Obituary: John Osborne

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The Independent Culture
JOHN OSBORNE was never likely to keep goal for England - the consistent excellence of Gordon Banks, then Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence, saw to that - but there was a time in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he was one of the most accomplished non-international net-minders in the country.

His playing pomp was spent in the English top division with West Bromwich Albion, for whom he preserved a clean sheet in their single-goal FA Cup final victory over Everton in 1968. But the tall, rather spidery Osborne's athletic exploits between the posts accounted for only part of his appeal to fans of the Baggies. Equally important was his engaging, outgoing personality which ensured a warm rapport with paying customers at the Hawthorns, even when the side was struggling.

Osborne spent his formative years as an outfielder, winning England schoolboy honours as a wing-half and being converted into a keeper only in his late teens. His first professional club was Chesterfield - traditional nurturers of goalkeeping talent - and Osborne achieved more than a century of appearances for the Spireites before joining Albion for pounds 10,000 in January 1967.

Instantly installed as first choice, Osborne emerged as an agile shot- stopper, a generally reliable claimer of crosses and a courageous diver at feet, who was blessed with a shrewd positional sense and who radiated confidence. For several seasons, under the enterprising management of Alan Ashman, he was part of a compact, attractive team which held their own in the middle reaches of the old first division and reached Wembley for a second time in 1970, when they lost the league cup final to Manchester City.

Thereafter Osborne suffered injuries - he was dubbed "the bionic goalkeeper" after a plastic joint was inserted into a finger - and he lost his place intermittently, even retiring briefly in 1972. After a few months he returned to the Hawthorns, but was unable to prevent Albion's relegation to the second division in 1973. After languishing for a term in Peter Latchford's shadow he recovered his berth and starred in a revived side which, now guided by Jonny Giles, regained a place among the elite in 1976.

When Osborne left full-time football - aged 37 in 1978, after 312 senior outings for the Baggies - many believed he would pursue a career in the media, for which he had apparently paved the way by excelling on the television show Quiz Ball in 1969/70 and then hosting his own local radio programme. Instead he opted to work in the promotions department of a local newspaper, and then became commercial manager of Worcestershire County Cricket Club.

John Osborne, footballer: born Barlborough, Derbyshire 1 December 1940; played for Chesterfield 1960-67, West Bromwich Albion 1967-72, 1973-78, Walsall on loan 1973; married (two children); died Evesham, Worcestershire 7 November 1998.