Gordon Banks, the World Cup-winning England goalkeeper who was also known for blocking a header from Pelé that many consider to be the greatest save in soccer history, died Feb. 12 at 81.
English soccer club Stoke City, one of Mr. Banks’s former teams, posted a statement from his family on Twitter confirming the death. No cause or place of death was given.
Known for his reflexes, Mr. Banks was one of English soccer’s most revered players after helping the team win the 1966 World Cup on home soil. He conceded only one goal in five games before England beat West Germany 4-2 in the final at Wembley Stadium.
Mr. Banks is the fourth member of the starting lineup to die, following captain Bobby Moore, Alan Ball and Ray Wilson.
At the next World Cup in Mexico in 1970, Mr. Banks scurried across his line and dived to his right to stop a downward header from Pelé.
“The ground was hard so I thought I should get off my line,” Mr. Banks recalled to the BBC in 2017, “and as I dived I had to anticipate how high it was going to bounce. I got a hand to it. The ball actually hit the top of my hand and looked as though it was going into the top of the net.”
He managed to scoop the low ball over the crossbar with his right hand. “As I hit the floor, I saw that the ball had missed the goal,” he said. “At first I thought, ‘You lucky so-and-so,’ but then I realized it has been a bit special.”
Pelé recalled he was already shouting “Goal” when he headed the ball.
“Like a salmon leaping up a waterfall, he threw himself to tip the ball over the crossbar,” Pelé was quoted as saying. “It was an impossible play.”
It was often referred to as the “save of the century.”
Brazil, however, eventually won that group game 1-0 and then went on to win its third World Cup title.
Mr. Banks, who was named FIFA goalkeeper of the year six times and made 73 appearances for England, was forced to retire in 1972, at the age of 35, after losing the sight in his right eye in a car accident. He lost one of his kidneys to cancer in 2005, and revealed in 2015 that he was facing another battle against cancer.
Gordon Banks was born on Dec. 30, 1937, and grew up in the village of Catcliffe, where his father ran an illegal betting shop. He worked as a coal-bagger and then a hod carrier as a young man to help supplement his family’s income, building formidable upper-body strength.
“Banksie,” as he was known, was already in his 20s when he started his club career by making his debut for Chesterfield before spells with Leicester (1959-1967) and Stoke (1967-1973) in the top division of English soccer. He won the League Cup with Leicester and Stoke.
Survivors include his wife, Ursula, and their three children.