A 15 year old Gordon Banks joins Chesterfield FC

England goalkeeper Gordon Banks leads the team out at Wembley
Banks spent 10 years as England’s No.1 and was only on the losing side 9 times

“What a save!”
A seminal moment of pure genius

by Richard D J J Bowdery

Some footballers’ lives are defined by a seminal moment in their careers: Gazza shedding tears following a yellow card in the Italia ‘90 World Cup semi-final which ruled him out of the final, if England had overcome Germany; and Beckham’s audacious 60-yard lobbed goal from the halfway line beating Wimbledon keeper Neil Sullivan, in a Premiership match on 17 August 1996 which announced Spice boy’s arrival on football’s world stage.

For the subject of this week’s column that moment occurred on 7 June 1970.

England faced Brazil in Group 3 of the Mexico World Cup. It was a daunting task as the Brazilian’s fielded a side of such sublime talent which included Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Rivelino and Pelé.

A ball from Alberto sent Jairzinho racing down the wing. He surged past Terry Cooper, England’s left-back that day and crossed the ball into the penalty area where it was met by the head of Pele. Before his feet had returned to earth Pelé shouted “Golo!”

Gordon Banks instinctively dived low to his right and tipped the ball over the bar. No one on the pitch, in the stadium or the millions watching on TV could believe what they had just witnessed.

What followed was a memorable exchange between three gladiators in the heat of battle.

Pelé: “I thought that was a goal.”
Banks: “You and me both.”
Bobby Moore: “You’re getting old, Banksy, you used to hold on to them!”

Banks pulls off his incredible save as Bobby Moore and Brian Labone look on in disbelief

The laughter that followed Moore’s humorous comment displayed a joie de vive which transcended the importance of the game.

Many football pundits, journalists and fans claim that Banks save was the greatest ever made by a World Cup goalkeeper. Banks himself has said that people won’t remember him for winning the World Cup (at Wembley in 1966) – “They just want to talk to me about that save.”

It was all a far cry from March 1953 when, as a 15 year-old, he joined Chesterfield FC after being spotted playing for a colliery side in South Yorkshire. He soon established himself as a keeper of some quality and played in the youth team who lost 4-3 to Manchester United in the 1956 Youth Cup Final.

Two years later, in November 1958, he made his first-team debut for the club who were then in the Football League’s Third Division.

His performances between the sticks soon caught the eye of the League’s top sides and it was First Division’s Leicester City who signed him for £7,000 in July 1959.

His performances in the top-flight brought him to the attention of the England set up where he won two Under-23 caps.
Following the appointment of Alf Ramsey as England manager in 1962, Banks found himself replacing the previous incumbent, Ron Springett.

He won his first cap on 6 April 1963 against the ‘auld enemy’ at Wembley which England lost 2-1. Despite the defeat, Banks displayed an assurance in goal that made him Ramsey’s number one choice. And the rest, as they say, is history.

By the 1970 World Cup, and with a winner’s medal from the ’66 tournament in his trophy cabinet, Banks had won 59 caps. When he retired after England’s 1-0 win over Scotland at Hampden Park in May 1972. He had won 73 caps, kept 35 clean sheets and was on the losing side just nine times in his England career.

After Banks hung up his boots he tried his hand at coaching, first at Port Vale and then with non-league Telford United. But his footballing prowess on the pitch never crossed the divide into management.

Sadly he lost the sight in his right eye following a motoring accident in November 1972. He also lost a significant amount of money in a failed business venture, which he covers in his book Banksy: My Autobiography, published in 2002.

The previous year, in 1971, he sold his World Cup winners medal. Though it was a difficult decision for him to make, he explained he did it in order to save his children the burden of deciding what to do with the medal after his death.

Yet despite these post-goalkeeping setbacks the one thing that cannot be taken from him is his place in the pantheon of great footballing memories, gained when he made that wonderful save from Pele’s ‘certain’ goal in 1970.


Click on the photo to see ‘The Save’ from Gordon Banks


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