LONDON • Pele has said that Gordon Banks' legendary save in the 1970 World Cup bound the two men together in a lasting friendship as he paid tribute to the former England goalkeeper who died aged 81 on Tuesday.
The Brazilian legend said even now he cannot believe how Banks managed to scoop away the header in Brazil's 1-0 group-stage win in Guadalajara's Estadio Jalisco.
"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," Pele, 78, said on Facebook. "And I couldn't believe what I saw. Even now when I watch it, I can't believe it. I can't believe how he moved so far, so fast.
"So I am glad he saved my header - because that act was the start of a friendship between us that I will always treasure.
"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."
Bobby Charlton, the driving force of England's 1966 World Cup-winning team, paid his own tribute to Banks, saying he was "proud to call him a teammate".
"Obviously, we shared that great day in 1966, but it was more than that," he said. "Even though I was on the pitch and have seen it many times since, I still don't know how he saved that header from Pele."
A GREAT 'KEEPER, A FINE HUMAN
So I am glad he saved my header - because that act was the start of a friendship between us that I will always treasure. 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.
PELE, the Brazilian legend who till today is still astounded at how Banks managed to save his header in England's 1-0 loss in their 1970 World Cup group game.
In his playing days, Banks was, in short, the ideal goalkeeper for any age. Calm but ever alert, organising his defenders, watching his angles, plucking the ball out of the air, anticipating what a forward with the ball at his feet might do next, his qualities were beyond dispute.
For a while, as the 60s bled into the 70s, he was accepted as the finest goalkeeper in the world. He took over that distinction from Russian giant Lev Yashin and handed it on to Dino Zoff, the eternal Italian.
Unlike Yashin, who retired at 40, and Zoff, who played in a World Cup final at 40 and a European Cup final at 41, Banks suffered the premature end of his career when a car accident cost him the sight of one eye at 34.
There was another difference, too. Yashin played for Dynamo Moscow, Zoff for Juventus. Banks played for Leicester and Stoke, and was never in line for the kind of club honours that were virtually guaranteed to the other two.
But it was Banks whose presence in the opposing goal made it much less likely the other team were going to score that day.
In the 1966 final, he conceded twice, first after Ray Wilson's poor headed clearance and then to a disintegrating defensive wall. But crucially there were saves - notably from a 25-yard snap shot by West Germany's Uwe Seeler just before half-time - that preserved the platform on which England could construct their 4-2 extra-time victory.
In Mexico four years later, it was his absence that made the crucial difference. An upset stomach kept him out of the quarter-final against West Germany, in which a nervous Peter Bonetti's misjudgments contributed to England's elimination.
Off the field, Banks was pleasant and approachable in a manner that belonged to his time.
Coming at a time when not one of the six English teams competing for the four Champions League places have an Englishman as their No. 1 or No. 2 goalkeeper, Banks' death reminds us of a time when he could be followed into the England jersey by Peter Shilton, Ray Clemence and David Seaman.
But mostly it encourages us to remember the afternoon when he and the greatest player of all time brought the best out of each other in the Mexican sunshine, two men from the working classes of different continents sharing a moment in which they played the game like angels, and in which Banks achieved immortality.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN