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At number 9 it's...

8 November 2016

Cup winning ‘keeper

Over the international break, we’re bringing you the countdown on Albion’s 10 greatest post-war goalkeepers. To qualify, they’ve kept 25 clean sheets in the league and from there, we’ve worked out their clean sheets to games percentage. Eyes down for a full house…

 

9. Ray Potter

217 games, 45 clean sheets, 20.74%


It’s hard work being a goalkeeper. Make a dozen brilliant saves in a 1-0 win and it’s the centre-forward who scored the goal, who’s the hero of the hour, even if the ball did go in off his backside when he wasn’t looking. And your number nine might go and miss a hatful of sitters the next week but it’s the goalkeeper who let one slip through his fingers who’s the villain. No wonder they say ‘keepers are mad – the job must drive you to distraction.


One exception to that cliché was Ray Potter. Potter wasn’t a barmy, larger than life character like John Osborne, the man who eventually put paid to Ray’s Albion career on his arrival from Chesterfield. Instead, Potter was a quiet, thoughtful man, modest, a footballer who was happy to do his job with the minimum of fuss, quietly keeping the ball out of the net, pleased that somebody else was being forced into the spotlight.


When he became a Throstle in June 1958, he was a long way from home for he was born in Beckenham, Kent, in May 1936. As a boy, he’d quickly caught the eye of the scouts, playing for Kent Schools before starting his professional career with Millwall and then Crystal Palace.


After the halcyon days when Jim Sanders and Norman Heath had been fighting it out for the goalkeeping jersey in the early 1950s, Albion had struggled to find a long-term successor, Sanders in his final season sharing that berth with Colin Jackman for much of the 1957/58 season. To give more cover, Ray was tempted north and given a chance to play in the top flight rather than Division Four where Palace were labouring, as he fought his way into the first team.


He had competition from Jackman and, later on, Jock Wallace and the youthful Tony Millington, but Potter was as tenacious as they come, always fighting his way back into a starting eleven that, in his early days, included the likes ofBobby Robson, Don Howe and Derek Kevan.


The next generation of Albion men coming up to replace those international stars included players such as Bobby Hope and Tony Brown. They would go on to become all-time legends at The Hawthorns, but Bomber often recalls that the youngsters were in awe ofestablished professionals such as Howe, and they were grateful to men like Potter for making their transition into the first team a little bit smoother.




Potter tended to stay on his line, leaving it to Stan Jones, Terry Simpson and Chuck Drury to command the box, a surprise given Potter was powerfully built enough to give as good as he got in the rough and tumble of the penalty area. Looked on as a “steady Eddie” of a goalkeeper, Potter came into his own from 1962/63 onwards, a model of consistency, ever present in the following two seasons.


Potter was an important stabilising force at the back for the Baggies as they gradually evolved into the formidable cup fighting force that would lay waste to the rest of the country in the late 1960s. With a team that tried to pour forward at every opportunity, the goalkeeper had a big part to play, not least when we got our hands on our first piece of silverware in a dozen years by beating West `Ham over two legs in the League Cup final of 1966.


The first game was at Upton Park and Potter was outstanding, making a couple of fine saves  as we came home trailing just 2-1, setting ourselves up for the blitzkrieg that destroyed the Hammers and won us the cup 5-3 on aggregate.


That was both Ray Potter’s finest hour and his final fling, for by the following season, DickSheppard was offering stiff competition in goal, and it was he who played in the 1967 League Cup Final, this time at Wembley, as Albion slipped to a disastrous 3-2 defeat at the hands of Queen’s Park Rangers. 


That, and the arrival of John Osborne, sounded the death knell for Potter’s time with us, the baton passing from one cup winning goalie to, as it turned out, another.


The top ten


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9. Ray Potter

10. Norman Heath


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