Gordon Banks

Remembering Banks' Brilliance At The 1966 World Cup

Fifty-four years ago today, Leicester City goalkeeper Gordon Banks lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy alongside his heroic England team-mates as the Three Lions won the FIFA World Cup at Wembley Stadium.
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Banks, who joined from Chesterfield in 1959, before winning City's first League Cup five years later, remains the only Leicester player to ever enjoy a World Cup triumph while at the Club. The 1966 success, meanwhile, remains a reference point for England's national team - a moment of unbridled joy for the entire country - which is regularly viewed as its greatest-ever sporting moment.

Founded 90 years ago, in 1930, the Three Lions did not in fact enter the competition until 1950, when a side including Alf Ramsey suffered a humiliating defeat by the United States in Brazil.

By 1963, Ramsey was the England manager and, as well as making a pledge to challenge for major honours, the Dagenham-born former defender refused to allow teams to be selected by committee as was the case previously. There were tactical innovations, too, as Ramsey moved away from a traditional 4-2-4 system and preferred a 4-4-2 stratagem, earning his England team the nickname of 'Wingless Wonders'.

As the country braced itself for the football extravaganza's arrival in the self-proclaimed 'home of football', there was drama before a ball was even kicked as the Jules Rimet Trophy vanished off the face of the Earth in March. It was stolen from a public exhibition at Westminster Central Hall and a nationwide trophy-hunt began in earnest, although the tale's conclusion was almost too surreal to believe.

With police and public citizens all determined, yet dumbfounded, in their bid to locate the trophy in time for England's opening day encounter with Uruguay, a dog named Pickles sniffed it out under a hedge in south-east London. The show could precede without hiccup after all, although the competition was rocked earlier on by the decision of 31 African nations to boycott it, objecting to the number of placings they were awarded.

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England's 'hopeful' 1966 World Cup squad
England's 'hopeful' 1966 World Cup squad

A squad of 'hopeful's before the final team announcement in the build-up to the World Cup in England.

In the end, 16 teams did participate; England, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Hungary, the Soviet Union, West Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, North Korea, Mexico and Switzerland.

The eight stadiums, meanwhile, represented an even representation of the nation and included White City (London), Old Trafford (Manchester), Villa Park (Birmingham), Goodison Park (Liverpool), Hillsborough (Sheffield), Roker Park (Sunderland) and Ayresome Park (Middlesbrough) as well as Wembley (London), which would host the showpiece final on 30 July, 1966.

Banks, on the other hand, would have been forgiven for associating Wembley with disappointment after Leicester's 'Ice Kings' side had suffered two FA Cup Final heartbreaks in three years under the management of Matt Gillies. The Foxes did enjoy success in the League Cup, though, although that triumph - the Club's first piece of major silverware - was contested over two legs against Stoke City at Filbert Street and the Victoria Ground.

While a decidedly stale 0-0 draw with Uruguay on the opening day of the World Cup included a clean sheet, it undoubtedly brought more frustration for Banks and his colleagues, who were expected to win. England remained at Wembley throughout the entire competition and City's No. 1 secured three more shutouts in the following two group stage fixtures, a 2-0 victory over Mexico and a win by the same scoreline against France.

Their quarter-final tie against Argentina brought controversy as Antonio Rattín was dismissed for dissent and, to make matters worse, the Boca Juniors midfielder refused to leave the field of play.

Geoff Hurst, who in fact started the competition behind Roger Hunt and John Connelly in the pecking order of strikers, sealed a 1-0 win for the Three Lions - as Banks registered yet another clean sheet. Portugal, who had defeated surprise packages North Korea in a 5-3 thriller at Goodison Park, were next up for Ramsey's boys in the semi-finals, while West Germany faced the Soviet Union, also in Liverpool.

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England's 1966 World Cup Final team
England's 1966 World Cup Final team

The Three Lions line up ahead of facing West Germany in the showpiece final.

Favourites Brazil, on the other hand, missed out on the knockout stages altogether after Três Corações-born superstar Pelé was absent for their 3-1 loss to the Portuguese through injury.

England, too, found Portugal a challenging proposition and Banks was beaten for the first time by a penalty from Eusébio, who'd been effectively shackled by Nobby Stiles until that point. Fortunately for the Three Lions, though, by the time Eusébio's spot-kick rippled the net at Wembley - the first goal Banks had conceded in 721 minutes of regular play - Ramsey's men were already two goals to the good, courtesy of a brace of efforts from Bobby Charlton.

In the build-up to the game, there was drama behind the scenes too. Over the days beforehand, trainer Harold Shepherdson had reportedly forgotten to buy Banks' chewing gum of choice, which the Leicester shot-stopper regularly used to make his gloves stickier. A last-minute dash to a nearby newsagents round the corner from Wembley, just as the teams began to line up in the tunnel, eventually put Banks at ease.

Naturally, the Foxes goalkeeper remained in goal for England's first-ever World Cup Final, which pitted them against West Germany beneath the iconic Twin Towers of Wembley Stadium.

The game itself was broadcast on television across the country, attracting an audience of 32.3M viewers, while Her Majesty The Queen watched on hopefully from the royal box. Even though football in 1966 was incomparable to the global spectacle it is today, the final truly captured the country's imagination and a crowd of 96,924 people joined the monarch inside Wembley. 

At the centre of it all was Leicester City's Gordon Banks - a source of immense pride for the Club to this day. 

England fell behind to a Helmut Haller effort after just 12 minutes, but by the 89th minute, Hurst and Martin Peters had combined to give the hosts a slender 2-1 lead. Disaster struck in the latter stages, though, when Lothar Emmerich's free-kick fell to Wolfgang Weber in the penalty area and an outreached Banks could no nothing to prevent the FC Köln defender from equalising.

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England's 1966 World Cup-winning team
England's 1966 World Cup-winning team

Alf Ramsey's World Cup heroes, including Gordon Banks, in the goalkeepers' shirt.

And so the biggest game of football in the country's history went into 30 minutes of nerve-shredding extra-time. It was the Germans who threatened the most, too, but Banks deflected all they could muster.

With Banks keeping guard at the back, Hurst wrote his name into legend with two goals to win the World Cup for England. His second, famously, was major talking point, but with fans already on the pitch, the game was already all over.  As the Jules Rimet gleamed in the London sunshine as Nobby danced on the Wembley turf, Banks - Leicester City's only World Cup winner - finally got his hands on the famous trophy. 

Over his entire career, Banks made a total of 754 domestic and international appearances between 1958 and 1977, leaving a lasting legacy as one the 20th century’s greatest players in any position.

Speaking to Club Historian John Hutchinson in 2018, a year before Gordon passed away at the age of 81, his personality shone through as the pair discussed that special day in England's history.

“To wear an England shirt was always a great honour but to wear it playing in the World Cup Final, the biggest tournament in the world, was marvellous," Banks said.

"No team knows what’s going to happen in a competition as big as that but here we were, standing in that Wembley tunnel, waiting to walk out, and I’ll tell you... wow, what a day! Then there was the roar of the crowd and the singing of the National Anthem. Then there was the Queen coming down, wishing us all the best, and then, at the end, being able to run around the pitch with the World Cup in your hand!

"It was a wonderful, wonderful day. None of the players there could ever forget it."

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