It is undoubtedly one of the most iconic saves in FIFA World Cup™ history. Pele’s downward header, connecting with Jairzinho’s threatening cross from the right, looked destined for the net – but somehow it was kept out by England shot-stopper Gordon Banks at Mexico 1970.
A World Cup winner just four years previously, Banks demonstrated incredible agility, reflexes and goalkeeping instinct to deny Pele from opening the scoring, not only getting down to make contact with the bouncing ball but turning it over the bar.
The celebrating crowd behind Banks’ goal in the searing Guadalajara heat – on their feet after thinking Pele had broken the deadlock – were stunned after realisation that the ball had not rippled the net.
They weren’t the only ones either. Pele was so sure he had fired his side into the lead that he shouted ‘Goal’ as he directed his powerful point-blank header towards the net, and it even came as a surprise to the legendary goalkeeper himself that A Seleção hadn’t taken the lead there and then.
"I didn’t imagine that I could stop the ball and even though I got a thumb to it, I assumed it had gone in until I heard Bobby Moore applauding," said goalkeeper Banks, reflecting on that save. "He [Pele] headed it like all coaches tell you, which is down on the floor which makes it more difficult for the goalkeeper.
"I had to dive across and cover the actual speed and direction of the ball and then guess how high it would bounce from the ground. Pele was later quoted saying that he thought it was the best save he had ever seen, whether he still says that I don’t know!”
"From the moment I headed it, I was sure it had gone in," said Pele, who would go on to lift the Trophy with Brazil at Mexico 1970. "After I headed the ball, I had already began to jump to celebrate the goal. Then I looked back and I couldn't believe it hadn't gone in. I have scored more than a thousand goals in my life and the thing people always talk to me about is the one I didn't score."
The stunning save 46 years ago is still widely celebrated, not just for the sheer skill and drama it produced, but for the magnitude of the game itself. Two titans were going head to head in the group stage in Mexico: reigning champions England against two-time winners Brazil, hungry to reclaim their title as the best in the world. It was a game worthy of the Final itself.
"It was a great moment in my career, against a team who I regarded as the best in the world and against Pele who I regarded as the best player I’ve ever seen," said Banks.
Did you know?
Gordon Banks and Pele featured in the first Panini sticker album for a FIFA World Cup, which was for Mexico 1970. At the FIFA Football Museum, visitors can scroll through every page of Panini sticker albums released around the World Cup and Women’s World Cup on a large digital touch screen.
— FIFA Museum (@FIFAMuseum) 13. Oktober 2016