GORDON Banks, who has died at 81, was one of the great goalkeepers in the history of football and his place in the game’s pantheon of superstars was cemented one stiflingly hot afternoon in Mexico during the 1970 World Cup.
England, having won the Jules Rimet trophy with the Sheffield-born Banks in goal four year earlier, were facing the favourites, Brazil, in the Jalisco Stadium in Guadalajara and had hardly played their way into the game when the Brazilian Jairzinho on the right wing beat the Leeds United full-back Terry Cooper and delivered a dipping cross towards the far post. Banks had committed himself at the near post and had to hastily re-position himself as the ball fell towards the head of the great Pelé, perhaps the best footballer the world had seen.
With Banks scrambling, Pelé rose above right-back Tommy Wright and headed the ball powerfully down towards Banks’ near post, exuberantly shouting “gola” as he connected.
Banks had to dive backwards and somehow managed to get the base of his thumb to the ball, diverting it over the bar. He tumbled to earth sure he had made contact but equally sure he had not prevented Pelé from giving Brazil the lead.
It was only when he heard shouts of congratulations from England’s captain Bobby Moore that he looked up and saw the ball rolling towards the advertising hoardings. He knew he had made a stupendous save; one that Pelé would say afterwards was the greatest he had ever seen. As England prepared to face the corner kick the Mexican crowd roared their approval for Banks.
Sadly, his heroics were in vain, Jairzinho beat Banks in the second half and with Jeff Astle missing an open goal and Alan Ball hitting the crossbar, England were beaten 1-0.
Just two years later, Banks’ career at the top level would be ended in a car accident but his place in football history was secure as the man who kept goal when England won the World Cup and who made “that” save in Mexico.
Gordon Banks was born in Tinsley, Sheffield, on December 30 1937, the son of a steelworker who also ran an illegal betting shop in Catcliffe, and the youngest of four brothers.
The eldest, John, was disabled and died having never recovered a mugging as he carried home their dad’s takings.
“I grieved for months, mourned for years, and still miss him to this day,” Banks wrote in his autobiography.
After an inauspicious start in local football – he conceded 15 goals in two matches for Rawmarsh Welfare while also working first as a coal-bagger then an apprentice bricklayer – he was offered an apprenticeship by Chesterfield. He earned a place in the team which lost the 1956 FA Youth Cup final to Manchester United and made his debut for the first team against Colchester United in November 1958.
After only 23 senior games for Chesterfield he was sold to Leicester City for £7,000 in 1959 and soon established himself as first-choice goalkeeper. He appeared in the 1961 FA Cup final, playing well even though Leicester were beaten 2-0 as Tottenham completed the first Cup and League double of the 20th century.
Two years later he made his England debut as the manager, Alf Ramsey began the sifting process which would produce his team for the 1966 World Cup for which England, as hosts, did not have to qualify. By 1965 he had made himself England’s number one choice with a string of excellent performances and when the World Cup began he did not concede a goal in successive matches against Uruguay, Mexico, France and Argentina.
The story of the 1966 final is the stuff of legend, but within a year of the final whistle – “they think it’s all over... it is now” – Banks was made available for transfer by Leicester. They had been told by a promising young goalkeeper called Peter Shilton that he would not sign a new contract unless he was assured of his first-team place. Banks, with 293 appearances for Leicester behind him and still England’s first-choice, was snapped up by Stoke City for whom he would play 194 matches.
His 73rd and last England appearance came against Scotland at Hampden Park on May 27 1972 at the end of a season during which his performances had earned him the Football Writers’ Association’s Footballer of the Year trophy.
He was still in peak form when the following season began but on October 22, while driving home from a physiotherapy session, his car crashed into a ditch. He lost the sight in his right eye and his playing days at the highest level were over, although he did play one game for St Patrick’s Athletic in Ireland, keeping the inevitable clean sheet.
He stayed in football, coaching, managing non-league Telford, playing for Fort Lauderdale in the United States and starting a company involved in corporate hospitality.
He was elected to the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and four years later was the first “legend” to be inducted into the Sheffield Walk of Fame. He was awarded the OBE in 1970 and in 2006 an honorary doctorate at Keele University.
Banks revealed in 2015 he was fighting kidney cancer for a second time, having lost a kidney to the disease 10 years earlier.
He is survived by his wife Ursula, whom he met during his national service in Germany in 1955, and their three children, Robert, Wendy and Julia.