Through the 1970s, Everton struggled to replace Gordon West with a worthy successor. Not until Neville Southall’s arrival in 1981 did a goalkeeper of a such stature fill the Everton goal, but in the interim, George Wood, came closest to adequately filling West’s gloves.
A £150,000 signing from Blackpool in the summer of 1977, he had started his career with East Stirlingshire, but moved to England before his twentieth birthday. The physically imposing Scot endured a nightmare debut, against Nottingham Forest, when he was at fault for all three goals in a 3-1 defeat on the opening day of the 1977/78, but soon recovered his composure.
Indeed, the burly stopper quickly embarked on the form of his career as Everton concluded his first two seasons third and fourth. Wood kept 19 league clean sheets through the 1977/78 season, a feat that had only been bettered before by West in Everton’s 1970 League Championship winning campaign. Such form earned him a Scotland call up, and he was part of Ally McLeod’s ill-fated squad that travelled to the 1978 World Cup Finals in Argentina.
Despite his imposing figure, Wood was athletic and agile, able to stoop to block even the lowest shot. A diligent trainer he was amongst the fittest players at the club, and his work in the Bellefield gym unquestionably contributed to the longevity of his playing career, which extended past his fortieth birthday. Quickly he became a popular figure in the Goodison dressing room and on the terraces.
If Wood possessed a weakness it was in the command of his penalty area, and sometimes he flapped at crosses. His confidence seemed undermined by Everton’s poor start to the 1979/80 season, and as Gordon Lee sought to find a winning formula Wood was a casualty, finding himself dropped mid-season with Martin Hodge taking his place. Although he returned for the season’s conclusion, that summer he was sold to Arsenal – Everton recouping the fee paid to Bolton three years earlier.
Wood put in a couple of good seasons at Highbury, for a period keeping Pat Jennings out of the Arsenal team. He was later Crystal Palace’s long-serving goalkeeper, and finished his playing career at Hereford United in the mid-1990s. On retirement he turned to coaching, serving Cardiff and Hartlepool United as their goalkeeping coach.