There are players you remember because they were great and there are players you remember because they were rubbish. Then there are the players who we remember because they were different. Walter Boyd was one of those.
He joined Swansea in 1999 in something of a blaze of publicity. There were claims we had signed a player way above our basement-division station and that he was cult hero in his native Jamaica. More verifiable was the fact he’d made three substitute appearances in the 1998 World Cup and his 30 odd international goals (although the papers didn’t agree quite how many he’d scored).
He was given the number 35 shirt because this was the number of goals he was aiming to score, a figure that would equal the club record held by Cyril Pearce, a player better known to most of us for giving his name to our then new mascot. Few believed the hype. We’d heard all before and it was coming from a team of directors who were not exactly trusted or flavour of the month.
Boyd made his debut against Rotherham in a cold evening game and scored twice in a 2-0 win. The first was a straight forward affair but the second was a long range curler into the top corner. Or at least that’s how it looked from the far end of the North Bank. It seemed as though the Messiah had arrived, even if he did look rather bewildered by where he’d ended up.
A few more followed in subsequent games but then straight after coming on as a sub against Darlington he elbowed someone before play had even resumed. He’d been on the pitch for a matter of seconds and there was talk that it was the fastest red card ever.
After that things went into decline. The team was doing well, grinding out the load of 1-0 wins that would eventually bring the title but Boyd seemed to find life in Division Three difficult. To fans it seemed as if Boyd was not quite part of the team and sometimes not quite part of the match. He often seemed to be watching play going on around him.
But Boyd was more memorable for the debates about race he started. His colour was inescapable and his nickname back home was apparently Blacka Pearl. He wasn’t the first black player to turn out for the Swans but he must have been the first black player who wasn’t from the UK. Mike Lewis, the club’s general manager, even claimed that Boyd’s arrival could help solve some of the problems with racism that the club was experiencing from a few supporters.
On his debut the old boy who stood next to me on the North Bank jokingly said that should the floodlights fail we would only be able to see Walter’s eyes. This was a joke but some got quite uncomfortable with the way their mates spoke about Boyd. There was a lot of talk that he couldn’t hack a Welsh winter. That was an old cliché that was applied to black players throughout the 70s and 80s and it was often held up to be an example of racial stereotyping. But in Walter’s case it seemed to be true and he even said so in the press himself. But that didn’t stop talk in the pubs and online about whether the comments about Boyd were just because of the colour of the skin. Furthermore, some people weren’t sure whether to call him black or coloured. Quite simply, his presence created debates about what racism was.
Things weren’t made any more comfortable by fans from Jamaica going online and writing defences of Boyd in what seemed to be a parody of Caribbean speech. Perhaps they were genuine, perhaps they were wind ups. It was impossible to tell but they were replicated by Swans supporters unimpressed with Boyd and the team in general.
Boyd ended up being somewhat peripheral to the team’s success in winning the league that year. Being less effective up front than Julian Alsop or Steve Watkin didn’t quite match what we were told to expect when he arrived. The next season he was injured a lot of the time and the team got relegated. He only scored three goals that season and no one was surprised or too sorry to see him go. But Walter still deserves his place in Swansea City history. There aren’t many players in the club’s history who suddenly won us a following in Jamaica.