Andy Rankin: the forgotten history maker

The tension reverberates throughout a packed Goodison Park. Everton and Borussia Mönchengladbach are level on aggregate after extra time in the second round of the 1970/71 European Cup. Previously this would have required a one-off replay but penalty shoot outs have been introduced by UEFA to break the deadlock in these situations and this is the first time that it will be utilised in this tournament. Everton defender Sandy Brown has just scored to give Everton a 4-3 lead. One penalty remains to be taken by the West German visitors.

Ludwig Müller approaches the penalty spot as the hostile Blues in the Gwladys Street end launch a cacophonous tirade of vitriolic abuse that could be understood in any language. The Everton custodian, Andy Rankin, composes himself. As Müller steps up to take his kick, Rankin moves slightly off his line. The ball is despatched hard and low but somehow Rankin launches himself to his right and palms the ball away to safety. Cue bedlam as players and fans alike mob the hero of the hour. Andy Rankin has just become the first English ‘keeper to make a save in a European Cup penalty shoot-out and Everton are through to the quarterfinals; to date the furthest they have ever progressed in Europe’s flagship this competition.

Two positions have always commanded respect for the Everton cognoscenti: centre-forward and goalkeeper. The pantheon of legendary shot-stoppers features such illustrious names as Ted Sagar, Gordon West, and Neville Southall but somehow Andy Rankin’s appellation is not “writ large”. It is time he received due acknowledgement.

Andy Rankin was born in Bootle in 1944, a few short miles from Goodison Park. A bright youngster, he passed the Eleven Plus exam and attended Bootle Grammar School, where he established a reputation as an agile custodian. On leaving school, he joined Everton as an apprentice but made little impression. One day Harry Catterick, the manager, noticed the tall young keeper walk past him at the training ground. Unaware of the youngster’s presence on the books, he asked who he was and was informed that he played in goal but intended to leave to join the police. Catterick organised an impromptu practice session and, impressed by his agility and technique, persuaded Rankin to change his plans and stay to challenge Gordon West for the number one slot.

Catterick was notoriously intolerant of any keeper who made mistakes and, as Gordon West’s performance levels dipped, Rankin was given his chance against Stoke City on 23 November 1963, keeping a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory. However, after a run of ten games in which he failed to keep a clean sheet, he was dropped. Catterick broke the British record transfer fee for a keeper in 1961 when he bought West, who was just one year older than Rankin, but he still felt that there were flaws in his technique and temperament as well as continual weight issues, so he replaced him with Rankin again towards the end of the season.

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Rankin started the 1964/65 season as the first choice and cemented his position with his remarkable agility, his dexterity in handling crosses and his unquestionable courage which he exhibited to full effect in Everton’s 4-0 humiliation of Liverpool at Anfield in September. Sadly, his occasional bouts of inconsistency were always a concern for Catterick and, by mid-December, he lost his place to West yet again. The following season Rankin played out most of his time in the reserves as Everton lifted the FA Cup. Whereas West spent most of his time berating his defenders, Rankin was a much calmer presence between the sticks and perhaps this apparent lack of vocal authority may have counted against him at times.

Rankin re-emerged again towards the end of the 1966/67 season but a calamitous display in a defeat against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup led to Catterick banishing him to the reserves for the next three campaigns. Rankin continued to turn out match-winning performances for the second string, which earned him the unwanted nomenclature of “the best reserve goalkeeper in England”. Everton won the Central league title for the first time in 14 years during the 1967/68 season.

Opportunity suddenly knocked again for Rankin when West had one of his occasional meltdowns in September in the first round of the European Cup. He was badly at fault in conceding two goals and responded to comments from the terraces by confronting his critics. Catterick was not impressed and reinstalled Rankin as the first-choice keeper for the rest of the season. Sadly, after the glory of winning the league title the previous campaign, Everton slumped to 14th in the final table and in just four days were knocked out of the European Cup by Panathinaikos and the FA Cup by Liverpool.

When Catterick took the decision to reinstate West for the following season, Rankin, now 27, left for Watford. He played 103 games for Everton and was arguably still at his peak. Catterick made very few poor decisions as manager but surely one of them was to fail to install Rankin as the successor to West, who retired at the age of 30 just two seasons later. Instead Everton fans could only reflect on what might have been as the inept David Lawson, the ineffective Dai Davies, and the inconsistent George Wood occupied the position that should have belonged to Andy Rankin. He went on to play 299 games for Watford and then 71 for Huddersfield Town before retiring from the game at the age of 37 in 1982.

Andy Rankin appears to have disappeared from the collective memory of Everton fans. He barely merits more than the odd reference in the numerous club histories that have emerged over the years. He was the last Liverpool-born goalkeeper to play for the club and is one of the few Everton players alive who knows what it is like to win 4-0 at Anfield. He was the first English keeper to produce a save in a European Cup penalty shoot-out and remains the only Everton custodian to do so. At the venerable age of 74he deserves to be acknowledged for his achievements.

By Paul McParlan

Part of our Number Ones series

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