He is the glory of English football. He’s also the glory of global football. He’s among the best goalkeepers in history. That’s only a small group when we talk about the best ones. This defines Gordon Banks – Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds United manager
The word ‘legend’ is frequently thrown about in football, often in reference to those who are, objectively, merely average players. But Gordon Banks, the England World Cup winning goalkeeper who died last week at the age of 81, really was a legend.
Easily the greatest English keeper of all time, he is still most famous for his truly astonishing, defying-the-laws-of-physics save from Pelé in the 1970 World Cup (in a tribute to Banks, his international team-mate Sir Bobby Charlton commented “Even though I was on the pitch and have seen it many times since, I still don’t know how he saved that header from Pelé”).
The safe hands of the ‘Banks of England’ were also the foundation of that world-beating England side that lifted the Jules Rimet trophy at Wembley Stadium in 1966. Somewhat ironically, Banks was later responsible for saving a penalty from West Ham’s ’66 hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst in the semi-final of the 1971-72 League Cup – and it’s a cracking save too!
Born ten years after England’s Wembley triumph, I grew up on tales of 1966 from my father. Along with his brother and their dad, he attended every one of England’s World Cup matches that year, including the famous final (incidentally, dad always maintained that Geoff Hurst goal didn’t go in. And he was right, it didn’t).
I knew who Gordon Banks was and what he’d done from an early age (even though I am too young to have ever seen him play). He was revered in my family, which makes his death feel almost like a personal loss. And I am sure I am not the only one to feel that way.
An inspiration to generations of fans and world-class goalkeepers alike, and, by all accounts, a bloody nice man too, his memory will live on. Stoke City, one of his former clubs, will be paying him a unique tribute this weekend – have a look at this:
I hope he’s having a pint and a catch-up with Bobby Moore right now….