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Almost as memorable as the save itself, which he made from Pele’s header as England took on Brazil in the 1970 World Cup group stages, was the England captain Bobby Moore’s comment and Pele’s and Banks’ conversation after the save, ‘You're getting old, Banksy, you used to hold on to them’, and, ‘I thought that was a goal’, (Pelé), ‘You and me both.’ (Banks).
Gordon Banks was born in Sheffield on December 30th 1937 and played for Sheffield Schools before joining third division Chesterfield, aged sixteen in 1953 on a six-game trial in the youth team. Banks had given no real thought to playing the game for a living when he left school and had became a coalman's mate and later an apprentice bricklayer. Banks’s trial led to a part-time contract in 1955 before he was posted to Germany for two years on national service, and played regularly for his regiment, returning to Chesterfield and playing in the FA Youth Cup Final.
He made his first team debut in November 1958 against Colchester United and remained first-choice keeper for the remainder of the season. Before the start of 1959-60, First Division Leicester City bought Banks for £7000, he started the new season in the reserve team and made his first team debut against Blackpool at Filbert Street in September. He remained first choice for the rest of the season, after a brief return to the reserves, with Leicester finishing mid-table.
A notable quality in Banks was his training habits in an era when there were no goalkeeping coaches: he would focus specifically on the elements of his game which he believed were weakest, devising extra practice sessions that improved his game.
The 1960-61 season ended in a sixth-place finish for Leicester, including an away win at champions Tottenham Hotspur in the League and meeting them again in the FA Cup Final, which Spurs won 2-0.
Because Spurs had won the Double, Leicester were England’s representatives in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1961-62, being eliminated by Atletico Madrid 3-1 on aggregate.
After missing the early stages of the 1962-63 season through injury, Leicester were in a strong position as they approached May, occupying first position in the League and defeating Liverpool 1-0 in the FA Cup Semi Final, despite their opponents’ thirty four attempts on goal (to Leicester’s one) and Banks ranking it among his best performances. Their run in League and Cup came to an end when Banks broke his finger in the following game against West Bromwich Albion, Leicester lost their final three league fixtures, and were defeated 3-1 by Manchester United in the FA Cup Final.
Leicester’s disappointing mid-table finish in 1963–64 season was offset by their 4-3 aggregate win in the League Cup Final against Stoke City. Another League Cup Final followed in 1964-65, but Leicester lost to Chelsea 3-2.
Banks found himself in an unusual position towards the end of season 1966-67, ten months after winning the World Cup, when he was dropped and replaced in the Leicester starting XI by substitute keeper Peter Shilton.
Interest was expressed in Banks by Bill Shankly at Liverpool and Ron Greenwood at West Ham, but he was transferred to Stoke City for £50,000. He started the last four games of the season, with his home debut coming in the 3-1 win at the Victoria Ground over Leicester.
Another FA Cup Semi Final followed in 1971-72, but 1972 was the year in which Banks was effectively lost to the game as a result of a car accident, the year in which he had won the Football Writers’ Player of the Year. Major surgery and the loss of sight in his right eye forced him to retire from the professional game in England in the summer of 1973. He made a return to football to play in the North American Soccer League in 1977 and 1978.
In his incomparable international career, Banks’s two England Under-23 caps and consistent performances for Leicester City had led to his first full England cap under recently-appointed manager Alf Ramsey against Scotland at Wembley in April 1963. Having been beaten by France 5-2, England lost again, 2-1, to Scotland but Banks’s performances in the 1-1 draw against Brazil, the Rest of the World for the Football Association’s hundredth anniversary, Brazil, again, and Portugal and Argentina in the summer of 1964, cemented his place in Ramsey’s England team.
During England’s tour of Hungary, Yugoslavia, West Germany and Sweden in the summer of 1965 Banks and his defenders developed an understanding with which the manager was satisfied. The team faced perhaps their most significant pre-1966-World-Cup-Finals psychological test in the Home Championship game against Scotland at a Hampden Park containing 130,000 and which England won 4-3. The one match which England had lost in the previous two years had been against Austria, in which Banks hadn’t played.
In the 1966 World Cup Banks conceded his first goal against Portugal in the Semi Final, England having qualified from its group of Uruguay, Mexico and France and beaten Argentina in the Quarter Final. Banks described conceding his first goal of the tournament, and every goal that went past him, as ‘A knife in the ribs’. England’s 4-2 victory over West Germany in the Final had included the Germans taking the lead, with Banks unsighted by his defence and West Germany equalising to take the match into extra time, described by Banks as, ‘Like being pushed off Mount Everest with just a stride to go to the top.’ Banks was comparatively untroubled for the match’s last half hour, with England winning 4-2.
Banks was again ever-present in the England team that finished third in the 1968 European Championships, defeating the Soviet Union 2-0 to win the bronze medal.
England, the world champions, defeated Romania in their opening group game of the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico and shortly before the second match, against Brazil, Gordon Banks became Gordon Banks OBE. Banks pulled off that save, from that Pele header, following a Jairzino cross, Pele was convinced that he had scored, shouting, ‘Gol !’ and the conversation and laughter between striker and goalkeeper as Banks had hauled himself out of the net and he and Pele awaited the resulting corner to be taken is still being affectionately referred to now.
After the defeat to Brazil, 1-0, and while the players of the two sides remained on the pitch, Banks had returned to the dressing room, ‘Sitting in a state of shock.’
England’s final group game victory over Czechoslovakia took them through to the Quarter Finals against West Germany, a match in which England were defeated 3-2, with Banks watching on television from the hotel, having been withdrawn from the side through illness.
Banks won his seventy third- and final cap in England’s 1–0 win over Scotland at Hampden Park in May 1972. He had kept thirty five clean sheets, conceded fifty seven goals and England had lost nine games. He had performed consistently, displaying positional sense, handling, awareness, mental- and physical strength, athleticism and reactions which few goalkeepers have ever matched. His club honours included League Cup winners medals with Leicester in 1964 and with Stoke in 1972. The World Cup Winners medal he won with England in 1966 gave Banks’s club versus country honours an unusual appearance.
Banks was described by many as indisputably the best in the world, perhaps the finest there has ever been, between 1962 and 1972.
Banks had brief careers as youth team coach at Stoke City and manager at Port Vale and Telford United, before representative roles at Stoke City. He was entered into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002, named by Pelé as one of the world's 125 greatest living footballers in 2004, awarded an honorary doctorate from Keele University and honoured with a plaque in front of Sheffield Town Hall in 2006, a statue of his England save against Brazil was unveiled by Pele outside Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium in 2006 and in 2011 Banks was entered inducted into the City of Stoke-on-Trent Hall of Fame.
Capture a piece of Gordon Banks' legacy with this iconic print from VintageSports.com