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Eric Garbutt

Eric Garbutt

Charlie Crowe: “He had a mixture of Ronnie Simpson’s flair and Jack Fairbrother’s goal-line reflexes”.

Bth 27/03/1920 Scarborough
P/HGoalkeeper5ft 10.5in
Joined16/01/39 Billingham £100
Deb 31/08/46 Millwall (A)D2
Ret 06/52 Injured
App/Gls 54

Garbutt was only eighteen when he signed for United from Billingham for £100 in January 1939. He had been highly sought after, with the Magpies beating Stoke, Bolton, Celtic and two other clubs to his signature. He was on Hartlepools books as an amateur but United managed to secure his release.

Unfortunately within months of his arrival Hitler had invaded Poland and the Football League came to a halt. Garbutt served in the RAF during the war.

He played in the first game of the 1945/46 season and when the official League resumed in 1946/47 he (now 26) was regarded as first choice. He bought himself a cap when he realised the season was going to stretch into the summer months. However injury issues meant he effectively shared the goalkeeping duties with Swinburne.

He was quite a small 'keeper at 5ft 10.5in and weighing in at just 10st 2lb, in 1950. However he was steady and firm and Charlie Crowe believed that, but for his injuries, he might have been the best United keeper of the time as “he had a mixture of Ronnie Simpson’s flair and Jack Fairbrother’s goal-line reflexes”.

Although Swinburne left at the end of 1946/47 United splashed out a record fee for a goalkeeper to bring Jack Fairbrother to Tyneside. Garbutt rose to the challenge and whenever he got a chance he always impressed. During the next four seasons he made 53 appearances in total and kept Fairbrother out of the side for spells.

Garbutt always seemed to be unlucky with injuries and his career was ended prematurely by a leg fracture which occurred during a reserve game in September 1951. Despite months of intensive treatment he was informed that his career was over the following June.

1945/46 (1)

Played in the first match of the War League North season.

1946/47 (20)

Made his official debut in the first game but ended up playing in less than half the games due to injury problems.

1947/48 (17)

Jack Fairbrother’s signing saw him relegated to the reserves at the beginning of the season but he got back in when Jack got injured and earned high praise for some grand displays. Manager Martin said at the end of September. “He just cannot be dropped from the team. His recent showings have been near perfection”. Unfortunately he suffered a shoulder injury, but then returned in January, with Jack getting injured once more and stayed in the side until April.

1948/49 (1)

Fairbrother’s excellent form meant he only played in the 3-2 home win over Sheffield United in December. Disappointed with his lack of action he requested a transfer.

1949/50 (15)

Got his chance when Fairbrother suffered an ankle injury and his form was so impressive that he retained his place even when Jack regained fitness. Kept his place until he himself broke a finger over the Christmas period, an injury which kept him out the rest of the season.


Eric fractured his right leg just below the knee when he collided with Richardson when playing for the reserves against West Brom.


In June 1951 he was told that his career was over due to the fractured leg he sustained.


Painting by Piotr