How do you go about conveying to the two thirds of the UK population not born at the time, just how thrilling it was to be a child old enough to enjoy watching England win the World Cup in 1966? It’s always something I have struggled with.
Gordon Banks died of kidney cancer aged 81. Watching footage of him in action that greatest of footballing days allowed me to relive the excitement of watching the final on our black and white television in the company of three brothers and my Dad. We were not alone. Sales of television sets went through the roof. 32.3 million watched the game from the comfort of their homes. Mum went shopping and came home saying it was the quietest she’d ever seen Hounslow High Street.
Decades later I would be involved in the making of a television programme about my heroes, the Boys of ’66. I would get to meet ‘Banks of England.’ He was a gent.
He spoke about his pre-match ritual of rubbing his palms with gum that he had just chewed. His sticky hands improved handling of the ball. Panic struck when there was no gum to be found shortly before the team were due to take to the pitch. Team trainer Harold Shepherdson ran through the crowds to a local newsagent and arrived back, out of breath, just in time to hand the chewing gum to a goalkeeper who had conceded only one goal during earlier stages of the World Cup.
Mexico 1970 came along and England arguably had a better squad than four years earlier. In the school playground we expected England to retain the Jules Rimet trophy. Imagine that! How blasé we had become. We spent days swapping our Panini World Cup stickers at school and our much valued ESSO coins. If you came from a family that boasted a car, then the owner was only allowed to buy petrol at an ESSO garage.
I recently came across my collection and was amused at how lightweight those plastic coins were. But Gordon Banks was there. As solid and reliable as ever. Just as he was during his career as England goalkeeper. We shall never know if England would have won the World Cup in 1970 but for Banks being the only player to suffer food poisoning after a group meal prior to their quarter final tie against West Germany.
Banks said: “We all ate the same food and took the same tablets, so why me? I’ve become more suspicious over the years.”
Was his drink spiked or his food tampered with? It’s possible. After all, this was the World Cup at which captain Bobby Moore was arrested on a trumped up charge of theft. In that era, be it in athletics or football, all manner of subterfuge was employed.
Gordon Banks was always remembered for one spectacular save. Aged twelve, I swore blind Pele’s downward header had bounced up and hit the post. I refused to believe that even Gordon Banks could have made that save. Pele himself, as evidenced in the top colour photograph, was already celebrating, shouting “GOL!” Click here to see Banks recount that moment.
Pele said: “While it was indeed phenomenal, my memory of Gordon is not defined by that save – it is defined by his friendship. He was a kind and warm man who gave so much to people. So I am glad he saved my header because that was the start of a friendship between us that I will always treasure. 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.”
Pele was the finest footballer I will ever see, playing in the greatest football team in the history of the game. The best team by far won the 1970 World Cup.
Watching them play and listening to David Coleman’s commentary – which sounded as though it was coming from a toilet on the moon – made Mexico ’70 all the more memorable. As did that save from Gordon Banks.
As Coleman says on the below footage of the greatest save of all time… pick that one out!