Gordon Banks - my part in his victory

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At primary school I was a pudgy little kid – National Health glasses and a little pot belly (not much has changed…) and when it came time to pick the teams for football during the lunch break I would inevitably be left as the last, unchosen player… Until one of the ‘captains’ would say the words that echo in my mind to this day… ‘youse can have Toner for nets’.

Not even ‘WE’LL take Toner for nets’…

No – ‘YOUSE can have Toner for nets’.

Let’s not forget that being picked for nets was a source of shame – there was no victory to be savoured in nets. Whenever the team chased the ball into the enemy penalty box and nailed it to the back of the net, I would be at the other end, picking paint off a goalpost. Or in this case, folding and refolding the jumpers you were using to delineate the goalmouth. Maybe bringing them a little closer together when no-one was looking...? Watching your teammates being jubilant a hundred and fifty yards away.

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Determined to make the best of it, my father would tell me what an important role I was playing, and encouraged me to think of the great goalkeepers I could use as role models – there was Pat Jennings, for instance. Or Peter Bonetti.

Or Gordon Banks.

So Gordon Banks (pictured right, who passed away on Monday at the age of 81, taking a chunk of my boyhood with him) became my hero. And even though I knew nothing about football (and cared less, let’s be honest here), I would profess to be a Stoke City fan, because that was his team.

When they came round the classrooms with a special discount offer for football jerseys, my mother encouraged me by giving me money to buy the Stoke City jersey – all because of my love for Gordon Banks – and here I am, aged about nine I think, outside our house in Hawthorn Place in Coleraine, wearing the Stoke City top (with my cousin Hazel).

Nobody seems to have warned me that VERTICAL red and white STRIPES are not a good luck for my physique.

Not to mention that Stoke City were seldom a cool team to support. Not even – it must be said - at the time this picture was taken. And actually (when I think about it) as a goalkeeper, Banks would never have worn the Stoke City colours anyway. Because goalkeepers always wear green or yellow jerseys.

Anyway, welcome back, 1974. This was my misguided little tip of the hat to a great goalkeeper. RIP Gordon Banks.