The Blind Hammer Column
Blind Hammer remembers what could have been for West Ham and Gordon Banks.
The death of Gordon Banks means that we have lost another of the Golden 1966 World Cup winning generation. Younger readers might not realise this, but for nearly 20 years England produced the best Goalkeepers in the world. Shilton and Clemence were both world class goal keepers but it was Gordon Banks who started this dynasty and was the undisputed original master.
Banks is always remembered for his wonder save against Pele. Yet I remember him not so much for the spectacular saves but for the calm assurance he provided. He was the epitome of the “Safe Hands”.” He dominated his penalty area and provided countless unruffled and calm collection of what would have been, for other keepers, difficult crosses.
What is less known is that Gordon Banks could have been a West Ham legend?
Despite his 1966 triumph with England, by 1967 Banks was available for transfer. Leicester had the young Peter Shilton coming through and was ready to cash in.
Banks had made it known to his England teammates Bobby Moore that he was not at all averse to joining him at West Ham. Banks would have then joined not just Moore but also Geoff Hurst and martin Peters as familiar faces from the England setup.
West Ham was on the cusp of their greatest ever national and international profile. They had won the 1964 FA Cup, and then conquered Europe in 1965 to win the Cup Winners Cup. Moore, alongside the midfield guile of Peters and goal scoring heroics of Geoff Hurst then formed the creative heart of England’s 1966 World Cup Winning team.
The mystery was why a team with 3 acknowledged world class performers were not dominating their league?
The answer was that despite the mastery of Moore, West Ham had a fatal weakness in defence.
Sir Trevor Brooking reflected in his biography that the 1960s team had a soft centre, we were vulnerable from crosses, and what is worst everybody knew it. Brooking, alongside other Hammers, knew that Banks was the person who could repair this and propel West Ham into true league greatness . He was the missing piece in the jig saw.
Fatefully Banks became available after Ron Greenwood had already made a “gentleman’s agreement” to sign Bobby Ferguson for a world record fee, for a goalkeeper, of £65,000 from Kilmarnock. Greenwood, ever the gentleman, refused to renege on this agreement.
Ferguson, a respectable but average performer could never hope to match the class of Banks.
I am convinced that Banks would have been a revolutionary signing. He would have transformed our soft defence. With the world class talents of both Moore and banks solidifying our defence the history of West Ham could have been transformed. The period of the late 60s and early 70s would have been re-written from under achievement to achievement.
The failure to sign Banks came back to haunt West Ham in 1972. West Ham had won the first leg of a league cup semi-final at Stoke 2-1 and was clear favourites to proceed. . However Ritchie had drawn Stoke level at the return tie at Upton Park. With 3 minutes to go West Ham won a penalty to give the opportunity of reaching Wembley. Half the West Ham players turned away, unable to watch as Hurst confronted Banks in goal. In all the years I watched West Ham Geoff Hurst never again failed with his bullet penalties but it was inevitable if there was ever going to be a miss it would be against his friend Gordon Banks. Banks later described his penalty save against Hurst as his greatest ever save, an extraordinary save from a gallery of remarkable saves.
Banks was to triumph as a League Cup winner with Stoke, eventually overcoming West Ham after two further replays, which included the drama of Bobby Ferguson having to be replaced in goal by Bobby Moore. Moore, to cap the drama, himself saved a penalty.
Banks was a great goalkeeper and the biggest missed opportunity in our history. He could have transformed our fortunes and created a much bigger club. We would be enjoying this legacy now. I sometimes still dream about what could have been.