David France writes: Like all Blues, 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 then most expensive keeper in the world (signed from Blackpool in March 1962 for £27,000), 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. Gordon possessed rare charm and even rarer humility. I suppose my favourite memories of him 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 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 … how the Foundations and his fellow Evertonians had changed his life. 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. 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, an aggressive 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.
Dr David France OBE