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Bert Williams

Footballer

Footballer

Born: January 31, 1920; Died: January 19, 2014

BERT Frederick Williams, who has died aged 93, was, when he passed away, the oldest surviving former England football internationalist. He was also one of the greatest goalkeepers in the history of the game.

He stood just five foot nine inches tall but compensated for his lack of height with tremendous agility. He was nicknamed The Cat by Italian sportwriters after his tremendous display in one of his early England appearances, against the Azzuri, at Tottenham in 1949 and the name stuck.

In all, he won 24 full caps for England. He played in every England game in the 1950 World Cup Finals in Brazil, and conceded the goal with which the USA beat England 1-0 in that tournament - the biggest shock in the history of international football.

He replaced the legendary Frank Swift in the England goal, winning his first cap during an end-of-season continental tour in May 1949, in a 3-1 win over France in Paris. This honour came weeks after he had back-stopped Wolverhampton Wanderers to FA Cup victory over Leicester City.

Williams's second cap came in the legendary Goodison Park match in which they lost 2-0 to the Republic of Ireland. He survived this however to become England's first choice goalkeeper for the next three seasons, until injury cost him his place to local rival Gil Merrick of Birmingham City.

His travails at the hands of Ferenc Puskas and the Mighty Magyrs and at the 1954 World Cup cost Merrick his England place. Manchester United's Ray Wood was tried and found wanting and when England entertained World Champions West Germany, at Wembley, in December, 1955, Williams, at age 35, and after more than three years in the international wilderness, was back to add the first of a further six caps to his tally; these included the 1955 Wembley match in which Scotland lost 7-2.

He faced the Scots three times, his second-half saves keeping the score down as the 11 Scots beat 10 Englishmen 3-2 in 1951. A year earlier, at Hampden, his remarkable late save from Billy Liddell cost the Scots an appearance in the 1950 World Cup finals. Had Liddell scored, the Scots would have won the Home International Championship and gone to Brazil. The 1-0 defeat meant they didn't travel.

Williams' club career was spent mainly with Wolves, although it began, before the Second World War, with Walsall, where he came under the influence of another remarkably able England goalkeeper, Harry Hibbs. Hibbs coached him and had him in the Walsall first team aged 15.

He spent most of the war as an RAF PT Instructor, before being transferred to Wolves, for £3500, at the end of hostilities. He played 420 games for Wolves, during the great years under manager Stan Cullis and skipper Billy Wright. He added a League Championship medal in 1954 to his 1949 cup winner's gong and also played in the legendary Wolves floodlit matches which, in English eyes at least, led to the formation of the European Cup.

He retired in 1959, by which time he had been supplanted in the Wolves' goal by the scandalously uncapped Scot Malcolm Finlayson.

In retirement, he opened a sports shop, then a sports centre, in his native Black Country. He was also one of the first former goalkeepers to become a specialist coach, running his own goalkeeping school in Walsall for many years.

He survived the loss of his wife Evelyn in 2002, her passing from Alzheimer's causing him to vow to raise £150,000 in her memory - a task he accomplished. His charitable efforts, as much as his goalkeeping prowess, were recognised when he was made MBE in 2010.

He is survived by his children, Annette, Vaughan and Paul and their families. With his death, Sir Tom Finney becomes the oldest-surviving former England internationalist.

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