The goalkeeper is the most specialized position on the football pitch, and in many respects, the most important. When a goalkeeper makes a mistake, more often than not, it results in the opposition putting the ball in the back of the net. Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc once said that, "Being a goalkeeper is like being the guy in the military who makes the bombs; one mistake and everyone gets blown up."
Reflexes, handling, agility, positioning, communication and distribution are all key attributes required to be a well-rounded top quality goalkeeper. One also requires a certain degree of fearlessness. It is often said that you have to be mad to be a goalkeeper, an idea reinforced by legendary German shot stopper Oliver Kahn, who claimed that goalkeepers need an "element of insanity".
Given the history of Premier League clubs, the youngest of which (Swansea City) were still founded 104 years ago, most have had a wealth of exceptional talents between the sticks over the years. This list includes at least five goalkeepers who would go down among the greatest of all-time, as well as a few who may be less familiar to the casual football fan. Here are the greatest goalkeepers in every Premier League team's history.
20 Arsenal - David Seaman
Probably the tightest contest of all 20 clubs is at Arsenal, where both David Seaman and Pat Jennings are very worthy candidates. Ultimately, Seaman just edges it for us. The 75 time capped England international certainly had the more successful Gunners career of the two, winning 13 trophies at Highbury. Seaman joined Arsenal from QPR in 1990, and went on to spend 13 years at the club, making 564 appearances, the sixth most in Arsenal history.
While Seaman has been criticized for some of his performances in international play, there's no doubt that he played some amazing football for the Gunners for many years.
While Arsenal has never managed to win a PL title, it was under no fault of Seaman's.
19 Bournemouth - Tommy Godwin
Current shot stopper Artur Boruc would have to rank among the most technically gifted goalkeepers in Bournemouth history, but when it comes to the greatest, it has to be Tommy Godwin. A Republic of Ireland international who won 13 caps for his country, Godwin also represented both the League of Ireland XI and the All-Ireland XI. He made 357 league appearances for Bournemouth between 1952 and 1962, who were then known as Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic. Godwin also played for Shamrock Rovers and Leicester City.
At 36 years old and having only recently joined the club, there isn't really much of a chance for Boruc to surpass Godwin before his career is over, buy that will be very tough considering the longevity Godwin had with the club.
18 Burnley - Tom Heaton
The only team whose current goalkeeper makes the cut for their greatest is Tom Heaton at Burnley. The England international really proved just what a top class player he has become in his recent performance against former club Manchester United, and although he is 30, he seems to still be improving. Heaton joined Burnley from Bristol City in 2013, and he is now just two games shy of the 150 appearances milestone.
There are a number of other credible candidates for the Clarets greatest of all-time, most notably Jerry Dawson and Jimmy Strong, but Heaton is the pick of the bunch.
There's still plenty of time for Heaton to further cement himself as the club's greatest keeper ever, just in case some of you aren't convinced just yet.
17 Chelsea - Petr Cech
Current Arsenal man Petr Cech has to go down as Chelsea’s greatest ever goalkeeper. Peter Bonetti was a tremendous talent between the sticks, but for what Cech achieved at Chelsea, his influence upon Stamford Bridge and the sheer number of clean sheets he kept, he is well worthy of the title of the Blues greatest goalkeeper of all-time. The Czech Republic international arrived in West London having been signed from Rennes by Claudio Ranieri for £7 million.
Rather like the situation with Thibaut Courtois’ emergence at the end of his Chelsea career, when Cech first joined the Blues they already had a top class goalkeeper in Carlo Cudicini. Originally signed to be the Italian’s understudy, so good was Cech that he quickly usurped his more experienced teammate and claimed the number one shirt. Cech played 486 games for Chelsea, winning 15 trophies, and holds the record for the most clean sheets in Premier League history.
16 Crystal Palace - Nigel Martyn
Crystal Palace may have signed their most accomplished goalkeeper of all-time in Steve Mandanda, some could argue, but having only joined the club in the summer, he doesn’t really deserve much consideration. One player currently at the club who does, however, is Julian Speroni. The Argentine has been at Selhurst Park for 12 years now, has played almost 400 games and says he considers himself an Eagles fan.
Nigel Martyn edges it though, on the simple grounds that he was a better goalkeeper than Speroni. Martyn spent seven years at Crystal Palace, during which time he played 272 league games, before moving on to Leeds United. The former England international went on to be considered one of Leeds’ greatest ever goalkeepers as well, and he deserves his place as Palace’s top ‘keeper, ahead of strong competition from the likes of Speroni and 1960s and 70s star John Jackson.
15 Everton - Neville Southall
Quite possibly the easiest decision of all 20 Premier League clubs, Neville Southall is not only Everton’s greatest ever goalkeeper, but a strong contender for the title of the Toffees' greatest ever player. Sadly a figure of ridicule among younger supporters who only ever saw a more rotund looking Southall in action, in his prime the Welshman was one of the finest shot stoppers the game has ever seen.
An Everton legend, Southall has made more appearances for the club (750) than any other player, and kept a whopping 269 clean sheets. Gordon West deserves a mention as another legendary Toffees ‘keeper, but ultimately there’s no questioning Southall’s stronghold on the title of greatest of all-time. Hopefully he'll be remembered as more than just a stocky keeper.
14 Hull City - Billy Bly
Despite having been starved of success for much of their history and deprived of top flight football right up until 2008, Hull City have still been blessed with some genuine quality between the sticks over the years. Whilst there have been a plethora of very good shot stoppers to have graced Boothferry Park and the KCOM Stadium, the title of greatest must go to either Billy Bly or Tony Norman.
The only goalkeeper to have played at Wembley twice for Sunderland, Tony Norman made his name at Hull City, where he spent eight years, making 372 league appearances. He holds the record for the most consecutive appearances for the Tigers (226) and was instrumental in their climb from the fourth to the second tier. Billy Bly started playing for Hull City way back in the 1930s, but remained at the club until 1959. During his 21 years at Boothferry Park, Bly made 403 league appearances, the fourth most in Hull City history, and he was widely considered one of the best goalkeepers outside of the top flight.
13 Leicester City - Gordon Banks
England’s two greatest ever goalkeepers, Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton, both played more games for Leicester City than any other club. Therefore we are torn on this choice when it comes to the Foxes, but it is Gordon Banks who gets the nod. The 1966 World Cup winner is regarded by many as the second greatest goalkeeper in footballing history, behind Lev Yashin. Banks played 356 games for Leicester, reaching 2 FA Cup finals.
One would have never thought that Leicester City would experience the type of success they did last season, but Banks was a shining star for Leicester back in the mid 20th century. Unfortunately, Banks' career with the club ended terribly. When asking for a loyalty bonus, he was told by Matt Guillies "We've decided not to pay you a penny. There's to be no compensation payment and that's final."
12 Liverpool - Ray Clemence
Liverpool have had a number of good 'keepers over the years, but none finer than Ray Clemence. A serial winner with Liverpool during the 1970s and early 80s, Clemence won every trophy on offer in Europe barring one, winning a total of 18 trophies which included 5 league titles and 3 European Cups. He won 61 caps for England and kept Peter Shilton out of the team for a long time.
Clemence unfortunately had a battle with cancer back in 2005 but the situation caused him to reflect heavily on his life, including his time at Liverpool. "I have three wonderful kids, but as a father I didn’t see as much of them as I should have because I was busy being what I wanted to be,’ he explains. ‘Now I’ve got nine grandchildren and if I’m not careful I won’t see much of them either."
11 Manchester City - Bert Trautmann
Manchester City have a had a trio of fine England goalkeepers in Frank Swift, Joe Corrigan and Joe Hart, but their greatest goalkeeper of all-time is without doubt a German by the name of Bert Trautmann. A Luftwaffe paratrooper during WWII, Trautmann even won an Iron Cross for his services to Germany, before being captured as a POW by the British.
Over 20,000 people protested Manchester City awarding Trautmann a contract, but after 15 years, 545 appearances and playing through a broken neck in the FA Cup final, the world class shot stopper won over the vast majority of supporters. It was an incredibly story of a man overcoming a lot of adversity to lead a completely new life in what was once an enemy country. Needless to say, it helped in tensions from the war boiling over.
10 Manchester United - Peter Schmeichel
Another very obvious choice, but the right one. Peter Schmeichel is among the greatest goalkeepers in modern footballing history, and was an absolute force of nature during his 8 years at Old Trafford. The 'Great Dane' won 15 trophies at Manchester United, notably five Premier League titles and one Champions League. Edwin van der Sar deserves a mention for six exceptional years under Alex Ferguson, but Schmeichel was in another class.
His time at Manchester United resulted in the Red Devils being established as the dominant force in the early years of the Premier League. Fans of the club are now longing for the days when the club was running rampant all over England. It's hard to find a keeper like Schmeichel to lead your club though.
9 Middlesbrough - Mark Schwarzer
An even more recent inclusion, Mark Schwarzer only left Middlesbrough in 2008, and won the Premier League at Leicester City last season. It is a tight contest between Schwarzer and Jim Platt for the title of Boro's greatest of all-time between the sticks, but it is the Australian who edges it. Schwarzer played 445 games for Middlesbrough, winning the League Cup and reaching a UEFA Cup final.
He is only the second player in history to win consecutive Premier League titles at two different clubs (after Eric Cantona) and the oldest player in both Chelsea and Leicester City history. He was released from Leicester City after last year's magical season and is future in football is currently up in the air. He still has the legacy he left behind at Middlesbrough.
8 Southampton - Peter Shilton
It was unfortunate for Peter Shilton not to be three different teams' greatest ever goalkeeper, restricted to one purely down to the brilliance of Gordon Banks, finally at Southampton, Shilton gets the title. England's most capped player of all-time, Shilton won more caps with the Saints than whilst at any of his other clubs. He spent a total of five years at Southampton, playing 242 games for the club, finishing as First Division runners-up to Liverpool in 1983/84.
As said earlier, Shilton could have made this list for multiple teams, but he was just a little overshadowed. That's not to take anything away from what Shilton did. Call it a case of being with the wrong team at the wrong time, but still, Shilton has his rightful spot as one of the greatest keepers in the history of the game.
7 Stoke City - Gordon Banks
As with Leicester City, Stoke City had both of England's two greatest goalkeepers on their books for a number of years. Banks joined the Potters in 1967, stating that he had joined Stoke not to retire, but to win something. And he did; the League Cup in 1972. Banks racked up 250 appearances in five years at Stoke, and that number would have been far higher had he not had his career cut short by a car crash which lost him his vision in one eye.
Who knows how much further Banks could have gone had he not suffered his injury. Perhaps Stoke City could have dominated England throughout the 70s, but unfortunately, that never came to fruition. It's a testament to Banks' brilliance that he still grabs a spot here.
6 Sunderland - Jimmy Montgomery
The standout candidate and obvious choice, Jimmy Montgomery was born in Sunderland, and went on to make 627 appearances for his hometown club. That record makes him the Black Cats' all-time record appearance holder, and he still had enough in the tank to leave Sunderland and spent two seasons at Birmingham as well as a brief stint in Canada in his late 30s.
Montgomery won the FA Cup with Sunderland in 1973, keeping a clean sheet and making what many consider the finest double save of all-time in the final against Leeds. Playing 627 games with the same team is a remarkable achievement and very few players today even come close to that in the current economical climate of the game.
5 Swansea City - Roger Freestone
Legendary shot stopper Roger Freestone has to go down as Swansea City's greatest ever goalkeeper, although one could make a strong case for Michel Vorm being the most talented. Freestone arrived in Swansea having been in and out of the Chelsea team for four years. He was mightily impressive during his 13 years with the Swans, and despite numerous interested First Division clubs, he remained loyal to the club.
Back in 2003, Freestone said that he wasn't surprised to be with the Swans as long as he was: "Once I joined the club I never wanted to leave, " said Freestone. "I'm a home bird. I live in Newport and I've always enjoyed being at home with my family and friends. It has been great for my children that they've been able to have their father around them."
4 Tottenham Hotspur - Pat Jennings
Two players already mentioned on this list are the two candidates for Spurs greatest ever goalkeeper, namely Ray Clemence and Pat Jennings, but it is the latter who reigns supreme. Having narrowly missed out on top spot at Arsenal, as one of the greatest British goalkeepers to have graced the game, he thoroughly deserves to be one club's pick. Jennings played far more games for Tottenham than he did for Arsenal and won 5 trophies with the club.
With Spurs, Jennings didn't have the likes of David Seaman to compete with to earn his title as the club's greatest ever keeper. Tottenham has yet to find anyone quite like him, but in fairness, a Pat Jennings type of keeper doesn't come along every day.
3 Watford - Tony Coton
Pat Jennings (there he is again), Ben Foster and even current 'keeper Heurelho Gomes could be in with a shout at Watford, but ultimately none had the longevity to be considered the greatest of all time. One man who does is Tony Coton. He joined Watford from Birmingham in 1984, and spent six years at the club before joining Manchester City for £1 million, which was a remarkably high price at the time.
It's hard to determine how much more success Coton could have brought to Watford had he remained with the club longer. His time in Manchester City would be cut short due to injuries.
A two-time Player of the Year winner at Maine Road, Coton has worked as both an agent and a scout since retiring.
2 West Brom - John Osborne
Not to be confused with the legendary playwright, John Osborne of the goalkeeping variety is regarded as the finest in West Brom's history. The only goalkeeper to be named among the Baggies 16 greatest players of all-time, Osborne spent 11 years at the Hawthorns, making exactly 250 league appearances. During that time, Osborne won both the League Cup and the FA Cup.
A former teammate of Osborne, Johnny Giles summed up how calming a presence Obsborne was. "Before every game I would ask Ossie how he was feeling. Nine times out of 10, he would reply: 'Lousy, terrible, tired, aching or fed up'. I knew then that things were going to be okay and we'd be fine."
It's not every day a keeper has that kind of effect on his teammates.
1 West Ham - Phil Parkes
Phil Parkes set a world record fee for a goalkeeper when he joined West Ham United from Queens Park Rangers for £565,000 in 1979, but he fully justified that fee and more during his 11 years at the Boleyn Ground. Hammers fans will also have fond memories of Ludek Miklosko, who was always a safe pair of hands, but it was Parkes who was voted into the club's all-time XI back in 2003, and deservedly so. Despite his fine form and longevity at West Ham, Parkes won only 1 cap for England.
Parkes has battled bowel cancer in recent years, but thankfully he was able to overcome it and made a triumphant return to Upton Park a couple of summers ago, playing in a Former Players Stadium Tour.