Born: 30 December 1937 in Sheffield (England).
Career as a player: 1955-1959: Chesterfield (23
appearances). 1959-1966: Leicester City (293 appearances). 1966-1972: Stoke City (194 appearances). 1967: Cleveland Stokers (USA, 12 appearances). 1977: St Patrick’s Athletic (Republic of Ireland; one appearance). 1977-1978: Fort Lauderdale Strikers (USA, 39 appearances).
Honours as a player: 1966: world champion. 1970: OBE. 70 caps for England.
Miscellaneous: In 2001, Banks sold his 1966 World Cup winning medal at Christie’s auction house in London. The medal sold for £124,750, easily exceeding the initial estimate of £90,000. Banks said the decision to sell was difficult as the 4-2 victory over West Germany at Wembley was the greatest day of his career. But the goalkeeper wanted to save his children the burden of deciding what to do with the medal after his death. The proceeds of the medal were divided between them.
Gordon Banks and his most famous save
At his peak, this 70-year-old was one of the most outstanding goalkeepers in football. Gordon Banks won the 1966 FIFA World Cup™ with England, but what really made his name was an incredible save from the legendary Pele.
For that select band of footballers who have won the biggest prize in the game, their career-defining moment is always the FIFA World Cup™ final. For Gordon Banks, England’s 4-2 victory over West Germany in the 1966 final at Wembley is, quite naturally, the former goalkeeper’s outstanding memory of his many years in football. Except that every week without fail, Banks is approached by a member of the public wanting to ask about another event in his career: that unforgettable save he made at the 1970 World Cup to deny Pele.
“They come up and shake my hand and ask ‘is that the hand that made the save?’,” Banks told FIFA magazine. “Of course, 1966 figures much more strongly in my mind but the save from Pele seems to be the thing that everyone else remembers.”
Banks’ playing career in England ended in 1972, when he was 35, after he lost the sight in his right eye following a car accident. Since then, the man who helped make so many English football fans’ dreams come true in 1966 has been working in another area where a few lucky people’s hopes become reality. For Banks is one of three ex-professionals who make up the Pools Panel, a select group who meet
every Saturday to make their predictions in the event of match postponements in England and Scotland. Millions of pounds can be won or lost based on the decisions made by Banks, his fellow 1966 World Cup winner Roger Hun: and Tony Green, the former Newcastle and Scotland midfielder. “It does make you think very hard knowing that judging a result as a draw or an away win could make the difference between someone winning a million pounds or just a few pence,” said Banks, “but you just have to give your honest opinion and that is all anyone can ask.”
GREAT FRIENDS WITH PELE
Banks, Hunt and Green have all been sitting on the Pools Panel for more than 20 years, and it has provided the former goalkeeper with a connection with football after his efforts to make it in coaching proved fruitless. After the car crash in 1972, Banks coached the youth team at Stoke City, the club where he spent the last six years of his playing career. After a short spell as manager of non-league side Telford United, Banks was tempted to move to Fort Lauderdale Strikers for a season in the North American Soccer League.
On his return to England, Banks could not find any openings in football. He worked for a corporate entertainment company for several years before being chosen to sit on the Pools Panel, a job he still does now at the age of 70. It gives him plenty of time to pursue his other interests: golf, gardening, after-dinner speaking and duties at Stoke City – now back in the top flight of English football after a 23-year absence – where he is honorary president. But even 37 years after that moment in Guadalajata, the save from Pele continues to have an impact on his life. After that match against Brazil, he formed a friendship with Pele that has lasted ever since. As recently as July this year, a Banks-managed XI played a Pele-managed XI in a charity match to raise money to fight poverty in Africa. “Our paths had crossed a few times and we became big friends,” said Banks. “We respected each other’s abilities and we have always had a great affection for each other Thar has lasted for many years now.”
£20 A WEEK
Banks was of that generation that used football as an escape from the coal mines of northern England. Born in Sheffield, by the age of 15 he was working as a labourer filling sacks with coal, before he moved to another trade as an apprentice bricklayer. Chesterfield, a club in the third division of English football, provided a way out and his move to the big time came with Leicester City, who bought him for £7,000 in 1959. He spent seven years with Leicester and became England’s regular goalkeeper in 1963 before he was signed by Stoke in 1966. Between 1963 and 1972 he won 73 England caps but even for a seasoned international, professional football was not the ticket to bountiful riches that it is now.
“I was playing when there was the maximum wage of £20 a week,” Banks said. “Even when the maximum wage was abolished we only got a £5 rise. I don’t resent players getting paid big salaries now but 1 do feel that some of the amounts are over the top. I do believe that when players are getting so much money, it can affect their desire for the game. Success meant so much to my generation — a chance to escape
a job down the mines, an opportunity to make a better life for our families, and to try and achieve some security. I am not sure that desire is so strong now.”
A SERIOUS STOMACH BUG
But back to that save from Pele, one of those pure moments of footballing genius. Brazil had been putting England under serious pressure and Jairzinho sent a tremendous high cross from the byline towards the far post. Pele’s timing saw him meet the cross with a thunderous downwards header and he shouted “Goal!” as the ball flew towards the net. Banks had to change direction and dive both backwards and downwards, but he managed to get the base of his thumb to the ball and divert it over the bar.
Pele could hardly believe it – he later described it as the best save he had ever seen. “I seem to remember he looked away in horror,” said Banks, before adding modestly: “I’m sure goalkeepers all over
the world have saves as good but this one just happened to be against Brazil in the World Cup finals and on television, so it gets shown again and again.”
There are many who believe that had Banks played in the 1970 quarter-final against West Germany, then England would have made it through to another World Cup final. Banks, however, was ruled out by a serious stomach bug and Peter Bonetti was called in as a last-minute replacement, England looked to be in control at 2-0 up but Bonetti allowed a Franz Beckenbauer shot to squirm underneath his body, and West Germany ended up 3-2 victors. Afterwards, for Banks there was just the memory of that save to savour.
It is apt that it is Pele himself who has summed up the moment perfectly. Pele said to FIFA magazine: “I scored more than a thousand goals in my life, but the goal I don’t score is the one they all remember!”