England: Gordon Banks's tribute to 'hero' Bert Williams

By John BrayBBC Late Kick Off Midlands
Banks relives his Pele save

England goalkeeping great Gordon Banks has paid tribute to the country's oldest living international footballer Bert Williams, revealing: "He was my hero."

Banks won 73 caps for England in a glittering career topped off by a World Cup winners' medal in 1966 and that incredible 1970 save from Pele in the World Cup in Mexico.

But in a special film for BBC Late Kick Off Midlands, the 75-year-old reveals the inspiration behind a career that took him to the very pinnacle of football via Chesterfield, Leicester City and Stoke City.

His enduring friendship with Williams, the 93-year-old Wolves hero who kept goal at Molineux in the halcyon days under Stan Cullis in the 1950s, is highlighted on Late Kick Off on Sunday - when Banks talks of his admiration for the man who kept goal when England were stunned by the United States at the 1950 World Cup.

Banks remembers: "I was about 14 or 15 playing at school and when you used to go to the pictures, Pathe News used to come on between the small film and the main film. I first saw Bert playing for Wolves in the cup final - and then when he was playing for England.

"I used to admire this guy so much. He was so athletic, so agile; he used to get to the ball in the top corner - such fabulous agility. He was my hero."

Banks also reveals that growing up in Sheffield he used to travel to either Hillsborough or Bramall Lane for a goalkeeping master class from Williams.

"When he played for Wolves at Sheffield - of course both clubs were in the first division back then - I would stand behind the goal and watch what he did. By watching goalkeepers at that time, especially the great ones like Bert, it taught me things. He was fantastic, a great, great guy."

Williams won 24 caps for England, while his Wolves team were taking on and beating some of the best teams in Europe in the pioneering floodlit games at Molineux. And whenever he could, Banks was watching.

"You don't forget things that you feel are going to help you as a goalkeeper. I saw things that Bert did and I then tried to copy. It helped me to be that little bit better as I went along," he said.

And eclipsing what Williams achieved in his career remains a badge of honour for Banks.

"With me watching him playing, and I had nothing to do with football at that time, then becoming a professional, then playing for England as he did, and then getting that little bit higher on and getting my winners' medal in a World Cup was just fabulous."

Over afternoon tea at Williams' home in Shropshire, the two goalkeeping legends looked back over two outstanding careers.

Williams places his great friend Banks at No 1 in the goalkeeping hall of fame, eclipsing the legendary Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin.

"In the early days I did see Gordon play and my prediction then was that he would play for England," recalls Williams.

"He was good enough; he was the best goalkeeper in the country at that time - no doubt about that. He was confident, he knew the game, and the full backs knew exactly what he was going to do. He was determined in his efforts when he came out for the ball, he shouted for it and he got it.

"The use of the ball was excellent. He had everything that a good goalkeeper should have."

Williams, who made 381 league appearances for Wolves, many of them behind a defence led by another England great Billy Wright, believes Banks is the perfect role model for any aspiring footballer.

"I respect Gordon; he's a gentleman in every way. I never saw him commit a foul. He got the recognition he deserved when he got the world cup medal. I would say he is an idol for any young person to follow."

But back to the present day and Wolves' on-going battle to avoid the drop to League One clearly hurts Williams.

"Once Wolves were classed as the finest team in the world," Williams remembers.

"You just have to remember the headlines from the Honved match [in 1954, Wolves came from 2-0 down to beat a Honved side including Ferenc Puskas 3-2] - Honved, champions of Europe, beaten by Wolves, champions of the world.

"Those were the exact lines and on several occasions the headlines read 'let the Wolves represent England'. You couldn't get better headlines than that.

"It worries me [Wolves' current position] - but the Wolves will find out what is wrong and they will put it right."

On an afternoon of fond memories and warm laughter, Banks was asked if he thought Williams would have made the kind of save he pulled off to deny Pele in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

His reply summed up the respect between the two men: "He did them every day, he did them every game this man."

Late Kick Off Midlands is on BBC1 at 22:55 GMT on BBC1 on Sunday, or the BBC iPlayer from Monday morning.