- England legend Gordon Banks set for Russia 2018 Final Draw
- 1966 FIFA World Cup winner looks ahead to next year's tournament
- Former goalkeeper reveals he would be happy for the Three Lions to face any side
For fans of the 32 teams heading to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, the next big day circled on the calendar is 1 December, when the Final Draw will get imaginations whirring about what the tournament will hold.
With a task as critical as deciding the fates of those bound for the global finals, you want a safe pair of hands to be helping draw the names in Moscow. And who better than one of the most reliable in the World Cup’s history: 1966-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks.
Part of the England side that triumphed on home soil half a century ago, Banks made a name for himself for his assured performances between the sticks and his acrobatic ability – most famously in spectacularly denying Pele four years later at Mexico 1970.
Ahead of his trip to Russia to play another crucial role in the finals, FIFA.com caught up with the cheerful former Three Lions shot-stopper to discuss the draw, what Russia’s players can expect from a home World Cup and, of course, his thoughts on who England might face.
FIFA.com: Are you excited to be part of the Final Draw? Having won in 1966, you of course already have a very strong relationship with the World Cup. Gordon Banks:
I am, yeah. It’s an honour to be asked and draw the countries out against each other; it’s really exciting. I will never ever forget the feeling of [winning the tournament] and I know it means so much to so many in England, from those who were there and plenty who have been born after, seeing as we haven’t won it since!
As soon as any country qualifies, the next date they are looking towards is the World Cup Final Draw. As an England fan yourself, is there anyone you’re hoping you don’t pair them with?
After watching England play Brazil [in a recent friendly], who are one of the favourites, I don’t think so. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter. Whoever you’re drawn against, be they seen as a difficult opponent or not, you still have to get a result. You have to play the best teams at some point, if you want to go all the way, so you just have to get on with it. You’ve got to go out there and say: “Come on, let’s play our best and hope we get through”.
In 1966, you were drawn against France, Uruguay and Mexico, which on paper is a pretty tough draw.
You’re not kidding! As it happened, we had lost just once in 21 games leading into it. But that didn’t make us think, “We can win this” every time we played. Each international, it was like playing your first game for England so, mentally, you had to put yourself right. It worked out for us, fortunately!
After years of anticipation, Russia’s players will finally step out at a home World Cup. How did you react when you emerged for your first game?
We had got the crowd behind us, which is always a good thing, but saying that, you still have to play well and win the game. The tension when we were in that dressing room and in that corridor waiting to walk out [laughs]; the only time it left was when the whistle went to start the game. Then you’re just concentrating on what you have to do.
And how did you approach the competition as a player?
You should know how huge that tournament is and that the players you are facing are the best in the world, representing their countries. You know that there are going to be tough matches, so you’ve got to go out there and show something, if you feel you can win it.
England have had a great year internationally, being unbeaten at all levels – besides two shoot-outs – from U-17s through to the seniors. In doing so, they’ve won the FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cups, as well as qualifying for Russia 2018.
The youngsters have done really well; terrific. I can’t believe that they won those tournaments – it proves that they are good enough to do well. But there is a difference between that and rising to the very top. There’s no reason why they can’t do well. [Manager Gareth Southgate] brought a couple of them in for the Brazil game and they did pretty well, so we’re not looking too bad.
What excites you about the current England team?
When you see someone like Jamie Vardy, who loves to a run at the defence, you think, “Oh, that’s someone who can get past his man”. That is how I like to see it. When I see him play – I think he should be regularly up front with Harry Kane – and he makes these runs, defenders aren’t used to them, particularly with the speed he has. If a pass finds someone like that, running clean through, you don’t enjoy that as a goalkeeper! Kane is quite an old-fashioned striker, too. He’s doing well and I like him. He’s good with both feet and his head, he works hard and gets himself around a lot.
With goalkeepers today having to play out from the back, often operating as a ‘sweeper-keeper’, do you think you would enjoy it were you still in your prime?
I wouldn’t mind it, actually, as I used to enjoy playing outfield during five-a-side games. I used to love it – I’d always say, “Let someone else go in goal!" Having the ball at my feet wouldn’t faze me at all. I had an alright finish on me, too!