Favourites aren't always the best, Part 1

John McFarlane, Sr 25/11/2017 33comments  |  Jump to last
I have been asked many times to reveal who I regard as the best Everton players I have seen, in their respective positions. I have always declined as I feel it's impossible to compare players of different eras. I actually believe it's difficult to evaluate the merits of players of the same era, as witness the debate among some, as to who was the best centre forward, William Ralph "Dixie" Dean (Everton) or Tommy "Pongo" Waring (Aston Villa). There would be no argument at all if the question was "Who scored the most goals?"

So I decided instead to select my favourite players, who span the 1940s, 50s and 60s with one foot in the 70s. There may be one or two eyebrows raised before the end of my Favourites series, but as stated "Favourites aren't always the best".

It will be noted that there will be no reference to wing-backs, midfielders, or strikers. The lineup will be strictly, goalkeeper, two full-backs, two wing-halves, a centre-half, two-wingers, two inside-forwards, and a centre-forward. There will be no Diamonds, Christmas Trees, or whatever other formations that may exist in today's game, just a good old-fashioned 2-3-5 Pyramid Formation.

In goal I have selected Gordon West, known affectionately by Evertonians as "Westy". Gordon was born on 24 April 1943, and began his career as a defender with Don and Dearne Boys in the Barnsley area, but on accompanying a friend to Blackpool for trials, he opted to try out as goalkeeper. The Lancashire club signed him, and Gordon made his debut for the Seasiders at the age of 17, against West Bromwich Albion.

After 33 games for Blackpool, he was transferred to Everton for £27,000 in March 1962, a record fee for a goalkeeper at the time. In his first full season on Merseyside, he won a League Championship medal with Everton.

Replacing Albert Dunlop, Gordon became the clubs first choice keeper for more than 10 years, and developed a partnership with club captain Brian Labone, and an off-field friendship that lasted until Brian's untimely death on 24 April 2006.

In his debut game for Everton, a 4-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers at Goodison Park, Gordon showed us something we had never seen from previous 'keepers, an ability to throw the ball tremendous distances, initiating attacks with unerring accuracy. He was a Jack-in-the-box character at times, and it's said that he was so highly strung on match days, he would be physically sick before the start of the game.

During his time at Goodison, Gordon also gained FA Cup winners and a runners up medals in 1966 and 1968 respectively; he also won another League Championship medal in 1970, when he kept 21 clean sheets – a club record.

Gordon must have made thousands of saves for Everton, but the one that sticks out for me was the one he made in an FA Cup tie against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molyneux. I was in the Kop end of the ground, and Gordon pulled the save off at the other end, and as I recall it, he injured himself in the process. If my memory serves me well the would-be scorer was Ernie Hunt, who later in his career joined Everton. If I'm mistaken someone will set the record straight.

Gordon was inclined to punch the ball away, following a cross or a corner kick, and sometimes he would follow through and fist an opponent. He did this in a game against Newcastle United at St James Park, I think Ollie Burton was the recipient on this occasion. Gordon was sent off for this misdemeanour, and Newcastle were awarded a penalty which they duly converted. Gordon's replacement between the posts was Sandy Brown, and word has it, that Gordon berated him in the dressing room after the game for not saving the penalty.

Gordon won England youth recognition, and was later capped 3 times by his country at senior level i 1969. However, he declined the opportunity to join Sir Alf Ramsey's squad for the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico, choosing to stay at home with his family.

In 1973, after 399 games for Everton, Gordon retired, but in October 1975 he came out of retirement to make 17 appearances for Tranmere Rovers.

Sadly Gordon, a larger-than-life character, passed away on 10 June 2012, aged 69.

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Reader Comments (33)

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Charles Brewer
1 Posted 27/11/2017 at 19:56:57
I'm looking forward to the continuation of this over a few weeks. Keep it up, John.
John McFarlane [Snr]
2 Posted 27/11/2017 at 21:09:21
Hi Charles, thanks for your favourable comment, my article appears to have bee overlooked, due to the furore of the Sam Allardyce debate. You'll have to spread the word.

it's my intention to go from goalkeeper to outside left, and as the title implies, it's not what I consider to be the best eleven players I've seen, but certainly my favourites.

I suppose it depends on the age of the reader, the amount of enjoyment it provides, once again thanks for your positive reaction.

Guy Hastings
3 Posted 27/11/2017 at 21:18:23
Would West have replaced Banks in the 1970 QF against Germany? Would he have his reputation as scarred as Bonetti's had he played? That loss was down to so many factors and I always felt Bonetti has had a bad rep ever since. Would you want to play against Gerd Muller in his pomp, the best 6-yard box man I've ever seen? Probably not.
Dennis Stevens
4 Posted 27/11/2017 at 21:31:03
Thanks John, I'm really looking forward to reading about the rest of your team of favourites.

With regard to Gordon West, I wonder what went through his mind as he sat at home watching Peter Bonetti playing for England in place of Gordon Banks. I bet he was kicking himself, & probably the cat too! He really should have gone – who knows what a difference he may have made on the day?!

Dennis Stevens
5 Posted 27/11/2017 at 21:34:23
Oh yes, you never mentioned the handbags John!
Peter Mills
6 Posted 27/11/2017 at 22:00:49
Keep them coming please John.

I was also at that cup tie at Wolves in 1967, it was some save, and it was indeed from Ernie Hunt.

I didn’t know Gordon had shown his throwing ability on his debut, I thought it was something he developed because of his inability to kick due to the thigh strain he incurred in 1966. You will recall opposition players would stand in front of him to impede his throw, I thought he “followed through” with such a throw at Newcastle, punching the Newcastle player and conceding the last minute penalty, but you may well be correct.

No mention of the Keflavik incident, when he fell out with Gwladys Street, leading him to be dropped and replaced by Andy Rankin, who subsequently saved the deciding penalty in the first ever penalty shoot-out against Borussia Monchengladbach.

Terry White
7 Posted 27/11/2017 at 22:19:49
Peter (#6), Gordon was also out of favour from time to time in the '60s' as his performance was erratic from time to time. Andy Rankin was in goal, for example, for the 3-2 loss at Notts. Forest in the '67 cup tie, later in the season from the Wolves game John and you have mentioned.

I agree with John that Westy was certainly throwing the ball long distances prior to his injury in the '66 cup winning season. He actually played the first half of the final without strapping on his thigh but reappeared after half time with it on.

I am going to go out on a limb and try to preempt the next episode of John's stories. My pick for right back? The peerless Alex Parker, the king of slide tacklers.

John McFarlane [Snr]
8 Posted 27/11/2017 at 22:22:30
Hi Dennis, I meant to mention the handbag incident, I worked with a lad who drank in the same pub as Gordon, somewhere in Crosby [I believe]. He took a couple of photocopies I had, of Gordon accepting the bag in front of the Kop, Gordon wrote on them "To John McFarlane with best wishes", but unfortunately he didn't sign them.

I do however possess a photo I had taken with him at one of the Hall of Fame evenings. During a little chat that I had with him, the subject of the pain killing injections that players of that era had to endure, was brought up, and his response was "Yes, but we wanted to play."

As I mentioned to Charles, the title of the article is self explanatory, I think that Neville Southall is without doubt the best keeper I have seen play for Everton, but Westy for his enthusiasm, and his apparent love of life was my favourite.

I wonder did you see him play? If you did, then you will know what sort of character he was.

Dennis Stevens
9 Posted 27/11/2017 at 22:30:33
Sadly, I didn't get to see any of the great players of the '60s, John, as I was only born in that decade. I also grew up in the Midlands & so didn't get to see Everton at all until my teens, in the late '70s. Nonetheless, the long & painful journey continues – sometimes there's a good view for a while!
Peter Mills
10 Posted 27/11/2017 at 22:32:11
Terry (#7), I remember that Nottm Forest match very well – I'm sure you and I must have been on the same coach, it was on Grand National day, and I had an unknown horse in the sweep by the name of Foinavon!
Alasdair Mackay
11 Posted 28/11/2017 at 13:02:41
What a great idea for an article and should spark some really interesting debate as you go through the positions – looking forward to it.

I am spoiled, because the 1st 'keeper I saw play for Everton was Neville Southall – so I would have to say him. I have high hopes for Pickford, though, I have to say.

Alasdair Mackay
12 Posted 28/11/2017 at 13:02:41
What a great idea for an article and should spark some really interesting debate as you go through the positions – looking forward to it.

I am spoiled, because the 1st 'keeper I saw play for Everton was Neville Southall – so I would have to say him. I have high hopes for Pickford, though, I have to say.

Terry White
13 Posted 28/11/2017 at 18:37:24


Great games for Gordon, v Arsenal and then Wolves, both in 1967.

Dave Abrahams
14 Posted 29/11/2017 at 19:07:58
John, a good idea for a series on the best players you have seen in each position. Gordon was a very good goalkeeper who won two titles and the FA cup with Everton.

I was in the Street End when he was badly abused by the crowd in that end after making a mistake which cost us a goal. It was that bad he stood by the penalty spot for as long as he could, only going back to his goal when the opposition attacked, which was seldom.

We won easily in the end by a good score, but the abuse Gordon took that night sickened me and I've never forgotten it. One of our own (?) he was treated like a dog that night.

Keep them coming, John.

Dave Abrahams
15 Posted 29/11/2017 at 19:11:54
Sorry, the match was against Keflavik (Iceland) in the European Cup.
John McFarlane [Snr]
16 Posted 30/11/2017 at 11:49:07
Hi Dave, {14/15] Josh and I were late getting home from the game last night, and I have only just opened my lap-top, I thought we saw a little bit more of the Everton that we expected to see from the start of the season, but I must confess that the first 10 or 15 minutes of the second half had me worried.

I don't want to appear a bit of a smart Alec, but I have been saying since the beginning of the season, that Wayne Rooney should sit in midfield, and be the link man, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine he could produce such a match winning performance. As for his hat-trick goal I have to say, that was the finest goal I have seen at Goodison, [and I've seen a few,] the vision, technique, and execution was a once in a lifetime experience, and I'm glad Josh and I were there to witness it, I'm sure he will be talking about it for years to come.

I'm glad you enjoyed the Gordon West tribute, and I'm sure you will appreciate that it can be almost as difficult, separating your favourites from the best. [One mans meat etc.]

Regarding the Gordon West treatment during the Kaflavic game, I was in my customary position behind the Park end goal, so I wouldn't have been aware of it.

I can honestly say, I may have expressed disappointment, and been critical of many an Everton player in my time, but I have never directed abuse, I don't even boo the opposition, quite the reverse. I often get looks of disdain for praising an opponents play, but if I see good football it's an involuntary reaction. Let's hope we've 'turned the corner'.

Dave Abrahams
17 Posted 30/11/2017 at 15:58:03
John (#16), as you say, we all have different opinions and I've never met anyone who was right all the time. (I've met a few who thought they were...)

But what I was saying about Wayne's game last night is let's wait and see if he can play that way against a team that presses Everton more than West Ham did in the first half. They gave Wayne all the time and space he needed. When they pressed early in the second half Rooney was as poor as the rest of the team were.

Regarding his goals, the first was very good, a good team move finished with aplomb by Rooney, the last of his hat-trick, as you say, would take some beating absolutely majestic.

I'm glad Josh enjoyed the match and that goal, he is lucky to have a granddad like you learning how to be a good Evertonian. You gave me and Josh a good laugh last week when we were discussing how we should be more forgiving when footballers make honest mistakes. I asked you, had you ever seen the perfect footballer? You said "No", before quickly adding, "Only when I look in the mirror" with your tongue firmly in your cheek. Nice one, John.

John McFarlane [Snr]
18 Posted 30/11/2017 at 18:53:38
Hi Dave, Apologies for the confusion regarding the message I left for you, I agree with you completely when you say, "Wait and let's see if he can do it against better opposition", I firmly believe he can. There was a degree of panic immediately after the break, but I believe that it needed more than one cool head to steady the ship.

While last nights performance was [in the main] promising, we have much to do, to establish a respectable position in the League table. I thought the support was tremendous, no anti "Allardyce chants", even when we experienced that rocky period, and the tribute to David Unsworth at the end of the game was commendable.

You and I Dave, have played and watched football long enough to know, that there is no secret formula for success. Success is earned by hard work, and the best way to develop a happy dressing room is to win games, let's hope that's what we will experience in the near future.

We have seen both sides of football, and it's the younger ones I sympathise with, I was two months short of my 25th birthday when we won the League in 1963 and two months short of my 28th when we won the Cup in 1966. There will be young men in their thirties now, who have yet to feel the joy of success, they are the ones who I feel sorry for, having to take the brunt of derision from our 'illegitimate cousins' from across the park.

I believe that the Swansea game is a Monday night fixture, so if you fancy a cup of tea and a chat, Josh and I would be happy to oblige, best wishes John.

Steve Ferns
20 Posted 01/12/2017 at 19:02:26
Sorry John, read this but forgot to comment that it was a smashing read, and I'm looking forward to the next one.
Stan Schofield
23 Posted 02/12/2017 at 21:12:21
John, great idea to put together your best Everton side.

The 60s was the main time for me being an Evertonian, being when I got hooked in 1961, to seeing the great side that won the league in 1970. Probably because of this, I'd agree with Westy as your choice, although big Nev was great.

West had fantastic reflexes to pull off some great saves, but as you say he had a tendency to punch crosses and corners. I recall someone saying he was like Dracula, because he didn't like crosses. He could certainly handle himself in an era when centre forwards would get away with more physicality than they do with goalies nowadays.

Looking forward to the next instalment, John.

John McFarlane [Snr]
24 Posted 02/12/2017 at 21:29:48
Hi Stan, I'm afraid that you have misinterpreted the theme of the article, it's my favourite eleven, although one or two, may also be what I regard, as my best eleven.

I have already prepared my next choice and when the current one has run its course, I'll submit it and the "Webmaster" permitting, you will be able to read it.

You may recall, I only did it because of the constant Managerial debate, which I'm afraid to say shows no sign of going away.

Ray Roche
25 Posted 02/12/2017 at 21:52:37
John, I recall West playing against Fulham and one of the Fulham forwards, whose name escapes, followed through on a through ball, catching Westy. He kept the ball under his arm and picked the Fulham player up by the front of his shirt and shook him with rage. The player crapped himself and didn't go near West again, the referee took no notice.

Oh, for those days when men were men, not like the Jessies like today's Huddersfield forward who squealed like a child after a tackle and then jumped up, clearly unhurt when no penalty was given.

Stan Schofield
26 Posted 02/12/2017 at 23:39:57
John, I agree it looks like I misunderstood the theme, because I said 'best' rather than favourite, but I do get it, from your first two paragraphs, and of course the title. So for me, Westy would be my personal favourite, whereas Southall would be the 'best'. Probably because the 60s team engaged me more, as a teenager immersed in Everton, whereas in the 80s I was a more distant supporter with different priorities.

I think 'favourites' perhaps brings out personalities more than 'best', so it's a theme from a more personal angle.

Ron Marr
27 Posted 02/12/2017 at 23:56:30
My faves: Alan Ball, Alex Young, Howard Kendall, Colin Harvey, Tony Kay, Duncan McKenzie, Roy Vernon. No need for defense. Like Stan said it's more about my youngster/teenager years.
Stan Schofield
28 Posted 03/12/2017 at 00:07:25
Ron, that's nearly my favourite choice. I must admit to not remembering much about Tony Kay, so I would have Alex Young instead. He made a big impression on me when my dad first took me in 1961.

They used to say about Brazil, they don't worry about defence, they just score more than they concede!

Stan Schofield
29 Posted 03/12/2017 at 00:10:03
Sorry Ron, you had Alex Young as well!
Don Alexander
30 Posted 03/12/2017 at 01:09:27
Albeit I was but a lad in the 60's I remember Gordon as a big presence and a fabulous keeper. I was always impressed by Andy Rankin too and now wonder whether Westy performed because he knew there was a very adequate replacement?

It mirrors to me what Jordan Pickford may be feeling because should his performances dip he too has a real contender on the bench in Joel Robles, seriously.

That said, whilst Westy was truly great what adjective describes the heights Nev achieved?

And, as an aside, we were also graced by Nigel Martyn, another great keeper.

Rick Tarleton
31 Posted 03/12/2017 at 19:26:33
Hi, John, being of your generation, my first game was the 8-4 triumph over Plymouth in the old Second Division, I remember West with great affection.

Do you remember the way he would grab the cossbar and pull it downwards? I don't know if it ever had any effect, but it was the action of a character and Gordon West was a character. Keep posting, John.

Bill Watson
32 Posted 03/12/2017 at 00:07:05
I once had the pleasure of meeting Gordon and asked him what he thought of the astronomical amounts earned, today. He said he wasn't bothered and certainly wasn't bitter about it as he'd had a very good living from football. He was grateful he'd avoided the pit.

My first game was v West Ham in 1958. It was 2-2 but I can't recall the scorers. Fortunately, I'm still able to get to all the homes and many aways, including Lyon, last month.

Yes, some of those 1960s players were brilliant but one of my favourite players was Gary Jones, from the 1970s. Gary never really made it, at Goodison, but had tremendous skill and strength.

Looking forward to the rest of your series, John.

Laurie Hartley
33 Posted 04/12/2017 at 01:22:25
Thanks for the article John.

Gordon would be a favourite of many who saw the sixties teams but I also had a soft spot for Andy Rankin who was serious competion for Gordon during the sixties.

My liking for Andy probably stems from this save I saw him make at Anfield (now known as Mordor) when we beat them 0-4 with an under strength side and many youngsters in the team. I don't know how he got to that shot from St John (I think). I was in the Anfield Road end. What a day!

Andy Rankin Keeps a clean sheet at Anfield

I also like Nigel Martin - he was a great influence in Moyes' teams.

Looking forward to your next favourite.

Michael Kenrick
34 Posted 04/12/2017 at 03:30:41

You called the old-fashioned formation a "W" but I changed it to a 2-3-5 Pyramid.

I'm amazed how long this stuck around, despite the modification forged in the 1920s by Herbert Chapman, who moved the centre-half and the inside forwards back to combat different styles of play following the change in the offside law. This became labelled the WM, which you were probably thinking of, but it doesn't jive with the way you set up your favourites. Hope you don't mind!

Tony Heron
35 Posted 04/12/2017 at 10:27:07
Lovely read, John, thank you for your article which certainly brought back some memories for me.

I can recall watching Albert Dunlop and then of course Westy after he joined from Blackpool. I first became aware of him when there was a picture in a newspaper of him making a fabulous save which had the caption "the human corkscrew" referring to the contorted shape of his body as he twisted to keep the ball out.

I was a young schoolboy then and a budding keeper myself so I was thrilled when he joined us soon after. He was a great keeper, perhaps a little behind Neville, but as your article says, it's all about favourites and he was certainly mine. He would definitely earn the description, totally missing from today's players, of being a character. He was the very epitome of the saying of all keepers being mad! But what a keeper!

I remember after a game, which I think was away to Arsenal, one of the Sunday papers gave him 10 out of 10. As well as pulling off great saves, he also commanded his area, going through anyone on his way to get the ball. I even remember him laying out his big mate Labby when coming to punch a cross clear.

It's funny that around the end of the 60s beginning of the 70s, I came into contact with both Dunlop and Westy. I had to look after Albert when he came into my workplace, and then one day I ended up getting drunk with Gordon.

I was off work having broken my arm when making a (superb!!) save playing football on the Jeffrey Humble Playing Field in Longmoor Lane. I found myself in town one day and bumping into a friend, we went for a pint in the Post Office pub in School Lane. Just then, who should walk in but Westy. He knew my mate apparently and came over and joined us for a drink.

After my mate went back to work I ended up spending the afternoon with Westy. He was waiting for his wife, who I think was a pianist and I think she may have been giving a recital in the Bluecoat. Westy could certainly knock them back (it was close season) while I was a young amateur both at football and drinking! I can't recall anything of the conversation. I just remember trying to struggle onto a bus later with my arm in plaster and my legs like jelly!!

Martin Nicholls
37 Posted 12/12/2017 at 09:54:17
I'm a bit late to this thread – apologies John.

I'm another who was at Molyneux to see that save from Ernie (Roger) Hunt – we've bought players (e.g. Mickey Walsh, coincidentally, like Westy, also from Blackpool) on the strength of a goal but I swear we bought Hunt on the strength of that shot!

Laurie (#33) – I was there too! That game and save stick long in the memory!

Tony Heron (#35) – heading for the Post Office in 2 hours for Xmas drinks with a few old Evertonian mates (and a Manc!). Cheers!

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