Gordon Banks: A safe pair of hands
Gordon Banks was one of the greatest goalkeepers of his or any other generation and he will forever be remembered for his heroic part in England’s triumphant 1966 World Cup campaign that culminated in the famous 4-2 victory over West Germany at Wembley in the final. Banks played 73 times for his country and won domestic honours with Stoke City a 1972 League Cup winners medal. He started his career at Chesterfield before moving to Leicester City, while he was there a young upstart called Peter Shilton became his understudy in goal, going on to earn 125 caps for England himself. He learned a lot from Banks saying’ I’m devastated – I’ve lost my hero’.
Gordon joined Stoke City in 1967 from Leicester, making memorable saves, such as keeping a Wyn Davies header at bay against Manchester City in 1971, catching a point blank volley, only six yards out from Tottenham’s Alan Gilzean and saved his World Cup-winning team-mate Geoff Hurst’s penalty against West Ham in the 1972 League Cup semi-final. Stoke went on to beat Chelsea 2-1 in the final. Winning against Chelsea at Wembley was “my greatest and proudest moment in club football”. At the end of that season Banks was named as the football writers’ Footballer of the Year, becoming the first goalkeeper to receive the honour since Manchester City’s Bert Trautmann in 1956, who was Gordon’s hero as a boy and gave him advise when he was a professional. One such tip before the days of proper goalkeeping gloves, was how to use chewing gum on the hands to make them sticky, being able to grip the ball easier. Banks possessed significant physical strength, athleticism, and excellent shot-stopping abilities. His marvelous positional sense, (which he felt to be one of his best assets), coupled with being mentally strong, good agility, speed, and quick reflexes, enabled him to produce acrobatic saves. Fellow goalkeeper of the time Alex Stepney (Manchester Utd & England) said ‘Gordon was simply a brilliant keeper, a great servant to the game in every single way and a superb man’
England – World Cup’s
However it was Gordon’s England performances which stay in the memory, being part of ‘The Boys of 66’ who won the World cup (1966) for England beating Germany in the final. Along the way Gordon making some important saves. Geoff Hurst who was England’s hero in the final scoring a hat-trick described Banks as ‘One of the very greatest’. By 1970 Gordon Banks was easily the best Goalkeeper in the world. His poise, speed and awareness were particular attributes that set him apart from others. It was in the 1970 World cup Banks underlined his dominance by making a save from a downward Pele (Brazil) header which many still believe is one of the best saves ever. It was a breathtaking effort which became known as the ‘Save of the Century’. In 2008 Pele came over to unveil a statue of Banks holding the 66 World cup outside Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium. Pele further put Banks in his 2004 list as one of the world’s 125 greatest living footballers.
There are many that believe it was Gordon’s absence in the Quarter-final of the 1970 competition against West Germany that contributed to England’s exit. Banks went down with tummy trouble on the eve of the game and although the team waited until the last moment, it was decided he was not fully fit. A game England went on to lose 3-2. After being 2-0 up. Bobby Charlton who played in both 66 & 70 World cup competitions with Banks said “Gordon was a fantastic goalkeeper and I was proud to call him a team-mate’
The greatest save ever
Gordon Banks explains his famous World Cup save against Pele
Gordon’s, playing career, was cruelly cut short just before his 34th birthday. In 1972 a car accident robbed him of sight in one eye. Driving home from the Victoria Ground Stoke one Sunday lunchtime after undergoing treatment for an injury sustained the day before at Liverpool, his car ended up in a ditch after colliding with a van. Surgeons could not save the sight in his right eye. “I wouldn’t say I was bitter because I was to blame for the crash,” he said later. “To begin with, they said there was only a 50-50 chance of going blind in the one eye, so I was quite optimistic. But I remember being at home and not being able to pick up the shadow of people walking past the window. It was a bad sign.” Former Leicester City & England striker now Football pundit Gary Linekar said of Banks – ‘an absolute hero of mine…was one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, and such a lovely, lovely man’.
America & final destination
Gordon did try to make come backs, but felt he couldn’t play at the top level so he left Stoke. But with some improvement in the eye he went out to America to join the soccer revolution that was happening out there at the time. After stints in the United States for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 1977 and 1978, Banks returned home, briefly managing Telford United, but quit the game after he was sacked in December 1980. “It broke my heart. I just couldn’t believe that I’d put all that effort in and found I just got kicked in the teeth and it just disappointed me that much, that I didn’t apply for another job. I did not want to stay in the game.” Gordon went into the Hospitality business running corporate Golf days and events. Sadly this venture didn’t work out, losing him a substantial amount of money. However Leicester City offered Banks a belated testimonial match, which helped ease matters financially. He also returned partially to the game as a goalkeeping coach at Everton & Aston Villa and became a speaker at various after dinners. In 2001, he sold his World Cup winners medal at Christie’s for £124,750, and his international cap from the final was also sold making £27,025
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.