DAVID DOCHERTY TAKES AN IN-DEPTH LOOK BACK AT THE CAREER OF AN ENGLAND GOALKEEPING LEGEND...
A goalkeeping legend
MENTION the name Banksy these days and most people will think of the controversial camera-shy grafitti artist whose provocative social commentary work, once chiselled out of his wall of choice, sells for mind-boggling prices.
Forty years ago, if you mentioned the name Banksy the person you would have been talking about would undoubtedly have been England’s World Cup winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks, who was also very much an artist in his own field.
The original Bansky began his career with Chesterfield before he moved on to Leicester City, where he won a League Cup, appeared in two of the four unsuccessful FA Cup finals in the Foxes’ history and won 37 England caps.
Leicester, who had the highly promising and ambitious 17-year-old Peter Shilton on their books, shocked the 28-yearold Banks when they told him they were looking to the future and that they were prepared to listen to offers for him.
On hearing that, by his own admission, he couldn’t get away from the club quickly enough and in April 1967 he signed for Stoke City for a fee of £52,000.
Leicester, with Shilton in goal, reached their fourth FA Cup final in 1969 but were relegated at the end of that same season.
By 1972, Banks, who had been awarded an OBE two years before, had taken his England appearances to 73 and helped Stoke win their first and, to date, only major trophy – the League Cup.
That season culminated in him being named as the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year for 1972, which was then the highest individual award of the day.
Only months after, in October 1972, Banks was involved in a horrific car crash which cost him the sight of his right eye and resulted in a £250 fine for dangerous driving.
That rare error of judgement also cost him his first-class football career just two months short of his 34th birthday.
After months of rehab, he frustratingly realised that his restricted vision meant that he could not return to top level football in this country. However, some four years after his accident, having trained Stoke City’s youth side in the interim, his peripheral vision had returned sufficiently well that he realised that he could play the game he loved again, albeit at a lower level.
Banks decided to head to America. He joined the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and performed so well that they not only won their league but he was also named North American Soccer League Goalkeeper of the Year for 1977. He spent two successful years with the Strikers before finally hanging up his gloves at the age of 41.
He returned to the UK to become first-team coach for Port Vale and later manager of Telford United but, as in the case of his contemporary, the great Bobby Moore, to the eternal shame of the so-called “family of football” he was never offered a role commensurate to his great standing in the game.
Banks kept goal for England 73 times between 1963 and 1972 and was on the losing side just nine times with a remarkable 35 clean-sheets to his credit.
Curiously, his first cap came against Scotland and what proved to be his last was also against England’s oldest foes.
With one World Cup winner’s medal in his pocket and England well on course for a second final in Mexico in 1970, Banks fell ill with stomach prob-
lems on the eve of a quarter-final meeting with West Germany in Leon. The vomiting and debilitating fallout left him so weak that Peter Bonetti, of Chelsea, had to take his place.
In those days of fairly primitive communications systems (yes, kids, no mobile phones, emails or texting!), Banks, oblivious to what had actually gone on, was watching a re cording of the game from his bed back in his hotel room and saw England go two goals up when the third goalkeeper in the squad, Alex Stepney, who had been on the bench, came into his room. Stepney had a funereal look on his face. Banks asked him what was up and Stepney responded by saying “Don’t you know? We lost.”
Banks could not believe that England could ever lose a two-goal lead to anyone but they had – the Germans had staged a remarkable comeback to win 3-2 after extra-time.
Nearly 50 years later, people are still lamenting the loss of England’s undisputed No.1 for that particular match.
The fact that Banks had made what is regarded as football’s greatest-ever save from Pele, the world’s best player, earlier in the tournament only adds to the conundrum and conspiracy theorists have had a field day ever since, claiming that Banks may have been specially targetted and “got at”.
For the record, only five countries defeated England whilst Banks kept goal. They were: Scotland 3; Brazil 2; West Germany 2; Argentina 1 and Yugoslavia 1.
Curiously, up until fairly recently, goalkeepers were never valued in the same way as outfield players and that may explain why Banks spent his whole career playing for two of the top division’s less fashionable clubs. That said, Leicester finished in the top eight no fewer than four times during his time with them, on one occasion (season 1962-63) finishing as high as fourth. Stoke once took ninth spot, although they spent most of his time there at the other end of the table. It was Brian Clough who first talked about a top goalkeeper (Peter Shilton in that instance) being worth 12 points a season (six wins back in the day), which was proved to be totally on point when his newly promoted Nottingham Forest side won the First Division title in 1978. It is said that Bill Shankly tried to take Banks to Liverpool when Leicester put him on the market, but that his board refused to come up with the £50,000 required to secure his services. As we know, the Anfield club recently paid a then world record sum for a goalkeeper of over £66m to sign Alisson, left, from AS Roma despite the fact that the Brazilian international conceded no fewer than seven goals against them in their two epic Champions League semi-final encounters. Changed days indeed. If Alisson proves to be half as good and reliable as Banks, he will be considered to have been worth the money – we shall just have to wait and see.
These days, Banks is better remembered for what he did in an England shirt than what his club teams ever achieved. His great traits were that he was a confident, vociferous organiser who had quick reflexes and displayed superb agility.
He could catch a ball (which is rare these days) and enjoyed full command of his area of operation. There is no question that a player of his outstanding ability should have won many more domestic honours.
Had he played against Poland at Wembley in 1973, it is highly likely that England would not have conceded the soft goal they did and would have reached the 1974 World Cup finals in Germany. But, once again, we can only speculate. Unsurprisingly for a man who had played in almost 700 League and Cup matches as well as his numerous international appearances and had kept goal since the age of 13, Banks picked up a catalogue of injuries, which included broken and dislocated fingers and thumbs, fractures to wrist and elbow, a broken nose on two occasions and at least half a dozen bouts of concussion.
The proud Yorkshireman, fast approaching his 81st birthday, still carries himself well and remains a modest, likeable individual.
His place in football history is assured in the knowledge that he never let club or country down. His statue, which was unveiled by his old adversary Pele in 2008, fittingly stands outside Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium.
The very name Gordon Banks OBE is a mark of true football excellence.
On top of the world: England’s Gordon Banks shows off the Jules Rimet Trophy and, inset, the Stoke keeper punches clear against Manchester City
Old pals: Gordon Banks and Brazil legend Pele show off a picture of his famous save
Hif full record for his country is as follows: