Tottenham Hotspur: Ranking Their Best Keepers of All Time

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2012

Tottenham Hotspur: Ranking Their Best Keepers of All Time

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    Goalkeepers have been much like managers for Tottenham Hotspur in recent times.

    Some of them have done better than others, but even the more successful occupants of these positions have been subject to turnover when the powers that be have decided there are better alternatives elsewhere.

    This is generally in keeping with the level at which the Spurs have been: Pretty decent and better than most, but still looking upwards at superior rivals who have maintained levels of greater quality far more consistently.

    In ranking this club's best goalkeepers, those who have worn the No.1 jersey (figuratively, if not always literally) in the Premier League era have contributed to an extent that they are not out of place on this list.

    But it is no surprise to find the names occupying the higher positions here are those who are synonymous with the most revered and successful teams in the Spurs' history.

9. Heurelho Gomes, 2008-09 to ?

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    Confidence is vital to the success of any footballer, but it is especially necessary for goalkeepers who live in a world where any wobbles and mistakes on their part are highlighted that much more.

    Heurelho Gomes—whether in feeling he has let his team down or simply being unable to deal with the criticism—has struggled more than most in bouncing back from these, his challenges.

    It is a shame because, despite what some might say, Gomes technically is one of the finest goalkeepers around.

    Early on in his time at the club he made some notable clangers, but the main issue with the Brazilian's game was his kamikaze approach to dealing with crosses: rushing out to try and deal with every one to the extent that it engendered a feeling of panic as Spurs looked to defend in these situations.

    The short-lived Austrian goalkeeping coach Hans Leitert was replaced in November of that 2008/09 campaign by former Spur Tony Parks, whose focus on solidifying the fundamentals of his new student's game resulted in a vast improvement in Gomes' form.

    The eagerness to impose himself on every situation he could was remodeled into a better understanding of when it was appropriate to leave his six-yard box and when to stay. It does not sound like a huge deal, but it helped develop a greater clarity and concentration in Gomes' approach to his trade and for the best part of two years the good far outweighed the bad.

    Gomes was instrumental in Tottenham's Champions League qualification in 2009-10, delivering regular performances frequently marked out by spectacular and important saves, in particular delivering a remarkable last line of defence display to seal a memorable (and long-awaited) 2-1 win over Arsenal.

    In Europe the following season he performed similar heroics in the 1-0 away win over Milan, but it was his failure to overcome a mistake later on in that run in the competition that has ultimately proved costly.

    The shot he let slip in from Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo was not an especially big deal in itself, with the Spurs already 4-0 down on aggregate from the first leg and unlikely to make a comeback.

    No, it was Gomes' inability to pick himself up from this disappointment that was most worrying, and weeks later he slipped up again to concede at Chelsea—his confidence continuing to erode in such drastic measures.

    As good as he can be, his lack of resilience is a character flaw that just cannot be overlooked at the top level, and is one he needs to remedy so as not to waste the ability he does possess.

8. Ian Walker, 1990-91 to 2000-01

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    Ian Walker's emergence from the shadow of Erik Thorstvedt in the early part of the 1990s was earmarked as the arrival of a young goalkeeper who could perhaps claim the Tottenham No.1 spot for a long time to come.

    Walker had issues in finding a level of consistency in his performances to match the talent he possessed, but if he was never quite able to fulfill that initial expectancy, his achievement in solidifying himself as Spurs' first choice in the position for the best part of the decade should not be dismissed.

    The process of succeeding Thorsvedt did not occur overnight, but by 1994-95 Walker confirmed himself as the No. 1 (though he still wore No. 13 for a little while)—and for a good couple of years displayed the kind of form that made him a genuine contender to be England's goalkeeper too.

    It was on a night when he was given the chance to represent his country that the downward trajectory of his Tottenham career quite probably began.

    In a World Cup qualifier against Italy in 1997, Walker was beaten at the near-post by a Gianfranco Zola goal that secured a 1-0 win for the visitors, with the goalkeeper unfairly receiving much of the blame for the defeat.

    The goal itself was primarily a result of Zola's own brilliance—the Italian attacker veered rightwards away from the challenging Sol Campbell so as to ensure an angle that an accurate finish either side of Walker would have guaranteed a goal.

    It did not finish Walker off by any means; he soon after returned from injury to see off the challenge of Espen Baardsen for his position and would go onto play his part in the 1999 League Cup win.

    But it did signify the end of that early "honeymoon" period, so much so that when his form grew more erratic George Graham was not afraid to spend good money on bringing in Neil Sullivan to replace him.

7. Tony Parks, 1981-82 to 1987-88

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    Tottenham's current goalkeeping coach Tony Parks played under 50 games for the club, never quite convincing as a viable candidate to be the club's first choice keeper.

    Yet, for his role in one of Spurs' greatest ever triumphs, he is more than deserving of a place on this list.

    That triumph was the 1984 UEFA Cup victory, where Parks made the deciding save of a dramatic penalty shootout against Anderlecht—the culmination of a memorable spell deputising for Ray Clemence.

    That would be as good as it got at Spurs for Parks, as he failed to respond in the right way to his new-found hero status and lost his focus, something he has since admitted.

    Still, such a contribution to the club's final major success under Keith Burkinshaw should not be forgotten, a landmark night that will forever hold him in the affections of the club's supporters.

6. Paul Robinson, 2004-05 to 2007-08

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    Paul Robinson was an unfortunate victim of circumstances beyond his control during his time at Tottenham Hotspur, struggling for form in the latter half of his spell at the club as events seemed to conspire against him.

    There was the infamous incident out in Croatia, when a back-pass from his England teammate Gary Neville deflected off a divot and over his foot, which resulted in the goalkeeper subsequently taking an unwarranted and mean-spirited barracking from the media and fans for a loss that was far from his fault (reminiscent of what happened to Ian Walker just under a decade earlier).

    Into 2007, Ledley King's prolonged absences in defence added to a nervousness that—following his England tribulations—Robinson's own air of uncertainty only exacerbated.

    It was testament to Robinson's character then that, despite the inconsistency that had infected his game, he responded to being dropped for the League Cup semifinal in 2008 by making some gritty and necessary saves in a frantic finish to the final weeks later.

    That victory over Chelsea was the culmination of a period in which Robinson had been a major figure in turning Tottenham into one of the Premier League's top six sides.

    Spurs supporters responded to his heroic efforts and desire for the cause, developing one of the great fan/player relationships of recent times (one that has extended in encounters with the goalkeeper since he left), their chants of "England's Number One" a frequent and cheering sound during his time at the club.

    Robinson excelled in particular during 2005-06, a year that saw the Spurs just narrowly miss out on Champions League football but nonetheless provided a campaign full of memories that are still fondly recalled.

    This time was rewarding after so many years spent toiling in and around mid-table, and for his part in giving Spurs fans genuine hope once again, Robinson is rightly loved.

5. Erik Thorstvedt, 1988-89 to 1994-95

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    Before there was Robbo, there was "Erik the Viking."

    Erik Thorstvedt stylistically was not the same goalkeeper, but like Robinson, he developed a strong relationship with the fans who quickly warmed to the Norwegian stopper after his permanent transfer from IFK Gothenburg.

    Thorstvedt took a little time in adjusting to the different demands of the English game, but a game against Southampton saw him turn the corner—and in response to the support from the travelling fans, he threw his gloves to them, beginning a custom that drew the two closer together.

    During a time of financial upheaval at the club, it was something for the fans to hold onto during uncertain times.

    Along with the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Gary Mabbutt and Gary Lineker, Thorstvedt was a big part of the team Terry Venables put together, and that achieved its crowning glory with the FA Cup success of 1991.

    Gazza was the star of that run, but Thorsvedt helped ensure his extraordinary efforts did not go to waste with some big saves throughout the season.

    Yet Thorstvedt was not so good as to be untouchable, and through a combination of injuries and the emergence of the young and talented Walker, his time at Tottenham all but came to an end soon after he had the honour of representing his country at the 1994 World Cup.

4. Ray Clemence, 1981-92 to 1987-88

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    Ray Clemence—who can claim to be Liverpool's greatest ever goalkeeper—ranks at number four on the list of Tottenham's best.

    That is no disrespect to him, but more a testament to the greatness of the trio that follow him. But make no mistake, Clemence's time with Spurs makes him more than worthy of being in their company.

    The then-33-year-old's decision to move south caused some shock at the time, but citing his desire for a new challenge, he certainly found that at the capital club.

    On silverware alone, Clemence's spell with Spurs seemingly doesn't warrant the decision to leave the all-conquering Reds, winning a comparably paltry FA Cup in 1982 (while he was injured for 1984's UEFA Cup win).

    But does this not account for the adventures Spurs had throughout that decade in challenging for honours both home and abroad—something Clemence was a significant part of.

    1981-82 alone saw them win the FA Cup, come up just short to Liverpool in the League Cup final and reach the semis of the European Cup Winners' Cup; as well as finish fourth in the league during an extremely hectic campaign.

    The skills that made him one of England's best showed little signs of disappearing, as for several years Clemence was the demanding and powerful rearguard that helped keep his club in contention for titles and trophies.

    Clemence's final season proper saw Spurs become the nearly-men of 1986-87 as one of the club's best ever sides came up short on all fronts.

    Months into the following campaign, an Achilles injury brought an end to a long and storied career—one that Clemence believes could have gone on longer even as he approached 40.

3. Bill Brown, 1959-60 to 1965-66

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    You only have to look at the difficulty Manchester United had in replacing Peter Schmeichel (and to a slightly lesser extent—so far, anyway—Edwin van der Sar) to see just how important a great goalkeeper can be for a club.

    For Bill Nicholson in the late 1950s, he had to deal with replacing a keeper of Schmeichel-like stature in the form of Ted Ditchburn, a former teammate of his and a goalkeeper beloved around White Hart Lane.

    Nicholson (as he often would) went north of the border and secured the services of Dundee's Bill Brown for £16,500 in the summer of '59.

    If not at the level of Ditchburn, Brown was the perfect fit for the team his manager was putting together.

    His supposed aerial inferiority was compensated for by the dominance of defenders like Maurice Norman, while the composed Brown was a steady and extremely reliable figure at hand for those rare occasions when the team in front of him did not have possession of the ball.

    This was of course the team that in 1960-61 would win the first league and FA Cup double of the 20th century, following it up with another FA Cup triumph a year later before the first European trophy won by an English club was secured in 1963.

    That European Cup Winners' Cup defeat of Atletico Madrid is regarded as one of Brown's finest hours, as the Scotsman stood firm in the face of a Spanish onslaught after he had brought Tottenham back to 2-1 (they finished 5-1).

    The arrival of Pat Jennings eventually signified the end of Brown's time at Spurs, but his role as part of one of the great sides in English football history had long ago been certified.

2. Ted Ditchburn, 1946-47 to 1958-59

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    This writer will concede that to go as far back as the 1940s and 50s and comment on a player he has not seen at all (I cannot recall seeing any footage whatsoever) will likely not do justice to someone who is without question one of the greats of Tottenham Hotspur.

    Ted Ditchburn was goalkeeper of Arthur Rowe's legendary "push-and-run" side that won successive titles in 1949-50 and 1950-51 (Division Two, and then Division One having won promotion).

    A former boxer, Ditchburn was well-known for his bravery and skill in one-on-one situations, while he was also highly regarded for his exemplary athleticism and strength.

    He was the type of goalkeeper all great sides possess, and was so vital to the Spurs that he was the last of Rowe's great side to leave (having fought off the efforts of Ron Reynolds to claim his spot permanently), only then categorically forced to depart through injury.

    Quite extraordinarily, he racked up over 450 appearances for Spurs (the exact number is disputed in different sources, but at most it is a few more), an extra-special achievement considering Ditchburn had been robbed of seven years proper through World War Two (which he served with the RAF).

    Without footage, it is left to words to tell the story of the greats of yesteryear like Ditchburn, at which point I refer to a tale author Ivan Ponting regales in his book, Tottenham Hotspur: Player by Player (Third edition, 2008), to measure this goalkeeper's true greatness.

    "...arguably his most memorable display came in less rarefied circumstances, during a Second Division defeat at Newcastle in January 1947. Three days after suffering concussion and severe bruising to his hip, he stood defiant as shots rained in on his goal, no sooner making one stupendous save than another was necessary. In the end he was beaten only once, by Len Shackleton, and at the final whistle some 62,000 Geordies treated the limping hero to one of the most moving ovations ever accorded to a visitor at St James' Park."

1. Pat Jennings: 1964-65 to 1976-77

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    Keith Burkinshaw got a lot right in his time as Tottenham manager, but one thing he did get wrong was in selling Pat Jennings to Arsenal in 1977 soon after Spurs had been relegated to the Second Division.

    It was a judgement call by Burkinshaw, who believed Jennings' best days were gone—a mistake for sure, but one it was his job to make and what he thought was the best choice at the time.

    Only after the arrival of Clemence in 1981 did Tottenham truly find a replacement for the monumental Jennings, who was still at that point going strong with the Gunners.

    Knowing it was not his decision, Spurs fans didn't blame the Northern Irishman like they would Sol Campbell so many years later and besides, they can truly claim to have gotten his very best.

    Upon joining from Watford in 1964, Jennings had to compete with Bill Brown for a couple of seasons, but it was an arrangement that proved beneficial as he adjusted to the demands of life at one of English football's glamour clubs.

    Having cemented his place as Tottenham's No. 1, he never again looked like giving it up.

    Jennings was a genuine all-arounder, as dominant in the air as he was composed and controlling in denying opposition attackers on the ground.

    Famous for utilising any part of his big frame he could, Jennings would pull off extraordinary saves of such a frequent number that you could ask 50 different Spurs fans who saw him play and you might feasibly be told about 50 unique saves.

    Acknowledged as a player of the year by football writers and his fellow players in '73 and '76 respectively, Jennings won an FA Cup (1966-67), a UEFA Cup (1971-72) and two League Cups ('71, '73) during his time at Tottenham.

    Beyond that, all at Tottenham must just be grateful for being able to claim that for a good decade, they possessed one of the best goalkeepers the world has ever seen among their ranks.

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