AS a sell-out Wembley crowd prepares to pay tribute to the late Gordon Banks tomorrow night, one of his successors in an England shirt has revealed the debt he owes the Sheffield-born World Cup winner.
Tom Heaton, the Burnley goalkeeper, is back in the international fold for the first time since a serious shoulder injury put his career on hold.
He is likely to be on the bench as the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign gets under way with the visit of the Czech Republic.
Banks will be remembered by a period of appreciation ahead of England’s first game since he passed away last month at the age of 81. The players will also sport black armbands in his memory, while a banner will be displayed featuring his yellow World Cup shirt and the number one.
Members of the Banks family will also be in the Royal Box along with representatives from his former club Stoke City, whose goalkeeper Jack Butland will join Heaton on the bench as Gareth Southgate sticks with number one, Jordan Pickford.
Heaton said: “The fact he was England’s World Cup-winning goalkeeper and made the iconic save, of course, (plus) 70-odd caps for England was an incredible achievement.
“I was fortunate to meet him a while ago at my dad’s golf course. I had a quick chat with him and he was brilliant towards a young goalkeeper at the time.
“I asked him a few different questions about what sort of advice he would have for me.
“Only straight-forward stuff. But a brilliant moment for me to have such a hero, really, to give me some really good words of advice.
“I was about 20, I think. Around about that (age). It was just along the basis of, ‘What work you put in, you get out’. As straightforward as that, really.
“That, and I remember him telling me to make sure I enjoyed it. And he is right.
“You have certainly got to appreciate it. I have found that myself coming back after being out so long, you get an appreciation for being out there and enjoying every moment of it.”
England’s opening group game kicks-off a big year for Southgate’s side.
Not only is a place at the 2020 finals up for grabs, but the Three Lions will also compete in the inaugural UEFA Nations League semi-finals in June. England join Holland, Switzerland and hosts Portugal in the last four.
Victory in the Porto final would bring the country’s first silverware since Banks was the goalkeeping rock on which the 1966 World Cup triumph was built.
Jordan Henderson, bidding to reach 50 caps by facing both the Czech Republic and Montenegro on Monday, hopes this can be England’s year as the midfielder looks to banish his own double disappointment from 2018.
The 28-year-old was captain of the Liverpool side who lost 3-1 to Real Madrid in the Champions League final. He also played in England’s ultimately unsuccessful World Cup semi-final with Croatia in Russia.
“I think it always stays with you, those moments,” he said about coming so close to landing two huge honours in the game.
“It gives you even more motivation to then keep going, keep wanting to be in that position again to make it right. And go that final step.
“It is definitely an extra motivation that I use. Maybe I had a little taste of it playing in finals but I haven’t really managed to win the big trophies, and now that is the next step.
“I do not really look at it (the experience) as a benefit for me, I look at it as a benefit for the team more than anything.
“When you have got players that have been in that situation before – of experiencing big games, semi-finals, finals, big competitions – then it is good for the team.
“For players to be able to help them, especially the younger lads, cope with bigger occasions. And give them a little bit of experience on what to expect.
“The more players you have playing in those finals, the better really.”
Henderson, as one of the elder statesmen in a youthful England squad, has a key role in the national team.
He was heard barking out orders and instructions in the goalless Nations League draw in Croatia back in October – the eerily quiet atmosphere of the empty Stadion HNK in Rijeka shattered by his bellows.
“It is something that is quite natural,” he said about a fixture played behind closed doors due to previous trouble involving the Croatian supporters.
“I haven’t just been like that over the past couple of years, I have been like that most of my career, even when I was really young.
“Maybe when I was younger, too much in the wrong way. But I feel as though I have improved that and I am more constructive, more helpful to the team.
“You need people who are vocal on the pitch to give information at different times of the game. I do it because I feel as though it can help.”