When West Ham play Accrington Stanley in the next round of the League Cup (or whatever it’s called these days) it will be the first encounter between the two clubs. Someone who did once play against Stanley though was legendary goalkeeper Willie ‘Fatty’ Foulke; at the time plying his trade with Bradford City. When Accrington visited Bradford for an FA Cup tie in February 1907 it was discovered that Foulke, who stood 6ft 3in and weighed in at circa 22 stone, was wearing a jersey that clashed with the red shirts of the visitors. After a fruitless search for a suitably large replacement Foulke was wrapped in a sheet borrowed from a neighbouring house. The game ended in a Bradford victory by the only goal and with Foulke barely called into action his makeshift attire was as pristine as it had been at the outset. Thus, the origin of “keeping a clean sheet”. [Incidentally, it is also claimed that the chant “Who ate all the pies?” was originally directed at Foulke.]
Our own erstwhile manager, and fellow ‘Fatty’, was a great proponent of the clean sheet as a tool in ‘respecting the point’. Until recently it was unusual to hear people talking about number of clean sheets but with dawning of the age of soccer statistics anything that can be counted will be counted. Now you will see the clean sheet cited as one of the measures in comparing the relative merits of Premier League goalkeepers.
Given that this article is meant to be about West Ham keepers I took a look at the record of all our keepers that I could think of who had played more than 50 games and this is how they ranked in terms of clean sheets:
The obvious conclusion from the clean sheet stats is that, and we probably knew this already, the game has become more defensive in the later years. It is certainly not an absolute measure that can realistically be used to compare keepers over the years. The records of both George Kitchen and Edward (Ted) Hufton, however, look most commendable since they belong to a more adventurous bygone age; or perhaps West Ham had better defenders back then. It was Hufton who appeared in the 1923 White Horse Cup Final and was the first West Ham keeper to represent England. George Kitchen who played for West Ham from 1905 to 1912 is our only keeper ever to score a goal. As a regular penalty taker he notched 6 in total including the only goal of the game on his debut against Swindon Town. The other point of interest being that at the time a goalkeeper was allowed to handle the ball anywhere in his own half; this rule was abolished in 1912.
A total of 73 goalkeepers have played in league matches for West Ham since 1898. The keeper in the first game I saw live at Upton Park was Brian Rhodes but I couldn’t tell you anything about his custodian prowess. A further 34 keepers have appeared between the sticks since Rhodes although 13 of these only made a handful of appearances. The first keeper I do remember with any certainty is Lawrie Leslie; a fearless competitor his trademark was rushing out to throw himself at the feet of onrushing forwards with the inevitable resulting injuries. In pre-substitute days I can recall him finishing the match on the wing after injuring his arm and it was a subsequent broken leg, sustained at home to Bolton, that led to Jim Standen joining the club as an emergency replacement.
Continue reading for my list of Top 5 Hammer’s keepers.