Gordon Banks won the World Cup with England in 1966, but the most memorable moment of the goalkeeper's career came four years later in Mexico.
7th June, 1970. At Estadio Jalisco in the Mexican city of Guadalajara, World Cup holders England were finding themselves under enormous pressure in the first half of their group match against a Brazil side regarded as the greatest in World Cup history.
Advancing with the ball from the right back position, Brazil captain Carlos Alberto sprayed a low pass over the half way line into the path of Jairzinho. With remarkable poise and balance, the Brazil winger sped past England left back Terry Cooper at full throttle and dug out a looping cross to the far post, where Pele had timed his run to perfection.
The Brazil legend leapt above English right back Tommy Wright and met the ball with a thumping downward header. The ball bounced off the turf towards the bottom corner of the net, but as Pele wheeled away in celebration, Banks' pulled off the most remarkable of saves. The England keeper was still scrambling across the goal line as Pele rose to head the ball, and his reaction was nothing short of phenomenal. Twisting his body and diving backwards in the blink of an eye, Banks somehow clawed the ball up and over the crossbar using his thumb. For a few moments, the watching world struggled to make sense of what had just happened. "Gordon Banks, pick that out of the net!" exclaimed the elated BBC commentator once the dust had settled. "The save of the World Cup," he added. But this wasn't just the save of the tournament; this was quite possibly the greatest save of all time.
It was not just the technical prowess and lightening speed of Banks' save that made it so special, however. The stage could hardly have been bigger. This was Pele, the greatest striker the world has ever seen, up against one of the world's finest keepers. What's more, England were reigning world champions, while Brazil were the finest international side of all time. It was a moment fit for such an occasion.
"It's something people will always remember me for," said Banks in 2005. "They won't remember me for winning the World Cup [in 1966], it'll be for that save," he added. Brazil went on to win the game 1-0 thanks to a second half strike from Jairzinho, but England still progressed to the quarter-finals by beating Romania and Czechoslovakia in their other group games. It was in a rematch of the 1966 final against West Germany that their hopes unraveled, and it was no coincidence that England were without Banks for that quarter-final defeat due to an upset stomach. Replacement keeper Peter Bonetti had been slow to react for the German's first goal, and with the scores at 2-2 after 90 minutes, Gerd Muller's extra-time heartbreaker sent England packing. "Of all the players to lose, we had to lose him," rued England manager Alf Ramsey over his first-choice keeper. Brazil, meanwhile, went on to win their third World Cup in emphatic fashion, thrashing Italy 4-1 in the final.
Banks won 73 England caps in an international career that spanned nine years starting in 1963. From 1965 to 1972, he was indisputably England's first-choice goalkeeper. At club-level, Banks' career took off after he was signed by First Division Leicester City from Chesterfield for £7,000 in 1959. After 293 league appearances for the Foxes, he moved to Stoke City in 1967, where he stayed until 1972. He won two League Cups during his time at Leicester and Stoke, but never experienced club success to rival that of his international career.
To remember Banks for one moment alone would be a disservice to the man who is still widely regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers ever to have played the game. Banks could never match the feeling of lifting the World Cup in 1966, but at that moment on 7th June, 1970 in the sweltering heat of Guadalajara, he couldn't have been too far off.
Buy our photo of Banks' incredible World Cup save from Pele, signed by Banks himself. Reduced from £49.99 to £29.99 and with limited stock, this is a bargain you won't want to miss. Take a look here.