfelt condolences to his family."

Born in the Jamaican town of Nevis in the West Indies, Walwyn started out at Guiseley before he was signed by then City manager Barry Lyons from Chesterfield. The £4,000 transfer fee proved to be one of the shrewdest investments in the club's history.

He scored on his debut against Tranmere and from then on was established as a favourite with City fans, who lionised his whole-hearted commitment. Apart from one season when he was largely injured he scored more than 20 goals in each of his six seasons with City and was twice voted Clubman of the Year in 1982 and 1987.

He scored 25 goals in City's championship-winning campaign of 1983-84 when he earned a place in the Division Four representative side. In total he plundered 140 goals in 291 appearances before his £35,000 tribunal-set transfer to Blackpool in 1987.

Walwyn's career never hit the heights at anywhere else as it had at York, which was always his abiding footballing passion. He was eventually forced to quit playing in March 1991 with heart problems after he collapsed while playing for Kettering against Altrincham.

He later had a pacemaker fitted to his heart. But that did not stop him making one more emotional return to Bootham Crescent in 1999 when he agreed to appear in the testimonial for former City manager Alan Little.

He was only due to play for five minutes, but clad in the red shirt he wore with so much daring and distinction during the 1980s he stayed on for a full 25 minutes of his customary rampaging, bullocking style.

Former City boss Little, in whose testimonial Walwyn made that emotional City comeback, added: "It's such sad, sad news.

"Keith was an absolute hero at York City and it was great he came back for my game. I played against him a number of times and he was one of the hardest, but fairest players to play against. He had such a good reputation in the game and he was also such a nice fella. It's so sad."

During his time at York, Walwyn and his wife Liz raised more than £10,000 for the Killingbeck Hospital in Leeds after their eldest son James was born with a heart defect. He survived an operation at which his survival chances were only given as 50-50 at Killingbeck, the success of which prompted the fund-raising campaign initiated by Walwyn and his wife.

One of his last visits to York was for the launch of the Supporters' Trust at the Barbican where he was given a standing ovation when he was introduced to the crowd.

He was living in Kirkham, near Blackpool, where he ran a sports shop.

Walwyn also held football training sessions for youngsters in Kirkham's Carr Hill Secondary School.

He was the guest of honour at the opening of Blackpool's new £7million stand last August when Blackburn Rovers visited Bloomfield Road.

Updated: 14:12 Wednesday, April 16, 2003