Legendary No.1 will also be remembered for making ‘that save’ from Pele
England footballers past and present have paid tribute to 1966 World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks, who has died at the age of 81.
In a statement posted on the website of his former club Stoke City his family said: “It is with great sadness that we announce that Gordon passed away peacefully overnight. We are devastated to lose him but we have so many happy memories and could not have been more proud of him.
“We would ask that the privacy of the family is respected at this time.”
Save of the century
Born in 1937 in Sheffield, Banks started his professional club career at Chesterfield before going on to play for Leicester City, Stoke City and US side Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
It was on the international stage, however, where Banks became a footballing icon. As well as helping England win the World Cup in 1966, four years later in Mexico he pulled off what many believe is the greatest save of all time when he stopped a header from Brazil superstar Pele.
Speaking to the Observer Sport Monthly in 2003, Banks said “not a day goes by when I don’t get asked about it”.
He said: “That save from Pele’s header was the best I ever made. I didn’t have any idea how famous it would become – to start with, I didn’t even realise I’d made it at all. I heard Pele shout ‘goal’ as he headed it, which was followed by a massive, almost deafening, roar. Even though I’d got a hand to it, I thought he must have scored.”
Capped 73 times by England, Banks is regarded as one of the best No.1s of all time and was named as the Fifa goalkeeper of the year six times.
Despite losing the sight in his right eye after a car crash in October 1972, Banks continued to play football before playing his final competitive match in 1977.
‘Rest in peace, my friend’
Pele, whose header was saved by Banks, issued a statement on Facebook and spoke of his rivalry and long friendship with the England goalkeeper.
The 78-year-old Brazilian said: “For many people, their memory of Gordon Banks is defined by the save he made against me in 1970. I understand why. The save was one of the best I have ever seen – in real life and in all the thousands of games I have watched since.
“When you are a footballer, you know straight away how well you have hit the ball. I hit that header exactly as I had hoped. Exactly where I wanted it to go. And I was ready to celebrate.
“But then this man, Banks, appeared in my sight, like a kind of blue phantom, is how I described him. 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.
“I scored so many goals in my life, but many people, when they meet me, always ask me about that save. While it was indeed phenomenal, my memory of Gordon is not defined by that – it is defined by his friendship. He was a kind and warm man who gave so much to people.
“So I am glad he saved my header – because that act was the start of a friendship between us that I will always treasure. Whenever we met, it was always like we had never been apart.
“I have great sadness in my heart today and I send condolences to the family he was so proud of. Rest in peace, my friend. Yes, you were a goalkeeper with magic. But you were also so much more. You were a fine human being.”
Banks played 194 games for Stoke City and won the League Cup with the club in 1972. Since 2000 he had been their president and speaking with the BBC Stoke chairman Peter Coates paid tribute to the club legend.
“He made his home in Stoke, and was very much part of the fabric of the club,” said Coates. “You don’t get too many like him, and he was immensely modest for all his talent.
“He was England’s greatest goalkeeper when they had their finest hour.”
Peter Shilton, another England goalkeeping legend, replaced Banks at Leicester City. He tweeted: “I’m devastated – today I’ve lost my hero our condolences to his family rip Gordon.”
England’s current manager Gareth Southgate said: “I am deeply saddened to hear of Gordon’s passing. An all-time great for England, I was privileged enough to be in his company on a number of occasions.
“It was particularly special to be with him at a Football Writers’ tribute dinner last year and wish him well on his 80th birthday.
“Gordon spoke to the room about that incredible save from Pele against Brazil back in 1970 and moments like that from his remarkable World Cup-winning career will continue to linger long in the memory.”
One of the very greatest
England 1966 World Cup heroes Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Geoff Hurst were among the first to praise Banks following the news of his passing.
Charlton said: “Gordon was a fantastic goalkeeper, without doubt one of the best England has ever had.
“I was proud to call him a team-mate. Obviously we shared that great day in 1966 but it was more than that.
“Even though I was on the pitch and have seen it many times since, I still don’t know how he saved that header from Pele.”
Hurst added: “One of the very greatest. Thinking especially of Ursula, Julia, Wendy and Robert. Sad for football, Stoke City and for England fans.”