Braveheart Ken always put team first

Goalkeepers took a battering in the 1950s - and the punishment they received was never more painfully highlighted than in big FA Cup games.

Goalkeepers took a battering in the 1950s - and the punishment they received was never more painfully highlighted than in big FA Cup games.

In three successive finals, the men between the posts suffered cruel misfortune.

In the 1956 final, Bert Trautmann, Manchester City's German 'keeper, played the last 15 minutes with a broken neck, sustained when he dived at the feet of Birmingham's Peter Murphy. City still won 3-1.

The following year, Manchester United's Ray Wood was hit with such force by Aston Villa's Peter McParland, after just six minutes of the match, that he suffered a cracked cheekbone and concussion and, in the days before substitutes, was left to stagger about on the right wing as Villa won 2-1. McParland scored both goals.

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In 1958, United, reaching the final in the aftermath of the Munich air crash, were beaten again when Bolton's Nat Lofthouse bundled 'keeper Harry Gregg over the line and was awarded a goal. Bolton won 2-0.

But the drama was not confined to the big Wembley showpiece, and the following year, 1959, the quarter-final stage brought a goalkeeping story that was truly the stuff of legend - the story of Norwich City's Ken Nethercott.

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Nethercott's death, at the age of 82, was announced yesterday. Tributes to one of the Canaries' all-time greats swiftly followed from friends and former team-mates.

Those old enough to remember 1959 would have instantly thought of sixth round day at Bramall Lane when Nethercott dashed out to save from Sheffield United's Bill Hamilton, dislocating his shoulder as he fell.

With half an hour remaining, City trailing 1-0 and no substitutes to call on, Nethercott insisted on carrying on as they fought back to draw 1-1 and earn a replay.

Nethercott had helped Archie Macaulay's third division giant-killers knock out Manchester United and Tottenham in previous rounds but, alas, the trip to Yorkshire proved to be the last of his 416 first team games for Norwich. The injury ended his career at the age of 33.

Interviewed at the time of City's centenary in 2002, Nethercott recalled: “Lots of players with bad injuries carried on playing in those days. That's what you did because teams didn't have substitutes. If you went off the field you were letting the side down, so if at all possible you ignored the pain and got on with it. It was only for half an hour and I had nothing to do so it didn't matter.

“They popped the shoulder back in after the game and Archie Macaulay actually asked if I would be fit for the replay. I had to be honest and answer no.”

The Bristol-born 'keeper had been an amateur with Cardiff City and did Army service in Italy before he was signed by City manager Cyril Spiers in September 1947. He made his first team debut in a 1-0 defeat at Northampton in Division Three South, just a week after being demobbed.

The FA Cup provided another of the highlights of Nethercott's career when City beat Liverpool 3-1 in 1951. His one international outing came for England B in a 2-2 draw against Scotland at Easter Road, Edinburgh, in 1953.

He played for the Canaries with distinction against some of the biggest names of the period - Tommy Lawton, Billy Liddell, Len Shackleton, Bobby Charlton, Danny Blanchflower - but was always dismissive of his own achievements.

To City's eternal shame, he was never granted a testimonial.

After his injury, he played briefly for Norwich City B team - “but I felt like a grandfather with all those young boys” - then for Wisbech and Gothic, and spent 25 years working for Rowntree Mackintosh.

Calls to his home at Drayton Road, Norwich, to talk about his career, were always met with the utmost courtesy and good cheer.

Ken had a vivid recollection of the merits of team-mates and opponents alike, but always played down his own contribution.

He once said: “I wasn't that agile and I certainly wasn't an athlete.

I think most goalkeepers were like me in those days -a little on the heavy side. I didn't train that hard and I enjoyed a cigarette.”

Others have painted a very different picture of the man who sits eighth in City's all-time appearance list.

The late Ted Bell, sports editor for Eastern Counties Newspapers for more than two decades, once described the sudden end to Nethercott's career as “a tragedy for one of the greatest personalities in City's history”.

Writing in his club history, On the Ball, City, he said: “Nethercott was a gem among goalkeepers, a man who made the difficult look easy, who could well have made a name for himself with a more glamorous club but preferred to stay in Norwich.”

Peter Roberts, writing in 1978, described Nethercott as “that prince of goalkeepers”, saying: “In my book Ken Nethercott remains the best ever between those Carrow Road posts.

“He should have gone to Arsenal when Tom Whittaker wanted him and he would have been England's 'keeper for years . . . I rate him tops because in his days the 'keeper had to withstand the physical challenge.”

Former team-mate Terry Allcock led the tributes yesterday. He said: “That game at Sheffield was a reflection of the type of man Ken was. Sadly that proved to be his last game.

“I played at Norwich with Kevin Keelan, Sandy Kennon and other goalkeepers in between but Ken was the best of the lot, in my opinion.

“He was the perfect gentleman on and off the field. I recall games when he played the opposition almost on his own and then he'd come in afterwards and shake hands with the rest of us in the dressing room and say 'Well done'.”

Kennon, the South African who stepped in for the 3-2 replay win over the Blades and played for City for the next five years, said: “I can only speak as I found him. He wasn't the kind of player that did too much diving around on the floor, but he was a great anticipator and had good hands. For the short period of time I played with him I had the greatest respect for him.”

Kennon recalled one “miraculous” save Nethercott made from Tottenham's Bobby Smith in the FA Cup fifth round replay in 1959.

He said: “At that time I remember thinking 'What have I done?' I'd come to Norwich to play, and I couldn't see how I was going to get him out of the team.”

Roy Blower, Lord Mayor of Norwich and a lifelong City fan, said: “I find it very difficult to put into words.

“Ken was a great man - one of life's true gentlemen. People like that come along once in a blue moon.

“I remember standing behind the goal at Bramall Lane on the day he was injured and he was Mr Courageous to play on like he did and, of course, it ended his career.”

Ken Nethercott died yesterday in the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital at the age of 82.

He leaves a widow, Edith, one daughter and a son-in-law.

His funeral service will be held at St Faith's Crematorium on Monday, December 24 (10.15am).

The club will consult with his family before deciding on any formal tributes.

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