Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Goalkeeper With Magic


GORDON BANKS, ENGLAND'S No.1, HAS DIED AGED 81

"I was ready to celebrate, but then this man Banks appeared in my sight like a kind of blue phantom."



Even Pele was stopped in his tracks by Gordon Banks, the world's best goalkeeper in his day, who has died aged 81.

A World Cup winner with England in 1966, he is perhaps best remembered for his wonder save from Pele four years later in Mexico, a stop often dubbed the greatest in football history.

Almost half a century later, Banks' diving flip to deny the world's best player is still astonishing in its athleticism, snatching victory from certain defeat, an almost extra-terrestrial action on the football field.

A Goalkeeper With Magic


His nonchalant trot back head down across his goalmouth to defend the ensuing corner shows the other side of his character - a decent, modest yeoman warrior not given to blowing his own trumpet loudly.

In both tournaments Banks was in imperious form and might have won a second Jules Rimet trophy had he not mysteriously gone down with food poisoning on the eve of England's quarter-final against West Germany.

The fact he was the only player to fall ill, from a suspected contaminated beer, and he was England's mighty guardian, was very suspicious.

"Of all the players to lose, we had to lose him," rued manager Alf Ramsey.

To this day no proof of foul play has come forth but rumours abound that the CIA wanted England out so that Brazil would win the World Cup and in its elation the country would not fall to the communists.

Banks was the unlucky hero whose beer was duly poisoned as part of a political game, so the theory goes, but other bizarre events accompanied England in that tournament, which give weight to the conspiracy theorists.

The fourth of England's 1966 side to die, following Bobby Moore, Alan Ball and Ray Wilson, Banks was along with Moore and Bobby Charlton, one of the three players in the side who was genuinely world class.

The boys of '66 have attained a sacred status in England because the Three Lions have failed to win anything before or since so the loss of another of that heavenly eleven is the shining light of a star going out for good.

So the tributes have been pouring in from the likes of fellow custodians like Peter Shilton, who followed Banks path to England and the World Cup via Leicester and Stoke.

"I'm devastated," said Shilton. "Today I've lost my hero."

"One of my heroes...an inspiration, a winner and a true gentleman," opined Peter Schmeichel.

"I am one of the many who built their dreams on your perfect save!" tweeted Gianluigi Buffon.

"Definitely England's greatest goalkeeper," said Ray Clemence.

Growing up I was taught England made the best goalkeepers and that tradition surely started with Gordon Banks' tenure between the sticks.

Goalkeeping demands a range of skills -  agility, elasticity, anticipation, presence, strength, communication, handling and distribution for starters.

But Banks' letter to journalist Lee Marlow, much shared on the web today, shows the Sheffield-born shot-stopper knew his craft like an old master.

"Always know where you are in the goal," he wrote, "narrow the angles down and make it as hard as possible for the striker to score...the more you play your eyes will get better at spotting the angles. You will begin to know where the ball will go..the eyes pick up the direction of the ball, how it floats through the air and send messages to your brain and then to your hands...play games like table tennis. That will sharpen your reflexes...play with a smaller ball...you have to be brave to come out for crosses or dive at the feet of a centre-forward...and be brave too if you lose or make a mistake."

Shilton noted that Banks put in extra training to hone his art when it was standard practice to go home at lunchtime.

Banks played a total of 558 league matches - 23 for Chesterfield, 293 for Leicester, 194 for Stoke as well as 73 for England.

In 1972 he had a head-on collision in his Ford Consul with an Austin A60 van and lost the sight in his right eye. He never played again in England but five years later turned out for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the USA and was voted goalkeeper of the NASL season to boot.

If Lev Yashin was the world's best custodian in '66 and Dino Zoff was in 1974, for that period in between until 1972 it was the mild-mannered Yorkshireman who never played for a big club who was the best in the world at his job.

When he went back to football having lost an eye he became truly heroic.

What everyone agrees on beyond his goalkeeping prowess was how pleasant a man Banks was off-field, an immediately likeable and trustworthy chap.

"A fierce opponent and a good man. Rest in peace Gordon Banks", tweeted the German Football Association today.

The last words go to Pele, who was denied a famous goal by magic hands which instead made a famous save, the best-known in football's long history:

"He was a kind and warm man who gave so much to people," the Brazilian legend wrote on his Facebook page today.

"So I am glad he saved my header - because the act was the start of a friendship between us that I will always treasure...Yes you were a goalkeeper with magic. But you were also so much more. You were a fine human being."



Gordon Banks 1937-2019.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

FIFA'S STUCK IN A SWISS ROLE

ONE SWISS MAN DEFEATS ANOTHER FOR THE TOP JOB IN FOOTBALL

Ramon Vega will not be challenging Gianni Infantino for the FIFA Presidency this summer.

The former Celtic and Tottenham player failed to collect the minimum five nominations required from member nations by midnight last night, leaving his three-year campaign dead in the water and his Swiss compatriot free to carry on as the most powerful man in football after June's FIFA Congress.


Fifa
Anti-Fifa Graffiti in Portugal
While any change had been welcome following Sepp Blatter's scandal-strewn reign, complaints are increasing about Infantino, particularly his authoritarian style of management and distribution of TV rights.

His desire to expand the already bloated World Cup to a colossal 48 teams as early as 2022 in Qatar shows he has lost little of his predecessor's megalomania.

In Switzerland, an investigation has been launched into FIFA hospitality offered by Infantino to Swiss prosecutors and other local bigwigs, confirming there has not been a completely new broom at FIFA HQ.

I wished Vega luck but could not help wondering why yet the only alternative choice for the head of world football after Blatter was another Swiss man, a monied banker to boot.

For some time I have been wishing FIFA to leave its snowy eyrie for pastures new.

Despite starting off in Paris in 1904, FIFA chose the Alpine nation for its HQ around a century ago when a number of international sporting bodies followed the lead of the League of Nations, which had set up shop in Geneva in 1920.

The International Olympic Committee and Court for Arbitration in Sport established themselves in Lausanne for instance while UEFA built a base in Basel.

Switzerland is a beautiful country which enjoys a high standard of living and quality of life of course and is perfectly sited between the three major continental nations of France, Germany and Italy.

Fifa HQ
Fifa HQ in Zurich, Switzerland
But crucially it is a neutral country which has a laissez-faire attitude to international money and no interest in flexing its political muscles on the world stage.

It asks few questions and imposes fewer laws, hence the proliferation of foreign financial institutions, which has given the phrase 'Swiss bank account' a shadowy connotation.

Bodies based within Swiss borders can effectively do what they want as there is no requirement for their accounts to be registered and scrutinized by the state for any illegality.

European Union membership it is needless to say has never been on the agenda for Switzerland.

This was perfect for FIFA as the millions accrued in sponsorship and TV rights poured in and the fat cats on the Executive Committee helped themselves to the cream.

The tsunami of corruption which drenched the reigns of Joao Havelange and Blatter tainted the FIFA brand, possibly forever but at least Blatter and his cronies - Grondona, Leoz and Jack 'Pirate of the Caribbean' Warner, have been turfed out.

Along with a major change of personnel, FIFA really needs a change of venue too. The Swiss location is too closely aligned with a whiff of malfeasance or at least having something to hide. With a lack of government oversight, the temptation to mishandle the money will always be there.

Fifa HQ Interior
Fifa HQ Interior

A move to a new and transparent country would send all the right messages.

So where could they move? A relocation to a big football nation like Germany might smack of bias to that country, but then again FIFA began in Paris and staying in France would not have been problematic.

Really FIFA should be based in London as that is the game's homeland but England missed its chance in the early 1900's to govern the game on a global basis, allowing the French and others to step in.

Luxembourg or Belgium, already home to multinational institutions like the EU and NATO, well connected and with a recent history of humility on the world stage, might best replicate the Swiss model.

But the chances of any truly radical change at FIFA are always remote and frankly wishful thinking.

How bizarre that such an insular and private little country indirectly wields so much power and that its citizens have been in charge of such a global concern for over twenty years now, or even longer if you count Blatter's ascendance to the role of General Secretary in 1981.

Isn't it time for FIFA to quit Switzerland?

From The Archives

Independent Ethics Committee bans Joseph S. Blatter and Michel Platini

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile