Gordon Banks and Richie Norman

Richie Norman: My 60-Year Friendship With Gordon Banks

Last week, Richie Norman sat down with Club Historian John Hutchinson and reflected on his life-long friendship with World Cup winning goalkeeper, Gordon Banks, who passed at the age of 81 this month.
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Richie was a close friend of Gordon for 60 years. They met as youngsters at Filbert Street and together they progressed through to Leicester City's first team, where they played in over 300 games together in the top flight, in FA Cup finals, in Europe and in League Cup finals.

Reflecting on his close friendship with Gordon, Richie recalled how they met in 1959: “I met Gordon when we were both young players at Leicester. We hit it off and bonded together from the start. When we were young, I met his parents from Sheffield and his three brothers. His dad had a betting shop in Tinsley, near Rotherham. I’d spend weekends up there. He was my best friend. He was a real good friend, apart from the football. People have a laugh and say you only know Gordon because of who he is, but we were good friends long before we ‘made it’. We remained friends even when he left Leicester. In later years we came to games at Leicester together and I spoke to him once every fortnight.

“I came to Leicester in November 1958 from Newcastle and he’d come in May 1959 from Chesterfield. When I came by train to Leicester, I didn’t know where Leicester was! At that time they didn’t pay players much and the Club was packed with players so they could look at them to see if they were any good. I knew that if I didn’t make it, I’d go back to Newcastle and play at another level. Fortunately I made it and Gordon was the same.

“There were a lot of goalkeepers at the Club, such as Dave Maclaren and Johnny Anderson. Gordon and I started playing in the third team together. Gordon got into the first team before me but I only played about eight or nine games in the reserves and did well enough to get into the first team by ousting Willie Cunningham. He was a top guy who had played for Northern Ireland in the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden. There wasn’t just him in my position. There was also Joe Baillie and John Ogilvie.

“Gordon and I were in the first team together for eight years. Gordon made 356 appearances and I made 365. Most of those were with Gordon in the side.”

At the end of the 1959/60 season, which saw Richie and Gordon make their first team debuts, the two friends travelled to Wembley to watch the FA Cup Final between Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

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Richie Norman & Gordon Banks

Richie and Gordon were room-mates during their time at City.

Richie added: “At the end of the season, the Club said they had some spare ground tickets for standing. Seats were like gold dust. Gordon said he’d love to see a cup final live, so we decided to go. Derek Dougan was playing for Blackburn. He’d shaved his head and put in for a transfer just before the final. It caused a sensation at the time.

“Gordon had a Standard 8 and I had a Morris Minor. We decided to go in Gordon’s car because it was in a better state than mine! Having said that, his car wasn’t in that good a state! I always remember once we went to Charlie Scotney’s (the outfitters) to get some blazers done. We went in his car. Gordon said 'when I go in, you keep your foot on the accelerator because if it conks out we won’t get it started again!' So I sat there outside the shop with my foot on the pedal! This is the car we went to Wembley in!

“We went on the Saturday morning and Gordon drove. We parked up at a station, I can’t remember which one. Then we got on a tube. We stood on the right hand side of the tunnel watching the game. We’d just got into the first team so nobody recognised us. I think Wolves won 3-0. Blackburn’s Dave Whelan broke his leg in a clash with Norman Deeley who later scored two goals. We stood there and Gordon said ‘Rich, wouldn’t it be great to play here in a Cup Final?’ A year later we were there, playing in the cup final against Tottenham, walking out of that same tunnel!”

Throughout their time together at Leicester, their friendship meant that Richie and Gordon were room-mates on away trips.

“Matt Gillies (Leicester manager) liked players who got on with each other to room with each other for team bonding”, Richie explained. “So you’d have Len Chalmers rooming with Ken Keyworth, Ian King with Colin Appleton and Frank McLintock with Davie Gibson. Gordon and I were room-mates from the start right up until when he left. People used to say that we were together more than we were with our wives! When Gordon left (in 1967) guess who they put in with me? Shilts! (Peter Shilton). He was only 17. I remember saying in an interview at the time that I couldn’t get to sleep because Shilts never stopped asking questions about goalkeeping. I’ve always said there are not many people who have shared a room with two of the best goalkeepers in the world.”

Richie then recalled training with Gordon: “Most of the training in those days was a lot of running. There were laps, short runs and 100-yard dashes. Gordon wasn’t a good runner but he kept up. Then he went in to his own mode of practicing saving shots and catching. Me or Mike [Stringfellow] or Howard [Riley] would run up the wing and cross for the centre-forward to test Gordon. Then Gordon would come back in the afternoon for further practice with some players. I tell you one thing that’s never been mentioned but think it was significant. There was a little tennis court under the stand at Filbert Street. We played badminton there. After training, nearly every day barring Friday, me and Gordon would either play each other or play doubles for example against Len Chalmers and Ken Keyworth. It really developed sharpness and stretching and Gordon would have benefitted from that.

You know when Pele thought he’d scored? Well, Liverpool’s Ian St John had a shot from about 12 yards and it was going in the top corner. I thought it was in, but then I saw Gordon flying across the goal and knock it round the post. He saved the day.

Richie Norman

“From a personal point of view”, Richie continued, “Gordon never used to let me score in training on the few occasions I got into the penalty box. Gordon had the knack of knowing just how far to come out. If I was on the edge of the box, I would look at the goal and all I could see was Gordon. He’d stand big in front of you and there would be no area to hit. The further he came out the less you could see of the goal. He had that down to a T. Strikers were never confident of beating him because they could never see the goal, even the top guys like George Best and Dennis Law. Also, Gordon was very agile. He could throw himself around brilliantly. I heard someone on TV the other day say Gordon was a small fellow. He wasn’t small! He was just a touch under six feet. He never struck me as small.”

Richie then moved on to recall what he considered to be Gordon’s best ever game.

He said: “When I’m asked which was Gordon’s best game, there were many of them, but the one when he really played out of his skin was the 1963 FA Cup Semi-Final against Liverpool. You know when Pele thought he’d scored? Well, Liverpool’s Ian St John had a shot from about 12 yards and it was going in the top corner. I thought it was in, but then I saw Gordon flying across the goal and knock it round the post. He saved the day. He did loads of saves in that game. We were under the cosh. To this day, we don’t know how we won that game! There were red shirts all over the place. I was kicking the ball as far as I could into the crowd! It was good to play with the world’s best goalkeeper behind you.

“Mind you, Gordon never stopped my own goal in a cup match against Bristol City! I scored it from outside the box as well! I put it right in his top corner! When I scored it you could have heard a pin drop at Filbert Street. Normally team mates come up and commiserate, but on this occasion everybody put their heads down! Gordon was picking the ball out of his net and even he was keeping his head down! The own goal against Gordon happened because the game had been abandoned the previous Saturday because of the rain. When we played the game again on the Tuesday night you could see the footprints in the mud as we walked out. Just as we were walking out of the tunnel, Matt Gillies said to me and the other defenders 'if you’re passing back to Gordon make sure you hit it hard because otherwise the ball will stick in the mud'. This was on my mind, so I hit it with my in-step and it took off. The winger was right up my backside, I couldn’t turn in either direction, so the only way was back. I hit it so hard I think it stuck in the net! Mind you we won 5-1. I think it was me who crossed the ball for Ken Leek to score and then we ran riot. One of the newspaper headlines the next day was ‘Richie Norman starts a goal riot!’ But we got to the cup final that year!”

Richie then went on to recall that Gordon was a very positive influence in the dressing room: “In the dressing room, he was very jovial. He got everybody going. On the team bus he’d get up and he’d sing this song from a well known comedian on the television who used to have a cigarette in his mouth and sing 'Sugar in the morning, sugar in the evening, sugar at supper time'.

He used to do this brilliantly and he got a nickname from the lads... ‘Sugar Banks’. He wasn’t an over-the-top extrovert. He’d just come in at the right time and cheer everybody up. You could rely on him to come out with a good quip. You could hear his laugh all around the bus. He was good for morale. He would pick everybody up. He was very good at that.”

Gordon’s displays for Leicester City earned him his first England cap in 1963.

“Gordon took the place of Ron Springett,” Richie remembered. “Before he got his first cap, the England team was being picked for a game in France. Speculating on the selection, the Daily Express mentioned that me and Gordon were men in form, along with (City teammates) Ken Keyworth and Howard Riley. However none of us got picked. They picked Tottenham’s left-back, Ron Henry, and Ron Springett in goal. France won 5-2. Henry and Springett hardly got picked again. Gordon got in and so did (left-back) Ray Wilson.

“Gordon was very pleased to be picked. He became a regular and three years later he got me tickets to watch him play in England’s first game in the 1966 World Cup finals, a 0-0 draw against Uruguay at Wembley. That was a terrible game. He asked me if I wanted to go to the next game, but I said I’d give it a miss! During the tournament he relayed to me what was going on and what the players were like.”

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Richie Norman

Richie spent nine years with the Club, between 1959 and 1968.

In April 1967, Richie, like the fans, was shocked when Gordon was sold to Stoke City, less than a year after winning the World Cup.

He explained: “I was upset when Gordon left Leicester. It was like a big hole. We used to go to a little cafe across from Filbert Street after training. Gordon was generally one of the last to get there because he was doing goalkeeping practice. One day we were sitting there and he came in. I asked him if he wanted a cup of tea and then said ‘what’s up with you and where have you been anyway, you’ve been ages getting here?' He replied that he’d been with Matt Gillies who had told him that as young Peter Shilton was coming through the board had decided to let Gordon go. I was amazed Gordon was only 29. Seemingly Liverpool were interested and I thought he was going there and then Stoke City came in and offered him a good contract. Just before this, Derek Dougan had left Leicester too. He’d been sent home early from a training break in Brighton and he was transferred to Wolves a few days later.”

Nevertheless, Richie and Gordon kept in close touch. Amongst the many contacts the two friends had, Richie visited Gordon in hospital in 1972 after the car crash which cost his friend the sight of his right eye and kept in touch with him when he subsequently became the NASL Goalkeeper of the Year playing for Fort Lauderdale Strikers. They also played golf together.

“Gordon loved his golf,” said Richie. “He got down to 12. Me and him started golfing together at Rothley. I didn’t follow it up as much as he did. He stuck at it more than me although I did get down to 18.

“All Gordon’s glory was whilst he was at Leicester. I was a bit disappointed that Leicester didn’t do a statue for him. I was really upset the other day when I heard the news of Gordon’s passing. I still have flashbacks of me and Gordon together. Sixty years is a long time. He’s always been there in my life. We stuck together all those years. In our chats we used to discuss football, things like why goalkeepers punch balls away rather than catch it or why they push the ball to attacking players coming in. I’ll miss all that.

“He was down to earth. He would help anybody in trouble. He was my best pal in football.”

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