When Gordon Banks won the World Cup

Gordon Banks (No.1) – goalkeeper

He was famous in 1966 for…?

…keeping a clean sheet for 721 minutes of English football, before finally being beaten by a Eusebio penalty in the Semi-final. So, conceding TWO goals in the Final was definitely not in the script, but thankfully Hurst scored three.

Although a great goalkeeper at the time, Gordon Banks would only really become the world-famous legend he is today in the years following the 1966 World Cup. But the tournament did launch him into the spotlight, and from there he didn’t disappoint.

What he should really be famous for in 66 …?

Amazingly he didn’t win the Best Goalkeeper Award for the World Cup, which was presented to veteran Russian Lev Yashin, whose Russia side finished 4th and conceding 6 goals in total over the tournament, which was twice the number Banks conceded.

It might have been because Banks was so well protected by his well-drilled defence in the run up to the Final that he often seemed like the best-paid spectator of the competition. Even when he came out to punch the ball clear against Portugal in the Semi-final, clattering Nobby Stiles to the ground in the process, all he got as a comeback from the dazed but usually caustic United man was a mumbled “Well done, good job.”

He did make some great saves, one particularly at the end of the Portugal Semi-final: With England hanging on to a slim 2-1 lead, he finger-tipped a Coluna thunderbolt over the bar in the last few minutes. In the Final it was another finger-tipped saved from Uwe Seeler just before half-time, and he also saved well from a Sigi Held shot towards the end of extra-time with England hanging on at 3-2. He not only dived perfectly to stop it going in the left corner, but he also held on tight to it.

Less well-known about 66…?

In the Final, his reasons for conceding the rather soft first German goal were because firstly he called to Ray Wilson to “leave it” rather than head the ball, as it was going for a goal kick. But instead Wilson headed it straight to Haller, whose shot beat Banks. Secondly, Gordon dived late because he thought Jack Charlton standing in front of him was going to block it, but he in turn left it for Banks.

For the late late German equaliser, he (like everyone) spotted the handball just after the free-kick. As the ball spun to Weber to shoot, he reckoned that Wilson would block the shot if hit low, so he dived to cover a higher shot. But somehow Weber managed to scoop it over both of them. Afterwards, he is up and claiming the handball, but to no avail.

He even had something to say about the OTHER goal he conceded in the finals, that penalty from Eusebio. He’d agreed with Alf Ramsey to dive to his right if Eusebio got a penalty, as that was where the prolific striker always seemed to put it. However, when Portugal did get a penalty, Eusebio was made aware of Alan Ball signalling frantically to Banks to dive to his right. Banks reckoned he would now change his mind and so dived to his left…only for Eusebio to put it away to his right as normal. Subsequently, Ramsey was apoplectic with Banks, despite him being dropped in it by Alan Ball.

One of his goalkeeping secrets was that he chewed gum, then rubbed it (or by spitting) on his hands to get extra grip (assuming he didn’t wear gloves, which (being a real goalkeeper) he only wore if conditions were torrential). He’d always get the gum from coach Harold Shepherdson, but just before the Portugal game Harold found he hadn’t got any. With Banks beginning to panic in the tunnel, Alf Ramsey growled at Harold to get some gum immediately. “Where from??” Harold asked, desperately. “I’m a manager, not a sweetshop owner!!” came the reply. So Harold sprinted to a late-night shop at the end of Wembley Way. He was just back in time as Gordon was about to walk on to the pitch. Shattered Harold took a bit longer to follow him. Gordon immediately started chewing…but then when the game began, he put his gloves on anyway!

Before 66…?

Gordon Banks was already 28 when he won the 1966 World Cup. He’d played briefly for Chesterfield, before being scooped up by Leicester City in 1959. He helped to establish The Foxes as a top-flight team as opposed to just another relegation/promotion “yo-yo” team, as well as producing a string of great cup runs. He was on the losing side of the 1961 and 1963 FA Cup finals. The 1961 final was lost 0-2 to double winning Spurs, although Leicester effectively played for most of the game with 10 men when Len Chalmers broke his leg – he staggered on as there were no substitutes in those days! In 1963 Leicester lost unexpectedly 1-3 to Manchester United; Leicester had just finished 4th in the league, whereas United had finished 4th from bottom. Banks even fumbled one of the goals (although City’s Frank McLintock did get in the way).

Banks’ first major trophy was the League Cup in 1964 beating his later club Stoke City in a two-leg final. But the following season Leicester were swept away in the final by an emerging Chelsea side under Tommy Docherty.

He made his debut for England in 1963, just as Alf Ramsey became manager, and was soon a firm favourite of Alf and England fans.

After 66…?

Bewilderingly, after winning the World Cup Gordon Banks’ career took a stumble. Leicester’s manager gleefully decided that because he had a young emerging Peter Shilton that he could cash in and sell Banks, whom he felt at 29 was probably past his best!

Bill Shankly was desperate to have him at Liverpool who were going through several years of a trophy-less drought (1966-73), but his club board wouldn’t cough up the dosh just to buy a keeper. Stoke City weren’t so stupid, and signed the world’s best goalkeeper for a song in 1967. However, manager Tony Waddington had to wangle a secret bonus for Banks after Leicester spitefully denied him his loyalty-payment. (Banks always thought the payment had come from Leicester, only finding out years later that Waddington had squeezed it out of the Stoke board.)

In the 1970 World Cup Banks became a superstar for his performances for England in the soaring heat (and rock-hard pitches) of Mexico. His incredible save against Pele’s superb header is still seen as one of the most remarkable sporting moments of all time. Everyone was convinced it was going to be a goal, until somehow Banks flew across and batted the ball over the bar in what looked like an impossible manoeuvre. With Pele being crowned as the World’s greatest player and the match being shown to a huge worldwide audience, it catapulted Banks to a new level of fame, making the World Cup win of 66 seem merely preliminary. It was even announced that he was to be awarded the OBE. However, Bobby Moore brought him back to earth with a “You used to be able to hold on to them” comment after the Pele save.

He famously contracted food-poisoning before the quarter-final against West Germany, and his absence is thought to have cost England the game, and possibly another World Cup win – the England squad that year really was that good. Many still see the poisoning as a conspiracy to knobble England as only Banks got ill, and many of the other players now believe this theory.

Banks won the League Cup again in 1972, this time at Wembley. His brave late save against Chelsea’s Chris Garland secured the cup for Stoke, but it was the semi-final 2nd leg where Banks made arguably his greatest save. A late penalty from Geoff Hurst would put Stoke out, but cleverly Banks remembered where Hurst had put one in the first leg, and then improvised when the ball rose higher than expected, beating it clear.

Tragically Gordon Banks lost the sight of one eye in a car accident 6 months later. Although 34 by now, he would still have had several years of professional English football ahead of him. Thankfully, he was embraced by the rise of soccer in the USA, and for two seasons won fans and awards playing for Fort Lauderdale Strikers in Florida, where he won NASL Goalkeeper Of The Year in 1977.

Returning to England, football began to turn sour for him. He foolishly turned down a coaching job in Southampton with Lawrie McMenemy for one at lowly Port Vale, as the club was close to his home near Stoke, but it didn’t work out. He then briefly managed Telford United, where he was humiliatingly demoted to raffle-ticket seller!

Things didn’t improve when he lost money fronting a hospitality company in Leicester, and he later sold his World Cup medal for £125,000 in 2001 (so he could split the money equally between his three children). However, he was so well respected that he was appointed Stoke City President after the death of Stanley Matthews, and is very much the elder statesman of World football. There are paintings and monuments made of him, such as the bronze statue beside Stoke’s bet365 ground clutching not the League Cup won for Stoke, but of course the World Cup.

[Extract from book The Golden Boys Of ’66 by David Lee]