TG? Top GK
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…
4. Tony Godden
267 games, 84 clean sheets, 31.46%
Tony Godden was something of an unsung hero in his time at The Hawthorns, unfortunate in his timing in so many respects, leaving his consistently excellent performances to be overlooked and overshadowed by those of others.
In pure goalkeeping terms, he was around at a time when the English cupboard was overflowing with fine exponents of the trade and the likes of Peter Shilton, Ray Clemence, Joe Corrigan, Phil Parkes and plenty of others made sure that there was no route through to any kind of senior international recognition.
But even at club level, there were other things to distract attention away from Godden’s prowess. After all, if you make your debut in the same game as Laurie Cunningham, the chances are that people are going to be looking the other way for starters, even if Godden did post a clean sheet as Albion won 2-0 at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane in March 1977.
That was his first opportunity to stake a claim to replace the veteran John Osborne between the posts and again, taking over from Ossie was a pretty thankless task too, for the man was a cup winner and a character as well as a very fine goalkeeper.
For all that, over the next decade Godden was able to establish himself as one of the very best goalkeepers that we have ever had at the Albion. In terms of pure reflexes and shot stopping ability, it is hard to come up with anyone to beat him because throughout his career, he was able to produce one incredible stop after another, some of them monumentally important such as the early stop from Mario Kempes in the second leg of the Valencia game at The Hawthorns in 1978.
Godden was not the most physically imposing goalkeeper but what he did have was a superb understanding with his two central defenders, John Wile and Alistair Robertson. Any crosses that came into the box, those two would be there to head away while Godden, for the most part, stayed at home, ready to react to any loose ball, knockdown or shot, using those lightning reflexes to impressive effect.
Again, Godden was unlucky that perhaps his most famous moment was his most embarrassing one when, rolling the ball out, Liverpool’s Kenny Dalglish suddenly appeared from behind him to poke the ball into the net, and all that in front of the television cameras, a rarity in those days.
But that was an isolated error in a career that was all about doing the right thing week after week, something illustrated by the fact that nobody has played more games in a row for the Albion than Godden managed, racking up a monumental 228 consecutive appearances, a record that will surely never be beaten in the modern game?
Like so many of his colleagues, Godden was at his brilliant best in that first 18 month spell under Ron Atkinson as Albion first charged towards Wembley in the FA Cup, only to be halted by Ipswich Town at Highbury in the semi-final, and then across the 1978/79 campaign when we were simply the most breath taking sight in English football.
Given the style of our football, given that we had the likes of Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham, Tony Brown, Bryan Robson and Derek Statham in the side, it was inevitable that almost all the outside attention was placed on our aggressive, attacking football, but throughout that period, Godden was in magnificent form between the posts for us, producing one unbelievable save after another as the nature of our play often left even the unshakeable Wile and Robertson combination a trifle exposed at times.
Godden continued to be the foundation of the Albion side as we rebuilt after the 1978/79 team began to break up and he became one of the elder statesmen of the side as we looked to renew our challenge to the teams at the top.
As history was to show, that challenge petered out more than somewhat and we began to descend towards more difficult times as a football club, Godden having his own battles to fight as the likes of Mark Grew and Paul Barron began to threaten his automatic right to the number one shirt after so long in command.
Eventually, in March 1986, still only 30 and, theoretically at least, just approaching his goalkeeping prime, he left The Hawthorns and thereby began a nomadic final phase of his career, taking in clubs such as Preston North End, Chelsea, Bury and Birmingham City among many others.
It was a shame that such a sparkling early career should falter later on because there is no question that in his prime, at the start of that Albion career, there were very few goalkeepers with more raw talent than Tony Godden.
4. Tony Godden
5. Stuart Naylor
6. Ben Foster
7. Alan Miller
8. Jim Sanders
9. Ray Potter
10. Norman Heath