The only proper way to become a goalkeeper is to stand between the sticks when the regular guy doesn't turn up. That happened to the 15-year old Gordon Banks when he went to watch a local side, Millspaugh Steelworks. He let twelve goals in during a trial for Rawmarsh Colliery and didn't hear from them again, but Allen Pringle, a scout and coach to Chesterfield's juniors, saw something in the lad and signed him as a seventeen-year-old in 1955 on amateur forms.
His reputation was forged in Chesterfield Youths' run to the finals of the FA Youth Cup in 1956, where the team lost 4-3 on aggregate to a team of Busby Babes after referee Arthur Ellis (later to achieve fame on television's "Its a Knockout") added on enough time for United to score the deciding goal. Ten years later Banksy and one of his opponents that day, Bobby Charlton, would play as team-mates in a rather more famous cup final!
He signed as a pro upon completion of his National Service, at a wage of £17 a week and graduated through the juniors, "A" team (where he broke an arm against Sheffield Wednesday "A") and reserves to make his debut on November 29th, 1958 against Colchester United. He ended Ron Powell's run of 284 consecutive League appearances and kept him out of the side until the end of the season, whereupon Leicester City offered £6,000 and the cash-strapped Spireites snapped their hands off.
There was considerable outcry at his sale, despite the comparatively large fee for one so inexperienced. In the space of seven years at Leicester Banks matured from a speculative punt in the transfer market (for them) into England's World Cup winning goalkeeper. A £52,000 move to Stoke in 1967 brought Gordon his only major domestic honour, a League Cup winners' medal in 1972, but a tally of 73 England caps that encompassed the successful 1966 World Cup campaign, and one stunning, world-class save from Pele in Mexico, four years later, easily confirms Banks as the finest English keeper of his or probably any other age.
One of only three ex-Chesterfield players (that we know of) to be a recipient of an Order of the British Empire - in this case, an OBE - Gordon was also the Football Writers' Footballer of the Year in 1972 - again, a rare honour for a goalkeeper. Other representative selections included two under-23 caps and six games for the Football League XI. At club level, he won runners-up medals with Leicester in the '61 and '63 FA Cup and the '65 League Cup before that single domestic honour with Stoke.
When he lost an eye in a car crash in October of 1972 Gordon retired, rather than risk any failure to come up to his own high standards. He became Stoke's youth coach in the summer of '73 before attempting a playing comeback in the United States and Ireland. Although he found that the loss of an eye didn't present the sort of problem that he first feared, age counted against him.
Gordon returned to coaching at Port Vale in December 1978.The club performed poorly during his time there, though, and he found himself relegated to coaching the reserves by the following October before being dismissed one year after he joined them. He became Manager of non-League Telford United in the following January, but left in September, 1980. It is peculiar that so many of the '66 World Cup team that tried their hand at management did not succeed. Years after that triumph, though, they were still famous men, and Gordon began to capitalise on his well-deserved fame by working in the corporate hospitality industry, while keeping up a footballing involvement by acting as the specialist goalkeeping coach to Stoke and Aston Villa. In 1996 he toured the country with other members of the '66 World Cup team in a chat show to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the greatest day in English football's history. Poignantly, Chesterfield hosted one of those shows, and it was clear that Gordon still held the club and his time here in the highest regard.