Football: England at the World Cup: 1970 Mexico - Banks illness undermines England's title defence

Alf Ramsey arguably had a better squad than in 1966 but, as Ken Jones recalls, fate dealt a blow to his hopes of more glory

Ken Jones
Thursday 04 June 1998 00:02 BST


England 1 Romania 0

England 0 Brazil 1

England 1 Czechoslovakia 0


Brazil 4 Peru 2

Uruguay 1 USSR 0

W Germany 3 England 2

Italy 4 Mexico 1


Brazil 3 Uruguay 1

Italy 4 W Germany 3


Brazil 4 Italy 1

AN HOUR or so after watching Brazil announce their presence at the 1970 in Mexico finals with a 4-1 victory over Czechoslovakia the England manager, Alf Ramsey, was still lost in admiration. "By Christ, these people can play," he confided in the lobby of the Guadalajara Hilton. "So much ability, so much cunning, such teamwork."

Ever since England's triumph four years earlier, Ramsey, preparing to meet the difficulties of turning out at altitude and in extreme heat, had gone on and on about possession. "It is vital to improve our passing," he preached. "We must caress the ball, treat it like a priceless jewel."

Automatic entry as defending champions carried the disadvantage of having no competitive matches against overseas opposition after the semi-finals of the 1968 European championships (England were put out 1-0 by Yugoslavia in Florence). But when England took up station in Guadalajara to play Romania, Brazil and Czechoslovakia in Group 4, Ramsey was thought to have a stronger squad than that from which he selected the 1966 heroes.

The probable team had begun to take shape on England's tour of Central and South America in June 1969 when a number of players, most conspicuously the Everton centre-half Brian Labone, Tottenham's forceful midfielder Alan Mullery and Francis Lee of Manchester City either cemented or pressed their claims.

Substitution (Ramsey never came fully to terms with it) had become such an important factor that Alan Ball and Martin Peters were instructed to play flat out in unofficial fixture against a Mexico Select XI in Guadalajara on the understanding that they would be taken off at half-time. The experiment went wrong when Mullery was sent off.

Mullery became only the third player at any level to be sent off when representing England and his dismissal led to a sharp exchange between Ramsey and Syd Collings, who was chairman of the FA's Senior International Committee.

Advised not to risk his health at Mexico's altitude, Collings arrived in time for England's third match, against Uruguay in Montevideo to demand a full explanation of the incident. "I'd like it in writing," he said. Ramsey stiffened and pointed to the FA secretary, Denis Follows. "He's the secretary," Ramsey snapped. "If you want this in writing he can give it to you."

Where his predecessor, Walter Winterbottom, had accepted the hindrances of an autocratic selection committee, often conceding to ludicrous regional bias in return for getting the players he thought most vital, Ramsey demanded absolute independence; his policies, his team.

When Ramsey's only attempt at qualifying for the World Cup ended disastrously in 1973, subsequent recriminations were brutally consistent with the antagonism he had aroused over the years at Lancaster Gate and by 1970 his methods were being questioned.

However, the England players, fully motivated by their manager and utterly loyal to him, felt fire-proof as their campaign got under way. Returned to the squad after being held under house arrest in Bogota on a trumped up theft charge, Bobby Moore had a retributive air - "I don't think any of our players are going to enjoy playing against him," Joao Saldanha, who had recently been deposed as Brazil's manager, said - and Gordon Banks still looked the game's most accomplished goalkeeper.

Mullery had no doubts. "Banksie performed such miracles in training that you felt he was unbeatable, and despite the hostility that had grown up against us [caused partly by the publicity demanded by sponsors who provided rations and transport, and partly by local support for Brazil] we felt very confident even before beating Romania 1-0 in our opening game. A hard one too, because they were very physical."

A member of the England team who lost narrowly, 2-1, to a near full strength Brazil at Maracana in Rio a year earlier, Mullery was not intimidated by the prospect of coming up against them in more important circumstances. "Whatever Alf felt privately he didn't allow us to feel inferior," Mullery said. "He told us that we were good enough not to fear anybody and that Brazil's attack was not matched by their defence."

One of Ramsey's biggest concerns was the ruse Brazil had in place to exploit the shooting opportunities that occurred from dubious free-kicks. "It worried him a lot," Mullery recalled. "We saw that they sent Jairzinho to stand in the wall while Pele shaped up to have a crack. Rivelino then sprang in from a wide angle to send the ball hard at Jairzinho, who leaped out of the way. They scored with that against the Czechs and we weren't sure what to do. Mooro had the answer. He simply positioned himself behind Jairzinho and killed the ball as though it was cotton wool and strode upfield. Some player!"

Mullery was no slouch either. Given responsibility for Pele, he had an outstanding match. "Just the one real mistake. Pele outjumped me to get in a header, 'all over, a goal I thought,' then Banksie made that phenomenal save. What a contest. One to make you proud. All the skills, tactical nous, courage, the lot. And we could have won it. Franny [Lee] missed a great chance before Jairzinho scored for them, Bally hit the bar and Jeff Astle [substituting for Lee] side-footed wide of an open goal." A set of scales revealed the extent of Mullery's effort. He had lost almost a stone.

It would all end in tears. Placed second in their group, England came up against West Germany in the quarter-finals. "We'd gained a lot of respect from the Brazil game and we'd heard that they expected to play us again in the final. Then, in the middle of our team talk, Banksie keeled over."

While Banks lay in a darkened room, England appeared to make light of his absence. Hitting their best form of the tournament - "for an hour it was a joy to be out there," Mullery added - England scored two magnificent goals. Mullery's first in more than 30 international matches was worth waiting for, his cross-shot finishing off a move he had helped to instigate.

Keith Newton's goal shortly after half-time caused West Germany's studious coach, Helmut Schon, to think that there would be no revenge for the 1966 World Cup final. "When it got to just 20 minutes from the end of normal time I felt that our chance had gone," he told me many years afterwards.

Fortunately for Schon he still had one card, to play - Jurgen Grabowski, the World Cup's most dangerous substitute. "He definitely changed things," Mullery said, "coming on to run the bollocks off Terry Cooper who was very tired." But it was a lapse by Banks's nervous replacement, Peter Bonetti, that rescued the Germans.

Mullery's rare mistake allowed Franz Beckenbauer to line up a shot with his right foot and a tentative strike passed under the Chelsea goalkeeper's body. "We were gutted," Mullery said. Even more so when, with Bobby Charlton now off the field, Uwe Seeler sent the contest into extra-time with a speculative header that stranded Bonetti in no-man's land. Thirty minutes later England were out of the finals beaten by Gerd Muller's leaping volley.

After an hour's search I found Ramsey in his chalet, holding a glass of champagne. "Sorry," I said. He looked at me blankly. "Of all the players to lose it had to be him, it had to be Gordon Banks."

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in