England’s World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks has died at the age of 81. We look back at his on-field rivalry with his friend Peter Bonetti, who is a Blues legend.
For much of the Sixties and Seventies, there were two names among England’s goalkeeping ranks which stood out above the rest: Gordon Banks and Peter Bonetti.
In fact, we could extend that statement to include the rest of the planet, for Pele once declared: ‘The three best goalkeepers in the world are Yashin, Banks and Bonetti.’
The latter was obviously loved by all at Stamford Bridge and considered by Blues fans to be the best of the bunch; known as the Cat, his incredible reflexes and agility ensured eye-catching saves were a regular sight at our west London home.
The fans loved to serenade him with praise at the expense of his rivals: ‘We all agree, Bonetti is better than Yashin,’ and ‘Bonetti’s twice as good as Banks, halleluiah.’
Unfortunately for Bonetti, standing in his way as far as regular international recognition was concerned was a man who many have since considered to the greatest custodian in the history of English football.
With a four-year headstart on the Cat, Banks was able to stake his claim for a place in the England set-up a few seasons ahead of his rival and once he got his mitts in the gloves, there was no letting up.
There was, however, an opportunity for Bonetti to show his worth in direct competition with Banks as their respective club sides met in the 1965 League Cup final. Chelsea versus Leicester City, across two legs, with more than just silverware up for grabs.
‘I was playing against my mate Banksy and it was a big battle between us,’ Bonetti said a few years back in an interview with the club’s official magazine.
‘Eddie McCreadie scored the winner in the first leg – he was usually a left-back but he was playing up front in this game – and we ended up winning 3-2.
‘Then in the second leg there was a lot of pressure at Filbert Street, with a big crowd behind them, but we managed to hold out for a 0-0 draw and it was fantastic to win my first big trophy.’
Coming out on top in his personal battle with Banks wasn’t enough to supplant his pal from the England side, though, when the World Cup took place on these shores a year later. The rest, of course, is history – Banks, Moore, Hurst and Co became legends, while Bonetti and the other squad members had to wait 41 years just to receive a winner’s medal!
Four years after England had defeated West Germany to lift the Jules Rimet trophy, the two sides met again in the sweltering heat of Mexico at the quarter-final stage, with Bonetti called in for only his seventh cap – having played in a handful of friendlies and one European Championship qualifier – after Banks was taken ill before the game.
The Three Lions looked to be in complete control at 2-0 up, and Bonetti reaffirmed our dominance by claiming a cross that a man his size had no right to pluck out of the air, prompting Kenneth Wolstenholme to comment: “Just think how many caps Bonetti might have had if Banks hadn’t been around.”
One hour and three West Germany goals later, he was to become a scapegoat for his country’s exit after diving over a speculative strike from Franz Beckenbauer which started the comeback. Who’d be a goalkeeper?
The final chapter in the Banks-Bonetti rivalry came in 1972, in another League Cup final. This time it was a one-off affair at Wembley Stadium, as we met Stoke City, and Banks got the better of it as the Potters stunned us with a 2-1 victory.
Despite the competition between them, Bonetti always held Banks in the highest esteem and his role as back-up for the national team helped him to understand the mindset that many of his deputies must have had to adopt during his two decades as Chelsea ‘s undisputed No1.
‘I felt sorry for all my understudies – I know it sounds bigheaded, but I did,’ he told our official historian Rick Glanvill in the book Rhapsody in Blue.
‘It’s very difficult to come in and take over from a man who’s been playing for years and whom people revere. I mean, when I came in against Germany for Banksy, people expected wonders.
‘I know what they [his Chelsea understudies] went through, because in a sense they must have gone through something like that.’