Gordon West, former Everton and England goalkeeper from the late 1960s and early 1970s, died this week. West won just three England caps in an age when good goalkeepers came easy not just for England, but also the other home nations (well, Scotland perhaps did have a problem or two).
West was a flamboyant keeper and rarely made a mistake, but he had a string of players to competitors to contend with: Gordon Banks, Peter Bonetti, Alex Stepney, the Springetts, Jim Montgomery and the rising star that was Peter Shilton. Almost all clubs had a decent keeper. And this was also an age where the incomparable Pat Jennings – he of the huge hands – was turning out for Northern Ireland and the haphazard – but occasionally brilliant – Gary Sprake was between the sticks for Wales.
West’s England career saw him concede two goals in three games, and included a 0-0 draw in Mexico a year before the 1970 World Cup. He declined the offer of a place in the England squad for that competition and that was the end of his international career. He had been a key figure in Everton’s 1969-70 title win, keeping 21 clean sheets.
In any other age, West would have won dozens of caps. English goalkeepers are at a premium today – witness the very average players who represent their country. Joe Hart is good enough and should claim the shirt for years to come, but he has little competition. When Jack Butland was sought out after Roy Hodgson’s squad started to leak players, a lot of people said, “Jack who?”.
The fact is, he’s (extremely young for a keeper), has yet to play for his club, let alone is country, and his Football League career amounts to a dozen games for Cheltenham Town while on loan from Birmingham City. Did we really have to go so low to fill the squad? When you consider that the other goalkeeper in the Euro 2012 squad, Rob Green has already been discarded once by England, you can see the mess we’re in!
It’s easy to say, “it was better in my day”, but I bet if Gordon West was around today, he would, at least, be thinking that!