World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks on Tuesday died at the age of 81 after a long-term battle with cancer.
The former Stoke and Leicester City goalkeeper was part of the famous England side who lifted the World Cup in 1966.
He also made one of the best saves of all time during the 1970 tournament.
In 2016, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the triumph in 1966, Banks sat down with Sportsmail’s Ian Ladyman for an interview about his career and those glorious days in an England shirt.
World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks died on Tuesday morning at the age of 81
Every Tuesday morning when he meets his old Stoke City team-mates for a walk around the lake at Trentham Gardens, Gordon Banks remarks on the passing of time.
‘When I was young older people were always wondering where the years had gone and I used to wonder what they were talking about,’ he smiled this week.
‘Now that I am their age I am the same. It’s gone so quickly, it’s incredible. Some of the old Stoke lads — me, Denis Smith, Terry Conroy, Jimmy Greenhoff — go for a walk once a week and we were talking about that this morning. Time is racing on.’
This year, of all years, is suited to reflection for Banks, a time to cherish the past rather than wonder where it has gone. It is 50 years this July since England won the World Cup at Wembley and Sir Alf Ramsey’s goalkeeper, currently battling kidney cancer for the second time, is ready to embrace some of life’s better memories.
Banks and Bobby Moore hold the trophy aloft in the aftermath of England’s World Cup win
‘The simple secret of the team was how much we liked each other,’ Banks told Sportsmail.
‘We didn’t want to let each other down.
‘People talk about some of us more than others, but there were heroes all through that team. Simple, selfless men.
‘Look at Roger Hunt. People didn’t realise the running he did so Geoff Hurst could have space to score his goals. People don’t see that. We did. Alan Ball was voted our best player of the World Cup by the players themselves. He deserved it. He worked so hard, up and down, up and down. He never missed a pass or a tackle. He never got the headlines, but we couldn’t have won it without him.
‘It’s great to celebrate the anniversary, it really is. I am more proud than anyone will ever know. It’s just so sad that people like Bobby Moore and Alan are no longer with us. They did so much for that team. It’s just wrong that we can’t see them this year of all years.’
Bobby Moore, who passed away in 1993, led England to their only World Cup triumph to date
Jimmy Greaves puts his arm around an exhausted Alan Ball after 120 minutes of unselfish effort
Banks no longer has his medal from the World Cup final. Like many of Ramsey’s team, he sold it — at Christie’s for more than £120,000 — to help his three children buy their first houses.
‘It makes me very sad but it was a practical decision that had to be made,’ he said. ‘Some of the other players have done it. I don’t know where it went, sadly. I had no other way of supporting the kids. But I would have loved to have kept it.’ Banks does have an OBE and by the end of this year may benefit from a growing campaign to award the surviving members of the 1966 team knighthoods.
‘I have never taken anything away from Geoff Hurst for his knighthood,’ he said. ‘But it has always seemed unfair to pick one man out of a team because obviously without the rest of the players he wouldn’t have been able to do what he did.
‘So, yes, it would be very special to get one. We will see.’
Banks sold his World Cup-winners medal at auction in 2001 to support his children
What Banks certainly does have in abundance are stories.
Born in Yorkshire, he started his career with Chesterfield as a teenager while still digging ditches and carrying bricks on a building site.
‘My dad had made me leave school at 15 after I got dropped from the schools team in Sheffield,’ he recalled. ‘He said school was no good if I wasn’t in the representative team and he made me get a job.’
Subsequently, Banks made his name with Leicester City and Stoke City — who meet at the King Power Stadium — and, of course, England. Now 78, he is a life president of Stoke, a member of the three-man pools panel and a regular at the Britannia Stadium.
Recently he met up with young Stoke and England goalkeeper Jack Butland. ‘I wanted to ask him why keepers no longer have defenders on the post at corners but I forgot,’ he laughed.
Banks appreciates the modern game but his recollections of his own glory days remain clear and the distinctions between now and then are striking. Few goalkeepers in the modern age would find themselves in a panic before a big game because of a missing packet of chewing gum. ‘I didn’t use gloves in those days, only when it was wet,’ said Banks. ‘Woollen ones like the ones you may buy to wear in winter now with your overcoat.
Banks made his name at Leicester and is pictured catching a dog at Filbert Street in 1965
Banks – without gloves – watches a shot going wide in an FA Cup tie against Leyton Orient
‘But I learned from (former Manchester City goalkeeper) Bert Trautmann to get a couple of pieces of chewing gum and start chewing. He told me to wait until just before the icing on the gum cracked and then spit on my hands and smooth it over. Then when the opposition came over the halfway line you just had to lick your palms and they would immediately get sticky and help you hold the ball when it came.
‘At the World Cup, England trainer Harold Shepherdson always used to lay me some out before a game, but before the semi-final against Portugal I was in the dressing room and I said to Alf, “Where is my gum? It’s not on the massage table”.
‘Alf just looked at Harold and he went bright red and said, “I have forgotten it”. So Alf sent him off down Wembley Way to the nearest newsagent. By this time we were standing in the tunnel ready to go out.
‘He must have run down Wembley Way like lightning. Anyway, he got it to me just in time. I wouldn’t have been the same without it. I had just got so used to it…’
By the time the most famous moment of his career arrived, Banks had forsaken chewing gum for goalkeeping gloves. Time was, as always, moving on.
Mexico 1970 and Banks saves from Pele, a moment that changed his life. Interestingly, he doesn’t feel it was the best work of his career.
‘No, that was a penalty from Geoff Hurst against Stoke in the League Cup semi-final in 1972,’ he said.
Nevertheless, the save from Pele looks as phenomenal now as it did then. The years have not dimmed its majesty. Watch Bobby Moore on the YouTube footage. The great England captain thinks Pele’s header is in.
Time stands still as Banks pulls off his wonder save in Guadalajara to deny Pele a certain goal
Banks repels Geoff Hurst’s penalty in 1972 League Cup semi-final, a save he believes is better
Banks basks in the glory of Stoke’s League Cup victory against West Ham with the Daily Mail
ENGLAND IN THE 1966 WORLD CUP
England 0-0 Uruguay
England 2-0 Mexico
England 2-0 France
England 1-0 Argentina
England 2-1 Portugal
England 4-2 (AET) West Germany
It’s just a shame that a mythical comment from Moore said to have followed turns out not to be true.
‘I tell my after-dinner audiences that Bob leaned over and said, “Banksy, try and hold them. No silly corners!”,’ he laughed.
‘But he didn’t really say that. He just tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Well done”. But I heard Pele shout “Goal” after he headed it. Definitely. He thought it was past me.’
In the early years of his career, Banks never practised goalkeeping as such. Leicester didn’t have a training ground so the players used to run around the pitch at Filbert Street, lift some weights in the gym and then play five-a-side on the car park. No place to be diving about.
By 1970, though, Banks had progressed, studying opponents and ordering reserve-team players at Stoke to come back in the afternoon and pepper him with shots and crosses. On that day in Guadalajara, it paid off.
‘Out there in Mexico I had to get extra practice,’ he recalled. ‘It was so hot. We were losing half a stone in training and the pitches were rock hard underneath the grass.
‘I noticed in shooting sessions that sometimes the ball would kick up a bit more off its first bounce and come up higher than normal.
‘It was this that helped me make the save as I was able to anticipate that it was going to bounce up and it meant I could flick it over.’
England and Brazil line-up in the altitude and heat of Guadalajara before a classic encounter
Jairzinho beats Banks and breaks England’s resistance to score the only goal of the game
ENGLAND IN THE 1970 WORLD CUP
Romania 0-1 England
Brazil 1-0 England
England 1-0 Czechoslovakia
West Germany 3-2 (AET) England
England lost that group game 1-0, Banks beaten by another Brazilian icon, Jairzinho. It was his absence with food poisoning from the subsequent quarter-final with West Germany that cost England, however, as Ramsey’s team let a 2-0 lead slip to lose 3-2 in extra-time. Sadly stand-in goalkeeper Peter Bonetti contributed a decisive mistake.
‘I felt very sorry for Peter,’ said Banks. ‘He had been put in right at the last minute. He hadn’t played for a long time and here he was thrust in against that team of all teams. I have never blamed him. He was a fine keeper.
‘But I do worry the same thing may happen to Jack (Butland) if the England manager doesn’t give him some matches soon. You need to know how it feels, the nerves, the tunnel, the anthems. Playing for England in big games is different to anything else and you have to have a chance to get used to it.’
Banks has never bought into the theory that he was deliberately poisoned before the West Germany game but over the years his stance has shifted slightly.
‘What shook me was that we all sat down together and ate exactly the same food so how come I was the only one who got food poisoning?’ he said.
‘I never used to think there was something amiss, but I have started to wonder. Why did only I get it? It doesn’t add up, does it? It is such a shame because I thought the team was as good as 1966 and I thought we were as good as Brazil, who won it.
‘I think I could have given the defence a lift (against West Germany) and helped us get through. And if we had done that I think we could have won it again.’
Banks believes England team of 1970 could have lifted the trophy, were it not for some ill luck
England were 2-0 up before Peter Bonetti’s mistake gifted Franz Beckenbauer a goal
The lethal Gerd Muller pounced from close range to break English hearts in extra-time
The English career of probably our finest-ever goalkeeper ended on a country lane in Staffordshire one night in October 1972.
Overtaking on a bend, Banks’ Ford Consul smashed into an Austin A60 van, leaving him requiring 200 stitches to facial injuries that cost him the sight in his right eye.
‘I can’t believe what I was doing,’ he said. ‘It was my fault, stupid. The van had a little lad in it. I could hear him crying, but fortunately for me he wasn’t hurt.
‘I couldn’t see a thing, but I was so relieved to hear that.’
Banks actually subsequently played a season in the North American Soccer League for Fort Lauderdale Strikers, winning the competition against teams featuring some old faces. ‘Pele, Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto… they were all there,’ he said. ‘I can’t believe how well I played with one eye. It shows what can be done if you try.’
Banks’ career certainly took its toll physically, a broken wrist, finger, collarbone and nose among the injuries.
Banks lost his right eye in a car crash in 1972, bringing his career in England to a premature end
In recent times, however, Banks has battled a much more sinister foe. Cancer cost him a kidney 10 years ago and in 2014 a tumour was discovered on the other.
‘I am on the chemo via tablets and I’m OK,’ he said, frankly. ‘There are some horrible things that the medication does to my stomach and soles of my feet, but I get in the garden, I clean the car, play golf twice a week, do a few exercises at home and I am just carrying on.
‘I need a buggy for the golf, but that’s about it.
‘I should get another scan in a couple of weeks. I have had two and it has gone smaller each time so hopefully it will get rid of it.’
If his treatment is not successful then a transplant will be his only hope. For now, though, Banks is taking a pragmatic view. During our two hours together, he was energetic, amusing company. The joy he still takes from memories of his career is clear.
He could not think more highly of Ramsey, despite his rather taciturn image. ‘He was ahead of his time, just a superb manager,’ he said.
Alf Ramsey has the Jules Rimet Trophy forced upon him by an insistent Moore and Nobby Stiles
Ramsey’s wingless wonders revolutionised football and commands respect during training
And he is anticipating the series of dinners, interviews and photo calls that will no doubt accompany him through this anniversary year. This time he will make sure his wife Ursula is invited too.
‘We hadn’t seen the wives for six weeks during the 1966 tournament,’ he revealed. ‘They came down for the final and we were told they would be at the hotel for the post-final dinner. The journey into London took forever. There were people everywhere. Then when we got to the main road right outside Hyde Park, we just couldn’t go any further. We had to get out and walk and push through the crowd. It was just solid.
‘I don’t know who had the trophy, but it got in there somehow. Then when we were in the hotel room I asked my wife why she wasn’t getting ready and she just said, “We haven’t been invited”. I couldn’t believe it. But that was it.
‘So we went down and it was just us and the West German team for dinner. It was fine, for us at least. Needless to say, the Germans were rather disappointed…’