‘I’m glad he saved my header!’: Pele says tribute to ‘fine human being’ and friend Gordon Banks

Gordon Banks (L) & Pele (R) © REUTERS / Action Images / Carl Recine Livepic / File Photo / Free

Brazil legend Pele has spoken of his sorrow at the passing of former England goalkeeper Gordon Banks, the man whose acrobatic ‘Save of the Century’ denied him a famous goal at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

Tributes for England’s 1966 World Cup winning goalkeeper have been flooding in since the passing of Gordon Banks was announced early on Tuesday but perhaps none of his peers was more inextricably linked to the six-time FIFA goalkeeper of the year than Pele, who said that he “will always treasure” the friendship borne from their rivalry.  

Banks famously denied a Pele header in a 1970 World Cup fixture between England and Brazil, leaping to his right to somehow deflect the goal-bound effort over the bar and rather than this would prove to be the spark which would ignite a decades-long friendship between the two.

Speaking on Tuesday, Pele said that he was “glad” that the header was saved 49 years ago, as it was the catalyst for a cordial relationship which lasted for decades.

That act was the start of a friendship between us that I will always treasure,” he said in a lengthy statement issued on social media.

For many people, their memory of Gordon Banks is defined by the save he made against me in 1970. I understand why.

The save was one of the best I have ever seen – in real life and in all the thousands of games I have watched since. 

When you are a footballer, you know straight away how well you have hit the ball. I hit that header exactly as I had hoped. Exactly where I wanted it to go. And I was ready to celebrate.

But then this man, Banks, appeared in my sight, like a kind of blue phantom, is how I described him. He came from nowhere and he did something I didn’t feel was possible. He pushed my header, somehow, up and over. And I couldn’t believe what I saw. Even now when I watch it l, I can’t believe it. I can’t believe how he moved so far, so fast.

I scored so many goals in my life, but many people, when they meet me, always ask me about that save. While it was indeed phenomenal, my memory of Gordon is not defined by that – it is defined by his friendship. He was a kind and warm man who gave so much to people.

Gordon Banks denies Pele © Action Images / Sporting Pictures/File Photo / Free

So I am glad he saved my header – because that act was the start of a friendship between us that I will always treasure. Whenever we met, it was always like we had never been apart.

I have great sadness in my heart today and I send condolences to the family he was so proud of.

Rest in peace, my friend. Yes, you were a goalkeeper with magic. But you were also so much more. You were a fine human being.”

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