Gordon West 1943 - 2012It was money well spent as West missed only four games to help Everton to win the title in 1963. He was ever-present as they again clinched the title in 1970. With good hands and a willingness to throw himself around the goalmouth, West won three caps for England but turned down a chance to join the squad in the World Cup finals in Mexico in 1970 because he wanted to stay at home with his family.
Gordon West was born in Darfield near Barnsley on 24 April 1943 and joined Blackpool’s ground staff as an amateur in September 1958. He came to Bloomfield Road the day after his 15th birthday for a trial, stayed seven weeks and was then offered the ground staff post. West actually started his footballing career at centre half, as captain for Don and Deane Boys and then moved to centre forward, scoring three goals in a 4-1 Cup win when still at Primary School. By February 1959 he was being regarded as “a potential first team man of tomorrow”. He 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”.
He made his Central League debut for Blackpool against Leeds United reserves on 28 March 1959 when Brian Caine was injured the previous day and 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.
When he attended an FA amateur course at Lilleshall during the summer of 1959 he was tipped to play for the England Youth side. He 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 w 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.”
West was selected for England Youth versus Wales Youth at Canterbury on 12 March 1960 and he was included in the England party to visit Austria in April for a youth international tournament and Blackpool eventually signed him as a professional in the same month.
He finally 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!”
However, on his second first team game on 7 January 1961 Blackpool suffered an embarrassing 6-2 FA Cup defeat at Second Division Scunthorpe United.
He was particularly outstanding when Blackpool kept Cardiff City well in check in the match on 24 March 1961 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.
After a long run in the first team, he lost his first team place and in January 1962 an unnamed First Division club was making enquiries about him. Blackpool told them he 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 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.
He was transferred to Everton on 2 March 1962 for a fee of £28,000 the highest fee ever paid for a goalkeeper. Up to the time of his transfer he had played only 31 League games, one FA Cup tie, two League Cup ties and 54 Central League games for Blackpool.
He made his debut for Everton the following day in a 4-0 defeat of Wolverhampton Wanderers. 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. He made three England Under-23 appearances and won three full international caps but Sir Alf Ramsey cut his further ambitions short when he declined to be included in the 1970 World Cup squad.
After initially retiring in 1973, he later made a brief comeback making 17 league appearances with Tranmere Rovers for whom he signed in October 1975.
He later became a security officer at RAF Woodvale and then lived in retirement on Merseyside.
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