Gordon Banks, who has died aged 81, was the best goalkeeper England have ever had and is widely regarded as one of the finest to have played for any side in any era. A World Cup winner in 1966, he also appeared in the 1970 World Cup finals, where, against Brazil, he was responsible for what is often cited as “the greatest save ever made” – a supremely agile effort from a close-range header by Pelé.
The scene of Banks’s famous save was Guadalajara in Mexico, where England were playing Brazil in the group stage. Jairzinho, the fast and powerful Brazilian outside-right, crossed the ball after beating the England left-back, Terry Cooper.
Pelé, Brazil’s most lauded player, met the ball with a downward, bouncing header, and was already shouting “Goal!” when Banks miraculously hurled himself across his goal, reached the ball with a flailing right arm, and turned it over his crossbar.
“As soon as I got my hand to it, I thought it was going in the top corner,” recalled Banks later. “But after I’d landed on the hard floor, I looked up and saw the ball bounce behind the net and that’s when I said to myself: ‘Banksy, you lucky prat’.” For his part, Pelé was always slightly miffed, in an amused way, that Banks’s save remained such a talking point for so many years afterwards. “I have scored more than a thousand goals in my life and the thing people always talk to me about is the one I didn’t score,” he said.
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