Gordon Banks, OBE (born 30 December, 1937 in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England) is a former English footballer, elected in a poll by the IFFHS as the second best goalkeeper of the 20th Century - after Lev Yashin (1st) and before Dino Zoff (3rd).
After performances in the youth and A teams gained him promotion to the reserves, Banks was posted to Germany with the Royal Signals on National Service, winning the Rhine Cup with his regimental team. On his return he was offered a full-time contract by the Chesterfield manager, Teddy Davison.
He reached the two-legged final of the FA Youth Cup with Chesterfield in 1956, losing 4-3 on aggregate to the Manchester United team of the famous Busby Babes. He made his debut for the first team at home in November 1958 against Colchester United in the newly formed Third Division. He played just 23 games for the club before First Division Leicester City offered Chesterfield 7,000 pounds in the summer of 1959.
Banks' career started to rise rapidly from this point. After 4 games for the reserves, he replaced the injured Dave McLaren for his Leicester City debut in a 1-1 draw against Blackpool on 9 September 1959 and retained his place for the 2-0 defeat against Newcastle 3 days later. With McLaren fit again, Banks was sent back to the reserves but, after the first team conceded 14 goals in the next 5 games, he was recalled and became the first-choice goalie for the remainder of the season.
In 1961, Leicester City beat Sheffield United to reach the FA Cup final at Wembley, the first of three they would manage that decade. Their opponents were Tottenham Hotspur, who were a cut above everyone else having won the First Division title with ease and style. Banks played well, but with the right back Len Chalmers carrying an injury, was powerless to prevent second half goals from Bobby Smith and Terry Dyson giving Spurs a 2-0 win and the first "double" of the 20th century.
At the time, Ron Springett was the goalkeeper for England, but after the 1962 World Cup in Chile, a new coach was appointed in former England right back Alf Ramsey. Ramsey demanded sole control of team and began looking towards the next World Cup. He knew that he just needed to find a squad for the final stages as England were hosting the event and didn't need to undergo a qualifying campaign. In goal, Banks was checked out by Ramsey for the first time in April 1963 against Scotland at Wembley. Though England lost 2-1, Banks gained plaudits and Ramsey was pleased with his performance. He played in 13 of the next 15 internationals, including a 1-1 draw against Brazil.
Meanwhile, a month after his international bow, Banks was back at Wembley with Leicester for another FA Cup final, this time against Manchester United. United were looking for their first trophy since the Munich air disaster of five years earlier which had claimed the lives of eight of the Busby Babes whom Banks had faced as an adolescent. Banks failed to hold a Bobby Charlton shot from distance which gave a chance to David Herd. After that things got worse for England's newest keeper, when Denis Law wrongfooted Banks with a smart shot on the turn to put United 2-0 ahead. After Leicester had pulled one back through a diving header from Ken Keyworth, Banks leapt high in the air to claim a high cross from Johnny Giles, only to drop the ball at Herd's feet. Herd scored his second to conclude a 3-1 win.
In 1964, Banks had some domestic success when Leicester beat Stoke City 4-3 in the League Cup final over two legs, though they lost the trophy a year later after a 3-2 defeat by Chelsea on aggregate in the final.
When the World Cup began, Banks was in goal as England got through their group containing Uruguay, Mexico and France, drawing 0-0 with the former and clinching 2-0 victories over the latter. Banks was not greatly tested, but it was hugely encouraging that he emerged from the group with three clean sheets from three games, a trend that continued when England beat a physical Argentina side 1-0 in the last eight, with Geoff Hurst scoring with a header.
Bobby Charlton scored twice in the semi final against Portugal before a late penalty was conceded by Jack Charlton handling the ball. Banks was finally beaten after 43 minutes when Eusébio put away the spot kick to his right. That said, England had won 2-1 and were in the final, where West Germany awaited.
It was England who dominated the final but it was Banks who was beaten first. A weak header from Ray Wilson handed a chance to Helmut Haller whose shot was not fierce but was on target and needed dealing with. Banks thought Jack Charlton was going to clear; Charlton in turn thought Banks had it covered. Neither went for it as a result, and the ball crept in the corner. England equalised through a Geoff Hurst header within six minutes and went ahead late in the second half through Martin Peters.
Banks had little to do during the second half but his known powers of concentration were required when Jack Charlton gave away a dubious free kick 30 yards from goal. Banks duly organised a defensive wall and got into position. Lothar Emmerich slammed the ball into the wall, the ball ricocheted across goal and Banks struggled to follow it across his six yard box, such was the speed and unpredictability of its movement as it took deflections and swipes. Ultimately German defender Wolfgang Weber reached it at the far post and swept it into the net with Banks diving in vain to get his palms to the ball. The final whistle went seconds later to send the game into extra time.
England took the lead in extra time with that hotly debated second goal from Hurst. Banks not troubled again until the final minute, when he saved a shot from Siggy Held and moments later could only watch as Uwe Seeler lunged for the ball and missed. Hurst then scored his hat-trick goal and the game was over. Gordon Banks had 33 England caps and was a world champion. But his career at club level was shortly to take an interesting and unexpected turn.
Banks joined Stoke City and maintained his England place, while Shilton lost in Leicester's third FA Cup final of the 1960s (the 1969 game against Manchester City) and began to make his name. Ramsey gave the odd chance to Chelsea keeper Peter Bonetti, Everton's Gordon West and Manchester United's Alex Stepney, but when the big games came along, it was only Banks. During this time, Gordon Banks moved to Madeley, Staffordshire. In one of the more bizarre episodes in football history, in 1967, Banks played a season for the Cleveland Stokers of the American United Soccer Association (USA). The USA was a short lived attempt to build a first division U.S. league by importing clubs from around the world to play as U.S. teams. Stoke City, with Banks, came to the U.S. where it played in Cleveland, Ohio. The Stokers ran to a 5-4-3 record.
England reached the last four of the 1968 European Championships where they lost to Yugoslavia in Florence. A year later, Banks picked up his 50th cap as England defeated Scotland 4-1 at Wembley. He played in nine more internationals prior to the start of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, for which England once again had not needed to qualify, this time owing to their status as holders.
Banks, who discovered just after arriving in Mexico that he had been awarded the OBE, played his 60th England game in the opening group victory over Romania before taking to the field for the keenly-awaited clash with Brazil. After just ten minutes, Banks wrote himself into football folklore.
Playing at pace, Brazil were putting England under enormous pressure and an attack was begun by captain Carlos Alberto who sent a fizzing low ball down the right flank for the speedy Jairzinho to latch on to. The Brazilian winger sped past left back Terry Cooper and reached the byline. Stretching slightly, he managed to get his toes underneath the fast ball and deliver a high but dipping cross towards the far post. Banks, like all goalkeepers reliant on positional sensibility, had been at the near post and suddenly had to turn on his heels and follow the ball to its back post destination.
Waiting for the ball was Pelé, who had arrived at speed and with perfect timing. He leapt hard at the ball above England right back Tommy Wright and thundered a harsh, pacy downward header towards Banks' near post corner. The striker, the world's greatest, shouted "Goal!" as he connected with the ball. Banks was still making his way across the line from Jairzinho's cross and in the split-second of assessment the incident allowed, it seemed impossible for him to get to the ball. He also had to dive slightly backwards and down at the same time which is almost physically impossible. Yet he hurled himself downwards and backwards and got the base of his thumb to the ball, with the momentum sending him cascading to the ground. It was only when he heard the applause and praise of captain Bobby Moore and then looked up and saw the ball trundling towards the advertising hoardings at the far corner, that he realised he'd managed to divert the ball over the bar - he'd known he got a touch but still assumed the ball had gone in. England were not being well received by the locals after cutting comments made about Mexico prior to the tournament by Ramsey, but spontaneous applause rang around the Guadalajara, Jalisco stadium as Banks got back into position to defend the resulting corner. Pelé, who'd begun to celebrate a goal when he headed the ball, would later describe the save as the greatest he'd ever seen.
Brazil still won 1-0 - Jairzinho guided a shot past Banks in the second half - but England missed chances to get something, with Jeff Astle infamously putting the ball wide of an open goal and Alan Ball striking the crossbar. England ultimately joined Brazil in the last eight after a win in the final group game against Czechoslovakia. The reward was a rematch of the 1966 final against West Germany.
Bonetti played fine for an hour and England went into a commanding 2-0 lead, with Peters scoring against the Germans again after Alan Mullery had put the defending champions ahead. Franz Beckenbauer then hit a low shot under the body of Bonetti, who had been slow to react. Beckenbauer would later claim that he would not have scored had Banks been the goalkeeper.
The Germans had hope now, especially when Beckenbauer became more liberated in the game with Ramsey's decision to substitute Bobby Charlton. In the last ten minutes, veteran striker Uwe Seeler looped a back header over Bonetti to take the game into extra time; then Gerd Müller smashed home the winner in the added period.
Conspiracies began to surface that Banks had been "nobbled" by someone in England's hotel and that his food had been somehow spiked. This was dismissed by Banks, who watched the game on his hotel TV and saw England go 2-0 ahead. After another visit to the bathroom, he returned to his bed and, feeling rough and sleepy, switched off his TV set to take a nap, assuming the match was won. He was woken by his second understudy, Stepney, who came to his room to signal the devastating final score with his fingers. West Germany had beaten England 3-2.
At club level, Banks came up with his second most famous save when spectacularly palming a vicious penalty from his England team-mate Hurst over the crossbar as Stoke defeated West Ham United in the semi final of the 1972 League Cup. Banks duly reached his third League Cup final and won it for the second time, when Stoke beat Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley. Having lost two FA Cup finals, Banks' attempts to be luckier with Stoke in the competition fell agonisingly short as Arsenal beat them in the semi finals of both the 1971 and 1972 competitions.
Banks played his 73rd England game in a 1-0 win over Scotland at Hampden Park on 27 May 1972 and was awarded the Football Writers' Association Footballer Of The Year honour. He was 34-years-old and at the peak of his abilities and powers. He began the next season with Stoke in his usual unflappable manner, but then his top-flight career would be suddenly and violently brought to an end.
Banks went into scouting, managed non-league side Telford United and did some work on the commercial side of football. In October 1977 he played for League of Ireland side St. Patrick's Athletic F.C.; he played just the once – a home game at Richmond Park on 2nd October 1977 against Shamrock Rovers, keeping a clean sheet in a 1-0 win. He then went to play as a named superstar in the NASL for Fort Lauderdale Strikers alongside his old nemesis Best. He later began a business which distributed tickets for big events to corporate clients, but this fell into a mini-scandal when he received a restricted ban on getting tickets for the FA Cup final after some attributed to his company fell into the wrong hands.
Banks met his wife Ursula while on national service in Germany and they married after he returned to England. He now lives in quiet retirement but is still regarded, as a Channel 4 poll to find England's greatest XI showed recently, as the best goalkeeper England has ever produced, and many would claim no goalkeeper in the world has been better. Banks was an Inaugural Inductee to the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Keele University in February 2006.
In 2001 Gordon sold his World Cup Winners medal at Christie's auction house in London. The medal sold for £124,750 easily exceeding the initial estimate of £90,000. Banks said the decision to sell was difficult - the 4-2 cup final victory over West Germany at Wembley was the greatest day of his career.But the former Leicester and Stoke City keeper wanted to save his children the burden of deciding what to do with the medal after his death. The proceeds of the medal were divided between them. Banks's international cap from the same match was also sold in the same aution. It sold for £27,025.
Best-selling Irish investigative author, Don Mullan, published a boyhood memoir in 2006 called GORDON BANKS: A Hero Who Could Fly in which he wrote about the influence of the England goalkeeper on his life. Mullan discovered at the age of 38 that he is dyslexic but learned to read and write through a giant 500-page scrapbook which he began shortly after seeing Banks play in the 1966 World Cup Final. The Irish author grew up in the famous Republican stronghold of the Creggan Estate, Derry, Northern Ireland, at the height of the troubles and was a schoolboy witness to the tragic events of Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972. In his moving tribute to Gordon Banks he claims that his English hero was one of the reasons why he never choose the path of violence. Gordon Banks launched Mullan's book in Dublin, Derry and at the Britannia Stadium in Stoke in the Summer of 2006 and has described Mullan as 'my greatest fan'. GORDON BANKS: A Hero Who Could Fly was optioned by BBC Drama.
Mullan was actively involved in the scheme to erect a monument to the England goalkeeper outside Stoke City FC's Britannia Stadium with the assistance of Banks' legendary teammate Terry Conroy and emerging local sculptor Andrew Edwards. Inspired by Mullan's book, Edwards named the monument A Hero Who Could Fly and used the following quote from the Irish author on the monument:
... we lived in an era when sporting heroes were ordinary and unassuming men whose very modesty was the oxygen of dreams. And across the water, on a neighbouring island with whom we Irish had been at war for centuries I had a hero who could fly. His name is GORDON BANKS. From being a timid, fearful young boy he taught me that impossible doesn't exist. Unknown to him he helped save a young fan from making choices that had brought too much sorrow and sadness to Irish and British alike. Who knows? Perhaps it was his best save ever.
The 1st phase of the monument was unveiled by Pelé and Archbishop Desmond Tutu on 12 July 2008, followed by a Gordon Banks XI vs. Pelé XI celebrity charity football match. Archbishop Tutu was assistant manager to Pelé.The 2nd phase of the monument, which will feature a reference to Mullan's giant scrapbook, will be unveiled in late 2008 and will involve the legendary 1970 Brazilian World Cup winning captain, Carlos Alberto.