Gordon Banks: a Sheffield lad who became England’s ‘greatest goalkeeper’

Gordon Banks’ status as England’s greatest goalkeeper may have been sealed at the triumphant 1966 World Cup, but it was the iconic save which denied Pele four years later in Mexico that he will be best remembered for.

Tuesday, 12th February 2019, 14:10 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th February 2019, 14:14 pm
Englands 1966 World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks has died, his former club Stoke have announced. Gordon Banks stands next to the new Gordon Banks statue at the Britannia Stadium. Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire.

Regarded as the ‘greatest save of the century', the spectacular stop during the 1970 World Cup group stage match in Guadalajara saw Banks’ – in a feat which seemed to defy the laws of physics – not only keep Pele’s powerful downward header out, but also flick the ball over the bar.

The moment further enhanced his reputation following England’s World Cup victory against West Germany in 1966, in which the side reached the semi-finals with Banks conceding a goal - and even then was only beaten by a penalty from Portugal's Eusebio.

Englands 1966 World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks has died, his former club Stoke have announced. Gordon Banks stands next to the new Gordon Banks statue at the Britannia Stadium. Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire.

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Speaking of the iconic save to Observer Sport Monthly in 2003, he said: “That save from Pelé’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 Pelé 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.

“Then I realised the crowd were cheering for me. I couldn’t believe it. Bobby Moore came over and ruffled my hair – I like to tell people that he was having a go at me for not holding on to it! After all, our match against Brazil was still at 0-0 and we had a corner to defend.

Former England goalkeeper Gordon Banks (centre) with Archbishop Desmond Tutu (left) and former Brazilian star Pele. Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire.

“As I got to my feet I tried to look as nonchalant as possible, as if to say that I make that sort of save all the time. Not a day goes by when I don’t get asked about it.”


Banks caught the goalkeeping bug as a teenager at Tinsley School, and was offered a trial for Sheffield boys.

An avid football fan, he would catch the bus to Sheffield to watch either United or Wednesday, depending on who was at home.

Stoke City goalkeeper Gordon Banks holds the Jules Rimet trophy as he is awarded a a Stoke City shirt before the game. Photo: Clint Hughes/PA Wire.

However, after missing his regular bus one Saturday and not able to get to Bramall Lane until after half time, he decided to walk to Tinsley rec where an amateur game was close to kick off.

It was here he was summoned to play in goal for local team Millspaugh after their regular goalkeeper failed to turn up

It was here he was given chance to play in goal for the men’s team, Millspaugh, and after making a good impression was invited to trial for Rawmarsh Welfare in the then-Yorkshire League - which became the Northern Counties East League in 1982 after merging with the Midlands League.

File photo dated 05-05-1965 of Gordon Banks jumps to make a save in the match with Hungary at Wembley. Photo: PA/PA Wire.

Then just 16, Banks was offered to two games to prove himself, however following 12-2 and 3-1 defeats he was told not to turn up again.

With his pride in tatters, his determination unwavering, Banks returned to Millspaugh, before being spotted by a Chesterfield scout, and signed for the youth team towards the end of the successful 1952-53 season.

He later went on to become part of the Spireites side that reached the 1956 FA Youth Cup final, and after making his first-team debut for the Third Division club in November 1959, a £7,000 move to Leicester shortly followed.

Helping the Foxes reach four cup finals, his first England cap came in 1963, in a 2-1 loss to Scotland at Wembley.

However, it was just three years later he tasted ultimate glory lifting the World Cup at the end of the tournament in 1966 the which he had kept clean sheets against Uruguay, Mexico, France and Argentina.

But, despite reaching the pinnacle of sporting achievement, Leicester opted to sell Banks to Stoke, as the following season came to a close.

Then aged 29, he proved he had plenty more to offer with that famous save in 1970 and had his worth underlined when England lost their quarter-final to West Germany 3-2, with their number one absent due to illness.

Later receiving an OBE, he ended that season as The Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year.

His football career in England was then cut short when he lost the sight in his right eye after a road accident which saw his Ford Granada collide with a van.

Not content with giving up, he signed for North American Soccer League side Fort Lauderdale Strikers and held a short spell in goal before moving on to coaching in 1978.

He coached at Stoke and Port Vale and was boss of non-league Telford, with his sacking in 1980 after just one full season in charge convincing him he did not want to carry on in management.

Banks then became involved in the running of a Leicester-based corporate hospitality company for a period, and became a member of the three-man football pools panel.

In 2002, Stoke named him as club president, and a statue of a smiling Banks holding the Jules Rimet trophy aloft was unveiled at their ground in 2008, an occasion attended by his old friend and rival Pele.

Along with a World Cup-winner’s medal, Banks’ 73-cap CV featured six Fifa Goalkeeper of the Year awards.