I’m quite sure they don’t give out a gold medal for being the first person through Terminal Two’s departures at Heathrow Airport but if they did I’d be wearing it proudly around my neck.
Not that the title of being No 1 did me much good yesterday morning at precisely 4:01am. I couldn’t even get so much as a cup of coffee anywhere yet and seeing as I had my analysis of the late and very great Gordon Banks’ iconic save from the 1970 World Cup in The Times that morning, I was itching for the shutters to go up on the WHSmith’s across from where I was sitting.
I knew exactly what it says, word for word as it happens but you will all get tired of seeing my writing in print long before I will. If you haven’t already, that is.
Some things are an absolute honour to write though, but to be asked to put into words what Banks meant to me and my thoughts on a save that crosses generations is still pinch-yourself stuff.
I find it difficult to separate Banks’ save from Monty’s in the ’73 FA Cup Final but the fact that the assailant on his goal was Pele, I’d have to give him the edge.
We all know the players who have given their names to certain tricks and moves; Cruyff’s turn, Jonny Metgod’s free kick, Ossie Ardiles’ rainbow flick and Ronaldinho’s flip flop or whatever the kids call it these days. When someone describes a save to you as “a Gordon Banks”, you know exactly what it means.
It’s a save that has come to define Banks yet couldn’t be more removed from the man himself. Its spectacularity belies the humble, self-effacing nature that made him an even greater man than he was a player and no praise could be any higher than that.
In the few brief moments in his company, I never found him anything but the epitome of a gentleman. It’s easy to eulogise about someone on their passing, especially in the wake of their death. No one likes to be heard speaking ill of the dead but if I gave you a pound for every person to say anything negative about him, I’d still have the same money in my pocket before I posed you the task of finding someone.
With the passing of Gordon Banks, we have lost one of the true greats of the football world. Not only was he the finest goalkeeper these shores have ever produced, he can proudly sit withy the true greats of the past, like Cruyff, Maradona, Pele and of course, Lev Yashin.
When you watch old footage of Banks in his prime, there is little to distinguish him from modern day keepers in a traditional sense. Even without the mod-cons of today’s gloves and the luxury of pitches that play like carpets, the consistency of his technique and handling were as good as any.
Watching him play without gloves always reminds of the time Peter Reid brought in Romanian keeper Bogdan Stelea in on trial. I have always maintained that he would been a far better option than Lionel Perez who arrived not long after.
Stelea was a beast of a man who would always do his full warm-up without gloves, reasoning that if he could catch the ball without gloves, he would find it even easier with gloves on. It’s actually something that I have taken and used in some of my own coaching sessions to show the keepers that it’s not the gloves that matter, it’s what is inside them that counts.
Another side note about Stelea is that he is the only keeper I have ever seen who would often come for crosses and end up handling the ball outside the box. To be borrow a phrase from Alec Chamberlain, he would travel further to collect crosses than I would usually go on my holidays.
At the time I was glad we didn’t sign him of course but I’m positive he would have become an even bigger cult hero than Lionel did.
As for England’s number one No 1, his sad loss should be seen as a chance to celebrate someone who deserves all the accolades that are thrown about all too freely these days. We should be talking about Sir Gordon Banks, not just because of what he achieved but also for the manner in which he did it.
If there’s one crumb of comfort we can take from this week, at least we can relax in the knowledge that if there is a heaven, everyone there is in safe hands now.