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Gordon Banks ‘Banks of England’
To read the player profile on Gordon Banks click here.
To read the manager profile on Gordon Banks click here.
Gordon was born on the 30th December 1937 in Abbeydale, Sheffield, the youngest of four brothers to a steelworker dad. They lived in the working-class area of Tinsley until moving to the village of Catcliffe, where his dad set up a betting shop, which was illegal in those days. That led to the loss of his disabled brother, who was mugged for the shop’s daily takings and died of his injuries a few weeks later.
At school Banks became a goalkeeper due to playing 5-a-sides. The kids would all take it in turns, and he found he enjoyed it, so Gordon ended up being the keeper on a more and more regular basis. He went on to represent Sheffield Schoolboys but he was never a good pupil, Banks himself admits he never liked school and he left aged 15 to become a bagger for the local coal merchant. Banks would be in a lorry waiting as trains came into the sidings full of coal. They would get into the wagon, shovel coal into bags on the wagon and then stack the bags on the lorry. Then they would deliver the sacks to houses in the area.
Gordon was still just 15 when his brother David got him a job on a building site as an apprentice bricklayer. There he would carry hods, mix cement and dig ditches. On a Saturday morning he would do overtime then run home, wash and get changed before catching the bus or tram into town to watch whichever of the two Sheffield teams was playing at home that day. One Saturday Banks missed the bus and so he instead went to watch local team Millspaugh play on the ‘rec’.
He was leaning on the fence when their coach spotted him in the crowd and asked Gordon if he would play as their keeper had not turned up for the game. The coach had seen him play for Sheffield Schoolboys and recognised him, no doubt with a huge sigh of relief. Banks rushed home to get his boots and played well enough to be asked to play for them regularly. Yorkshire League side Rawmarch Welfare spotted him playing and snapped him up but after two games, in which Rawmarch lost 12-2 and 3-1, they dropped him and he returned to Millspaugh.
Chesterfield scouted him and offered him a six game trial with their youth team in March 1953, which he accepted. After his trial he signed a £3 a week part-time deal with Chesterfield and would continue to work on the building sites, training on a Tuesday and Thursday night. National Service intervened and he spent a year posted in Germany with the Royal Signals, winning the Rhine Cup with his regimental team and winning the heart of his wife Ursula while there too.
Returning to England he was part of the Chesterfield youth team that made it through to the 1956 FA Youth Cup final, where they lost 4-3 on aggregate to the Busby Babes. Chesterfield’s reserves were placed into the Central League due to the influence of a powerful club director, but they found themselves out of their depth, even with Banks in goal. They finished last with just 3 wins and Banks conceded 122 goals!
Despite Gordon’s lack of success in the reserves, in November 1958 he was given his first team debut against Colchester United at Saltergate. The score finished 2-2 but Banks held on to his place for the rest of the season, missing just 2 matches and all were due to injury. With no specialist goalkeeping coaches in English football at the time, Gordon Banks had to teach himself how to keep the ball out of the net. With just 26 total appearances under his belt, Leicester City manager Matt Gillies had seen enough to pay £7,000 for his services in July 1959 and he was given a salary increase to £15 per week.
The Foxes had five other goalkeepers competing for the number 1 shirt already, including Scottish international Johnny Anderson. Dave MacLaren had the shirt, but Banks began the 1959-60 season as the reserves keeper, ahead of Anderson. After just four games in the reserves, MacLaren picked up an injury and Banks made his first team debut for Leicester on 9th September at Filbert Street against Blackpool in a 1-1 draw. He also played 3 days later in a 2-0 defeat to Newcastle at St James’ Park but then MacLaren returned to fitness and Banks returned to the reserves.
Over the course of the next five matches the first team conceded 14 and so Banks was recalled to the first team. His return did not pay immediate dividends, Leicester still leaked goals, including 6 at Goodison Park, but Banks worked hard on his weaknesses in training. This was before specialist goalkeeping coaches and so Banks would create his own practice session to work on things, such as coming for crosses. He did well enough that both Anderson and MacLaren were allowed to move on at the end of the season, leaving Banks as undisputed number 1.
The following season was much better for Leicester, as they came 6th in the league and reached an FA Cup final, with Banks conceding just 5 goals in their 9 games en route to Wembley. The semi-final went to two replays against Sheffield United, with Banks keeping a clean sheet in all three games to see the Foxes into the final. There they met a Tottenham team that beat them 2-0 and then Spurs clinched the double with the league title. That meant Leicester were in European competition, as Spurs were in the European Cup, and had a run in the European Cup Winners’ Cup to look forward to for the 1961-62 season.
Banks had impressed enough to put himself into the England reckoning now, which caused a few problems for the goalkeeper when an England v Portugal game clashed with Leicester’s game against Atletico Madrid. He resolved the dilemma over which to choose by not choosing between them. Banks instead left London as soon as the England game had finished (he was not in the team) and raced up to Leicester to arrive 30 minutes before kick off. It was not enough to see Leicester through as the game finished 1-1 and they went on to lose the return leg 2-0 despite Banks’s penalty save. The run in Europe seemingly affected their league form as they finished the season just 14th in Division One.
Banks opened the 1962-63 season with a broken nose in a 2-1 defeat at Craven Cottage on opening day, but it was not a taster for how the season would go. Leicester were chasing the double and were sat top of the Division 1 table in April and were in the FA Cup semi-finals, where they would face Liverpool. In the semi at Hillsborough, Liverpool bombarded his goal, with the game finishing 34 shots to 1 in their favour, but Banks still managed to keep a clean sheet and see the Foxes into the final with a 1-0 win. After his retirement Banks referred to it as his finest performance at club level.
At international level Alf Ramsey started looking to the 1966 World Cup and dropped Ron Springett for him on 6th April 1963 against Scotland at Wembley. England lost 2-1 but Banks held on to his place. The end of the season did not go so well though as Banks broke a finger at the Hawthorns in a 2-1 defeat by West Brom and missed the last 3 league games as Leicester slumped without him, losing them all and dropping to 4th. Banks did return to play in the FA Cup final, but the entire team played poorly in a 3-1 defeat to Manchester United.
The next season saw Leicester in inconsistent form in the league, finishing just 11th, but they reached another cup final, this time the League Cup variant. In those days it was a home and away affair and Stoke were the opponents. The first leg at an extremely muddy Victoria Ground was a 1-1 draw after Banks spilt a Bill Asprey shot, which Keith Bebbington slotting home the loose ball. Back at Filbert Street, Leicester won 3-2 to lift the cup 4-3 on aggregate.
By the end of the season Banks had firmly established himself as England’s number 1 and played two of the 3 matches during the summer’s “Little World Cup” in Brazil. At this time Leicester paid full internationals, such as Banks and Frank McLintock, £40 a week and that saw McLintock request a transfer due to his low pay. Rival clubs were paying their fringe players that much and they eventually, in December, upped Banks’ wage to £60 a week. It was not the best season for Banks personally as Blackpool keeper Tony Waiters managed to push in, picking up 5 caps, but he lost his place back to Banks after conceding five goals against Brazil. Waiters’ chance came about after Banks was one of a party of England players who went on an unsanctioned night out before a friendly in Lisbon. The players all returned to their hotel rooms to find their passports waiting for them on their pillows!
In the league the Foxes struggled, finishing 18th, but managed to reach the League Cup final again, this time losing to Chelsea. After the season, England’s summer tour saw Banks and the defence build an understanding and conceded just 2 goals in 4 games. Returning to club duty, he broke his wrist in pre-season, which saw him miss the first 9 games of the season, however Leicester’s form improved and they managed to reach 7th before Banks headed off on England duty once more.
England played 7 friendlies in the build up to the 1966 World Cup, included in that was a 4-3 win over Scotland in the British Home Championship in front of over 130,000 at Hampden Park and they headed into the tournament in fine form. The tournament began with Banks pretty much a spectator in the first game against Uruguay as they were so defensive. Against Mexico he again had an easy day before another win, and a third clean sheet in row saw England through to the last 8 without conceding a single goal. Argentina were next up, though it lacked the rivalry of future games, and another clean sheet helped England into the semi-finals.
The teams were lining up in the tunnel before the match when trainer Harold Shepherdson realised he had forgotten to buy Banks’ chewing gum. As Banks explains: “I didn’t use gloves in those days, only when it was wet. Woollen ones like the ones you may buy to wear in winter now with your overcoat. But I learned from Bert Trautmann to get a couple of pieces of chewing gum and start chewing. He told me to wait until just before the icing on the gum cracked and then spit on my hands and smooth it over. Then when the opposition came over the halfway line you just had to lick your palms and they would immediately get sticky and help you hold the ball when it came.” In a panic Shepherdson ran to a nearby newsagents to buy some chewing gum and just made it back in time for kick off.
Perhaps that contributed as Banks conceded his first goal in 721 minutes of regular play, but England managed to beat Portugal, with the great Eusebio up front at his peak, 2-1. As some of you might have heard, England went on to beat West Germany in the final to become World Champions for the first (and so far only) time. The German players were all given £10,000 each and a VW car for reaching the final, England gave its players £1,000 each and a raincoat.
Banks returned to the Foxes fresh from a World Cup win only to find himself dropped towards the end of the season, being told by manager Matt Gillies that “we think your best days are behind you, and you should move on”. Leicester team mate Richie Norman told him that Gillies had been pressured into it by the board after Peter Shilton, who replaced Banks in the team, had threatened to leave if he was not playing. Shockingly Leicester transfer listed Gordon Banks with a price of £50,000.
As soon as Liverpool manager Bill Shankly got the news that Banks was available he jumped in his car and drove straight to Leicester. He met Leicester’s directors and agreed a fee, then he spoke to Banks and agreed personal terms before racing back to Liverpool to speak to the LFC board. The Liverpool board refused point blank to sanction paying that much for a keeper. West Ham manager Ron Greenwood was the next to show interest but he had already agreed a deal with Kilmarnock for the signing of Bobby Ferguson for £65,000 and would not go back on his word. So it was left to Stoke City to step in and pay the £50,000 to buy him in April 1967.
Just one year after becoming a World Cup winner Gordon Banks was being forced to make a move from Leicester and the England goalkeeper asked for the standard ‘loyalty’ payment from the Foxes. Gillies told him: “We’ve decided not to pay you a penny. There’s to be no compensation payment and that’s final.” Shocked, as this was a time when players were not being given huge money and could not just afford to go and buy a new house every time they moved club, Banks refused to move to Stoke. In the end Stoke’s manager Tony Waddington told Banks that he had manage to negotiate a £2,000 payment from Leicester for him. It was not until years later that Banks found out Stoke had paid him the money.
At the Potters he replaced John Farmer as number 1 and played the last four games of the 1966/67 season, making his home debut in a 3-1 win over previous club Leicester. Though he has never publicly stated it, I am sure he would have taken a great deal of satisfaction from that result! Banks continued to hold down his place as England’s first choice man between the sticks, representing them in Euro 68 in the days when there were just 4 teams in the tournament – Italy (hosts), Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and England. Despite the safe hands of Banks, England lost their first game 1-0 to Yugoslavia before beating the Soviets in a third place play off.
He still had time to head off to the USA for the summer and play for Cleveland Stokers of the United Soccer Association on loan. Banks found the time to play seven of the Ohio club’s 12 matches of the season before a return to England. Despite Leicester selling him as over the hill, Banks was playing more games than ever and continued to hold down the number 1 jersey for an England team that was believed to be even better than the one that won the World Cup a few years’ previously. They headed off to the heat and altitude of Mexico ’70 as one of the big favourites.
The England team went over to South America early to acclimatise but Banks struggled with the heat and the altitude, as did many others. Despite that, England opened the tournament with a 1-0 win over Romania to set up a clash with the other favourites Brazil in the second game of the group stage. The game most felt should have been the final, between the two best games in the tournament came along the day after Gordon had been honoured with an OBE. In this game he produced the one moment he will always be known for and one that made the OBE seem like it undervalued his contribution.
In Pele’s words: “Banks appeared in my sight like a kind of blue phantom. He came from nowhere, and he did something I didn’t feel was possible. He pushed my header, somehow, up and over. And I couldn’t believe what I saw. Even now when I watch it, I can’t believe it. I can’t believe how he moved so far, so fast.” As the ball flew off Pele’s head, he even shouted “Gol!” Pele was that sure he had placed his header so far from the keeper that no one is going to save it. As the ball headed to his right, Gordon Banks flew across and somehow miraculously managed to tip it over the bar, scooping it right up.
“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.” – Banks
At the time Banks ended up in the back of the net and only Pele’s reaction told him that he had managed to save it. “I thought that was a goal,” an incredulous Pele told him. “You and me both,” replied Gordon. Then Booby Moore arrived to ruffle his hair and told him: “You’re getting old, Banksy, you used to hold onto them.” Despite that incredible save (and that tackle by Moore) Brazil still beat England 1-0 but they then beat Czechoslovakia to reach the quarter finals, where they would once again face West Germany.
Before this game it was not an award he picked up but a stomach bug of some kind, which went from merely an upset stomach to turn into violent stomach cramps and aching limbs. Banks spent the day before sweating, shivering and vomiting. On the day of the game he did feel better and managed to pass a fitness test before suffering a relapse, which led to him being replaced by Peter Bonetti. Gordon was sat in the team hotel watching the game, which was shown with a significant time delay. The time delay was such that England were winning 2-0 on his TV screen when Bobby Moore came back from the game to tell him that England lost 3-2 after extra time. The loss of Banks was key, as Bonetti struggled and that, along with the so-called ‘Bogota Bracelet’ incident led to the spread of conspiracy theories that England had been ‘nobbled’ to stop them winning it again.
While in the region Banks had picked himself up some of the new, oversized goalkeeping gloves with a dimpled rubber surface, which South American keepers favoured. Most Brits mistrusted foreign goalkeepers, but Gordon Banks was someone who was looking to learn from everyone. He returned to England and Stoke began to start being competitive for honours, reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup in the 1970-71 season. They lost to Arsenal after a replay.
There was a controversial moment during the season, something that many forget involved him. In May 1971 Banks was playing in goal for England against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park with the score 0-0. The ball was in Banks’ hands and he balanced it on one hand as he prepared to kick down field when George Best nipped in and headed the ball out of his hand and put it into the empty net. Banks protests quickly saw the referee disallow the goal, but it has stayed in people’s memories as a moment of Best magic.
The following season Stoke won the only major honour in their history, as Banks led them to pick up a League Cup. They also once again reached the FA Cup semi-final to face Arsenal once more. It went to a replay again and Banks later admitted he felt cheated of a chance to play in an FA Cup final after the Gooners won 2-1 thanks to a hotly disputed penalty and a goal that TV replays showed was clearly offside. His performances were so integral to Stoke’s success that he won the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award. He was the first keeper to win it since Bert Trautmann in 1956.
It was a quiet summer for Banks as England had failed to qualify for the European Championships that summer due to a 3-1 loss to West Germany in qualifying. He was still undisputed number 1 for England and Stoke City on 22nd October 1972 when he was driving home after a physio session on an injured shoulder. Banks admitted he was driving too fast and not being careful enough, deciding to overtake on a sharp bend and hit an oncoming van. His car ended up in a ditch. He was rushed to North Staffordshire Hospital for emergency treatment where he received 200 stitches on his face and another 100 micro-stitches inside the socket of his right eye. Unfortunately the treatment was unable to save the sight in his right eye.
The following summer he officially retired from professional football with 73 England caps, 35 of them clean sheets, and just 9 losses in an England shirt. Banks’ final performance was fitting as he was part of an England team that beat the ‘Auld Enemy’ Scotland 1-0 at Hampden Park. He had been chosen as FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year six time, 5 years in a row, the final year being as recently as 1971. Gordon chose to retire as he was afraid that losing an eye would completely destroy his depth perception and ability to compete at the top level.
Retirement never suited him at all and he made one appearance for a semi-professional side, Scarborough FC, in the Anglo-Italian Tournament as a guest. Alan A’Court also guested in a 0-0 draw against Monza. Banks was convinced to join the North American Soccer League as a named superstar in April 1977 with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. They won the league with the best defensive record in 1977, conceding just 29 in 26 games, but he never really enjoyed the showmanship of the league saying: “I felt like a circus act… Roll up, roll up, to see the greatest one-eyed goalkeeper in the world.”
It was very different from what he was used to in the no-nonsense world of the English league, for instance there was one occasion when Banks found himself being driven to the pitch in a hearse. Then he helped to carry a coffin to the centre circle whereupon the team’s manager jumped out, dressed as Dracula, as the PA system announced to the fans that, “Lauderdale Strikers are coming back from the dead!” They had lost just two games in a row before this one.
His performances were enough to win him the NASL Goalkeeper of the Year award, which was unsurprising according to the team’s back up keeper, Van Taylor: “He had such a high work ethic. He was the first to training, last to leave. He worked hard. There was a time in the pre-season where we would run on the beach from one pier to the other and he would be at the front of that pack every time. He took pride in his professionalism. He was so impeccable on angles and positioning. Where maybe I was flopping and making it look like good saves, he would just collect balls. He made things look so easy. When training was over he would say: ‘Let’s just keep a bag of balls’. I learned how to deliver a pretty good cross!”
During the season St Patrick’s Athletic manager Barry Bridges was without a goalkeeper for the Dublin derby with Shamrock Rovers. Bridges made an approach to sign Gordon for just that one game and was waiting to hear back from the legendary keeper. Bridges told the groundsman, Harry Boland, that he was expecting a phone call then took the players out to training. Bridges and the players are out on the pitch training, Harry is down in the dressing room making tea for the players to drink after training when he heard the phone ring upstairs. Rushing upstairs, Harry reaches the phone just in time for it to stop ringing. Back down the stairs, grumbling under his breath, Harry makes it as far as the dressing room before the phone begins to ring once more. Once more he makes his way all the way up the stairs to get to the phone before it stops ringing. By this point he is convinced it is lads in the Black Lion pub, who often used to play this prank on him, so the third time it rings he is ready and waiting by the phone and picks it up. A voice on the other end says: “I’m Gordon Banks, I’m looking to speak to Barry Bridges”, only to receive a tirade of expletives before the phone is slammed down on him. Bridges returns from training and asks, “any phone calls?” “Well there was one,” replies Boland, “but it was the lads up in the Black Lion messing saying it was Gordon Banks on the phone.”
Luckily Barry Bridges was able to rescue the deal and it saw the stadium packed long before kick-off with a large crowd of small boys and small girls chanting, “Gordon Banks, Gordon Banks”. However it was not until about 5 minutes from the end that he was seriously tested when a volley from Eamon Dunphy headed for the top right-hand corner of the net. Banks flew across to pull off a stunning save and earn himself a rapturous ovation after the game as St Pat’s ran out 1-0 winners. Even at 40 with just one working eye, Banks still had it.
In December he joined Port Vale as a coach under Dennis Butler, coaching was clearly something he was keen to make a future in according to Van Taylor: “I was cleaning out my attic the other day and I found some old Delta Air Lines napkins – when we were on the flight, Gordon and I would do Xs and Os, tactics, and he had signed it. We would just talk about the game, as players would, and get a napkin. As it turned out I ended up having a coaching career for 30 years. When I saw that I thought, ‘there was one of my first coaching mentors.’ It was kind of neat.”
Banks continued to play for the Strikers, combining it with the coaching role at Vale, managing 11 appearances in the NASL over the course of 1978. Vale were not doing too well under Butler and he was replaced by Alan Bloor, who then demoted Banks to coach the reserves in October. The great man, without a doubt England’s greatest ever goalkeeper, resigned soon after as he felt the players were not listening to him or taking notice of his advice. He then applied for jobs as manager of Lincoln City and Rotherham United, but both turned Banks down.
Eventually non-league part-timers Telford United game him a chance for the 1979-80 season. There Banks did everything, from appearances at supermarkets to hand out tickets to coaching the team. They finished 13th that season, not as good as was hoped for but he started the following season with optimism. In November he took time off to undergo surgery, leaving Jackie Mudie in temporary charge while he recovered. Telford lost to a lower league team in the FA Trophy while he was away and Banks was promptly sacked on his return and offered a job as a raffle ticket seller instead. Banks accepted it, thinking it would mean the club had to pay up what he was owed, but he was mistaken and ended up having to settle for 50% and said of his treatment: “It broke my heart…. I did not want to stay in the game.”
The game had changed a lot during his lifetime: “In my early days, a goal against us was shrugged off. Nobody liked conceding a goal, but once the ball had gone into the net it was accepted as ‘one of those things’ and everybody in the team would concentrate on trying to get the goal back. But once the maximum wage had been lifted and win bonuses became all-important, it was suddenly considered a crime to concede a goal.”
Despite that, Banks did stay within the game to a degree, as he was appointed to the three-man Pools panel. After Stanley Matthews death in 2000, Stoke appointed him as their president. He also finally got his testimonial game from Leicester, belatedly, in 1995 after he lost a lot of money in a Leicester-based hospitality company. Banks never earnt the wealth his talents deserved and ended up selling his World Cup winner’s medal and his international cap from the final for around £150,000 in total so that he could help his three children buy their first houses.
Recognition of his achievements came late as the IFFHS chose him as number 2 goalkeeper of the 20th Century behind Lev Yashin. He was an inaugural inductee to the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002, Keele University awarded him an honorary doctorate and a statue of him holding up the Jules Rimet Trophy was unveiled outside Stoke’s Britannia Stadium by Pele, who described Banks as a “goalkeeper with magic” as he did so. All of that he got to see before he passed away in his sleep on 12th February 2019 as, without question, the best English goalkeeper of all time.
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For the previous Legend of the Game article on Jimmy Johnstone click HERE
Article read by Ed001
Written by Tris Burke June 18 2020 20:05:53