Gordon Banks is always underrated when it comes to talking about the best British players- which is perhaps a good reason why in his position there seems to be a relative dearth at the moment. Banks was the goalkeeper in the 66 side that won the world cup: he was crucial as this save above makes clear to England's challenge in 1970 and had he not been injured in the quarter final against West Germany then England might have retained the Jules Rimet Trophy. I don't say this merely to redeem Banks's reputation- far greater scribes than I have attempted to in the past- nor to say anything about who were the best British players though the unassuming keeper from Stoke must stand beside such luminaries as Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, Billy Meredith and the far earlier Scottish stars who brought passing to England or the later ones that were the core of the Liverpool teams who seemed to treat the European Cup as though it was their posession in the late seventies and early eighties. What I mean to do here is just briefly survey another article.
Up there with Banks, should be placed Peter Shilton. When I started watching football- the 1990 world cup- Shilton's career was ending. Shilton retired after the tournament from international football and though he played on for clubs, his glory days had faded. Shilton for sheer longevity- he was Banks's teammate in the sixties and played into the late nineties, was capped most times for England of any player- and for his success in Europe with Nottingham Forest and in the 1990 World Cup is amost equally eminent as Banks. Two things though instantly strike me about an article Shilton wrote about Banks for the Guardian and they remind me I think of how similar football and sport in general is to any other part of life.
Shilton joined Leicester as Banks was leaving- but he seems to have learnt from him incredibly. Watching Banks must have been crucial for the young keeper and Shilton leaves us in no doubt that it was. We often in football and in life come across the puzzle of centres of excellence- ie people coming out of a good area with good training- well Shilton gives us a simple answer- it is observation stupid! Observation creates a culture within a club- and it creates a means to better onesself. The second thing that instantly strikes me is not that Banks worked hard- but that he never beleived that the ball couldn't be saved- even if it was heading wide, he would try and save it. Shilton thinks that is why he pulled off so many great saves- because he did not believe that they were impossible. In a sense if admiring and hence learning from others is a humble characteristic- then this is a delusional one- but it is a neccessary delusion. When Banks saves from Pele above, he shouldn't, noone else could or had- but he did because he ignored the probabilities and made the effort. The distinction between Banks and the rest was the delusion- it is this which footballers mean when they talk about belief but it is not belief, it is delusion and delusion is key.
It is always interesting to read one great talk about another- but I think what is so interesting about what Shilton writes is that it isn't bland and is much more thoughtful than a standard think piece. He has provided us with reasons both for his own development and that of Banks- and whilst neither is sufficient, I judge that both reasons were neccessary to the two goalkeepers becoming greats.