Gordon Banks, England’s 1966 World Cup Goalkeeper, Dies at 81

(Bloomberg) -- Gordon Banks, England’s soccer World Cup-winning goalkeeper whose save from Pele has been described as the best ever, has died aged 81.

“It is with great sadness that we announce Gordon passed away peacefully overnight,” Banks’s family said in a statement carried on the website of his former club Stoke City. “We are devastated to lose him but we have so many happy memories and could not have been more proud of him.”

Capped 73 times during his career, Banks is acknowledged as one of the finest goalkeepers of all time. He made more than 300 appearances for Leicester City and more than 200 for Stoke, and kept goal in two World Cups. His career ended when a car crash in 1972 left him blind in his right eye.

During the 1966 tournament, Banks did not allow a goal in four matches before Portugal’s Eusebio scored a penalty kick in the semifinal. The ’keeper was then beaten twice in the final by West Germany as the match was tied 2-2 after 90 minutes, before Geoff Hurst scored twice to complete a hat-trick and secure a 4-2 victory for the host nation.

Four years later, even though England failed to retain its title, Banks made his biggest impact at soccer’s major tournament with a save from Brazil’s Pele in a 1-0 group match defeat. Ten minutes into the game, Brazil winger Jairzinho crossed from the right to Pele, who headed the ball down towards Banks’s right-hand post. The ’keeper, who was standing near the left side of the goal, dived across the width of the goalmouth and scooped the ball over the bar. So sure was the Brazilian of scoring that he shouted “Goal” as he headed the ball.

‘Phenomenal Save’

“It was a phenomenal save, the save of that tournament and of most other tournaments you could mention,” Pele later wrote in his autobiography.

In an interview in 2009, Banks told the Mail on Sunday that his place in soccer history was secured by “that save in 1970 -- that’s what I’ll be remembered for when I go.”

Gordon Banks was born on Dec. 30, 1937, in Abbeydale, Sheffield, north east England, the youngest of four boys. His father, Thomas, worked in a steel factory and the family soon after moved to nearby Tinsley.

In his autobiography, “Banksy” published in 2002, Banks described the poverty and hardship of his early years and how he started playing football from a young age. Playing for his school team led to a call up for Sheffield Schoolboys when he was 14.

National Service

After leaving school at 15, he spent a season playing for amateur side Millspaugh Steelworks FC after their regular goalkeeper failed to turn up for a match and the trainer spotted Banks among the spectators. He was invited to play in goal. His performances brought him to the attention of Yorkshire League team Rawmarsh Welfare when he was 16, but two defeats in two games in which he allowed 15 goals led to him being dropped and he returned to play for Millspaugh. It was there that he was spotted by a scout.

“A few weeks later, Chesterfield played me in their youth team for the last six games of the season,” Banks wrote. “I did well, so for the 1953 season they signed me as a part-time professional. I never looked back.”

His four-year spell at Chesterfield was interrupted by two years’ National Service in the military, serving in Germany. He played 23 league games before moving to Leicester in 1959. At Leicester, he was twice on the losing team in F.A. Cup finals before he helped the club win the 1964 League Cup. In the following year’s final, the team was beaten by Chelsea.

‘Absolute Hero’

“An absolute hero of mine, and countless others,” former Leicester and England striker Gary Lineker said on Twitter on Tuesday, adding that Banks was “one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, and such a lovely, lovely man.”

In 1967, Leicester, which had another future England goalkeeper, Peter Shilton as a replacement, allowed Banks to join Stoke for 52,000 pounds (worth about $145,000 at the time). Banks played in the 1972 League Cup final as Stoke won its first trophy and that season was voted Footballer of the Year.

Banks was first capped by national team manager Sir Alf Ramsey against Scotland at Wembley in 1963 and he soon established himself as first choice for his country. He was one of the first names on Ramsey’s team sheet by the time of the 1966 World Cup finals and was still England’s number one at the 1970 World Cup.

However, he missed the 1970 quarterfinal defeat to West Germany because of illness and his replacement Peter Bonetti’s performance was criticized following a 3-2 loss after extra time. Banks played his final game for England in 1972, against Scotland. During his 73 appearances over a nine-year international career he kept a clean sheet on 35 occasions. He allowed 57 goals and suffered only nine defeats.

Brief Comeback

After the car crash that ended his professional career, he made a brief comeback playing for Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the North American Soccer League and was named the NASL Goalkeeper of the Year in 1977.

In 2000, Pele named Banks in a list of the 100 greatest living players to commemorate the centenary of soccer’s world governing body FIFA.

Banks, who was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1972 and was named FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year from 1966 to 1971, sold his World Cup winner’s medal in 2001 for 125,000 pounds.

He is survived by his wife Ursula, who he met while on National Service in Germany, and their three children Robert, Wendy and Julia.

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