MARTIN SAMUEL: There will only ever be one Gordon Banks

Gordon Banks was 34 when he was finally afforded the accolade, Footballer of the Year. It was 1972, the World Cup had been six years gone and he got it, in part, for his role in Stoke's League Cup
victory, still the club's only major honour. 
Had he been as slow to react in his career as the judges of English football's best player, it's fair to assume he would not have made it beyond his first club, Chesterfield.
Perhaps it was the unfashionable nature of Banks's career path that held him back. 
Bill Shankly wanted him, but Liverpool's board mystifyingly did not share his enthusiasm. Arsenal preferred his younger rival at Leicester, Peter Shilton. Ron Greenwood at West Ham balked over an extra £50 a week. 
So Banks played, mainly, for Leicester and Stoke, and won a single League Cup with both, his only domestic honours.
Yet he won something else, famously, along with ten team-mates, an achievement that will forever cement his place in football's annals. Well, that and the testimony of those who do not salute him as one of the greatest goalkeepers, but the undisputed champion. 
Brave, agile, athletic, determined, he knew national service and hard, manual labour, had a strong mind and made it up early, coming for any cross in his radius. He was fearless, too, quick off his line, and quick to the feet of any forward who showed too much of the ball. 
There was no bigger admirer of the greatest goalkeeper than England's greatest goalscorer. 'With most, I used to approach them and wonder which side to put it,' said Jimmy Greaves. 'With Gordon I would be thinking: 'How do I beat this man'?'
Pele always enjoyed a genial love-hate relationship with his adversary: ticked off that having scored thousands of goals, he was asked so often about a header that was saved; yet full of admiration for the figure whose brilliance inspired those inquiries. Guadalajara, 1970. England versus Brazil. Banks at his best to thwart the finest player in the world.
There is a tendency in modern life to pronounce the latest thing the greatest thing, but Banks's save endures. Pele called it the best he ever saw, and he inspired a few. Carlos Alberto broke down the right and played the ball to Jairzinho who outstripped England full-back Terry Cooper, reached the byline and crossed. 
Pele jumped higher than anybody, ten yards out, heading the ball down into the bottom left corner. 
As he shouted 'Gol', Banks scrambled across and with his right hand, scooped the ball up and over the bar, even though it appeared to be already behind him. 
'The save of the World Cup,' David Coleman announced, instantly, making more of a fuss than Banks's team-mates. It was if they expected it of him. 'You're getting old, Gordon,' Banks recalled Bobby Moore telling him. 'You used to hang on to those.'
Revisiting that moment, the craft is incredible. Banks tracks the ball right to left, so is in the perfect position when Pele makes his header. The ball bounces in front of him, which goalkeepers find difficult, but he adjusts and uses the upward momentum to push the ball even higher. All this happens in a second and looks instinctive. His skill was making the exceptional appear easy.
For his part, Banks did not even regard it as the greatest save of his career, let alone of all time. He claimed his finest moment was a stop from the penalty spot in Stoke's League Cup semi-final with West Ham. 
Banks' England team-mate Geoff Hurst was the taker and he had one style: a thunderous hit towards a top corner. 
He had beaten Banks that way in the first leg and now here he was, standing over the ball a second time. It was late in the game and, had Hurst scored, West Ham would almost certainly have gone through. 
Not only did Banks foil him, he actually got both hands to the ball. As in Mexico, he had to make a late adjustment, and moved his arms to ensure it was pushed over the bar, not back into play.
These were huge saves, in big games. Yet there were hundreds of other matches in which Banks's brilliance was barely acknowledged. 
'Sometimes a team-mate would say, 'That was an easy afternoon', Banks recalled. 'I may have known differently, but I took it as a compliment.' Against Liverpool in the 1963 League Cup semi-final, Leicester had one shot and scored from it; Shankly's team had 34 and Banks kept a clean sheet. 
Until the World Cup final, he did not concede from open play at the 1966 tournament, either. Eusebio was the only player to beat him until then, from the penalty spot.
It is often forgotten that when a car accident curtailed Banks's career, he was still at his peak. He was the reigning Footballer of the Year and remained Sir Alf Ramsey's first choice. 
Even though younger men, Shilton and Ray Clemence, had emerged as contenders, Banks would undoubtedly have added significantly to his 73 caps had he not been left blind in one eye. 
Indeed, it is further testament to Banks that in the ensuing seasons, England manager Ron Greenwood briefly let Shilton and Clemence alternate, because he could not make up his mind who was best.
There were some wonderful goalkeepers in Banks's time, too – Alex Stepney, Peter Bonetti and the young Shilton to name three – but it was never an issue for Ramsey. As it was then, so it is now: there will only ever be one Gordon Banks. 

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