They’re gradually leaving us, those heroes of 1966. Following the news that Gordon Banks, the Banks of England, has died, only six players remain. We must cherish the rest of them while they are still with us.
My dad was at the 1966 World Cup final and, had I been brave enough at the age of nine, I could have been there too. However, the prospect of travelling alone to meet up with him at London Paddington on a train from Bristol Temple Meads was too much. Not a bad ‘what could have been’, eh? My dad, bless him, told me all about his special day in the years that followed. Lucky man.
I do not know if Banks was the greatest goalkeeper who ever lived. I do know that deciding who is the best footballer of all time can only ever be a matter of opinion. The fact that was six times chosen to be FIFA’s goalkeeper of the year does suggest he was a bit special. I’m happy to believe he was the best. He was the only Englishman who had won a world cup. Facts, I suppose, speak for themselves.
My reaction, as Nicky Campbell broke the news to BBC Radio Five Live listeners shortly before 10.00 am, was one of profound shock. Yes, Banks was 81, he had been suffering from kidney cancer, but heroes are supposed to live forever, aren’t they? Everyone knows about that save from 1970 but the pros who were interviewed on the radio said how Banks made it all look so easy. His saves were rarely spectacular because he knew the angles. He would simply catch balls where other keepers might be desperately trying to tip them over the bar. Although the one save he made ‘for the cameras’, from a header by Pele, is the one we all remember.
I do not understand why so few of the world cup winning team were knighted for their achievement. The nation gave Banks a richly deserved OBE, but why was he not Sir Gordon? Why were some heroes awarded this accolade but not most of the team? It strikes me as such a great injustice when gongs are handed out to political cronies and people for simply doing their jobs, yet heroes are either ignored or given second class honours.
If Gordon Banks was arguably the greatest goalkeeper of all time, then Pele was arguably the greatest outfield player of all time. HIs tribute to his old friend is beautiful.
Pele said he was ‘glad’ Gordon Banks had saved his header
“That act was the start of a friendship between us that I will always treasure. Whenever we met, it was always like we had never been apart.
“I have great sadness in my heart today and I send condolences to the family he was so proud of. Rest in peace, my friend. Yes, you were a goalkeeper with magic. But you were also so much more. You were a fine human being.”