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Gordon Banks - England's Greatest Goalkeeper.

Posted Sunday, July 1, 2007

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Banks of England!

`The greatest the world has ever seen'

Former Chesterfield Goalkeeper Gordon Banks is a footballing legend, regarded by many as the greatest goalkeeper that England has ever had, and by some as the greatest the world has ever seen. In fact the phrase that most commonly refers to him - `as safe as the Banks of England’ - has become part of our everyday language ever since Gordon distinguished himself between the posts for his country by helping England to win the World Cup at Wembley in 1966.

In an international career spanning nine years between 1963 and May 1972 Banks was capped 73 times for England. He won League Cup winners medals with Leicester City in 1964 and with Stoke City in 1972, and played in two F.A.Cup Finals at Wembley for Leicester City in 1961 and 1963.

Arise Sir Gordon!

`Remarkable comeback in the North American Soccer League'

He was awarded the O.B.E. in 1970 and voted Footballer of the Year in 1972. Tragically his career was cut short the following year by a motoring accident in which he lost the sight in his right eye, but Banks determination to play again saw him make a remarkable come-back in the North American Soccer League where he played alongside his great pals, Bobby Moore, George Best, and the great Brazilian Pele. In his final season in America in 1977 his team won the league title and Banks was voted NASL Goalkeeper of the Year. A fitting tribute to a fine career.

“Not bad for a lad from Tinsley who learned his trade at Saltergate” says Gordon, who was born at Ferrars Road, Tinsley, Sheffield in 1937, the son of a steelworker and the youngest of four brothers.

The other brothers were David, Michael and John.

“John, the eldest, who was disabled, was always refered to as ‘Our Jack’, recalls Gordon, “a term of endearment that was a source of bewilderment to me as a small boy and I couldn’t fathom it’s logic. `Our Jack has eaten all his cabbage’, Mam would say, as if we might have confused him with another Jack”.

The young Gordon had three childhood passions; football, train-spotting and the cinema. Football was always foremost, and he played in goal for Tinsley County School and later for Sheffield Schoolboys.

“Our school was next to the Tinsley Railway Sheds, where up to fifty steam engines were housed and serviced, recalls Gordon, “they were belching muck and steam out in competition with the grime from Steel, Peach & Towser’s steelworks at the end of our road. The phrase `go outside and get some fresh air’ was never heard from the teachers at my school!

Gordon recalls that Friday night was bath night in the Banks household: “We had a tin bath which Dad would fill with kettles of hot water. It was placed in front of the kitchen fire every Friday night and Dad would go first, then Our Jack, David and Michael and last of all me, he chuckles, “sometimes I think I came out dirtier than I went in!”.

In the early 1950’s the family moved to Catcliffe and Mr. Banks senior opened a betting-shop. “It was illegal at the time, says Gordon, “but the extra money and increased standard of living compensated for the occasional court appearance and £40 fine”! The shop did well, but it also brought tragedy to the family. Gordon explains: “One day Our Jack was going home with the takings when, despite his disability, he was badly beaten up and robbed by two men. He spent weeks in hospital, but never recovered and sadly died from his injuries”. The attackers were caught and got long sentences; “but that was no compensation, says Gordon, the family was devastated. I grieved for months, mourned for years, and still miss him to this day”.

Gordon left school at fifteen and got a job as a coal-bagger with a local coal merchant and shortly afterwards had his first taste of senior football. He vividly recalls his first game: “One Saturday after work I went to watch local team Millspaugh, whose goalkeeper had not turned up and I was offered a game, so I dashed home for my boots”. He got back in time for the kick-off, only to find that there was a jersey for him – but no shorts! “So I played in my work trousers, he said, “and , much to the amusement of my team mates, every time the ball hit my legs I was covered in clouds of coal dust!”.

His heroes at the time were Bert Trautmann of Manchester City and George Farm of Blackpool, but he admits it was the Sheffield United goalkeeper Ted Burgin who inspired him to become a professional goalkeeper.

Within a season Banks’s potential was spotted by a league scout and he was offered a run in the Chesterfield Youth Team, arriving at Saltergate on a rainswept evening in late March 1953. Banks played the final six games of the season in the Northern Intermediate League and in July Chesterfield Manager Ted Davison offered him a contract as a part-time professional at £3 a week. Gordon says he was ‘ecstatic’! In 1954-55 he had a rude baptism into the Chesterfield Reserve team, who finished bottom of the Central League with just 3 wins all season, conceding 122 goals!

He was called up for National Service and joined the Royal Signals as a Despatch Rider. Gordon was posted to Germany where he met and married his lovely German-born wife Ursula, they now have three children – Robert, born in 1958; Wendy in 1963, and Julia in 1969.

Following his de-mob 3 years later he re-joined Chesterfield as a full-time professional in the newly formed Third Division under new manager Duggie Livingstone, making his full league debut in November 1958, replacing the long-serving Ron Powell against Colchester United at Saltergate. Banks made 26 appearances for Chesterfield before being transferred to First Divison Leicester City for £7000 in July 1959.

He spent seven years at Filbert Street, making 356 appearances for City, playing in two F.A.Cup Finals and winning the League Cup in 1964.

He won the first of his 73 England caps at Wembley in 1963 against Scotland, and between 1964 and 1967, including famously winning the World Cup in 1966, Banks played in 24 consecutive games without defeat for England and was rated No1 in the world. Amazingly he was voted FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year for six consecutive years between 1966 – 71!

In April 1967 he signed for Stoke City for £50,000 and won the League Cup with them in 1972, making 246 appearances for the club before the tragic car crash which ended his professional football league career in 1973.

Banks played for England in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, famously making what has become known as ‘The Save of the Century’ against Pele as England were knocked out of the competition by Brazil.

He is also proud of the fact that he can tell his grandchildren (of which he has five) that he also had a number one hit record with the England team in 1970 - the song, `Back Home’ reached number one whilst Gordon was in Mexico and was in the charts for sixteen weeks! It was a good year for Gordon and was crowned when he returned from Mexico to receive the O.B.E. for his services to football.

Gordon is grateful for his footballing life and remains passionate about the game that has made him a legend. He has no regrets, but observes candidly,

“The most I ever earned in the football league was £100 a week at Leicester City in 1966 when I was England and World number one – I bet David Seaman is glad that he wasn’t born thirty years earlier!”

These days Gordon divides his time between taking his grandchildren to the cinema - “I’ve become an expert on Star Wars and Spiderman” he claims – and working with Ursula in the garden of their home just over the Derbyshire border in North Staffordshire, where, he says wryly, he keeps the lawns “just long enough to take a short stud”.

He still serves on the Pools Panel, a duty he has enjoyed for twenty years, is in great demand as an after-dinner speaker and also does lots of charity work. He recently became a pensioner having turned sixty-five earlier this year and celebrated by publishing his autobiography.

Simply titled `Banksy’, the book is published by Michael Joseph. It is an excellent read and is set to become a best-seller, adding yet another chapter to the legendary success of the great `Banks of England'

“Not bad for a lad from Tinsley who learned his trade at Saltergate!”

 
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