Why didn’t you catch it? Alan Mullery remembers THAT Gordon Banks save


The midfielder had a close-up view of what is widely regarded as the greatest save of all time.

Gordon Banks’ gravity-defying save from Pele 50 years ago probably deserved more than a simple pat on the head.

The Stoke goalkeeper appeared beaten when the Brazil superstar rose above Tommy Wright and met Jairzinho’s right-wing cross with a powerful downward header.

Pele says he even shouted ‘goal!’ as he headed the ball, so convinced was he that he had put the South Americans ahead in their 1970 group stage encounter with the world champions in the gruelling Guadalajara heat.

But somehow Banks flung himself low down to his right and diverted the ball up and over the crossbar.

With the goalkeeper still on his backside, trying to process what had just happened, team-mate Alan Mullery did his bit to bring him back down to earth.

“I went over and patted him on the head and asked ‘why didn’t you catch it?’,” Mullery told the PA news agency.

“What you got out of him were a lot of swear words.”

It was just tongue in cheek though – Mullery knew right away he had witnessed a moment which would still be marvelled over 50 years on.

Alan Mullery with Bobby Moore at Fulham's Craven Cottage ground in 1975
Alan Mullery with Bobby Moore at Fulham’s Craven Cottage ground in 1975 (PA)

“This was a save that people will see around the world for years and years,” he said.

“I was absolutely knackered, we were looking at each other and he had just made the best save ever in football.

“It won’t be bettered in my view. I’ve seen people do it, but not to the extreme that he did.”

Brazil went on to win the match 1-0 with a second-half goal from Jairzinho, and to win the tournament for a third time, with Pele the leading light in a team widely regarded as the greatest ever assembled at international level.

But Mullery believes at the start of the tournament, there was an element of insecurity about the Brazilians, stemming back to a 1969 friendly between the sides in Rio de Janeiro.

“We had played them the year before and lost 2-1 on a penalty,” he said.

“I spoke to Pele about 20 years afterwards and he said to me the only team they thought could beat them at that World Cup was England.

“We’d shown what we could do in the Maracana in front of over 100,000 screaming Brazilians, so I think they were more afraid of us than we were of them.

“It would have been a special final if both those teams had got to the final, but playing in them in the group stage made that difficult.”

England’s defence of the World Cup ended at the quarter-final stage, with Banks a late withdrawal from the team to face West Germany due to gastroenteritis.

“He was the only one out of the 22-man squad who had Montezuma’s revenge,” Mullery said.

“Every time he walked, wind came out of his backside and just went all down his legs. He was really ill. Whether it was done to him deliberately, we’ll never find that out.”

Peter Bonetti was a late stand-in for Gordon Banks in the World Cup quarter-final defeat to West Germany
Peter Bonetti was a late stand-in for Gordon Banks in the World Cup quarter-final defeat to West Germany (PA)

Banks’ deputy Peter Bonetti, who died in April, was thrust into the team with only an hour’s notice and should certainly have stopped the Germans’ first goal, scored by Franz Beckenbauer.

Mullery and Banks, who died in February last year, would spend lots of time together after the 1970 World Cup, and regularly discussed their shared moment of history on the after-dinner speaking circuit.

“He was always asked about the save. I’d always joke with him and say ‘I could have saved that'”, Mullery said.