The football family gathered to say a final fond farewell to the goalkeeping genius Gordon Banks. Everywhere you looked in the vast Stoke Minster church there was a football face, with goalkeepers galore. Look there, Pat Jennings and Peter Shilton, over there Ray Clemence and David Seaman, just behind them old Manchester rivals Joe Corrigan and Alex Stepney, and here come – carrying the great man’s coffin in an achingly poignant procession – current ‘keepers Joe Hart. Kasper Schmeichel , Jack Butland, and Joe Anyon of Chesterfield, where Gordon started his League career more than 60 years ago.
People outside the game do not realise that the football world is really just a large village, where everybody knows – and mostly respects – everybody else. Over there the Charlton brothers, both frail now but determined to be present at the farewell of their old team-mate, with whom they tasted the ultimate of all glories, winning of the World Cup in 1966.
The Golden Boys of ’66 are also represented by RogerHunt – carrying his 80 years with upright dignity – and squad members Norman Hunter, Ian Callaghan and, flying in from his South African home, the ‘nimble as a thimble’ George Eastham, who shared with Gordon the Man of the Match honours when Stoke won the League Cup 47 years to the day in 1972.
Footballing master Alan Hudson was there along with a host of former and present Stoke City players, including Garth Crooks who later decorated White Hart Lane with his energy and expertise.
Speaking for us all, Sir Geoff Hurst talked of Gordon being a Superman on the pitch – “There is photographic proof that he could actually fly” –and a super guy off the pitch, without airs and graces, and always looking to share a joke. A wonderful human being, and his personality reflected in the quiet, warm dignity shown by his widow Ursula, son Robert and daughters Julia and Wendy, and a myriad of grandchildren and great grandchildren. A full life, well lived.
We sang our hearts out for Banksie on Abide with Me and Jerusalem, and the disembodied voice of Frank Sinatra sang the coffin out of the church with one of Gordon’s anthems, My Way.
Gordon’s popularity went far beyond the touchlines and the terraces, and this was reflected by the number of survivors from the 1966 Wembley Press Box who made it to Stoke Minster to pay their respects. I was thrilled to be reunited with old buddies like David Miller, Jeff Powell, Steve Curry, James Mossop, Colin Malam, Brian Scovell, Bob Harris, Paddy Barclay, and many more who were there as proud members of the football family chroniclers. The PFA was represented by Gordon Taylor. I used to write about him in his wing-along days with the Bs of the game, Bolton, Birmingham City, Blackburn and Bury. He summed it all up by saying on behalf of the football family: “What a great ambassador Gordon was, not only for our game but the human race.”
Gordon was one of my favourite people, and we collaborated together on two books: his autobiography Banks of England and, in harness with his agent Terry Baker, Banks v Pele, which told the tale of THAT save in the 1970 World Cup finals. One of his best friends was the king of goal scorers Jimmy Greaves, who often put the ball past his mate into the net and would then jokingly apologise!
Jimmy was represented at the funeral by his spitting-image son, Andy, who told me: “Dad is too unwell to be here but he is with Gordon in spirit. They loved each other, y’know. It was laughter all the time when they were together.”
My cherished Gordon/Greavsie story was the one he told when he, Jimmy and I were lunching together to flesh out a chapter on Jimmy that we included in the Banks of England book. This is a snatch of their conversation:
Greavsie: “How about that penalty I scored against you at White Hart Lane …”
Banksie: “ It was the craziest penalty goal ever allowed. There was hardly any grass around and I had gone to the back of the net to wipe all the mud off my gloves ready to face the penalty …”
Greavsie: “For a laugh, I side footed the ball from the spot into the other side of the net while you were bending down with your back to me …”
Banksie: “And the twit of a referee went and gave a goal. What made it worse was that instead of telling the ref he was wrong, even my Leicester team-mates were falling about laughing.”
Greavsie: “You chased the referee all the way back to the centre circle and all you got for your trouble was a booking in the days before yellow and red cards.”
Banksie: “He wrote my name down in his little black book, and I told him where to stick it. I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry on a football pitch, but I’ve done nothing but laugh about it since. It was hilarious … but not at the time.”
That’s how we should remember Gordon, with a smile on his face. It was a smile he put on the face of football. And he certainly did it HIS way.
Thank you, Gordon. Life’s race well run, life’s duty well done, life’s victory won, now cometh rest.
RIP Gordon Banks OBE 1937-2019