“I was already shouting ‘gol’ when Banks, like a salmon leaping up a falls, threw himself in the air and managed to tip the ball so it slid over the crossbar. It was an impossible play.”
It’s a good thing Pele knew all those flicks and tricks, because based on this evidence, a career in football journalism may have been beyond his otherwise extraordinary talents. He was of course describing the stunning save Gordon Banks made against Brazil at the 1970 World Cup and we’ll cut Edson some slack because it’s hard to fully do justice to the save without stumbling onto the territory of cliche. There is just so much to like about it – the reactions, the agility, the technique, the determination and character – maybe Pele can be forgiven for resorting to fish for his assessment.
My first introduction to the save came via a doubly strange route – the Golden Goals section of my Italia 90 stickerbook. There, amidst the pages which illustrated the goal-scoring brilliance of Maradona, Charlton, Cruyff and of course Archie Gemmell, was Banks – looking as perplexed at the absence of a dedicated Golden Gloves section as I was.
It was an era free from the luxuries of the internet, so in attempt to give the reader an accurate reflection of how events transpired, the makers had kindly put together a drawing of how things had happened. These are the extra frills you get when committing to buy a twenty part series complete with helpful folder to house the collection. I’ll never forget the cartoon strip style depiction of events. In the first frame the ball is making it’s way towards Pele who is waiting ravenously to slam it into the English net. Gordon Banks is seen standing casually at his near post – possibly filing his nails – seemingly destined to be nothing more than the guy who’ll pick the ball out of the net in some frame they felt it unnecessary to create. Little has changed in the second frame. The ball has moved closer to Pele, whilst Banks is still looking unpeterbed some distance from the likely scene of the action, probably pondering state of his cuticles or what swapsies he can do to finish out the Belgian squad section of the stickerbook. By the 3rd frame, Banks has decided his nails can wait and has sprung into life. He throws himself across the full width of the goal to deny Pele with an agility that seems to defy physics. My memory fails me, so I can only suggest there were further frames in which Pele is seen weeping inconsolably and Banks is lifted shoulder high by team-mates to the nearest nail bar.
In comparison to this illustration, the reality was always going to be inferior and so it proved to be when i finally saw the ‘live’ version of the save. And by live I mean the ‘non-crudely drawn comic book’ version of the save. It was still a good save, but not the Clark Kent style glimpse of a mere mortal doing the superhuman I had been expecting.
Since however I have developed a genuine admiration for the save that goes beyond the explosive reactions I used to find so enthralling. Hundreds of TV replays and YouTube views have led me to conclude that the save is remarkable, but for more than supreme agility. The way in which Banks moves across his line is excellent. He moves with a remarkable combination of urgency and smooth stealth. The legendary version may focus in on how Banks threw his frame from one side of the goal to the other, but the less spectacular truth is his brilliant footwork and balance combine to put him in a position – both in terms of geography of the goalmouth and stnace – to utilise his world class athleticism and to dive down low to get to a header that was pretty technically perfect in it’s own right. Solid footwork seldom gets mentioned in accounts of the heroic feats of sporting legends but it must have been there. Without being able to put every single foot right, Banks would never have been able to reach Pele’s header and it’s this trifling mundanity which makes it all the more spectacular for me.
Anyway Mr. Banks, if you read obscure goalkeeping blogs, many happy returns on your 73rd birthday.