A tragic goalkeeping hero
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…
10. Norman Heath
121 games, 25 clean sheets, 20.66%
That Norman Heath should figure in the lists shows what a fine goalkeeper he was for, playing in the immediate post-war years, he, like a few others in our list, was between the posts in an era when the game was about scoring goals not stopping them.
This was still the era of the WM formation – no, nothing to do with Paul Franks – when teams played 3-2-5 with little regard to the tactical niceties of defensive organisation. In other words, as a goalkeeper, you got precious little protection, not even from referees who were still willing to let the opposition centre-forward shoulder charge a ‘keeper, ball and all, into the net for a goal.
Heath joined the Albion as a youngster during World War Two and after joining the Army in late 1944 and being posted to India, it wasn’t until December 1947 that he made his debut, making a total of 13 appearances that season.
Battling for the goalkeeper’s jersey with Jim Sanders, he didn’t really become a regular until the start of 1952, initially under Gordon Smith, retaining his place under the brief reign of Jesse Carver and then into Vic Buckingham’s spell as boss.
Like so many of that group, Heath peaked in 1953/54, playing his full part in the double chasing side until tragedy struck. With Albion having already reached the FA Cup[ final they were playing catch up with their fixtures and four days after beating Port Vale in the semi-final, they had a crucial league fixture to play at Sunderland’s Roker Park.
During the game, there was a fearful collision between Heath and Sunderland’s Ted Purdon. Heath was carried off, went to hospital and was immediately ruled out for the season. Such was the severity of the injuries to his neck and back that he never played again, his mobility forever impaired until his death at just 59.
Heath was a courageous goalkeeper in an era when you needed to be and popular with supporters, some 55,000 turning up at The Hawthorns for his testimonial game in 1956, testimony to the regard in which he was held.