Gordon Banks

Full Name: Gordon Banks
Date of Birth: 30/12/1937

Introduction

There have only been a few goalkeepers throughout the course of football history that have become household names. Gordon Banks is certainly one of them though. The 6 foot Yorkshire man would wow the crowds, weekend after weekend, with his ape-like athleticism and his uncanny ability to fly across his goal mouth. Never has a goalie been remembered for one particular save either but football fans will never forget Banks flying across the goal to stop a certain Pele from scoring. Banks literally seemed to claw the bouncing ball from behind the line. It went down as one of the greatest saves the world has ever seen whilst Banks went down as one of the greatest goalies the world had ever seen.

The Yorkshire Nipper

Born in Sheffield in 1937, Gordon enjoyed football as a hobby but, like all of his peers, was being groomed for work. He went off to work, bagging coal fresh out the pits, and considered a job as a brickie too but his role as the goalkeeper for the colliery team earned him an apprenticeship with nearby Chesterfield. Banks very quickly impressed the crowds and, more importantly, the back-room staff and he rose through the youth and reserve team to make his first team debut eventually in 1958 at the age of 21, having helped the youth team to win the FA Youth Cup in 1956 against many of the Busby Babes.

Banks was prolific at Chesterfield but Banks seemed destined for greater things. The Third Division was soon to be replaced by the First when Leicester City made the call and offered £7,000 for Banks in 1959.

The Leicester boy before Lineker

When Gordon signed for Leicester, he didn’t immediately don the number 1 shirt. The first team regular in goal back then was Dave McLaren, but, when McLaren incurred an injury during a clash with Blackpool in 1959, Banks was given the chance to shine and shine he certainly did. Although McLaren came back into the first team when he was fit, when Leicester found themselves on a dreadful run of form, the first thing that changed was getting Banks back in goal.

Once he was back he was back for good. Banks would go on to spend the next 6 years in the Leicester goal, making 293 appearances and saving countless goals. He helped Leicester reach the FA Cup final in 1961 by beating Sheffield United in the semis. But they would have to face the mighty force (at the time) of Tottenham Hotspur who, with the likes of their new signing Jimmy Greaves, were pretty unstoppable. Although he put up a good fight, Banks couldn’t help but see two goals go beyond his reach and into the net, and Spurs walked out of Wembley with the silverware.

Again in 1964, Banks and Leicester were back in the FA Cup final and this time they faced a rather unbelievable opponent. The Manchester United players who had survived the tragic Munich air disaster had picked themselves up and, with their hero of a manger Matt Busby, had reached the FA Cup final against all odds. No team would have been able to avoid wishing them well but Leicester had a cup opportunity so they had to go for it.

Sadly Banks had a stinker of a game and on a couple of occasions he split the ball and allowed the likes of Denis Law and David Herd to score and see United win the game 3-1. Another opportunity for a medal and a cup to lift went begging. But then things were all about to change for the Yorkshire man and in quite dramatic circumstances.

1966

Gordon Banks will always be remembered as England’s goal-keeping hero. If you found yourself in an England shirt in 1966 there was always a chance you would become a legend. Gordon’s debut for England came as a result of a major shake-up in the squad following the World Cup in Chile in 1962, which was followed by the appointment of new manager Alf Ramsey. Ramsey had every intention of forging his own team that could lead the charge on their home soil in 1966. He was impressed with Banks enough to give him a trial in a game against Scotland in 1963 and gave him the number 1 shirt quite soon after that, replacing Ron Springett.

The World Cup began brilliantly for Banks, who didn’t concede a single goal in the three qualifying games and wasn’t ever really called on to make any of his trademark monkey saves. The sheets would remain as clean as a whistle for Banks, after a 1-0 win over Argentina saw them face Portugal in the semis. Then it was only a Jack Charlton hand ball and subsequent penalty for the great Eusebio that finally sent Banks into the net to retrieve the ball.

Then came the final to end all finals: England on their home soil against West Germany. The Battle of Britain was being relived in front of millions and Gordon Banks stood in goal, hoping he would be kept as quiet as he had been all tournament. Sadly this wasn’t quite the case. The Germans scored first with a sloppy goal that came from a misunderstanding at the back. Thankfully Geoff Hurst was on hand to make it level and then Martin Peters took the lead for England deep into the second half. Then came an undeserved moment of bad luck which made the ball whizz into the air in the England box and resulted in the German Weber scoring the equaliser. At 2-2, it was time for extra time.

It was to be Geoff Hurst’s day that day and no one else’s. He scored for England and then again to make his tally three and the final score 4-2 to England. Banks had done his country proud and his reward was being able to hold the World Cup trophy.

The aftermath

Even though he was technically now the best goalkeeper in the world, Banks would return to playing for Leicester, only to find his number 1 shirt under serious threat from a young and much touted goalie at Leicester, called Peter Shilton. Shilton only agreed to remain at the club if he was number 1 and so Banks was released and sold to Stoke City. With Stoke, Banks never quite achieved the success he had hoped for and nearly achieved with Leicester at club level. In 1967 Banks made a rather strange move by playing games for the Cleveland Stokers, in an initiative whereby England teams tried to help out US cities by donating their players and raising the profile of the sport, but that fad didn’t last long.

For England though there was more dedication towards Banks, even though there were other acclaimed goalies out there such as the likes of Peter Bonetti and Gordon West. Banks remained the number 1 goalie and went to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico where he made ‘that’ save against Pele, which seemed to defy logic. It would go down as one of the highlights of his career. The 1970 tournament ended rather sadly for Gordon, when he contracted a strange stomach bug which meant he had to watch the remainder of the matches from a hotel room. England would lose the final to their old nemesis, West Germany, in a game that a couple of the Germans admitted would have been a different kettle of fish had Banks been in goal. Banks would continue to play for England after that but occasionally have to step aside and allow a young man to be tried out. Then something quite tragic happened to Gordon one night when driving home from training with Stoke.

The end of an era

Banks lost control of his car and crashed whilst on his way back from Stoke in 1972. He survived but woke up to the loss of his sight in his right eye. There was really no way he could continue playing after this and he sadly had to relinquish his number 1 shirt with England, which his old under-study Peter Shilton happily took from him. Then Shilton would ironically also take his place at Stoke City when he left them in 1974.

Banks then did another stint in America with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (with George Best of all people) but his career was coming to an end and he finally hung up his boots and gloves in 1978.

In 2002 Banks was included in the English Football Hall of Fame and for many is seen as the greatest goalkeeper we have ever had. If you ever need proof of just how good Banks was, then take a look at that save once again here.


Individual Honours

  • Inducted into the Sheffield Walk of Fame: 2006
  • Awarded an OBE: 1970


Player Statistics

Senior Club and National Team Statistics
Period Team Appearances (Goals)
1955-1959 Chesterfield 23 (0)
1959-1966 Leicester City 293 (0)
1966-1972 Stoke City 194 (0)
1967 Cleveland Stokers (on loan) 12 (0)
1977 St. Patrick’s Athletic 1 (0)
1977-1978 Fort Lauderdale Strikers 39 (0)
1963-1972 England 73 (0)