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Born: Monday 20 December 1937, Sheffield, England
One of the finest goalkeepers in the history of the game, England's Gordon Banks is best remembered for his exploits in the World Cups of 1966 and 1970. A vital member of the England team which won the tournament on home soil in 1966, he enjoyed perhaps his most famous moment four years later during the finals in Mexico when he made an incredible stop from a header by Pelé, often considered one of the best saves of all-time.
Banks was born in Sheffield on 20 December 1937 and took to goalkeeping from a young age, although he initially did not plan on a professional career. Playing in local colliery football, his early performances were not encouraging. Having joined local side Romarsh Welfare he conceded 15 goals in his first two games, including a humiliating 12-2 defeat in one match. He took jobs as a coalbagger and a bricklayer, but continued playing football at an amateur level.
Eventually, Banks was offered a chance as an apprentice with Division Three North side Chesterfield, appearing for the club in the FA Youth Cup final against Manchester United's 'Busby Babes' in 1956. His career was briefly interrupted when he was called up for National Service, during which he served in Germany, but on his return he turned professional and made his first team debut for Chesterfield in the Third Division in 1958. His performances that season earned a move to the top flight when he joined Leicester City, and by the end of 1959 Banks was a first team regular.
In his second season with the club Leicester reached the FA Cup final, but found league champions Tottenham Hotspur too strong, the London club becoming the first English side to complete a league and cup double in the 20th century. Banks was also part of the team which put together one of Leicester's finest ever seasons in 1962-63. They led the league with just nine matches to go but eventually faded to finish fourth, while also reaching their second cup final in three seasons.
Defeat to Manchester United left Leicester with nothing to show for their efforts, but Banks' performances earned him a call-up to the England team for the British Home Championship match against Scotland in April 1963. Despite England's 2-1 defeat in that match Banks quickly became first choice, a position which he retained for much of the next decade. The following season, he won the first silverware of his club career as Leicester edged out Stoke City 4-3 on aggregate to win the League Cup.
Despite another League Cup final appearance a year later, which ended in defeat to Chelsea, Leicester struggled for much of the next couple of seasons. Banks however remained crucial to the England team as they prepared to host the World Cup in 1966. When the tournament came round, he was in fine form. He kept four clean sheets in a row as England won their first round group and then beat Argentina 1-0 in the quarter-finals.
He was finally beaten by a Eusébio penalty late in the semi-final against Portugal, but that was not enough to stop England winning 2-1. In the final against West Germany, Banks conceded from open play for the first time in the competition when Helmut Haller scored an early goal. England fought back to lead 2-1 and despite being pegged back by a last minute Wolfgang Weber goal, scored twice in extra-time to win the World Cup for the first and to date only time. Banks' contribution was recognised when he was named in the tournament's All-Star Team.
Having been on top of the world, Banks career with Leicester came to a sudden end during the 1966-67 season. Teenage prodigy Peter Shilton was making his way rapidly through the ranks and Banks found himself surplus to requirements and on the transfer list. Several clubs were keen to sign him and in April 1967 he moved to Stoke City, where he found himself playing in an often struggling team. Stoke narrowly avoided relegation in both 1968 and 1969, on the latter occasion surviving at the expense of Banks' old Leicester team, who dropped into the Second Division.
Although England manager Alf Ramsey experimented with other goalkeepers for friendly matches, Banks was still the undoubted number one. He was part of the squad which reached the semi-finals of the 1968 European Championship, losing 1-0 to Yugoslavia and eventually finishing third. Still first choice by the time England travelled to Mexico to defend the World Cup in 1970, Banks was again in fine form in that tournament. He kept clean sheets against both Romania and Czechoslovakia in the group stage and although he was beaten by a Jairzinho goal as England lost 1-0 to Brazil, it was in that match that he made his most famous save.
Pelé's downward header in the first half seemed certain to beat him, but Banks made a remarkable reflex save low to his right, somehow directing the ball up and over the bar. Even Banks himself was not sure how he had managed to push the ball away to safety, while Pelé spoke of the save as one of the finest he had seen. Having lost that match, England faced a quarter-final against West Germany, a repeat of the 1966 final. Unfortunately for the holders, Banks was taken ill on the eve of the match and could not play. Without him, England let slip a 2-0 lead to lose in extra-time.
Banks' international career continued for another two years. His 73rd and last cap came, like his first, in a Home Championship match against Scotland in 1972. Despite another disappointing season in the league, that year also brought the second major trophy of his club career, as Stoke beat Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley to lift the League Cup. Despite having reached his mid-30s, Banks was still in fine form and became just the second goalkeeper to be named English Footballer of the Year.
Sadly, just months after that success, Banks' professional career came to a sudden end. Having been involved in a car crash, he suffered injuries which cost him the sight in his right eye and was forced to retire after playing more than more than 700 senior competitive games. For a while he coached Stoke's youth team, but eventually made a return to playing in 1977 when he moved to the USA and signed for NASL side Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
In his first season he was named as the league's best goalkeeper as the Strikers won the Eastern Division title, but struggled to fit in with the hype which surrounded the league. He left in 1978 having played 37 times for Fort Lauderdale, as well as making one appearance in the League of Ireland for St. Patrick's Athletic in the NASL close season. Finally ending his playing career for good, Banks moved into coaching and briefly took charge of the reserve team at Stoke's local rivals Port Vale.
Early in 1979 he moved into management with non-league Telford United, but was sacked little over 18 months later and feeling extremely disillusioned by his treatment, left active involvement in football. He remains in demand as an after-dinner speaker, and eventually made a return to Stoke City as club president. As a member of his country's only World Cup winning team, he remains a popular figure with English football.
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- Published on Tuesday, 13 November 2012 18:02