Obituary: Keith Newton

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KEITH NEWTON was a distinguished, if somewhat underrated, component of one of England's finest international football teams. Indeed, there is no shortage of shrewd contemporary observers who would place the side which he graced as a stylish full-back, and which was eliminated so dramatically by West Germany from the 1970 World Cup, ahead of the more famous combination which had lifted the Jules Rimet trophy four years earlier.

In defensive mode, the tall, sparely built Mancunian was a study in quiet efficiency, an expert tackler, effective in the air and adept at intelligent interceptions, but it was his capacity for attack which illustrated his quality most vividly. At his peak he was renowned as a raiding overlapper, virtually doubling as a winger at a time when those entertaining worthies were sadly out of fashion, and no one deployed him more effectively than the England manager Sir Alf Ramsey.

Newton is best remembered for what might have been a decisive contribution on a fateful day in Leon, Mexico, in 1970, when England faced the Germans in a World Cup quarter-final. Galloping unstoppably down the right flank, he set up memorable goals for Alan Mullery and Martin Peters, putting his side into a seemingly unassailable position.

However, Gerd Muller and company fought back with astonishing resilience to score three times, thus dumping the holders out of the tournament. Though he was only 28 and playing for the reigning League Champions, Everton, Newton was never to represent his country again. Instead he was supplanted by a succession of younger men, as Ramsey planned for what proved to be a traumatic future, with England failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup finals and Ramsey being sacked.

Newton began his career with Blackburn Rovers, who had spotted him as a skilful but rather ungainly inside- forward in Manchester junior football. Soon after his arrival at Ewood Park he was converted into a centre-half, a role in which he excelled as he helped Rovers to win the FA Youth Cup in 1959. Clearly a professional future was beckoning for the talented youngster, but Blackburn already had a gifted rookie stopper in Mike England, and when Newton made his senior debut in September 1960, in an old First Division encounter with Chelsea, it was at left-half. Thereafter he moved to left-back, where he established a regular place in 1961/62 before switching to the right flank in mid-decade and graduating to England's under-23 team in that position.

For several seasons Newton was an integral part of a vibrant Blackburn team, in which Bryan Douglas, Ronnie Clayton and Mike England were outstanding, and he was a major factor in an enterprising title challenge in 1963-64. But impetus was lost as the infinitely richer Manchester and Liverpool clubs gained an influence following the abolition of the maximum wage for footballers, and Rovers were relegated in 1966.

In the circumstances it seemed inevitable that the classy Newton would join a more fashionable club, especially as he had stepped up to full international status, winning the first of his 27 caps against West Germany at Wembley in the February before that demoralising demotion. However, despite frequent rumours of a transfer - notably to Nottingham Forest - he soldiered on in the Second Division until December 1969, when he was sold to the high- riding Everton for pounds 80,000.

In that he helped his new employers to lift that season's League Championship, despite missing the title run-in through injury, it proved an admirable career move. Also, it did nothing to harm his England prospects, the higher profile helping to cement his place for the 1970 World Cup tournament. But the anticipated lengthy spell at Goodison never materialised, due mainly to a difference of opinion with the Everton manager Harry Catterick over Newton's style of play. Newton was a cool, cultured performer who preferred passing his way out of difficult situations rather than employing the time-honoured safety-first method of hoofing the ball upfield. While Catterick was by no means a slave to the long-ball game and put a high value on technique, he felt that the full-back dwelt too long in possession on occasions, and something of a rift developed.

Possibly as a result, Newton's form became patchy, he found himself in and out of the team at a time when he should have been in his prime, and he was freed to join Burnley in June 1972. The Clarets were delighted with what they saw as a windfall and Newton justified their reaction by shining as they clinched the Second Division Championship at the end of his first Turf Moor campaign. He went on to complete six years of sterling service for the club before retiring in 1978, not long before his 37th birthday.

Thereafter Newton, an unassuming fellow whom team-mates revered for his patience and affability, sampled the non-League scene with More- cambe and Clitheroe, whom he managed briefly. After leaving the game he worked in the motor trade in Blackburn.

Keith Robert Newton, footballer: born Manchester 23 June 1941; played for Blackburn Rovers 1958-69, Everton 1969-72, Burnley 1972-78; capped 27 times by England 1966-70; married (one son); died Blackburn, Lancashire 16 June 1998.