Stoke have a Banks in goal again and the glorious memories flood back
Sunday 26 January 2003
Run your eye down Stoke City's teamsheet today, before their FA Cup tie with Bournemouth, and it is as if you have stumbled into a time warp. Banks in goal. The very phrase itself gives you a feeling of security, even though the man in question is Steve Banks, on loan from Bolton Wanderers.
It prompts the question, though, just what would we give now for his namesake, that epitome of footballing safety, Banks of England? Peter Shilton bears comparison, and some might say Ray Clemence, but for anyone of a certain age (40 or more), Gordon Banks, the former Chesterfield, Leicester City and Stoke City man will remain the England goalkeeper... as fondly remembered for his 1970 World Cup save against Brazil and Pele as David Seaman will be condemned for his 2002 aberration against Brazil and Ronaldinho.
Today, recently turned 65, he still enjoys watching football and is president of Stoke, where he now lives, although he actually played more games for Leicester. He is also a member of the Pools Panel, which adjudicates on postponed matches and celebrated its 40th anniversary this weekend.
As one of that select England group who raised the 1966 World Cup to the heavens, it concerns him that Sven Goran Eriksson has discovered no obvious successor to David Seaman as the Arsenal man enters the winter of his career. "I can't say that I can see anyone definitely ready to take over," he declared. "All our goalkeepers seem in and out of form. To play for England on a regular basis, you've got to be performing steadily. Unfortunately, I can't see anybody at the moment who falls into that category. They're all making bad errors in one game, then having great games the next. David James is a great example of that."
He added: "There are young goalkeepers like [Chris] Kirkland and [Paul] Robinson coming through, but we've seen that before with people like Ian Walker and Tim Flowers, and for some reason it just doesn't work out. I'm the first one to hope that we get a really good young lad coming through. Maybe Robinson could be the lad who's going to be really consistent and claim the spot as his own. But he's got to have a few years behind him before he plays for England, in my view."
He attributes the dearth of suitable candidates to the lack of opportunity in the Premiership, which denies them the necessary experience. He believes that a goalkeeper requires at least six or seven years' regular experience at the top level.
"That's the reason I'd stick with David Seaman at the moment. His age is now against him, but you'd have to pick him because you couldn't really rely on the others. I'd play the others in friendlies, say half each, without any question. Get them experienced to it, but not in important matches. David's been a good, steady goalkeeper for us. People tend to remember striker's goals, not their misses; but they remember goalkeepers' errors, not their saves."
Certainly Banks, who left school to work as a coal-bagger and was initially a centre-half but ended up being capped as a goalkeeper 73 times – it would have been more but for the car accident in 1972 that cost him an eye – would not relish performing in today's game. "I don't envy the goalkeepers today at all because of the lightness of the ball," he said. "They've altered the ball so it doesn't do them any favours at all. It actually spoils all the hard work that they put in, acquiring the right positions and the right angles. I think that's a bit sad. The back-pass rule is another aspect that's detrimental to the art of goalkeeping."
Banks, who started in an era when the hard men, like Spurs' Bobby Smith and Dave Mackay, were permitted to barge him shoulder to shoulder when he was in possession of the ball, added: "Everything that's been done in recent years is favouring the forward. The goalkeeper cannot dive at the forward's feet now because of the danger that the fellow will go down and get a penalty and he, the goalkeeper, will get sent off. But what is he supposed to do?
"He can't just stand there. It's too easy for the man to shoot the ball past him. He's got to spread himself across the player to try and block the shot, and you regularly see the strikers throw themselves on the floor. It's absolute nonsense."
Banks is regarded by many judges as one of the world's most accomplished custodians over the years. He'll leave others to judge that. As for himself, he is a staunch admirer of Peter Schmeichel. "One of the best I've ever seen, a terrific goalkeeper, he was so important for Manchester United. Going back in time, people like Bert Trautman and Bert Williams were my heroes."
Steve Banks, 31, who started with West Ham and who has just agreed another month's loan with a view to Stoke signing him, will never compare with them, but he may just contribute to a possible Stoke FA Cup run, as they did when reaching the semi-finals in 1971 and 1972.
"He looks good," said Gordon Banks. "He's steady, quite reliable, and hopefully somebody who can help them stay in the First Division." He continued: "I'll be there. I love it. I'm always on my feet. I get involved as much as anybody, criticising the referees. When I can't be there, I look at all three of my old clubs' results every Saturday."
That is unless he already knows them, because, together with fellow Pools Panel members,Roger Hunt and Tony Green, he has just decided them.
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