A goalkeeping centurion
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…
5. Stuart Naylor
350 games, 102 clean sheets, 29.14%
Alone among post-war Albion goalkeepers, Stuart Naylor clocked up over a century of clean sheets. Given that he had the misfortune to be between the sticks through some pretty tricky times for the Albion, as we dropped down the leagues, that’s no mean achievement.
It was Naylor who brought a sense of certainty back to the position between the sticks in the 1980s when we turned to a number of different options such as Mark Grew, Paul Bradshaw and Paul Barron as we tried to find a long-term successor to Tony Godden.
To do that, we had to enter the transfer market and, in February 1986, with one of the worst seasons in our history hurtling towards its conclusion, we did just that by handing over £110,000 to Lincoln City in return for the services of Stuart Naylor.
Naylor slotted straight into the side, replacing Godden himself and effectively ending his Albion career as Albion “rebuilt” under Ron Saunders for life in Division Two. There was no question that Naylor was Saunders’ automatic choice in goal, not missing a game in the 1986/87 campaign as the Baggies struggled to come to terms with life at the new level, the club gradually unravelling beneath its financial burdens as crowds plummeted to an average below the 10,000 mark for the first time since 1910.
The powerfully built Naylor, an absolute giant between the sticks, was one of the few rays of sunshine in a seemingly relentlessly stormy sky at that point. He commanded his area with his sheer physical presence - which he was never afraid of using to the maximum effect - while he had impressively sharp reflexes for a player of his build.
There was the occasional challenge to his supremacy from the likes of Peter Hucker, but within a couple of years, Naylor had shown himself to be wholly dependable and consistent, absolutely essential qualities in an era where Albion were anything but that across the rest of the pitch.
Naylor really came into his own in the 1988/89 campaign when Brian Talbot took charge after Ron Atkinson had left for Spain. Forging a good understanding with his central defenders, Stacey North and Chris Whyte, Albion were as defensively secure as they had been in years and conceded just 41 goals in the 46 game season, a lower figure than any other side in the division, despite the fact that our season petered out after we were given a physical battering by Everton in the FA Cup and dropped to ninth place, having led the league at the turn of the year.
The years of steep decline really set in thereafter, as hard as stalwarts such as Naylor tried to hold back the tide. Being at the back of that Albion side was physically and psychologically punishing and as we edged into the 1990s, the conveyor belt of managers we employed tried anything and everything in order to arrest the slide, including replacing the goalkeeper from time to time.
Each time though, Naylor would fight back and recapture his place, including the home stretch in 1990/91 when although he conceded just four in the final four games, we still ended up taking the drop at Twerton Park.
He was there for the final day at Shrewsbury’s Gay Meadow a year later too when fans brought a coffin to the game. After having to deal with that strife, he deserved to enjoy the sunshine under Ossie Ardiles the following season but he missed the run-in, Tony Lange getting the glory of that day out at Wembley Stadium as the club started out on the long road back to the top.
Yet Naylor was back again the following year under Keith Burkinshaw, ill fortune striking again in the penultimate game of the season when he was injured and had to be replaced by Lange who then remained between the posts for that epic survival game at Fratton Park when Albion won 1-0.
A further season and a half followed before he was granted a testimonial and then a free transfer in 1996, bringing to a close a career of real service under fire, real dedication during years when it might have been so much easier to be somewhere else.
Stuart Naylor had the great misfortune to be at the right place at the wrong time for had his time here coincided with better days as a whole, he might have achieved even more. A good enough goalkeeper to have won England B recognition amidst all our deepest trials and tribulations, Naylor did sterling work for the Baggies and posted a goalkeeping record that looks likely to stand for a long, long time to come. That’s handsome testimony to his quality.
5. Stuart Naylor
6. Ben Foster
7. Alan Miller
8. Jim Sanders
9. Ray Potter
10. Norman Heath