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Gordon Banks

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 25 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss

England's Number One Shirt in World Cup Win 1966

England Caps: 73

Goals: 0

Player: 1963 - 1972

One of the key mainstays of the 1966 World Cup winning team alongside the the two Bobbies, Moore and Charlton, Gordon Banks was recognised during his prime as the greatest goalkeeper in the world, bar none. But despite that, he plied his club trade with less fashionable teams such as Leicester City and Stoke City.

German Beginnings

When Banks did his two years of National Service in Germany he won the Rhine Cup with his regimental team. He had signed on as an apprentice for Chesterfield before he left for Germany and his success prompted them to convert his contract to a professional one on his return, but he only played 26 games before Leicester City, then in the top division, bought him for £7,000.

Banks quickly ousted City’s incumbent goalkeeper in his first season and when Sir Alf Ramsey took over as England manager in 1963 he looked around for keepers to back up the current first choice, Ron Springett. Once more, Banks was first choice within a very short time.

England Debut

Banks made his debut against Scotland in a 1-2 defeat but gained many plaudits for his performance. He demanded complete control over his area and his positional awareness and instinctive reading of the game made many of his saves look easier than they were. When caught out, he had superb reflexes to rely on which gained him that extra all-important inch. Springett only gained four more caps after Banks’ debut, and was relegated to second choice for the World Cup squad.

‘Banks of England’ was the cry ringing out across the terraces as the squad limbered up with friendlies (they did not have to qualify as they were hosting the tournament). England reached the final of the 1966 World Cup with only one goal scored against them, a penalty by Eusebio in the semi-final against Portugal, although that was largely because Banks had not been severely tested until then.

The World Cup Final 1966

But in the final Germany scored first, a mix-up between Jack Charlton and Banks allowing a shot from Haller to squeeze home. In the second half he was a virtual spectator but in the dying moments Wolfgang Weber reached the ball in a goalmouth scramble and lifted it over Banks’ dive.

That took the game into extra time and again Banks was not unduly troubles, but had to be alert at the end to save a shot and the rebound. But seconds later Hurst scored and it was over, Banks one of the big heroes of the win, not only for of his own performance but also because the defence played so confidently knowing he was behind them.

Disposed of by Leicester

Bizarrely, despite being recognised as the best keeper in the world, within a year he was disposed of by Leicester, transferring to Stoke City. The reason was that Banks’ understudy at Leicester had refused to sign a contract unless he was given the number one goalkeeping position. That precocious 17 year old was Peter Shilton, and the management clearly believed he was something special.

England had got to the semi-finals of the 1968 European Championship but were kicked off the park, Alan Mullery gaining the dubious distinction of being the first England player to be sent off when he retaliated against a player who had been hacking at him throughout the game. Shortly afterward Yugoslavia’s top winger, Dragan Dzajic, grabbed the goal that settled the match. Fittingly Yugoslavia lost the final to Italy.

Brazil 1970

The next tournament where Banks had to prove his claim to the world crown was the 1970 World Cup in Brazil, and he delivered in spades. After a steady opening win against Romania, England faced Brazil in a group game. The match was held in sweltering noon-day heat, up to 98 degrees Fahrenheit, to satisfy European television companies, which of course suited Brazil rather than England.

The Save of the Century

Ten minutes into the game, Jairzinho crossed for Pele by the far post, who had evaded his marker and was able to head the ball powerfully down just inside the far post. Banks looked stranded but was somehow able to scramble across and flip the ball up and over the crossbar, to the complete astonishment of everyone watching.

This galvanised England who refused to lie down and took the game to Brazil. But in the second half, with England wilting in the heat, Brazil made the breakthrough. Jairzinho rifled in a shot from the right hand edge of the penalty area and although England still threatened, they couldn’t convert their chances, and Brazil held on to win.

Quarter-Final Disaster

England progressed to a quarter-final with West Germany but Banksie was struck down by Montezuma’s revenge, days before the match and although he tried out, it was clear that he wasn’t right, and Ramsey decided he couldn’t take the risk.

By this time, Peter ‘The Cat’ Bonetti, Chelsea’s amazingly athletic keeper, was England’s second choice. He would have been the first choice keeper for any other country in the world, but England had Banks, so Bonetti had only managed six caps so far.

When his chance came, he could not deliver. He was clearly at fault for West Germany’s first goal, and suspect for the other two. As Ramsey said when hearing of Banks’ illness "Of all the players to lose, we had to lose him." England were going home, defeated by West Germany by three goals to two, after being two goals up, and Bonetti would never be capped again.

Decade of Decline Begins

This was the beginning of a long decline for England. West Germany (again) dumped them out of the 1972 European Championships, defeating England at Wembley and holding out for a 0-0 draw at home.

Banks had so nearly saved Gunther Netzer’s penalty eight minutes from the end of the Wembley game, guessing the right way and getting both hands to the ball but being unable to do anything other than push it into the side netting. That made it 1-2 and Gerd Muller made it 1-3 with an unstoppable shot on the turn three minutes later.

The Untimely End

The World Cup of 1974 now assumed top priority and Banks assumed that he would be there as England’s number one, although Peter Shilton had by now notched up three caps as Banks’ understudy. But disaster struck when Banks lost control of his car one evening in October 1972, ended up unconscious in a ditch, and was rushed to hospital.

After some time, it was announced that doctors had been unable to save the sight in his right eye, and his career was over. Shilton came in as England number one and was also bought by Stoke City to replace Banks at club level. Shilton subsequently overtook all Banks' international records except one: Banks still retains the record for the longest run of clean sheets for England, seven, in the run up to the semi-final against Portugal in 1966.

Pele Speaks

Banks will forever be remembered for the world’s best save, although he modestly claimed that he didn’t think it was that special, he felt he had been caught out of position. Years later Pele described it thus: "Banks came from nowhere. I was already shouting ‘Goooal!’ when, like a salmon leaping up a waterfall, he threw himself to tip the ball over the crossbar. It was an impossible play."

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