Gordon Banks, the World Cup-winning England goalkeeper who was also known for blocking a header from Pele that many consider to be the greatest save in football history, has died. He was 81.
English football club Stoke, one of Banks’ former teams, posted a statement from his family on Twitter overnight.
“It is with great sadness that we announce that Gordon passed away peacefully overnight,” the statement on Twitter said. “We are devastated to lose him but we have so many happy memories and could not have been more proud of him.”
No cause of death was given.
Known for his reflexes, Banks was one of English soccer’s most revered players after helping the team win the 1966 World Cup on home soil. He conceded only one goal in five games before England beat West Germany 4-2 in the final at Wembley Stadium.
Banks is the fourth member of the starting lineup to die, following captain Bobby Moore, Alan Ball and Ray Wilson.
“Gordon was a fantastic goalkeeper and I was proud to call him a team-mate,” former England teammate Bobby Charlton said on the Manchester United Twitter account. “He will be deeply missed.”
At the next World Cup in Mexico in 1970, Banks scurried across his line and dived to his right to stop a downward header from Pele.
“The ground was hard so I thought I should get off my line,” Banks recalled to the BBC in 2017, “and as I dived I had to anticipate how high it was going to bounce. I got a hand to it. The ball actually hit the top of my hand and looked as though it was going into the top of the net.”
But Banks managed to scoop the low ball over the crossbar with his right hand.
“As I hit the floor I saw that the ball had missed the goal,” Banks said. “At first I thought, ‘You lucky so-and-so,’ but then I realized it has been a bit special.”
Pele recalled he was already shouting “Goal” when he headed the ball.
“Like a salmon leaping up a waterfall, he threw himself to tip the ball over the crossbar,” Pele was quoted as saying . “It was an impossible play.”
The England team Twitter account posted a video of what is often called the “save of the century.”
“An all-time great for England,” current England coach Gareth Southgate said.
Brazil, however, eventually won that group game 1-0 and then went on to win its third World Cup title.
FIFA also praised Banks by using the clip from 1970, tweeting from its World Cup Twitter account. Banks helped to draw the teams for the 2018 World Cup, attending a ceremony the previous year at the Kremlin in Moscow.
“As one of the finest goalkeepers in football history, Gordon will not only be remembered for his performances on the pitch but also as a champion and gentleman off the pitch,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said.
Banks, who was named FIFA goalkeeper of the year six times and made 73 appearances for England, was forced to retire in 1972, at the age of 35, after losing the sight in his right eye in a car accident. He lost one of his kidneys to cancer in 2005 and revealed in 2015 that he was facing another battle against cancer.
“If I could make a save like the one against Pele, while playing against the greatest in the world, then I will be able to battle through this health problem,” Banks said then.
“Banksie,” as he was known, was already in his 20s when he started his club career by making his debut for Chesterfield before spells with Leicester (1959-67) and Stoke (1967-73) in the top division of English football. He won the League Cup with Leicester and Stoke.