Everton and England goalkeeper whose exuberant character endeared him to fans
The many former Everton players who have described the goalkeeper Gordon West as a larger-than-life character were not just referring to his considerable physical presence. True, "Big Westy" overcame weight problems to win the Football League championship twice and the FA Cup once, as well as playing for England. But West, who has died after a long illness aged 69, will be remembered as much as a flamboyant fan favourite and a dressing-room asset whose comedic double act with the Everton captain Brian Labone could have prospered on the stage had it not been essential to success at Goodison Park.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of West's success was that he had barely played in goal before becoming a professional in 1960 with Blackpool. Born in Darfield, South Yorkshire, he was an unexceptional defender for Don and Dearne Boys, in Barnsley, when a team-mate was invited for a trial at Bloomfield Road and asked West to accompany him. West told Blackpool he was a goalkeeper, a position he had always fancied. Within months, he had established himself in the Blackpool team ahead of Tony Waiters, the England keeper. His performances over only 33 games attracted the attention of the Everton manager, Harry Catterick, who paid what was then a record fee for a goalkeeper of £27,500 to take West to Goodison Park in March 1962, a month before his 19th birthday. "It said in the Blackpool Gazette: 'This [record] will never, ever be broken,'" West recalled with amusement in 2009.
In his 11-year Everton career, West won the domestic game's highest honours. He was a key part of the team that won the league championship in 1962-63, his first full season, and although he was badly affected by nerves – "Nine times out of 10 he used to go and be sick before the game," according to the central defender John Hurst – and faced a chronic battle to keep his weight down, his performances were unaffected and his heftiness seldom seemed to prevent him pulling off acrobatic saves.
He became Everton's undisputed No 1 for a decade, loved for his banter with fans, and won respect across Stanley Park at Anfield, where Liverpool fans at the Kop end once presented him with a handbag. He forged a strong onfield partnership and off-field friendship with Labone, each acting as best man at the other's wedding. Their wise-cracking kept morale high as Everton remained one of the leading teams in the 1960s, finishing outside the top six only once.
They also won the FA Cup in 1966, coming from 2-0 down to beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-2, and were runners-up two years later as Catterick built his second great Toffees team, which won the league title again in 1969-70. West, one of only three survivors of the 1963 side, along with Labone and John Morrissey, kept a clean sheet in half the 42 league games, a club record. Catterick's signing of the England Under-23 goalkeeper David Lawson in 1972 signalled the end of West's tenure and he retired a year later at the age of 30. That now seems young for a goalkeeper, and was Everton's loss, as not until the arrival of Neville Southall in 1981 was he truly replaced.
West had made 402 appearances for the club and been capped three times by England, a number which might have been greater but for the form of Gordon Banks and West's refusal to go to the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico. "I'd rather stay at home with the family," he said. "I get homesick if I'm away a long while."
He made a comeback with Tranmere Rovers in 1976, finally hanging up his gloves after 17 appearances. He remained a regular at Goodison, becoming a key figure in the Everton Former Players' Foundation. The foundation had given him support when he fell on hard times, and he was keen to repay them, overcoming his dislike of public speaking to talk honestly about his difficulties in order to help its fundraising.
He is survived by his wife, Linda, and his sons, Steven and Mark.
• Gordon West, footballer, born 24 April 1943; died 10 June 2012