It is an unenviable task to pick up the mantle of a distinguished predecessor, but taking up the gloves after the departure of an illustrious goalkeeper seems to have been a recurrent problem through Everton history. Harry Leyland, Jimmy O’Neill, Albert Dunlop and Albert Harris all tried – with varying levels of success – to fill the void left by Ted Sagar before Gordon West proved a fitting replacement. Several custodians were tried over eight years before Tim Howard was deemed a capable long term successor to Neville Southall. And so, as Gordon West’s Everton career went into decline in the early 1970s, did Everton struggle to replace him too.
Dai Davies had already been given a brief opportunity, when, in summer 1972, Harry Catterick spent £80,000 to make David Lawson the most expensive goalkeeper in British transfer history. In many ways, a strange career path led Lawson to Goodison. He had started out as an apprentice at Newcastle, but was released without making an appearance. He joined Bradford Park Avenue, but was not even first choice at a team that would eventually slip out of the Football League, and wound up at Huddersfield Town. Here he got his chance after Huddersfield’s first choice keeper broke his leg, and his rise was thereafter meteoric.
Initial signs were good, and for the first two seasons Lawson was Everton’s first choice goalkeeper. Courageous and dexterous, he provided a solid last line of defence in a transitional side, while his quick distribution – usually with a long accurate throw – served as a springboard for Everton attacks.
But after this initial good showing, inconsistency became apparent. In particular, Lawson, who, as a soft spoken Geordie, was a rare thing, lacked the verbosity to command his defence, breeding uncertainty among his defenders. He struggled to dominate his penalty area and there was an unwillingness to come off his line. He lost his place to Davies early in the 1974/75 season and thereafter the two men vied for the green jersey. It was a battle neither would win: George Wood’s arrival in summer 1977 precipitated both of their departures – Lawson’s to Luton Town in a £15,000 deal in October 1978.