Gordon Banks remembered by Peter Shilton

30 December 1937 - 12 February 2019
One great England goalkeeper remembers his World Cup-winning predecessor for his work ethic, his down-to-earth nature – and the save of the century

• Clive James remembered by John Simpson
• Read the Observer’s obituaries of 2019 in full

Gordon Banks was a rival in some ways, but we were always good friends. There’s what we call “the goalkeepers’ union” – we goalkeepers respect each other because we know you’re there to be shot at. You can make a lot of saves but if you make a mistake people only remember the mistake. So goalkeepers generally are very friendly towards each other.

Growing up in Leicester, Gordon was my hero. I used to stand on the terraces and watch Leicester City from the age of nine or 10. When I signed for the club as an apprentice, aged 15, Gordon was still there and we’d train together. He was always ahead of his time – long before goalkeeping coaches, he would stay late every Tuesday and Thursday to work on his game. And when he practised, he used to try for every shot. Even if it was going a yard wide, he still dived full-length for it. He’d say, “Well, sometimes the ball swerves inwards.” He wanted to stretch himself and he never gave up.

All those hours of not giving up came together with the famous save against Pelé at the 1970 World Cup. He just flung himself across the goal and the rest is history – he made the most memorable save against probably the world’s greatest player. Gordon always said he didn’t know how he saved it, but that save elevated him to a different status.

I think this work ethic came from, let’s say, an upbringing where he learned the hard way. Before professional football, Gordon was a bagger for a coal merchant so he’d worked very hard to get there. He used to say it was the shovelling that built up his strength. But he was very grounded, even after England won the World Cup in 1966. He came back to Leicester and he hadn’t changed at all because he was so down to earth. And you usually find that, don’t you? I was in Mum and Dad’s greengrocery shops and they used to work exceptionally hard and I saw that. So I’m a working-class lad myself and we did have that in common.

I remember being devastated for Gordon when I heard about the car accident he had in 1972; it left him with loss of sight in his right eye. I was still at Leicester and he was at Stoke and I sent him a message saying how sorry I was. If it hadn’t been for the accident he’d have been in the England team for a few more years. He certainly wasn’t past his best. Unfortunately that gave me my England chance a bit earlier than I thought. But Gordon was a fella who got on with things and he went over to the States and, even though he couldn’t see properly out of his bad eye, he could see enough to play at a good level.

I think the ’66 lads got a bit of extra money for winning the World Cup but it was nothing like if they won it now. In the 1960s, and even the 70s and 80s, there was none of the promotional income or anything like that. And all of the ’66 lads were from that era. But I think football crowds in general were very appreciative – and quite rightly so – of what Gordon did, and not just of his football exploits, but of the person he was as well.

Peter Shilton

The GuardianTramp

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