Bert and Banksy, men from another football world

Bert Williams with Matthews, Revie and Duncan Edwards
Bert Williams with Matthews, Revie and Duncan Edwards
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He inspired a young lad from Tinsley to become the best goalkeeper in the world.

Gordon Banks used to watch Bert Williams from behind the goal at Bramall Lane and Hillsborough whenever the England goalkeeper’s all-conquering Wolves side of the 1950s were in Sheffield.

Williams was the original ‘Cat’ an acrobatic keeper who could seemingly fly up to the top corners to catch a heavy leather ball with his bare hands.

Parrying catchable shots was considered ‘flashy’ and unwise in those days and goalies only wore gloves when it was raining.

It’s easy to romanticise those black and white, fags and brylcreem times, but footballers really were different then.

Williams had to take a two-year break from football to fight in the second world war.

Banks used to bag and deliver coal around Sheffield, and was dropped by Rawmarsh Welfare because he let in 15 goals in two games.

He was then a hod-carrier, had a trial with Chesterfield and we know the rest.

Despite being the best in the world in their prime, neither man made a fortune from football.

Footballers were always well paid compared to the average man but a lot nearer to him than the £200,000 a-week stars of today.

Bert Williams died on Sunday at the age of 93, a man who Banks idolised all his life.

No doubt all the old-timers would have swapped their lot for the untold riches of today’s superstars but they were men of their time.

Idolised by millions but catching the same bus to the ground as the fans.

Men like Tom Finney who, at aged 92, replaces Williams as the oldest surviving England international. A man who topped up his £14 a week footballer’s wage by working in the family plumbing business.

Players can only play in the era in which they live and it would be wrong to blame all the ills of the modern game on the millionaire stars of today.

But men like Williams brought humility to the game from an era when ‘life or death’ matters didn’t involve football.

Men we should take a moment to remember in the brilliant but obsessive and cut-throat football world of today.