By Andrew Cawthorne
STOKE-ON-TRENT, England (Reuters) – Crowds of mourning fans joined luminaries of English football for a final farewell on Monday to Gordon Banks, a steelworker’s son who became one of the world’s greatest goalkeepers and will be remembered for his miraculous save against Pele.
Team mates from England’s 1966 World Cup win and members of former clubs Stoke City and Leicester came to join a cortege from the Stoke stadium to the funeral for Banks who died aged 81 last month.
“He was so humble, honest to God, he didn’t really understand what he had achieved in life and why people made such a fuss of him,” friend Terry Conroy, who starred with Banks and scored in Stoke’s 1972 League Cup win, told Reuters.
Banks was best known for the stunning one-handed save from a Pele bullet header that bounced awkwardly in front of him during England’s group-stage game against Brazil at the 1970 World Cup.
“With the luck of the gods, the angle at which I’d managed to lift that ball was perfect, and it ballooned in the air and over the bar,” the genial Banks said in one of the many recountings begged by fans and media.
Footage shows Banks chuckling afterwards, as England’s Bobby Moore jokingly chides him for not catching the ball.
His achievements went far further than stopping Pele.
Banks won 73 national caps, played nearly 500 times for Leicester and Stoke and won two League Cups, before a car crash blinded him in one eye.
He remained in Stoke, a former mining and pottery city, where he would watch games, attend charity events and take a weekly walk round Trentham Gardens.
“He donated his tie to a charity event I was involved in and we raised 200 pounds. Such a gentleman,” reminisced Phillip Steele, 76, next to a statue of Banks at the hilltop stadium decked in flags, scarves and flowers.
Some 2,000 fans were at the Bet365 stadium to watch proceedings on a big screen. Others lined the route of the funeral procession, which was to stop outside the old Victoria Ground where Banks plied his trade before ending at Stoke minster for a religious service.
Goalkeepers Jack Butland, Joe Hart and Kasper Schmeichel were to be pall-bearers. Fellow World Cup winners Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst were also expected.
In a largely working-class city obsessed with football, Banks was viewed as a reminder of simpler days before the Premier League’s mega-millions.
Everyone had their favourite save.
“Mine was a penalty he stopped against Geoff Hurst at Stoke’s 1972 League Cup semi-final at West Ham,” Conroy said. “If he hadn’t saved that, we wouldn’t have been in the final and won our first trophy in more than 100 years.”
Banks used to pick out a 1963 FA Cup semi-final when Leicester scored with their only shot on goal while he single-handedly thwarted chance after chance for Liverpool.
Born in the northern city of Sheffield, Banks worked as a coal packer and apprentice bricklayer as a teenager before an inauspicious start at Chesterfield’s Reserves: he let in 122 goals in the 1954/55 season. After military service, he got a first-team contract at Chesterfield — for seven pounds ($9.24) a week.
Anecdotes from Banks’s life tell of a different era to that of today’s cosseted players. Before kickoff at the 1966 World Cup semi-final, he ran out of the gum he used to chew to generate spit for his hands — so the England trainer popped out of Wembley and down the road to buy some from a news kiosk just in time to stave off Banks’s panic.
(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; editing by Clare Fallon)