A tribute to Gordon Banks: One of the Greats

Sport

Gordon Banks, widely considered as one of, if not the, greatest goalkeepers in England’s history, passed away early this week, aged 81 years old.

He was best known for his stunning save from Brazilian footballer Pelé during the 1970 World Cup, a move regarded by many as one of the greatest saves ever performed in history. It was a display of staggering agility and sharpness, shocking only partially due to its sheer unexpectedness – Pelé had already begun shouting ‘Goal!’ before Banks’ right arm deflected the ball last minute.

It was also a critical step for the England team that year, securing their place in the quarter-finals.

Jonathan Liew reflects, “What is beyond doubt is that it was the first truly iconic save: the first great viral goalkeeping moment, an image and a motif hat would stand the test of time.”

Banks was also goalkeeper during the 1966 World Cup, the year England won the title for the first and only time to date. Alongside his 1970 save, this put Banks at the centre of two of the most iconic moments in English footballing history.

Banks was born in 1937, the youngest of four sons of a steelworker in Sheffield. His club career began in 1953, when he was scouted by Chesterfield. He soon established himself as one of the leading goalkeepers of his time, and was later transferred to Leicester City, then Stoke City, and finally to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, where he remained until he retired his professional career following a car crash in 1972.  He followed this with charity work, including acting as an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society. He was given the title of FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year six times. 

Following the news of his passing, tributes flooded in from all corners of the footballing world. Pelé referred to him as “a goalkeeper with magic” in a post on Facebook on Tuesday; he wrote, “So I am glad he saved my header –because that act was the start of a friendship between us that I will always treasure.”

It is tributes like this which speak to Banks’ legacy as more than just a great football player. Indeed, many ex-teammates and acquaintances spoke of his kindness, good-humour, and fraternity off the pitch in their statements. 

An article in The Independent notes that a vast proportion of the tributes coming in are from young footballers – a sign of Banks’ enduring legacy as a source of inspiration in the minds of the next generation of players.

Image credit: Brian Deegan