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Season 2011-12

Saying Goodbye to a Friend and Legend

By David France   ::  11/06/2012
 26 Comments (»Last)
I was saddened to learn of the death of Gordon West ? a pillar of the Everton family. I had known him in one way or another for 50 years. As the most expensive keeper in the world, he was an agile giant who made the kind of full-length saves that you rarely see today. As a hero, he won two League titles and an FA Cup during the Catterick era. The only other player to do so was his old friend Brian Labone. As my friend, he was one of the nicest and funniest people I?ve ever met. Also he possessed rare charm and even rarer humility. I suppose my favourite memories of Gordon are as a great Evertonian rather than a great Everton keeper.

I remember visiting his home in Waterloo some 15 years ago. It was obvious that life hadn?t always been kind to him after he had hung up his boots. As a result, Brian Labone and I vowed to get him on his feet. There was one obvious problem; the keeper had ballooned to 20 odd stones and was reluctant to leave his sanctuary. Nevertheless, we ushered him into a big man?s shop in the city centre. Once there the salesman measured him. Brian asked: ?What size are you Gordon?? The salesman responded ?58 Regular.? As quick as a flash Brian retorted: ?There is nothing regular about being 58 Regular.? Gordon wasn?t shocked by his statistics but was astonished at the price tags. Reluctantly, he selected a suit plus a few white shirts and a few pairs of socks. I took care of the transaction: "How much do I owe you?" The salesman smiled: "Would you believe it? You?re in luck. It?s our ?Football Legends? Sale? this afternoon. There?s an 80% discount on every item. I?m a Red but my father would be so proud that I?ve taken care of such a big Evertonian!"

Kitted out in his new togs, Gordon was a regular at the Hall of Fame celebrations during the next decade. Anyone privileged to hear him speak at a Hall of Fame dinner will testify to his love of Everton Football Club and his fellow Evertonians. I asked him to say grace at the 2001 event. Instead he opened his heart and spoke with rare emotion about the work of the Everton Former-Players? Foundation. The 600 attendees fell silent as he detailed how it had helped him regain his pride and his dignity. Gordon was close to tears when he declared: "No fans look after their heroes like Evertonians do." He wasn?t alone.

Of course, anyone privileged to know Gordon recognized that he was a charmer. He could entice the plates off a table-cloth. I recall that my wife and I invited him to our Silver Wedding Anniversary get-together. Throughout the evening he complemented the restaurant staff about the quality of the crockery. Later that evening we helped him enter a taxi followed by Adelphi staff carrying boxes containing 6 soup bowls, 6 dinner plates, 6 bread plates, 6 desert dishes, 6 tea cups, 6 saucers plus matching salt and pepper cruets.

Most of all, Gordon was a true patriot. I kept my promise to take him to Buckingham Palace by including his bubble-gum card along with those of Brian Labone and Alan Ball ? two other proud Englishmen ? in my coat pocket. I?ve been fortunate to meet a dozen or so men who have won the FA Cup and also played for England. In response to my question: "Which was the biggest accomplishment ? winning the FA Cup with Everton or representing England?" Gordon is the only one to pick England. He told me that there is no feeling in the world like wearing the colours of your country. That said, he was proud and protective of his contributions to the club?s history. In one of my books I hinted that Neville Southall was a better keeper. Gordon responded: "I was better than Neville in the Sixties but I?ll accept that he was better than me in the Eighties. Today, we are about the same ? both of us are fat bastards."

His illness, cancer which spread from his liver to his bones, and his passing highlight the dedication of Harry Ross and the trustees of the Everton Former-Players? Foundation. He was looked after during his final years, weeks and days by his fellow Evertonians ? after all he was a pillar of the Everton family who will never be forgotten.

Reader Comments

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Mike Hughes
249   Posted 11/06/2012 at 09:23:37

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Very nice tribute.
RIP Gordon West.
He was a bit before my time but love the quote comparing him and Neville Southall - very funny.
Barry Rathbone
255   Posted 11/06/2012 at 10:06:06

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Marvellous tribute.

God bless you Gordon you were great when this country produced great goalies ie good enough to catch a ball rather than punching everything.

A genuine legend, thanks for the memories big man.

Kevin Sparke
256   Posted 11/06/2012 at 10:18:53

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Great tribute from a true Evertonian about another true Blue - I read about Gordon West's problems a few years ago and it's a fantastic thing that the EFPF do to help players who've fallen upon hard times.

It's easy to forget that it's only really been over the last 30 years that footballers have been so handsomely rewarded for the 12-15 years they spend plying their trade and quite a few former legends can end their days uncared for and in poverty - well, not at Everton they don't.

Gordon West will always be associated with those great Everton teams of the 1960s; he was a very, very good keeper and until the advent of 'Big Nev' he'd have been my automatic choice of Everton Keeper in a team of greats I'd personally seen. I never spoke to him personally, but have heard him speak on a few occasions and he came across as a genuine blue with a sharp wit.

All the best big man - you'll never be forgotten by those who were lucky enough to see you between the sticks.

Peter Creer
260   Posted 11/06/2012 at 10:46:26

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As a youngster I was honoured to have watched Gordon West. He was part of some legendary teams and I believe he was the rock that they were built upon.

David, I thank you for all you do on behalf of our club to honour it's illustrious memory. That memory is made by great people like Gordon West.

RIP

Richard Tarleton
263   Posted 11/06/2012 at 11:18:01

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A marvellous goalkeeper, second only to Southall, during the sixty years I've watched Everton. He was not only a great player, but a true character, who always had a great rapport with the crowd, and was held in great affection by the Kop at Anfield.
Howard Don
265   Posted 11/06/2012 at 11:18:34

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A nice tribute David and thanks for the memories. I too saw Gordon in his prime and as well as being a great 'keeper he was a terrific character. Even the reds had a soft spot for him - who can forget the koppite presenting him with a handbag, on the pitch, at one derby game? Gordon took it all in the spirit of fun and was loved for it. He was selected to go to the (Mexico?) World Cup with England, but declined to go for family reasons, am I right in remembering his wife was a concert pianist?

A top class 'keeper is essential to any successful team and we certainly had one in Gordon throughout the 60s glory years, he was never replaced until Nev came along and finally filled his boots.

I remember once standing next to Gordon, I think in The Pheasant in Lydiate, he was a large man and a huge personality, RIP big man.

Lenny Kingman
277   Posted 11/06/2012 at 12:56:31

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A loving and moving tribute Mr France.

On the field of battle he was our last man in line. He would do everything within his considerable powers to save the Blues from being breached on our road to glory in those fabulous days.

The school of science and the rock solid keeper of the castle.

RIP the great Gordon West

Paul Traill
283   Posted 11/06/2012 at 13:51:24

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Excellent article David.

RIP Gordon West.

Paul Wharton
293   Posted 11/06/2012 at 14:52:04

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72/73 season Mr Catterick had been rotating Lawson and Davies but when the chips came down he recalled Gordon to make sure we never got into a relegation fight, he produced some wonderful saves. Gordon was a very humble and funny man..
On behalf of the EFC Heritage Society we send our deepest sympathy's to Gordon's family, an Everton FC Legend who will never be forgotten .
Gordon West was the best.
Steve Smith
296   Posted 11/06/2012 at 15:25:05

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A fitting tribute to a great man, RIP Gordon.
Jay Harris
307   Posted 11/06/2012 at 17:14:28

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DAvid,
a great tribute and one I am sure Westy would have been proud of.

At least he is now resting in peace and leaves a tremendous legacy with all Blues young and old.

I too will never forget the humorous spats he had with Ian St John in the derbies and the tremendous saves he made during our hey days.

A great man and condolences to all his family.

Dave Charles
318   Posted 11/06/2012 at 18:53:08

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A wonderful tribute and would like to echo all the sentiments all ready on here.

Thank You Gordon for the memories.

Eugene Ruane
326   Posted 11/06/2012 at 18:35:07

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One of the first things I thought about on hearing the news was of going regularly to Bellefield in the late 60s.

Especially that period when the players came back after summer, nice weather, long walk up Pilch Lane, then Eton Rd (Eton Rd felt quite rustic back then)

My (late) brother was a red, so we'd do Melwood after (they always came out an hour later for some reason and took a coach to Anfield in their training kit)

Like a lot of kids then, we used to hang around the gates for autographs.

(autograph-hunting was big then - we had Harold Wilson, Ken Dodd, Billy Dainty, all the big names)

Anyway, the cars would come up the drive slowly, stop, players would sign our books and offski (no doubt for a nice afternoon's snooker, smoking and bevvy).

I remember kids could be really rude to reserves or younger players.

After getting their autograph, if it was just scribble, you would often hear "Who ARE you mate?"

Sometimes we'd ask them daft stuff to make out we knew them "How's your 'physio going Joe'?" (no idea what physio actually was, but Radio Merseyside had probably mentioned it).

Gordon West I remember because he would drive the car fast, apparently AT us.

Honest!

He'd then slam on the breaks hard.

Kids loved it - "Here's Gordon, look out out, he's a mad bastard"

They'd be jumping out of the way and pushing their mates into danger, laughing their bollocks off.

I was thinking about if this happened NOW.

West would be all over Sky-Sports.

"..and after the break, how the Everton keeper tried to run down his own fans at the club's training ground"

There'd be a (pale sky-type) kid interviewed saying "I thought I was going to die".

There'd be all kinds of experts saying "Well it could be VERY traumatic and it was extremely dangerous - the player really ought to think twice before...."

Fortunately, it was a simpler time when the phrase 'health and safety' wasn't mentioned every 18 seconds.

We just thought it was a laugh and thought he was brilliant.

And I still do and I always will.

R.I.P Gordon.

Paul Washington
337   Posted 11/06/2012 at 20:52:28

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I met Westy at an Everton night at my local parish club at the time of Labby's death. His first words to the audience: "I have just lost my best friend."

There wasnt a dry eye in the house. I hope Labbys' got him a bevvy in.
A true legend and true Evertonian, God bless.

Does anybody remember the old song? ? "Hey there, Georgie Best, couldn't get a goal past Gordon West"?

Andy Crooks
345   Posted 12/06/2012 at 00:15:48

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David, I imagine that when you set out to write this post you had some doubts about whether you could do justice to Gordon West. You have done him proud. Thank you.
Mark Riding
346   Posted 12/06/2012 at 00:25:47

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David, a great tribute. Gordon ( along with Ball & Labone ) were before my time.
On the other internet forums, the Reds are all talking very highly of Gordon, and that says it all really.

A mans true worth in life is measured in the sorrow of his passing.

I wish I had seen you play Gordon. Rest in peace.

Mark Roberts
348   Posted 12/06/2012 at 00:48:09

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A really nice tribute David.

As we crammed onto a tube train after the Chelsea final the stranger next to me, prompted by his mates to tell me who his dad was, eventually confessed to being Westy's son; I don't remember your first name but I'm thinking of you, I know just how you're feeling right now. To most people, their dad is a hero; it just happens that your dad was a hero to thousands of my generation and for that you can be very proud.

Gordon was the goalkeeper of my first Everton team, the team I taught my baby sister to recite before her fourth birthday:
Gordon West, Tommy Wright, Sandy Brown, Howard Kendall, Brian Labone, Colin Harvey, Jimmy Husband, Alan Ball, Joe Royle, John Hurst, Johnny Morrissey.

Is Gordon really the only player in history to play in and win an FA Cup without actually kicking a ball? This was one of those old footy quiz questions relating to the 1966 final when he played with his right thigh heavily strapped, throwing out every ball and Gabriel and Labone taking his goal kicks.
Rest in Peace, Gordon West, one of my first Everton heros.
David Starsky
375   Posted 12/06/2012 at 09:52:11

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Sad to hear of Gordon's passing.
As anyone who ever met him will know he was a very humble man, with a wicked sense of humour.

True Everton Legend and a credit to the Everton family.

Colin Potter
385   Posted 12/06/2012 at 10:23:17

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A lovely tribute David, Thank You

Yes, Mark Roberts, He is the only footballer to play in an FA cup final and he never kicked the ball once. He had a thigh strain at the time.

Dave Wilson
391   Posted 12/06/2012 at 10:55:12

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A moving tribute to a proper Legend
Martin Graves
392   Posted 12/06/2012 at 11:06:27

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Having never been fortunate enough to see the big man play, I was lucky enough to have met both him and labby at a few functions, after dinner events and the such.... He was a top man, very funny and he and labby played of each other, continuosly ribbing and sniping at each other, followed by winks and kiss blowing! My signed football by the pair of them I will treasure forever, as will I the memories of meeting them

RIP Westy

Cameron White
401   Posted 12/06/2012 at 12:20:54

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Another tribute to Gordon here, this time by Mick Lyons:

http://www.chesterchronicle.co.uk/chester-sport/everton-fc-news/2012/06/12/mick-lyons-pays-tribute-to-everton-legend-gordon-west-59067-31162896/

Am I correct in thinking that Gordon used to get very nervous before big games, often being physically sick?

Great work by Dr. David France and the EFPF who do so much for ex-players like Gordon. You can support them by buying this book - http://www.evertonfpf.org/2012/01/kindle-book-everton-in-the-1970s/

Kevin Sparke
553   Posted 13/06/2012 at 08:32:17

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Great tribute from Mick Lyons there Cameron
Danny Kewley
596   Posted 13/06/2012 at 12:29:03

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What a fantastic article that was! One of the best tributes to a friend I have read. Gordon West was a great keeper, in fact, one of the best.!!!
Martin O'Boyle
599   Posted 13/06/2012 at 12:50:40

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I can remember where I was and what I was doing when I first saw Gordon West.

Walking home from school one night at the age of 6 or 7, my dad pointed to what looked to be a giant across the road and said: ?That?s Gordon West, he used to play for us.?

He explained to me just how good he was and how it took over ten years to properly replace him in the Everton goal until a certain Neville Southall made that position his own. As the man himself said: ?I was the best Everton keeper in black and white, Neville was the best in colour.?

I then saw him frequently entering or leaving his home, before meeting him one day in a local shop, this time with my mum in tow. Now, my dad had big hands, but his were absolutely huge! Mine were swallowed up in his warm greeting.
I recalled the event with great pride to my dad, who recounted the story of an occasion when he attended a schoolboy match in which West was the guest of honour.

One by one, the youngsters came up to him to receive their medals and receive the patented West handshake. One young wag refused to shake his hand. 'Westy? asked why and when the scamp explained that he supported Liverpool and therefore wouldn?t shake the hand of an ex-Everton keeper, he grabbed him by the jersey and sat him on the crossbar.

Within ten seconds the young Kopite was begging for mercy and readily shook his hand after he?d been placed back on terra firma. My dad also explained that our three legendary goalkeepers have shared a special bond with a particular central defender, someone with whom the understanding was almost telepathic. With Ted Sagar it was T G Jones, with Southall it was Ratcliffe and with West it was Labone.

No Evertonian?s story of Gordon West can be complete without a mention of his relationship with Labby. The odd couple, a kind of Statler and Waldorf meets Darby and Joan, had a remarkable bond. The banter between them could be cutting, but it was always delivered with a smile and a wink ? and no offence could ever be taken. They?d seen each other at their brightest moments and in their darkest hours and no amount of ?Twiggy? references from Labby could cause West to get riled.

I went round to visit him a few days after Labby died on 24 April 2006, the day of Gordon?s 63rd birthday. He told me that he?d heard the news ? and then his cards popped through the letterbox. The first one he opened, naturally, was from the man he called ?his best mate.?

Yet, where many people would have gone back into their shell to avoid painful memories, he continued to help push the cause of the Everton Former Players? Foundation which he credited as the organisation which gave him a new lease of life.

"Once I left Everton, I was finished," he told me in an interview. "I didn't have the money, and I had to finish work due to ill health because of my knees. Then the Foundation came in. They came to my house, I hadn't been working for a few years and to be honest, I was at rock bottom and quite a bitter person. I didn?t have heat in the house ? they sorted it, they sorted my knee, teeth, everything. I?m a changed man and really enjoying life now. The get-togethers with the players are absolutely great. I hadn?t seen some of them for 30 years.?

Those who watched the infamous Golden Vision documentary know that he admitted to feeling sick before matches. He also felt hugely uncomfortable about public speaking, but wouldn?t dare dream of letting the Foundation down ? and took every opportunity of lauding their important work.

No-one who saw West play or speak would have guessed his state of inner anguish. He could command the attention a room full of well-oiled Evertonians, just as well as he could command his penalty box.

But it wasn?t as a raconteur that I will remember him most fondly for. It was for his care, his humility. He was a gentle giant of a man who I will genuinely miss. It is to my deep regret and shame that I didn?t know he was suffering so badly. The last time we spoke he was concerned about his diabetes, but I knew nothing of the cancers which affected his final days.

I heard the sad news yesterday while watching EURO 2012. Eight years ago, Labby and Westy together with Derek Mountfield were the panel of experts for the big screenings of England games in the Legends Bar of the Park End. Those evenings watching Wayne Rooney in explosive form were some of my best memories of my time working for Everton.

One those evenings, I gained a sense of Westy the patriot. He loved his country and gained genuine pride as being introduced as ?a former Everton and England No1.? If you were fortunate to visit his house you would have seen further evidence with his memorabilia of the Royal Family on prominent display.

As England prepare to face France tonight in another European Championship, spare a thought for Westy, now reunited with his very best friend. May they both rest in peace.

Danny Kewley
602   Posted 13/06/2012 at 12:47:47

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Mark (348) what a team that was! all the lads you mentioned were in the old song "We all live in a blue and white palace" sung to the tune of Yellow Submarine! R.I.P. GORDON.

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