City's No.1

Former Player Remembers: Gordon Banks

Club Historian John Hutchinson had the privilege of speaking to Leicester City’s late World Cup winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks in 2018.
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Following the passing of legend Gordon at the age of 81, we are revisiting this exclusive interview in which Gordon talks about his experiences with Chesterfield, Leicester City, Stoke City and England.

These included two FA Cup Finals and two League Cup Finals (one win) with Leicester City, a League Cup win with Stoke City, winning the World Cup in 1966, the famous ‘save of the century’ against Pele in 1970 and his experiences with Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the old North American Soccer League.

Gordon began the interview by recalling his earliest days in football at Chesterfield in the old Third Division between 1955 and 1959.

“I had made my way up from the youth team at Chesterfield into the reserves. Then I did my national service and when I came out they signed me as a full timer. That first season, the first team goalkeeper Ronnie Powell got injured, I got in, played for half a season and then along came Leicester City. I signed for what seemed to be a huge amount of money, £7,000. At Leicester there were about three or four other goalkeepers, but I more or less got straight into the side and from then on things started to get better for the team. First of all we had a team that wasn’t good enough to win things, but then after about two or three years, Matt Gillies, who must have had a terrific scout, brought in people like Frank McLintock and later Davie Gibson and Mike Stringfellow. That’s why we got to the Cup Finals in 1961 and 1963."

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Gordon Banks

Gordon Banks attempts to make a save against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Gordon quickly established himself in Leicester City’s first team in the 1959/60 season, playing 36 League and FA Cup games in a side which finished a respectable 12th in the old First Division. Richie Norman and Frank McLintock also made their Leicester City debuts that season.

The following season, Leicester City finished sixth in the old First Division and reached the FA Cup Final against Tottenham Hotspur.

“We had a good side that could defend well but could also get up there and get goals. We had big crowds coming to watch us. In the final, Len Chalmers got injured early on and there were no substitutes then so we only had effectively 10 men for a lot of the game, but we put up a good display and made them really fight hard, although we lost 2-0 to two late goals. Because Spurs were League champions, we qualified for the next season’s European Cup Winners Cup. We played against Atletico Madrid. We didn’t quite get the result we wanted but it was a thrill to play in Europe and it gave the crowd some lovely feelings."

Gordon then recalled the 1962/63 season when Leicester finished fourth and reached the FA Cup Final again, this time against Manchester United.

“It was a very cold winter! Having to play goalkeeper in conditions like that, when it was rock hard, was like diving on the main road, but we adapted well, even in those icy conditions. We beat Shankly’s Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough. They were a top team at the time with great players in their side."

Gordon’s performance in that semi-final was outstanding. With five games to go to the end of the season, Leicester City were also top of the league, but they lost four of those games, finishing fourth.

“We also lost the FA Cup Final against Manchester United. It was a big disappointment. We’d had a terrific season. We had played at Wembley a couple of years previously, so we thought that this was a good chance for us, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.”

It was at this time that Gordon won his first England caps.

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Route to the 1963 Final

Gordon tips a shot over the bar during the FA Cup Semi-Final in the 1962/63 season.

“That was a great thrill for me. I couldn’t believe I was going to get my first game for England that early. I was still fairly young. To walk out with an England shirt on your back was a wonderful, wonderful feeling. I just couldn’t believe it had happened. Believe me, there were four of five goalkeepers that could have done as good a job. For me to keep my place I knew I had to be really on my toes and do everything right, because otherwise the manager would go to get somebody else.

“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. 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.

“Back in Leicester there was a civic reception for me. I went down to the Town Hall. There was the Lord Mayor and a big crowd of people. I couldn’t believe it.”

In April 1967, it came as a huge shock to Leicester City fans when manager Matt Gillies sold Gordon Banks to Stoke City, to make way for the young Peter Shilton.

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1963 FA Cup Final

Leicester City faced Manchester United in the final of the 1963 FA Cup.

“Peter Shilton had looked good in training and I knew he was going to be a good goalkeeper but I couldn’t believe it when the manager pulled me to one side and asked me what I would think about leaving to make way for him! I had played in, two FA Cup and two League cup Finals for Leicester, as well as playing in a World Cup Final and he wanted to get rid of me! I was just at my peak at 28 years of age. Once he had said that to me I just couldn’t get away quick enough. I didn’t want to be at a club that didn’t want me and so I was on my way. Roger Hunt (the Liverpool forward who was in the World Cup winning team with Gordon) told me not to sign for anybody because Bill Shankly (Liverpool’s manager) was coming for me but he never did. So I thought, ‘Well I am not going to sit around here waiting’. Apparently they wouldn’t give Shankly the money so he couldn’t get me, even though he wanted to sign me, so I signed for Stoke.”

After winning 37 England caps at Leicester, Gordon’s England career continued to thrive. The highlight was the ‘save of the century’ against Pele in the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico.

“The conditions in Mexico were in the Brazilians’ favour. The pitches were rock hard. So I had to get used to the hardness and also to the bounce of the ball which I did do, in training. When Pele headed it, I stood off my line a couple of yards just in case he got to reach back and it would be over the line. I was in the right position. I had to wait for him to head it because if I had anticipated and he headed it the other way, I wouldn’t have had a take-off point. I knew it was going inside that right hand post but as I dived across I realised the ball was not going to come where I was diving but bounce a couple of yards in front of me. So now I had to anticipate how high it was going to bounce up from the hard surface, so I reached and got my hand to it. I thought it had gone in because I was breaking my fall on the hard surface. It had gone upwards behind me and I thought it had gone into the top corner. I heard this almighty roar as I landed on the ground and saw the ball bounce behind the goal. Pele headed that ball really hard and I didn’t know until a maybe year or so later, when I was looking at it on the screen at an after dinner speech, that he was as close as that. I had thought that he was just coming inside the penalty area but he was very close to the penalty spot when he headed it."

A week later, England faced West Germany in the World Cup Quarter Final, which Gordon missed due to food poisoning.

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In action at Highbury

Gordon Banks claims a cross while in goal for Leicester City at Highbury in 1962.

“I couldn’t believe what happened there. I sat down at the same table as the others, we ate the same food together every day, and yet I was the only one who became severely ill like that. I find that absolutely staggering. I couldn’t do anything about it. I wasn’t eating food, I was going to the toilet all the time, and I was in a really bad way. The team were training but I couldn’t. I stayed in my room. Alf Ramsey tried to get me to a fitness test and I said I would give it a try but in the meeting, when he named me as playing, the sweat started to pour from me and I felt absolutely awful. He came over to me afterwards and asked me, ‘Are you alright?’. I said, ‘No’, so he said, ‘I can’t take a chance’, so that’s when Peter Bonetti was thrust in at the last minute, and that’s why I have never blamed him."

Despite being 2-0 up England lost the game 3-2.

“It was a shame that Alf made a little mistake there. We had never lost against West Germany. We were 2-0 up and he decided to try to save Martin Peters’ and Bobby Charlton’s legs. He took them off and that’s when we lost.”

Gordon then recalled winning the League Cup with Stoke City in 1972.

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England international

Gordon Banks made his international debut for England against Scotland in 1963.

“That was great for me. I had come to Stoke as I couldn’t wait to get away when Leicester didn’t want me. It was good to walk down the tunnel to play in a League Cup Final with a club that had never got to a final in over 100 years of professional football. We were the underdogs, playing Chelsea and we beat them. To bring that Cup back to Stoke! They went absolutely crazy! I honestly felt so excited and pleased for them. It was great!

"That was also great honour to be named Footballer of the Year that season. It’s lovely to get honours like that."

Early the next season, Gordon was involved in a bad car accident

“That was one of those things. Unfortunately I lost the eye, but though I packed up playing here, the manager gave me the job of coaching the youth team and I loved every minute of it. I absolutely loved it. But then I got tempted to play out in America with the sight of one eye. We actually won our league with Fort Lauderdale. And guess who was playing in our league? Pele, Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Chinaglia! We won the league! The only player we had with any name was Ian Callaghan, from Liverpool. And listen! I was voted the best goalkeeper!”

Everyone at Leicester City Football Club would like to offer their sincere condolences to Gordon’s family and friends at this sad time.

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