Former Chesterfield keeper and England great Gordon Banks facing “biggest fight of his life”

England keepers Alan Hodgkinson and Gordon Banks
England keepers Alan Hodgkinson and Gordon Banks

England great Gordon Banks is facing the “biggest fight of his life” after being diagnosed with kidney cancer.

The former goalkeeper, who began his professional career with Chesterfield and later helped his country win the World Cup at Wembley in 1966, is taking powerful chemotherapy tablets in a bid to avoid a transplant that doctors fear might be needed if the cancer grows.

Brave Banks, now aged 77, lost his first kidney to cancer ten years ago and found out the harrowing news of its return after an annual holiday to Florida last year. He was rushed to hospital days later as blood tests revealed the disease on his remaining kidney.

In a deeply moving interview, Banks said he was drawing on his greatest moments in football - including that save from Pele - to give him the strength to beat the disease and wants to raise awareness to inspire other sufferers to give it their all in their own fight.

“I have to hope for the best and carry on,” he told the Sunday Mirror. “I am one of many in the country who have it, I have to battle on.

“I regard my kidney problems as part of life, things tend to get harder to battle with.

“It’s one of those things. When I saw the doctor he said I should just act as normal. I am hopeful the medication will cure it.”

“My family are all really supporting me through this illness.

“Ten years ago I lost one kidney to cancer and then last year we went on our annual holiday to Florida.

“A week later I couldn’t sleep and then I couldn’t even stand due to the pain. I was sent straight to hospital where they told me I had cancer.

“I was so shocked when they told me it was my kidney.

“They put me straight on medication and I am taking chemotherapy tablets three times a day for a month and then I am to have two months off them.

“I have been in more pain than ever before.

“The tablets have left my feet covered in sores and blisters and made it almost impossible to walk at times.

“The blisters have been across the soles of my feet.

“The last time I had the cancer it was very large but they were able to remove the kidney and take the cancer away with it.

“We hope medication will make this cancer small enough for them to operate and carry out electrical treatment to break it up.

“But if it grows they will have to remove it (the kidney) and I’ll need a replacement.”

With the uncertainty of finding a suitable replacement kidney, if that course of treatment was to be taken, one of his daughters has offered to donate a kidney but tests have yet to be carried out.

“My family realise the situation and I am accepting what is happening,” said Banks. “When you have been a professional sportsman and been very fit it is disappointing.

“I have never smoked and never been a big drinker. I may have a whisky with ice when I have a bath on a Saturday and the odd glass of wine at dinner, but that is it.

“I have not been able to eat as much so I have lost weight. But I have been back out on the golf course with the aid of a buggy.”

Banks was an integral part of Sir Alf Ramsey’s England team that overcame West Germany 4-2 in the World Cup Final of 1966. He won World Goalkeeper of the Year six times and went on to play for Leicester City and Stoke City following his time at Chesterfield.

More than 10,000 people are diagnosed with kidney cancer each year. In around half of cases there are no symptoms and the cancer is only detected during tests for unrelated conditions.

Determined Banks said: “I have my job on the pools panel and do after dinner speeches.

“I still wish I was playing, I feel fit and go to watch Stoke City when I can.

“There is no doubt though that this is the biggest fight of my life.

“But I still have the memories. I will never forget running around Wembley that sunny afternoon with our winners’ medals and holding the World Cup up.

“I will never forget the roar of that crowd. I can still hear it. I’ve had a lucky life.”

Banks joined the Spireites in September 1955 and had to bide his time before getting his hands on the number one jersey, with Ronnie Powell standing in his way. He excelled as Chesterfield’s young guns came runners-up to Manchester United in the FA Youth Cup Final.

But he had to wait until November 29, 1958 to make his league debut, against Colchester United, in a 2-2 draw. He would go on to make 26 appearances in that 1958/59 season. It would be his last as a Spireite as the club sold him to Leicester City in May for £6,000.

He made 293 league appearances for the Foxes before joining Stoke for £52,000 in April 1967. He would go on to make 194 appearances for the Potters before his career would come to an abrupt end in the 1972/72 season after a car accident where he lost an eye.

Sheffield-born Banks represented England 73 times.

“Having been in the World Cup winning side in ’66 and then making the save against Pele gives me the confidence to battle my illness,” he said. “People still talk about the save and I often think about it.

“If I could make a save like the one against Pele, while playing against the greatest in the world, then I will be able to battle through this health problem. It helps me. I would hope that might act as inspiration to other people in the same position.”