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England 1966 World Cup winner Gordon Banks dies aged 81

‘One of the very greatest’: England’s 1966 hero Sir Geoff Hurst leads tributes to World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks as he dies aged 81 after losing long battle with cancer

  • England’s 1966 World Cup winner Gordon Banks has died at the age of 81 after losing his battle with cancer
  • The legendary goalkeeper has battled with cancer in recent years and passed away with his family at his side
  • Old Stoke team-mates have been visiting banks as he battled the illness and tributes flooded in on Tuesday
  • The England legend leaves behind his wife Ursula and the couple’s three children Julia, Robert and Wendy 
  • Banks became a hero with Stoke but saw his career cut short in 1972 when he became blind in his left eye 

1966 World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks has died at the age of 81 after losing his battle with cancer. 

The former Stoke and Leicester City goalkeeper was part of the famous England side whose heroics helped England lift the Jules Rimet trophy for the first and only time at Wembley 53 years ago this summer.

He is also remembered for what is widely considered the greatest save of all time when he tipped a header from Pele over the bar at full stretch in a match with Brazil at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. 

Pele himself famously yelled ‘goal’ as the ball left his forehead and stood open-mouthed as Banks somehow reached the ball as it went past him and flicked it away for a corner.

Mr Banks, who was controversially never handed a knighthood, endured several battles with kidney cancer and in recent months had been undergoing gruelling spells of chemotherapy. 

Banks passed away with family at his side after his health deteriorated significantly in recent weeks and he is survived by his wife Ursula, who he met on national service in Germany in 1955, and their three children Julia, Robert and Wendy.  

His family said in a statement today: ‘It is with great sadness that we announce that Gordon passed away peacefully overnight. We are devastated to lose him but we have so many happy memories and could not have been more proud of him’. 

England’s 1966 hero Sir Geoff Hurst, who scored a hat-trick in the final against West Germany, said today: ‘Very sad to hear the news that Gordon has died. One of the very greatest. Thinking especially of Ursula, Julia, Wendy and Robert. Sad for football, Stoke City and for England fans. Will be very sadly missed’.

Peter Shilton, who followed Banks as England number one and is his only competition as the country’s greatest ever goalkeeper, tweeted: ‘I’m devastated – today I’ve lost my hero our condolences to his family rip Gordon.’

Legendary England 1966 World Cup winner Gordon Banks has passed away at the age of 81 after a battle with cancer

Banks is seen as the finest England goalkeeper ever as he played a key role in the 1966 success, pictured with the World Cup and captain Bobby Moore


Pictured with wife Ursula in 2002, left, and 2016 at Wimbledon, right, Banks lost battle with cancer after battling it since at least 2015

Banks makes his famous spectacular save from a downward header by Pele in the 1970 World Cup group stages – widely considered the greatest save of all time

Banks watches on during a game in 1967. He played for Chesterfield, Leicester City, Stoke City and Fort Lauderdale Strikers

The goalkeeper’s death has sparked an outpouring of grief from the football world, his fans and his home town of Stoke-on-Trent, where he lived all his life and played 194 times for Stoke City as well as Leicester City before spells in Ireland and the US. 

He became a footballing icon in England and around the world for his football career and incredible saves while playing for his country.

But in recent years he had fought cancer, finally losing his battle shortly after his 81st birthday.

Many of his old Stoke team-mates had been visiting him at his home in Madeley, Staffordshire, in the hope of inspiring one more recovery, but to no avail this time.


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The news was revealed in a statement from the Banks family on his beloved Stoke City’s official website.

It said: ‘It is with great sadness that we announce that Gordon passed away peacefully overnight.

‘We are devastated to lose him but we have so many happy memories and could not have been more proud of him. We would ask that the privacy of the family is respected at this time.’

England manager Gareth Southgate said on the Football Association website: ‘I am deeply saddened to hear of Gordon’s passing.

‘An all-time great for England, I was privileged enough to be in his company on a number of occasions.

‘It was particularly special to be with him at a Football Writers’ tribute dinner last year and wish him well on his 80th birthday.

‘Gordon spoke to the room about that incredible save from Pele against Brazil back in 1970 and moments like that from his remarkable World Cup-winning career will continue to linger long in the memory.

‘On behalf of everyone connected with England, I send my condolences to his wife Ursula, his family and friends.’

Banks at home with his wife Ursula. They met when he was on national service in Germany in 1955, and have three sons

Banks makes a flying save while playing for Leicester in 1966. He represented the Foxes at the height of his career

Banks holds onto the ball during the 1966 World Cup Final. England beat West Germany 4-2 at Wembley to lift the trophy

The Germany football team’s Twitter account posted an image of Banks embracing opposition players on the Wembley pitch in 1966.

‘A fierce opponent and a good man. Rest in peace, Gordon Banks,’ they tweeted.

Presenter and former England striker Gary Lineker tweeted: ‘Oh no. Gordon Banks, an absolute hero of mine, and countless others, has died. @England’s World Cup winner was one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, and such a lovely, lovely man. #RIPGordon’

Current England and Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling tweeted: ‘Of course there was THAT save, but its so much more we are mourning today. RIP Gordon Banks. @England legend, your legacy will live on. All my thoughts with the family.’

Banks made 510 league appearances for Chesterfield, Leicester and Stoke and won 73 senior international caps. He was one of the stars of England’s 1966 World Cup triumph against West Germany.

He will always be remembered for a remarkable save he made to deny Brazil superstar Pele four years later in Mexico.

Banks lost the sight in his right eye after being injured in a road accident in 1972 and retired at the age of 34 as a result.

Another former England number one, Ray Clemence, posted on Twitter: ‘This is such sad news someone I looked up to and a great mentor. I had the honour of training with him in his last couple of years with England. Definitely England’s greatest goalkeeper and will be sadly missed, wonderful man. Thoughts are with family and friends #RIP’

Leicester City, for whom Banks played for much of the 1960s, tweeted: ‘Leicester City Football Club is deeply saddened to learn of the death of our former goalkeeper Gordon Banks OBE, who has passed away at the age of 81.’

Leicester City and England defender Harry Maguire wrote on Twitter: ‘A World Cup winner, a legend. RIP Gordon Banks.’ 

Jamie Vardy tweeted an image of Banks’ famous save against Brazil, with the words: ‘Legend….. RIP Gordon Banks.’ 

Ex-England striker Michael Owen tweeted: ‘Sad to hear that Gordon Banks has passed away at the age of 81. Had the pleasure of meeting him a number of times and he was one of the game’s true gentlemen, not to mention one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. Rest In Peace.’

Former Manchester United and Denmark goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel tweeted: ‘So sad to hear that Gordon Banks one of my heroes and a true legend in life and football, has passed away. An inspiration, a winner and a true gentleman. My thoughts are with his family and friends. #RIPGordonBanks’

Chesterfield FC, where Banks began his career in the late 1950s, tweeted: ‘The sad news reaches us that legendary former Spireite Gordon Banks has passed away. Gordon, who started his career at Chesterfield, was of course part of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team. Our thoughts are with Gordon’s family and friends.’

His status as an all-time great may have been sealed at the 1966 World Cup, but it was the save Gordon Banks produced to deny Pele four years later which became his defining moment on the international stage.

The goalkeeper’s spectacular stop in a group-stage clash with Brazil during England’s defence of the trophy in Mexico is widely regarded as one of the greatest saves of all time.

Banks, who has died at the age of 81, flung himself to his right and, in a feat which seemed to defy the laws of physics, somehow managed with one hand not only to keep Pele’s powerful downward header out, but also flick the ball over the bar.

Banks carries the Olympic Torch in front of Wembley on July 25, 2012, two days before the start of the London 2012 Olympics

The moment enhanced yet further the reputation of a man who, as an ever present in the triumphant 1966 campaign, made it through to the closing stages of the semi-final before conceding a goal – and even then was only beaten by a penalty from Portugal’s Eusebio.

Along with a World Cup-winner’s medal, Banks’ 73-cap CV featured six FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year awards.

It also showed notable success at club level, with two League Cup wins, with Leicester in 1964 and Stoke in 1972.

Not bad for someone who was discarded by Rawmarsh Welfare as a 15-year-old after two games that had seen him let in 15 goals.

Born in Sheffield in 1937, Banks’ time playing for Sheffield schoolboys was also inauspicious, dropped aged 14 after two games without explanation.

He left school in 1952 and went on to work as a coal bagger and then an apprentice bricklayer.

His return to football happened almost by accident, turning up to watch local side Millspaugh and being summoned to play in goal after their regular goalkeeper failed to turn up – and doing so in his working trousers.

Banks’ performances for Millspaugh led to him being recruited by Yorkshire League outfit Rawmarsh.

His time with them was brief and chastening, playing in 12-2 and 3-1 defeats before being told not to turn up again.

But after returning to Millspaugh, he soon attracted interest once again, being offered a trial with Chesterfield’s youth team towards the end of the 1952-53 season, which was successful.

It was certainly not all plain sailing from there – Banks conceded 122 goals over 1954-55 with Chesterfield’s reserves – but he was part of the Spireites side that reached the 1956 FA Youth Cup final.

And after making his first-team debut for the Third Division club in November 1958, a move to the top flight came quickly, with Leicester signing him at the end of that season.

In the six years that followed, Banks helped the Foxes reach four cup finals, suffering FA Cup defeats in 1961 to Tottenham and 1963 to Manchester United, celebrating his first piece of silverware in 1964 with victory over Stoke in the League Cup, and then losing to Chelsea in that competition in 1965.

Banks’ England career also began during that period, his senior debut coming in 1963 against Scotland at Wembley.

That game finished in a disappointing 2-1 reverse, but three years later he tasted the ultimate glory at the same venue, lifting the World Cup after the defeat of West Germany at the end of a tournament in which he had kept clean sheets against Uruguay, Mexico, France and Argentina.

Despite him having reached that pinnacle of footballing achievement, Leicester, who had a teenage Peter Shilton on their books, opted to sell Banks to Stoke as the following season came to a close.

He was 29 at that point – and would subsequently prove he still had plenty to offer.

The famous save in Guadalajara in 1970 was the most obvious example, with Banks’ worth underlined as England lost their quarter-final to West Germany 3-2, with their number one absent due to illness. Conspiracy theories abounded that Banks had been poisoned to take him out of the match, but there was no evidence to support them and the man himself gave them no credence.

There was also a memorable stop for the Potters en route to them winning the 1972 League Cup, Banks keeping out a penalty from fellow 1966 hero Geoff Hurst in the semi-finals against West Ham before Chelsea were overcome in the final.

Banks, by then an OBE, ended that season as The Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year, but his playing days were almost done. A car crash in October 1972 led to him losing the sight in his right eye and he retired in the summer of 1973.

He still went on to have a short, successful spell in goal for American side Fort Lauderdale Strikers, despite his visual impairment. He coached at Stoke and Port Vale and was boss of non-league Telford, with his sacking in 1980 after just one full season in charge convincing him he did not want to carry on in management.

Banks was subsequently involved in the running of a Leicester-based corporate hospitality company for a period, and became a member of the three-man football pools panel.

In 2002, Stoke named him as club president, and a statue of a smiling Banks holding the Jules Rimet trophy aloft was unveiled at their ground in 2008, an occasion attended by his old friend and rival Pele.

Banks revealed in 2015 he was fighting kidney cancer for a second time, having lost a kidney to the disease 10 years earlier.

He is survived by his wife Ursula, whom he met during his national service in Germany in 1955, and their three children, Robert, Wendy and Julia.- 

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