Gordon Banks: I thought I'd got lucky with that Pele save – now it makes me proud

Matt Allen catches up with England's former World Cup-winning custodian to discuss tournament fever, a stifling Mexico '70 and current No.1 Joe Hart...

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It's the World Cup, Gordon! How excited are you?
Oh, very. I love it every time it comes around. I watch it for a month and it's gone. Then a couple of years go by and I think, 'I can't wait for the next one!'

Does it remind you of 1966 every time the finals come around?
It's like a photograph that takes me back. Different people bring different things up. The elderly, like myself, talk about me going around Wembley Stadium in 1966 with that cup and the excitement it created here in England. Then the younger ones see it on TV and they send in letters and ask for autographs. It's brought up on a regular basis every four years.

The thought of Brazil must bring back memories of playing them in Mexico '70 in very hot conditions…
It certainly does. But we'd taken a group of players over who were a very, very good side. I honestly thought we had a chance of bringing it back. I really did.

My goodness me, the heat, though – it was really hard. But Sir Alf Ramsey being such a terrific manager made sure he got everything spot on. When we played Brazil – which was at midday, when the sun would be straight above us – he wanted us to be ready. We trained at midday for a few days in the run-up so we would get used to the conditions.

I remember we were losing half a stone every training session, but he made sure we got it back by drinking cold water on the bus from the training ground to the hotel.

Banks admits the conditions were challenging at Mexico '70

Physically how do you react to heat and humidity like that?
You have to get used to it, that's the main thing. Mentally, I would say to myself during a shooting session, 'Right Gordon, it's like coming back at pre-season when it's cricket weather. The pitch'll be rock hard, solid, and as a goalkeeper you'll have to leap through the air and land on that surface. You've got to do it! You've got to get used to it.'

(Because of that) every time I got in that practice goal, I felt ready. I would start working and working and working and of course, the more I did, the more I could see the ball bouncing in front of me. Like if somebody hit one and it kicked up, I could see the height it was bouncing. It all helped me to make that save against Pele.

Do you ever tire of thinking about that?
No, I was quite proud and pleased… afterwards! [laughs] At the time I just got on with my job, thinking, 'Oh, crikey, I got lucky there – it went over the bar!' I just carried on with the game, but seeing it on film now makes me very proud. At that time the score was 0-0, so to make that save at that time against probably the greatest player I have ever seen in my life was pretty special. It kept us in the match. It's a shame we lost (1-0) in the end.

During a Mexico '70 documentary, FFT noticed you were taking shade under the goalpost whenever the ball was up the other end. Did that actually help?
[Laughs] That was the only time in all the years that I played when the sun was straight above me. My shadow was only a little circle around my feet. That had never happened before.

How good was that Brazil team?
Oh, they were fabulous. It was the best footballing machine I've ever seen. To sit in the stand and watch them playing against the other countries in the group was brilliant, but it wasn't very nice to think we had to play them later on. It was flowing football. They just pushed the ball around, and in different ways: long and short passes. They got up the park in numbers and created chances. They must have had five world class players in that team.

Banks rises high above Brazil's Ney in 1970

Is it true that Sir Alf took a lot of Findus frozen foods with the squad?
I believe he took a little bit, but I'm not sure if it ran out. The food wasn't bad. I think I know what you're coming round to, me being ill, but I couldn't understand how when we all sat down at the table together and we ate the same food. I was the only one who had this food poisoning. I can't understand where that came from.

We even took tablets to counteract it, so it must have been something that was severe… and it was severe. I couldn't train, I just stayed in my room. I couldn't keep anything down. Water wouldn't stay in my body, it was that bad. I even tried a fitness test for Alf but it didn't work out. It was a shame, it really was. I did feel on top of my form at that time.

Who are the best goalkeepers in Brazil this year?
I'm not saying this because I live in Stoke, but Asmir Begovic. Seriously, this lad is a terrific goalkeeper, he really is. He commands his area well, he reads the game brilliantly; he makes sure that he gets the crosses if ever he comes out. But he's very agile for a tall man. They're all tall these days, I know that, but he's very agile. But our own goalkeeper, Joe Hart, can be excellent on his day. Without any question, the manager has picked the right man for the job.

What are Joe's strengths?
Again, he's very agile. I know he got left out of the City side early on in the season, but he's got his form back. The only little negative with Joe is that he's not 100% on through balls. He sometimes misjudges them a little, and he might run out when he can't quite get there. That can bit a bit dangerous. Apart from that, he's the best we've got. He'll be OK.

Joe Hart: just fine for Banksy

What about our back-ups should the unthinkable happen?
Crikey, that's a hard one. For me, if Ben Foster comes in, he's got the experience. He's played for England before, he's in his 30s now. He'll be a lot calmer. Whereas the other lad, Fraser Forster, although he's a young man and he's probably more athletic and more agile, is playing in Scotland where the standard isn't the same. He looks like he'll be a good goalkeeper, but playing there isn't the same as playing in the Premier League. If Joe got hurt I'd go for Foster.

How far do you think England will get?
It's difficult to say because it's a competition where the best players in the world are playing for their country – they're all going for one reason, the same as England: to win it. My opinion is that, and this happened to us in 1966, it's about the country that hits form at the right time. That year, we had a fantastic run where we didn't lose a friendly match for 10 or 15 games, hardly conceding a goal.

But we never said to ourselves, 'Oh because of that, we're going to win it'. We all knew we had to get out there and play as a team, give it 100% and help each other out. After that you just hope that you can do well. And that's what we did. You can't say, 'England are going it win it, no question'. But you can't write them off, either. Nobody knows.

Professor Stephen Hawking released a study that claimed England are more successful when they play in red: scientific fact or utter tosh?

[Laughs] I would say nonsense. I can't see how a shirt can make any difference to our players and whether they'll perform to the best of their ability. I'm sorry, no. It won't make a blind bit of difference. You go out there and do your best. I know our players will do exactly that.

Gordon Banks and The Football Pools have created a good luck video message to the England team