Gordon Banks OBE (30 December 1937 – 12 February 2019) was an English goalkeeper. Widely regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, he made 679 appearances during a 20-year professional career, and won 73 caps for England, highlighted by starting every game of the nation’s 1966 World Cup victory.
Banks was born in Abbeydale, Sheffield, and brought up in the working-class area of Tinsley. The family later moved to the village of Catcliffe after his father set up a (then-illegal) betting shop. This brought greater prosperity but also misery; one day Banks’s disabled brother was mugged for the shop’s daily takings, and died of his injuries some weeks later. Banks left school in December 1952, aged 15, and took up employment as a bagger with a local coal merchant, which helped to build up his upper body strength.
He spent a season playing for amateur side Millspaugh after their regular goalkeeper failed to turn up for a match; the club’s trainer spotted Banks amongst the spectators and invited him to play in goal as he was aware that Banks had previously played for Sheffield Schoolboys. His performances there earned him a game in the Yorkshire League for Rawmarsh Welfare, however a 12–2 defeat to Stocksbridge Works on his debut was followed by a 3–1 home defeat, and he was dropped by Rawmarsh and returned to Millspaugh. Still aged 15, he then switched jobs to become a hod carrier.
Banks joined Chesterfield in March 1953, and played for their youth team in the 1956 FA Youth Cup final. He made his first team debut in November 1958, and was sold to Leicester City for £7,000 in July 1959. He played in four cup finals for the club, as they were beaten in the 1961 and 1963 FA Cup finals, before winning the League Cup in 1964 and finishing as finalists in 1965. Despite this success, and his World Cup win in 1966, Banks was dropped by Leicester and sold on to Stoke City for £50,000 in April 1967.
In the 1970 World Cup, he made one of the game’s greatest saves to prevent a Pelé goal, but was absent due to illness as England were beaten by West Germany in the quarter-finals. Playing at pace, Brazil were putting England under enormous pressure and an attack was begun by captain Carlos Alberto who sent a low ball down the right flank for the speedy Jairzinho to latch on to. The Brazilian winger sped past left-back Terry Cooper and crossed the ball into the six-yard box, where Pelé connected with a powerful header to send the ball low towards the right-hand corner of the goal. In the knowledge that his header was placed to perfection, Pelé immediately shouted “Gol!” (Portuguese for goal).
The split-second incident only allowed Banks time for one conscious thought – that the shot was impossible to catch, and the only way to prevent Pelé from following up on the rebound would be to parry the ball over the bar. The ball bounced 2 yards (1.8 m) in front of the goal-line, and Banks managed to make contact with the ball with the fingers of his right hand, and rolled his hand slightly to angle the ball over the crossbar. He landed in the inner netting of the goal, and knew he had saved the ball after seeing Pelé’s reaction.
Pelé, and numerous journalists and pundits, would later describe the save as the greatest in the history of the game. Banks later said “They won’t remember me for winning the World Cup, it’ll be for that save. That’s how big a thing it is. People just want to talk about that save.” In 2002 the UK public voted the save No. 41 in the list of the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments.
Banks was named FWA Footballer of the Year in 1972, and was named FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year on six occasions. The IFFHS named Banks the second-best goalkeeper of the 20th century, after Lev Yashin. Banks was Stoke City’s goalkeeper in the 1972 League Cup win, the club’s only major honour. He was still Stoke’s and England’s number one when a car crash in October 1972 cost him both the sight in his right eye and, eventually, his professional career. He played two last seasons in the United States for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 1977 and 1978, and despite only having vision in one eye, was NASL Goalkeeper of the Year in 1977 after posting the best defensive record in the league. He briefly entered management with Telford United, but left the game in December 1980.
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