In December 1969 Harry Catterick paid Blackburn Rovers £80,000 for their left back, Keith Newton, and charged him with the same unenviable task he had carried off with distinction for England: filling the number 3 shirt vacated by Ray Wilson. Coming into one of the finest Everton teams in the club’s history, Newton rarely looked out of place and by the end of the 1969/70 season had won a League Championship medal – his first major honour in a career that already spanned more than 300 senior appearances.
Born in Manchester in June 1941, Newton had been scouted as a schoolboy inside forward, but after joining Blackburn as an apprentice was converted to centre back. Unable to supplant Mike England as Rovers’ centre half, he converted to left back. With his forward’s touch, turn of pace and imaginative distribution he established a reputation as one of the First Division’s finest attacking full backs. Indeed sometimes, he seemed almost an auxiliary winger. And yet he had the aerial ability and combative streak necessary in any outstanding defender. In swapping the Blackburn forward line for the left back berth, he completed an exact reverse of the transition his colleague Fred Pickering – soon to join Everton – had managed around the same time.
Named as part of Alf Ramsey’s provisional squad for the 1966 World Cup Finals, Newton made his England debut against West Germany in February 1966. He was one of five unlucky players left out of the 27 man squad on the eve of the finals, but after the World Cup started to make a sustained challenge for Wilson’s England shirt.
At club level there were other parallels with Wilson. Blackburn were relegated at the end of the 1965/66 season, and just as the Everton left back had once had to stake his claim for an international place in the Second Division with Huddersfield, so Newton now had to do so with Blackburn. Newton realised that Ramsey was unlikely to choose somebody who wasn’t regularly playing First Division football. ‘Without wanting to sound disrespectful to Second Division players,’ he proclaimed. ‘I am worried about the standard of wingers I am likely to come up against will not be high to play for England.’
Such outbursts earned him the opprobrium of the Blackburn board, who transfer listed him for £100,000. But no top flight manager was prepared to make him the first English defender to command a six figure. Catterick’s £80,000 offer came after years of speculation linking him with a move away from Ewood Park.
Newton came into the Everton team in place of Sandy Brown and made enough appearances to claim a title medal before he succumbed to injury during the 1969/70 season run in. He returned for England’s World Cup campaign in Mexico, playing alongside Alan Ball, Brian Labone and Tommy Wright. Post-World Cup, however, he never seemed to capture the confidence of Harry Catterick, who criticised him for over elaborating when in possession; even converting his namesake, Henry Newton, from midfield to left back in his place.
Newton was by no means responsible for Everton’s slide in Catterick’s last years, but at the end of the 1971/72 season, he was allowed to join Burnley. At Turf Moor he provided more than 200 games of service until the late-1970s. The Everton left back berth, meanwhile, remained problematic for a generation.