It’s a grey Thursday in April, and I’m sat in the foyer of Holiday Inn, by junction 15 of the M6.
It’s late morning, and the hotel reception and café is full of business types running around: all contrasting-coloured pointed shoes and slicked back hair. They don’t stop to see they’re in the presence of true greatness. They don’t see that the greatest goalkeeper to ever walk this planet has just entered.
Gordon Banks OBE is a true great, a true legend. In an age where these terms are thrown around like confetti, where this man is concerned – believe the hype.
I count myself blessed to have spent around ninety minutes with the great man, who looked in great nick and was on great form……
Tell us a bit about yourself growing up Gordon. What kind of kid were you?
I didn’t like school. I wasn’t brilliant at school at all. I just looked forward to playtime and kicking a ball about to be honest. I left school at 15, and my first job was a local coal round. I was the youngest of four sons and we all had to get a job as soon we left school in those days.
The wagon would come to the sidings full of coal, and we’d be in a lorry and we’d shovel the coal into a bag on the wagon. The bags would be stacked on the lorry and we’d take them to houses and put the bags into house cellars. We got paid next to nothing but we had to bring money into our house.
So how did you got spotted?
I played for my school team and for the Sheffield boys team. My brother, David, got me a job on his building site as an apprentice bricklayer. I was digging ditches, mixing concrete…..crikey!!!!!!
Then, when I was about 17 – I work until Saturday lunchtime to get some overtime. I’d then run home, get washed and changed, and get the bus or tram into town. I’m a Sheffield lad, and used to go watch United and Wednesday when they were at home. It didn’t matter which one, I just loved the sound of the crowd, and all the sights, sounds and smells of a game.
This particular Saturday I missed the bus, and so went to watch my local team on the rec. I was leaning on the fence and one bloke came over to me and said to me “Didn’t you used to play in goal as our goalie has not turned up?”.
So, I rushed home, got my boots and stuff……after game they asked me to play regularly for them.
Walking off the pitch one game, a bloke came over to me and said he was from Chesterfield FC, and they likes me to play for their youth team until the end of season and assess me then. So I did that, and they signed me on as a semi-professional at the end of the season. I was still work on building sites but I trained Tuesday and Thursday nights. It was all so different in those days…….there were only two televisions in our street as folk couldn’t afford them, so kids were all out playing football as there was nothing else to do back then. You rarely see that nowadays.
Why were you a goalkeeper?
Well, when we played five a side no one wanted to be a goalkeeper. So, we took it in turns. I went in one day, and I’m diving about and making saves, and I’m thinking “This is quite exciting”, so I started playing in goal a little bit more.
Ever think you’d have the career you had when at Chesterfield?
Crikey, oh no, no. I played six games at Chesterfield, which I enjoyed, but I never thought I’d have the career I did. I did my national service when I was 18 and afterwards they signed me on as a professional.
You moved to Leicester and were superb for them – then you, you moved to us. Tell us about the transfer……
I’d been playing really well, and despite losing a few times at Wembley, I felt I was at the top of my game. A very young Peter Shilton was coming through the ranks and was highly rated, quite rightly, by them. There weren’t goalkeeping coacjhs back then and so I’d take quite a bit of the coaching duties. Peter looked a really good goalkeeper, no question about that, but stated he wanted first team football. At first, I took no notice, as he was only young and starting his career. But I was playing for England, as well as in a number of finals – including the World Cup Final, and it was a real jolt out the blue when Leicester’s manager at the time came over to me one day and said “Gordon, what would you think about leaving?”.
It was then that I knew – I had to leave. I said “if that’s all you think about me, then yes, I’ll go”.
You had plenty of interest from other clubs – why choose Stoke?
I couldn’t have picked a better club. I was delighted to come to Stoke. Waddo was so charismatic – he really sold the club to me. I knew the fans were great from playing in front of them, but everyone at the club was great, from directors, to fans, to the manager…….different class.
Waddo had a great knack of putting experienced players with younger players. He’d give kids a chance, but he also brought in some great experienced players, too. We had a great blend of youth and experience, and I could see it was a club going places.
What was it like having the (in)famous homegrown back four in front of you? Bloor, Smith, Pejic, Marsh: What a defence that was! They all did their jobs superbly. Hopefully, if you ask them, they will tell you I helped them to play well, too. Modern goalkeepers don’t seem to communicate with their back four. Jack Butland does it, but I’d always be shouting at the lads in front of me if players were unmarked or to make them more aware.
The social side of playing at Stoke……..you know have ex-players meeting on a weekly basis. It’s brilliant to see….
Yeah, you had the likes of my great mate George Eastham living in Sneyd Green (yes, behind The Sneyd Arms, near us – ed) no disrespect to the area, as I love it, but can you imagine Premier League players doing that now! I love the walks, lunches and meet ups that ex-Stoke players have every week. It kind of sums up the football club and the area – amazingly friendly, and loyal.
We loved socialising together. We played and trained hard, but we loved life. Is there another club in this country that does this? I don’t know, but I do know that our friendship and camaraderie is lovely. It would be nice to think the players of this age would be doing the same in twenty years’ time, but I doubt it.
Would you swap your memories for the money around in the Premier League as a player in 2017?
No, not a chance. Never. Absolutely no way. It’s a different game now anyway, and one I don’t like anywhere near as much as when I played.
And how about being a goalkeeper in 2017? No way, ha ha! Not with how much those balls swerve!
So, would you have made the save from Pele with a modern ball, Gordon? Oh, and the answer is ‘yes’ by the way……
Ha, ha. I’d do my best! You’ve seen Asmir Begovic score with those new footballs – crikey, I struggled to get those old heavy balls out of my own ar!
Who was your best mate at Stoke…..
George Eastham. Yeah, we’re big mates, still are…..he’s now living in Cape Town.
Your finest saves…….everyone knows about the save from Pele’s header. What are your choices?
Obviously, everyone talks about the Pele save, but there’s two that stick out. The first one is the save after Mickey Bernard’s backpass in the League Cup Final– as it helped us win the cup, that makes it a really special one. And then there’s the one from Geoff Hurst’s penalty in the semi final…….
Geoff says that my save from his penalty was better than the save off Pele. I just remember his run up……..it was massive. He rarely missed penalties, he was a great striker of a ball. He started from outside the area and when he started his run up, I knew he was going to put it to my right if anything as from his body position I knew he couldn’t rotate and put it to my left. He just absolutely walloped it, just right of centre. I looked up, and I’d pushed it over the bar. Then all I knew I was screaming at our players to stop jumping on me and start marking their players for the corner! I was pushing them off me!
Which leads us nicely to the club’s finest ever day: did it fly by or do you remember lots about it?
I remember most of it. I’d played at Wembley lots of times before and in cup finals. But I knew how important the day was – the chance to help Stoke City win their first ever trophy. So, I was having a joke on the bus and trying to get our players to relax.
It was a huge thrill and honour for me: walking down that tunnel with those players, and seeing and hearing those Stoke fans…..an unbelievable feeling. We were massively the underdogs, with Chelsea being the firm favourites. It was such a thrill. What a day it was!
What did you do after the game? I remember on the Thursday night before the final we went to see Trent and Hatch – the players had a few beers that night, too!
We had a ‘do’ at the hotel in London with our wives there after winning the cup. It was The Russell Hotel, I think. The menu had things like “Soup of Bloor” and the like on. All the courses were named after the players. At least we had a ‘do’ that night – the FA put nothing on for us after we won the World Cup! Can you believe that?
Talking about England – how big a thrill was it to play for your country? The ultimate accolade. Every
Everyone talks about 1966, but did we have a better team in 1970? Possibly, but history states we won it in 1966, so it’s hard to argue that wasn’t our greatest ever team. But we had two great teams back then. Superb players, and we played in some amazing matches. It’s often said by Brazilian players that the day they beat us 1-0 was the day they won the trophy, not the final.
And what about the heartbreak of the West Germany game?
It was amazing. We all ate the same food, drank the same drinks, at the same time, together, every day. And yet I was the one who was violently sick and had absolutely terrible diarrhoea. I couldn’t do anything – the sickness came straight out of me.
There was no way I could have played. No chance at all. I do wonder why it was just me who was that violently sick. I couldn’t believe we’d lost when I was told.
Going back to Stoke, and 1972 (as we love to hear tales about it), and the open top bus………
It was obvious just what winning a trophy meant to Stoke fans that day. Absolutely thousands upon thousands of them lined the streets. I pray we get to see something similar soon. We had a great team then, and we deserved to win more trophies. We were robbed in those FA Cup Semi Finals against Arsenal……
My dad never ever forgot those games, Gordon….
Same here. One thing always rankled me……We never ever played injury time in those games. Yet on that semi final day the huge Hillsborough clock was nearly at ten to! Whilst in the other semi final we had that infamous linesman confusing an ice cream seller for a Stoke player. Twenty yards offside, their lad was!
How come they sold ice cream at football matches?
Ha, ha. They did back then. Programmes, ice creams, the board with Golden Goals…….
It seems to me that your talent and knowledge as the best goalkeeper of all time has been criminally underused by professional clubs and others….
Well, that’s not for me to say. I wanted to stay in the game and help out as much as possible, but that’s probably a question for other people, not me? I did bits and bobs, but I couldn’t seem to find work in the game. I still do the Pools Panel, so I still get to say Stoke will win a game!
Like Stoke 15 Arsenal 0, then? Ha, ha – yes, I’d absolutely love that!
So, come on then, the Pele save, I’ve been dying to relive this with you….
He was a great player, a truly great player. It was the way he headed it, a punched header, so precise. I never stood on my line much, and I was three yards off the line. The pitch was like concrete. The ball bounced all over the place, and I think this is what made it a harder save than it possibly would have been on a lush, grassy pitch.
We played at midday, over 100 degrees…..it was sweltering. Balls travelled like missiles when they were hit or headed. When he headed it, it was going to bounce a yard or so inside the post which was going to be hard, and also I needed anticipate how high it would bounce off the pitch. As said before, balls were bouncing far higher than they would over here on our pitches.
(Gordon mimics the save now – unbelievable stuff. Goosebumps everywhere) So, I got the top of my hand to it, and I honestly thought it was a goal, I really did. By now, my body was hitting the hard ground, and the momentum saw my head turn and I glimpsed that the ball had gone over the crossbar and behind the goal. I won’t tell you what I called myself – it did have the word ‘lucky’ in though, ha ha! Bobby Moore then came over and with a big smile on his face said something like “Banksy, try to get a hold of those, for Christ’s sake!”, ha, ha!!
Brazil were the hot favourites that year, but we played just as well as they did that day, created just as many chances as they did, but they grabbed the one goal of the game.
What were your main strengths as a goalie? My positioning was a major one. I only dived when I needed to. I watch some goalkeepers nowadays and they seem to dive for the sake of it, for the cameras.
Your thoughts on Jack Butland, Gordon?
Cracking goalkeeper, and it’s lovely that he said he’s in awe of me even though he’s too young to have ever seen me play. He’s a lovely lad with a great attitude, and he’ll go all the way, make no mistake about that. He’s got it all.
And keepers you rate nowadays in the UK? Jack Butland, without a shadow of a doubt. And one I really like is Kasper Schmeichel. He earns his teams points and I’m amazed another club hasn’t come in for him.
I’ve spoken to Jack about goalkeeping, but it’s not about technical stuff – just talking about keep training hard and keep being positive. Jack will come back from the injury well, I’m sure of that. He does the right things, he has a great attitude, he’s a lovely lad. He’ll be fine!
You have never left this area, like so many of the players that played for us in those great Stoke teams. Why?
We love the people. We love the place. Everything we need is here. My grandkids and great grandkids are big Stokies, and it’s simply a great area to live in. I’m so honoured to be Club President – I have a real pride in Stoke, and have never seen any reason to leave.
Oh no. To have a career like I’ve had, and the experiences I’ve had – no, no regrets.
What makes Stoke City FC so special? It’s obviously not cups, trophies, glory, or awards. It’s the same as what makes our city great – the people. As the second oldest club in the country we have a trophy cabinet that is hardly the envy of many. But pick an All Time World XI, and we’d probably have numbers 1 and 7 sewn up. That’s some going for a club of our size.
One of those players is (obviously) Gordon Banks.
Banks is a son of Sheffield. But he’s also an honorary Stokie, one of us. To see him using salt cellars and the like to discuss zonal marking was one of the most beautifully surreal moments of my life, as was greeting him by a sign in the hotel saying ‘The Gordon Banks Suite’.
He’s also a man who played 37 games in the North American Soccer League (NASL) for Fort Lauderdale Strikers five years after losing the sight in one eye. That he then helped his team win the league and was named NASL Goalkeeper of the Year shows just what the man is all about.
Gordon Banks is a gentleman and a legend. As we all know, he’s not been particularly well recently, and I’m immensely grateful that he gave up his time to speak to DUCK.
Gordon is backing United Against Dementia campaign (www.alzheimers.org.uk) launched by the Alzheimer’s Society, with three of his World Cup winning team mates now living with the condition. DUCK will be making a donation to this superb charity.
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