Leon Wobschall – Supremely talented, modest and noble ... farewell Gordon Banks

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GORDON BANKS’S astounding ‘save of the century’ to thwart Pele in the searing heat of Guadalajara in June 1970 may have defined his footballing career.

But it was perhaps his reaction immediately afterwards which revealed the true inner soul and character.

England goalkeeper Gordon Banks saves a shot from Scotland's Denis Law at Wembley in April 1967. Picture: Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)

England goalkeeper Gordon Banks saves a shot from Scotland's Denis Law at Wembley in April 1967. Picture: Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)

Modest, self-effacing, down-to-earth and very much from Yorkshire stock. But also supremely talented.

After somehow clawing away Pele’s bullet header - a more technically perfect header you could not wish to see - this son of Sheffield composed himself for a mere split-second before matter-of-factly moving straight back into the centre of his goal to prepare for a Brazil corner in that famous Group Three encounter at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico – seemingly without giving a second thought to just what he had done.

The only acknowledgement he received was a quick tap on the head from team-mate Alan Mullery before returning to his sentinel duties. The game was delicately poised at 0-0 and there was a job to be done and a corner to be defended after all.

And that was how it was back then. No fuss, no frills - just the way Banks would have wanted it.

Bestowed with palms of gold on the football field, Banks possessed a sunny disposition off it whenever he was interviewed at an England gathering to remember those heroes of 1966 or discuss the beautiful game.

Leon Wobschall on Gordon Banks

His best moment between the posts, in his view, was in fact a penalty save at Upton Park to deny World Cup winning team-mate Geoff Hurst in Stoke City’s League Cup semi-final with West Ham in early 1972.

Asked what was his most important save, the answer of the England World Cup winner - who has sadly passed away at the age of 81 - also spoke volumes about his selflessness, humility and desire to put side before self.

That moment arrived late on in the League Cup final at Wembley in 1972 when Banks blocked an effort from Chelsea’s Chris Garland and prevented the Blues from grabbing a dramatic equaliser - to help Stoke secure silverware for the first time in their 109-year history.

It brought unbridled joy to the Potteries - the community where Banks lived for much of his life - and that was good enough for him as opposed to personal gain.

Gordon Banks, centre, meets up with former England team-mates Roger Hunt, left and Martin Peters at the 40th anniversary of their World Cup win at Wembley. Picture: SANG TAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Gordon Banks, centre, meets up with former England team-mates Roger Hunt, left and Martin Peters at the 40th anniversary of their World Cup win at Wembley. Picture: SANG TAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Bestowed with palms of gold on the football field, Banks possessed a sunny disposition off it whenever he was interviewed at an England gathering to remember those heroes of 1966 or discuss the beautiful game.

A warm and genuine smile was never far from the surface. Here was a man grateful for his lot, even taking into account a life which had delivered him some several blows and conveyed the frailty of the human condition.

Two months before his 34th birthday, his career in England was ended by a car accident down a Staffordshire country lane on one Sunday in October 1972 that left him blind in his right eye.

Banks’ Ford Consul smashed into an Austin A60 van. He would profess gratitude that a ‘little lad’ who was travelling in the van was not hurt - and was only crying.

27th July 1966:  English footballer Gordon Banks signing autographs at Hendon.  (Photo by Robert Stiggins/Express/Getty Images)

27th July 1966: English footballer Gordon Banks signing autographs at Hendon. (Photo by Robert Stiggins/Express/Getty Images)

That Banks, who worked as a hod-carrier before his big footballing break with Chesterfield in the late 1950s, cast aside adversity to later return to goalkeeping duties with Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the mid to late 70s - helping them to win the North American Soccer League - was testament to his reservoirs of character and bravery.

Those qualities were similarly required in his long battle against cancer. This particular fight may now be over, but Banks, typically, made a strong account of himself.

Another chivalrous, noble figure from the class of ‘66 has gone. But his qualities – as both a man and a goalkeeper – will endure.

MAGIC MEMORIES: From left to right, goalkeeper Gordon Banks (partially obscured), Alan Ball, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst, Moore, Ray Wilson, George Cohen and Bobby Charlton. (AP Photo)

MAGIC MEMORIES: From left to right, goalkeeper Gordon Banks (partially obscured), Alan Ball, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst, Moore, Ray Wilson, George Cohen and Bobby Charlton. (AP Photo)