Gordon Banks, who has died aged 81, will take his place in history as a key component of the only England team to win the World Cup as West Germany were beaten at Wembley on 30 July 1966.
The defining moment of the legendary goalkeeper’s career, however, came four years later when Sir Alf Ramsey’s England went to Mexico to defend their crown – and it is that piece of brilliance for which he will always be remembered.
Such was his reliability, the phrase ‘Safe As The Banks Of England’ was coined about him – but he could also produce rare acts of genius and it was in Guadalajara on 7 June 1970 that he produced the save many still regard as the greatest in the game’s history.
England were facing Brazil in a group game touted as a meeting of the tournament’s two finest teams. Brazil, the eventual winners, edged a classic through Jairzinho’s second-half goal, but the game’s iconic moment came in the first period.
Brazil captain Carlos Alberto’s pass set Jairzinho free past Terry Cooper on the right wing and his cross was met by the soaring figure of Pele as he rose above Tommy Wright.
Pele later admitted he shouted “gol” as he powered in a downward header, only to see the blue-shirted Banks somehow not only get across from his near post to far post, but then show incredible agility, technique and awareness to perfectly judge the bounce of the ball and scoop it over the bar with his right hand.
The Brazilian superstar was disbelieving. England captain Bobby Moore threw his hands in the air in astonishment before applauding Banks. The legendary BBC commentator David Coleman simply said: “What a save. Gordon Banks. He picked that out of the net.”
Banks, with typical modesty, later described the save as “lucky” but that, along with his place in England’s World Cup win, secured his place in football history.
He said: “They won’t remember me for winning the World Cup. It will be for that save.”
The Sheffield-born goalkeeper started his career at Chesterfield and showed such promise in his 23 games that he signed for First Division club Leicester City for £7,000 in July 1959.
It was here he forged his reputation, producing what he regarded as one of the finest performances of his career in the 1963 FA Cup semi-final when Leicester City beat Liverpool 1-0 at Hillsborough, although the Wembley final was a personal disappointment for Banks as they lost 3-1 to Manchester United.
At the same time, he was on the way to becoming a central figure in England’s plans under Ramsey, winning the first of his 73 caps in a 2-1 defeat by Scotland at Wembley in April 1963.
Banks was undisputed first choice by the time of the 1966 World Cup was played on home soil and performed faultlessly throughout the tournament, being widely acknowledged as the best goalkeeper in the game as England lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy.
He was named Fifa’s ‘Goalkeeper Of The Year’ for six consecutive years between 1966 and 1971.
He was not enjoying such good fortunes at club level, though, and by the end of the 1966-67 season Banks was under pressure for his place from brilliant emerging teenager Peter Shilton.
The Foxes decided to go with the younger man and Banks, still with so much to offer, was out.
Bill Shankly, always a huge admirer, wanted him at Liverpool. Banks’ World Cup colleague Roger Hunt told him: “Don’t sign for anybody. Shankly is coming for you.”
He wanted the move to Anfield, but the call never came.
Others were interested but in an era when clubs were reluctant to pay large fees for goalkeepers, the seemingly bargain £50,000 asking price was prohibitive and he ended up joining relatively unfashionable Stoke City.
Ramsey had no such doubts. Banks was, in his view, still the best in the land.
And so to Mexico in 1970 where, after his moment of brilliance, Banks was also the central figure in the game where England lost their crown and the balance of power shifted.
The day before the quarter-final against West Germany in Leon, Banks was taken ill with what the locals called ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’, a stomach bug accompanied by cramps and a fever.
Banks passed an initial fitness test but soon relapsed, leaving the devastated Ramsey to draft in Chelsea keeper Peter Bonetti at the 11th hour.
England’s number one was confined to his hotel room as Bonetti, an outstanding goalkeeper, suffered an uncertain, nervous performance and Ramsey’s side conceded a two-goal lead to lose 3-2.
Banks’ sudden illness led to conspiracy theories that the keeper – so vital to an England team that was not popular among locals after uncomplimentary comments by Ramsey about Argentina in the 1966 World Cup – had been deliberately poisoned.
There was never any evidence this was the case and Banks himself refused to subscribe to the suggestion of any sinister interference in England’s preparations.
Despite that disappointment, Banks enjoyed more personal glory as he helped Stoke City win their first major trophy when they beat Chelsea 2-1 in the 1972 League Cup final, the keeper making a decisive contribution in the campaign when saving an extra-time penalty from his fellow World Cup winner Geoff Hurst as West Ham United were overcome in a semi-final that went to a replay.
He never achieved his ambition of reaching another FA Cup final, however, losing at the semi-final stage to Arsenal in 1971 and 1972.
Banks played his final game for England against the country he started his international career, with a 1-0 win against Scotland at Hampden Park in May 1972.
The great goalkeeper’s career was cut tragically short on Sunday 22 October that year when he lost the sight in his right eye in a car crash as he drove home after treatment for a minor injury.
Banks had played at Liverpool the day before, was still two months short of his 34th birthday and was the current Football Writers’ Association Footballer Of The Year.
He announced his retirement the following summer.
In April 1977, he returned to play for Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the North American Soccer League. They won their division and Banks was named ‘Keeper Of The Year’. He also played one game for League Of Ireland side St Patrick’s Athletic as his great career came to a close.
Banks had a spell coaching at Port Vale then as a manager at Telford United but was disillusioned by his sacking in December 1980.
This is the man, however, whose name will always be regarded among the greats of the game – and the goalkeeper who made the save by which all others are still measured.