Saving with the Banks of England - Reflection on England's greatest goalkeeper

Sporting Memories volunteer Peter Bloor provides his first piece of 2024, reflecting on his personal memories connected to Gordon Banks OBE, the great England goalkeeper who won the World Cup at home in 1966 and is also renowned for producing the 'Greatest Ever Save' denying Pele for Brazil in the 1970 World Cup, held in Mexico. You can watch a short clip of the save in the video below:

Somewhere in one of the boxes held in storage by Sporting Memories is a photograph, signed by Gordon Banks, of his save from Pelé at the 1970 World Cup, the tournament of colour television pictures beamed in with a background hum, Pelé allowing the ball to run one side of the Uruguayan goalkeeper while he ran the other and the commentary of Kenneth Wolstenholme - Noddy as my father called him - “that was sheer delightful football” when Carlos Alberto scored Brazil’s fourth in the final. This was also the first World Cup in which I took an interest, and so for me it is also the tournament of a complete set of Esso World Cup coins, a Football Monthly/Goal World Cup souvenir that cost five shillings (both of which I still have) and a random fragment of a memory, of the England players standing round while Allan Clarke prepared to take the penalty v. Czechoslovakia (but none at all of the penalty itself).

A complete memory is that of watching Banks’ save with my Dad, of Jairzinho crossing and of Pelé heading the ball down (while shouting “Gol!”) until “this man, Banks, appeared in my sight, like a kind of blue phantom…He came from nowhere and he did something I didn't feel was possible. He pushed my header, somehow, up and over. And I couldn't believe what I saw. Even now when I watch it, I can't believe it. I can't believe how he moved so far, so fast.”

England v Brazil is regarded as the match of the three greatests – the greatest team (Brazil 1970), the greatest tackle (Bobby Moore on Jairzinho) and the greatest save, but it is the latter which I think of as the greatest of the greatest, because Gordon Banks was my Dad’s favourite player and I saw it with him. He came from the Staffordshire Moorlands and every so often would take me to watch Stoke City, when it was always a great disappointment to us if Banks wasn’t playing.

Afterwards we’d go to my grandmother’s, where she made us a BIG plateful of bacon, sausage, fried egg, mushrooms and tomatoes with two Staffordshire oatcakes underneath to soak up all the juices, the meal she had made for many years for my grandfather, a big man at 6 foot 2 who had worked a shift in a paper mill and who needed, to use Graham Taylor’s phrase about Paul Gascoigne, refuelling. I was not 6 foot 2 and hadn’t done a day’s manual work and so, after jelly and cream, when the most magnificent home-made sponge cake would be produced, I struggled as much as England did once Franz Beckenbauer started to run the quarter final for West Germany a week later, a match Banks missed – and fifty-odd years on I could still take you to the exact spot where I was standing when my Dad came outside to tell me that Banks wasn’t playing.

The greatest save is my short cut back to my father and to different times, when the on-field reaction to it amounted to a little brief clapping by Bobby Moore and Brian Labone and a pat on the head from Alan Mullery – unlike today, there was no shouting or screaming, bulging eyes, popping veins or armfuls of tattoos. You could also be sure of the names of countries and how they were spelt; once the possibilities around the last group matches were known The Guardian suggested that “Brazil would no doubt prefer England permanently out of their way” and that while they were ‘unlikely to adopt losing tactics it would not be an impossibility’ if they did so and intentionally lost to Rumania, who would then join them in the quarter finals – Rumania you’ll notice, when and why did the place become Romania?

By the end of 1972 those times were ending. Three years after being the team Brazil supposedly feared England failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup after a 1-1 draw with an under-rated Poland (which was at least still spelt P-o-l-a-n-d), via a 1972 European Championship dismantling by West Germany in Gunter Netzer’s match. That was a bad year, one in which Banks’ career was effectively ended by a car crash - I could also take you to the exact spot where I was standing when that news came through – and one in which my father’s illness began to show itself, an illness that initially curtailed and then ended our visits to the Victoria Ground. My grandmother’s ability with the magic sponges remained until she died at very nearly 90, but the opportunities to enjoy them post-match while she and my father talked about people I didn’t know and matters I didn’t understand while sitting in front of her blazing fire were slipping away; not though the memories, memories that I forever associate with the moment when, to quote David Coleman’s commentary, “Gordon Banks…picked that out of the net.”


The image of Gordon Banks is reproduced with the kind permission of Typhoo Tea, all of the others images come from items in Peter's possessions. 

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