Gordon West 1943-2012 A Tribute
By Gerry Wolstenholme
Updated Monday, 11th June 2012
It is with great sadness that we hear of the death after a brave fight against a long illness on 11 June of former Blackpool, Everton, Tranmere Rovers and England goalkeeper Gordon West.
Gordon West 1943 - 2012
With George Farm firmly established as the number one and Brian Caine, an excellent reserve, West played in the junior sides but even so in February 1959 he was regarded as ‘a potential first team man of tomorrow’. Someone was a good judge!
When Fleetwood had a goalkeeping crisis with their regular ever-present goalkeeper, Syd Perkes, going down with influenza, Blackpool came to the rescue and West was loaned to Fleetwood on 21 March 1959 and he ‘kept an impeccable goal at Bacup’ and ‘won unstinted praise from a partisan crowd for an almost faultless display’. Fleetwood defeated Bacup Borough 3-0 and the after-match verdict by Fleetwood officials was that he ‘distinguished himself as a player of undoubted ability’.
With Brian Caine injured in the Good Friday, 27 March 1959, defeat by Sheffield United reserves, he was called into the Central League side and made his debut for Blackpool against Leeds United reserves on 28 March 1959 when he was one of the youngest players to appear for the club outside of the ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams. The game was drawn 2-2 and at one point he ‘made such a brilliant punched clearance from Leighton that his opposite number in the Leeds goal applauded him’. He retained his place until the end of the season by which time he had played seven Central League games for Blackpool in that 1958/59 season.
He attended an FA amateur course at Lilleshall during the summer of 1959 and while there he was tipped to play for the England Youth side. Despite his promise, Blackpool signed another amateur, Tony Waiters, at the start of the 1959/60 season and it was he, six years older than West, who began the season in the Central League side with West once again in the junior sides.
West continued to play in the junior sides but was reintroduced to the Central League side against Aston Villa reserves on 6 February 1960 when the comment was ‘Promoted to the second team and now presumably ranking as the No 1 for the position, 16-year-old Gordon West was in the Blackpool goal’ and he was blameless for the goals in the Central League side’s 3-0 defeat when ‘There were times when he looked as good a goalkeeper as Blackpool think he will be one day.’
And the international selectors had taken note for he made his debut for the England Youth side in the International [Home Countries] Youth Championship in a 1-1 draw with Scotland at Newcastle on 27 February 1960. He also played in a 1-1 draw with Wales on 12 March before appearing in a 1-1 draw with East Germany on 2 April 1960 and then in a true International Youth Tournament when, later in April 1960, he played in Austria against Bulgaria, England losing 1-0, Poland, a 4-2 victory, and Austria, a 1-0 defeat. And he played the last of his seven England Youth games against Switzerland at Leyton on 8 October 1960 when England won 4-3.
He had played six Central League games for Blackpool in the 1959/60 season but his potential was noted and the club signed him as a professional in April 1960 with his weekly terms for the 1960/61 season being £9 in the summer, £10 in the winter plus an extra £10 if and when he played in the first team.
With George Farm having moved on and Waiters promoted to replace him, West became the official number two and he started the 1960/61 season as the regular goalkeeper for the Central League side, his first game being a 1-1 with Barnsley reserves on 22 August 1960.
After missing only one of 23 Central League games, he made his League debut against Aston Villa in 2-2 draw at Villa Park on 31 December 1960. The press comment was ‘Full marks to West for an impressive debut in which he showed the confidence of a veteran.’ West himself called it ‘A week I’ll not forget’ and went on to say, ‘Before the match I was as nervous as a kitten. I hardly ate anything at all, and when, about three hours before the kick-off, I was offered a nice juicy steak for lunch, I just toyed with it. I think the worst moment was in the dressing room, waiting to go out on to the field. The lads must have sensed what I was feeling and did their best to keep the atmosphere light-hearted. Jimmy Kelly said, “If I get the ball at the start, I’ll put it straight back to you.” He did, too, even though it meant a 30-yard back pass and loud boos from the crowd.’ Blackpool went 2-0 down to two goals by Villa centre forward Gerry Hitchens and West commented later, ‘I think I should have saved the second goal. It was a wonderful shot by Gerry Hitchens, and I did get my fingertips to the ball, which did not cross the line until it had hit the inside of both posts, but I still fell I could have made a better attempt at it.’ Blackpool eventually forced the draw through two Ray Parry goals, on the second of which West said ‘Then came that terrific last minute goal by Ray Parry. I jumped for joy when it went in - and when Aston villa next raided I did my best to waste time without trying to make it look too obvious!’
His second first team game was on 7 January 1961 when Blackpool suffered an embarrassing 6-2 FA Cup defeat at Second Division Scunthorpe United. However, he kept his place until the end of the season and got good reports in a game against Cardiff City on 24 March 1961. Blackpool kept Cardiff City well in check in the match and chances were at a premium for the Welsh side and ‘When such a rare chance arose, Cardiff were baulked by that agile, fearless star in the making Gordon West. In the first half there were times when West made risky excursions out of his goal. But generally his work was again superbly efficient. One save, late in the second half, when he twisted himself sideways and while still airborne caught and held a full-blooded Peter Donnelly volley, earned him loud and long applause. His was an excellent display, topped only by that of Roy Gratrix, the game’s outstanding player.’ Blackpool won the game 2-0 to ease their relegation fears, which eventually proved unfounded as Preston North End and Newcastle United were relegated from the First Division.
He ended the 1960/61 season having played 19 League games, one FA Cup tie and 22 Central League games. He had arrived and his revised terms recognised the fact for the 1961/62 season as they were £25 per week plus an extra £5 when he played in the first team.
After 31 consecutive League games in the first team, he lost his first team place after a 3-0 defeat by Arsenal at Highbury (also Stan Matthews’ last game for Blackpool) on 7 October 1961. Waiters was restored to the League side, West returned to Central League football and in January 1962 an unnamed First Division club was allegedly making enquiries about signing West.
Blackpool told the club that West was not for sale but the interested club were talking of ‘a substantial offer’ in order to tempt Blackpool to part with the goalkeeper. West himself was not satisfied with second team football and, even though only 18, had already had discussions with Blackpool manager Ronnie Suart about his future. He said that he was not prepared to play indefinitely in the Central League side nor hold back too long on a transfer request.
In the event he was transferred to Everton on 2 March 1962 for a fee of £28,000 (some reports say £27,000 but Blackpool records show the slightly higher figure) the highest fee ever paid for a goalkeeper. He made his debut for his new club the following day in a 4-0 defeat of Wolverhampton Wanderers. By the time of his transfer he had played 12 League games, two League Cup ties and 19 Central League games for Blackpool in the 1961/62 season. In total he had played only 31 League games, one FA Cup tie, two League Cup ties and 54 Central League games for Blackpool.
In mid-March there were questions asked about why Blackpool let such a prospect go. The answer was that the fee was a staggering amount for an 18-year-old relatively inexperienced goalkeeper and one that Blackpool could not turn down. In addition the sale raised cash to help buy a forward so desperately needed by a flagging attack.
He went on to play 402 League and Cup games for Everton before he lost his place, allegedly through nerves, to Andy Rankin in the 1972/73 season and while at the club he won two Division One titles in 1963 and 1970 and also won the FA Cup in 1966. He made three England Under-23 appearances and won three full international caps but Sir Alf Ramsey cut his further ambitions short when West declined, for family reasons, to be included in the 1970 World Cup squad.
After initially retiring in 1973, he later made a brief comeback with Tranmere Rovers for whom he signed in October 1975 and he went on to make 17 League appearances for Tranmere.
He later became a security officer at RAF Woodvale and subsequently lived in retirement on Merseyside.
A book of condolence has been opened at Goodison Park or online by clicking here.