Gordon Banks is the subject in the first part of our series, written by Andy Ford.
Goalkeeper Gordon Banks only faced Gillingham once competitively in club football, when he played for Leicester City in a League Cup Fourth Round tie at Filbert Street on Wednesday 27 November 1963, eight months after making his first full international appearance, having previously been capped twice, at under-23 level, in 1961.
The Foxes had finished fourth in the top-flight in the previous season and had been losing FA Cup Finalists for the second time in three campaigns. The Gills were in Division Four and would go on to win the title at the end of that season. We’d reached Round Four after beating Bristol City 4-2 at home, Bury 3-0, in what was the first-ever floodlit game at Priestfield, and a 3-1 home replay win against Bristol Rovers, after the sides had drawn 1-1 at Eastville.
The tie at Leicester attracted a crowd of 10,356, who saw the hosts take a 2-0 lead inside the first twenty-three minutes, and we conceded again, early in the second half, at which point City relaxed and allowed Gillingham into the game more, George Francis pulling a goal back after an hour. It was the only time the home goalkeeper was beaten, a match report including, ‘The Gills’ best efforts came from long-range drives and goalkeeper Gordon Banks dealt superbly with these’, the most notable being ‘a great thirty yards drive from [Jimmy] White, which Banks had to launch himself to his left to hold on the line.’ We lost 3-1 and Leicester went on to win the competition, defeating Aston Villa 4-3 on aggregate in the two-legged Final.
Banks played in all of England’s six games at the 1966 World Cup Finals, keeping clean sheets in the first four and only conceding three goals in the whole tournament, one in the 2-1 Semi Final victory against Portugal, Eusébio sending him the wrong way with a penalty, with the other two coming in the 4-2 win over West Germany in the Final.
Gordon moved to Stoke City in 1967 and was still with the Potters when he was involved in a car crash on 22 October 1972 that ended his international career, five months after making his 73rd and final England appearance. He was taken to hospital and received 200 stitches in his face and over 100 micro-stitches inside the socket of his right eye, but his sight in that eye couldn’t be saved. The injury severely limited his abilities as a goalkeeper, leading to his retirement from professional football the following summer, at the age of 35. He revived his career in 1976, with Fort Lauderdale Strikers in America, where his reactions and judgement of flight were very good and only his peripheral vision was an issue, and was named the North American Soccer League’s goalkeeper-of-the-year.
Gordon died on 19 February 2019, at the age of eighty-one.