REUNITED: GORDON BANKS & JAIRZINHO
Jairzinho is seated when Gordon Banks enters the room, but he stands quickly. Both men smile warmly, shake hands and embrace. There’s a sense of genuine emotion in the air, a respect that you can almost reach out and touch. “Hello my friend,” says Jairzinho, “we have just been talking about you and your magnificent save.”
Brazil’s ponta direita – their right winger – is now 57 years of age and Banks is seven years his senior, but both are visibly excited about meeting. The last time the two men faced each other was on Sunday June 7, 1970, in the Jalisco Stadium, Guadalajara, Mexico, when in front of a crowd of 66,000 largely baying Mexicans, they played their part in a game still regarded by many as the best there ever was.
On the day Jairzinho’s solitary goal gave Brazil the edge in a cat and mouse battle between two footballing giants, but the miraculous instinct save made by Banks from Pele’s powerful header ensured the keeper’s own place in football folklore.
In defeat England were left with enough positive images to be able to revel in the memory of the confrontation for the rest of time, but while Bobby Moore’s backtracking precision-tackle – he lifted the ball clean from the toe of the attacking Jairzinho – remains a textbook example of the art of defending, the Brazilian went on make real football history by scoring in every game in the tournament.
It may have been 32 years since they were last on the same pitch, but Banks has cut short his holiday and made the journey up to Leeds just to meet the Brazil legend. He is even content to don a classic 1970-style replica England goalkeeper’s jersey to recreate – ‘Phoenix from the flames’ style – Jairzinho’s match-winning goal. “Well, I’m 64 now,” he says with a smile, “so conceding that goal again will be far easier now for me than trying to recreate the save from Pele.”
After ‘Jair’ nets once more for old time’s sake – more a scuff this time around than a beautifully executed volley – the two legends eagerly swap (and sign) their replica shirts and reminisce about the old days, about a game that history has decreed should be remembered as the best there ever was.
This is the first time you’ve met since the game in 1970.
BANKS: “Yes, we haven’t met since because Brazilian teams didn’t play against European team very often. I did play against Santos but Jairzinho didn’t play for Santos.”
JAIRZINHO: “I played for Botafogo. Every year Santos go outside the country and play in Europe or elsewhere in South America. Botafogo do that too, but I have not had chance to play against my friend.
In England the match in 1970 is viewed as one of THE great games, but how is it viewed in Brazil?
JAIRZINHO: “All of us in Brazil have tremendous respect for that England team of 1970. It had outstanding players and it is still in our memories. It was a very special match and there are so many moments from that game that are still remembered, like the goal that I scored, and like the save that Gordon Banks made. I remember that save well. I went to the line close to the corner and crossed the ball to Pele, who was able to strike it with his head, but Banks was able to make a very difficult save – a brilliant save. That play, and other plays during that game, made it a historical match.
BANKS: [Nodding] “Attack and defence, attack and defence…”
JAIRZINHO: “Yes, attack and defence. The way the game was played, the tackles that were made, the save that Banks made… it was a brilliant game in terms of technique from both sides and anyone could have won that game.”
BANKS: “There were many outstanding players on the field as individuals, but also each of the teams played very well together, as teams.”
JAIRZINHO: “It was really one of the most beautiful moments in football history. For those of us who work in football it is very special. I remember after the game all of the England squad came over to meet the Brazilian players and we had some tea and coffee together which was nice.”
BANKS: “I can’t remember us getting together after the game, I thought we just went our own separate ways.”
JAIRZINHO: “Maybe not all of the England players, but Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, a few of the players.”
BANKS: “I remember swapping shirt on the field… but I do know that people who played in my time always thought that the Brazilian team of 1970 was the best soccer team that ever played.”
JAIRZINHO: “We had very good skilful players, like Rivelino, Gerson, Tostão, Pele…”
BANKS: “It was a great team.”
JAIRZINHO: “I think it was the only time in the history of Brazilian football that we had five players in the international side who were all strikers in their own club sides. Gerson and Rivelino were strikers playing as offensive midfielders, Tostão was a centre forward who served all sides, Pele was an offensive striker, and I was also an offensive right-sided striker. I started off playing as a reserve for Garrincha on the right wing, and in the finals of 1966 I even played on the left-wing, but I also played as a central striker. All of us played Number 10 in our own teams.”
England may have lost the game but there are many moments that stand in English football folklore, including the tremendous tackle made by Bobby Moore on Jairzinho.
JAIRZINHO: “The tackles that Bobby Moore made were memorable, but it wasn’t only those tackles that made that game special. It was all of the other players on the English team too, like Charlton, Lee, Cooper, Gordon Banks… there were many players that made the difference in that England team because in terms of quality, they were magnificent. All of the players and all of the tackles are still very vivid in my memories.”
It is unusual for a defeat to have thrown up so many positive images for a country.
BANKS: “That’s right, but you don’t have to win a game to have played really well. That happens for your club too, when you walk off the pitch having played well but you have lost the game.”
The famous Gordon Banks save is often described as the best in World Cup history. Would you agree?
JAIRZINHO: “Absolutely, and everyone in Brazil thinks the same thing.”
BANKS: “It something that people will always remember me for. They won’t remember me for winning the World Cup, it’ll be for that save. That’s how a big a thing it is. People just want to talk about that save.”
How much would you have liked to have stopped Jairzinho scoring and prevented that record-breaking run?
BANKS: “You want to save every shot but once he had a clear shot at goal all I could do was try and block it. It was quite close, about seven or eight yards out, so all I could do was advance on him, spread myself across him as best I could. But he lifted it over me.”
For once in that game, it left a lot of stranded looking England defenders.
BANKS: “Yes, that’s right, but just that one time though. Brazil had a couple of chances where I made saves, but all in all, Bobby Moore and the defenders did a good job really – they kept the chances down to a few. We had a good team.”
Jairzinho, did it take the edge off your success because you were beaten to the Golden Boot by Gerd Muller?
JAIRZINHO: “When I first started to play in the 1970 World Cup I never had the idea of being the top scorer and I didn’t think about winning the Golden Boot. I really played for that team. All of the players, like myself, Pele, Tostão and Rivelino, were extremely offensive and it wasn’t planned that any one of us should be the main striker for the Brazilian team. We all had the freedom to go up front and score, and all the goals that I scored just happened to come naturally.
How do you think the current Brazil team compares to your generation?
JAIRZINHO: “I don’t like comparisons. It was the champions of 1958 and 1962 who started making history for the style of strong, offensive Brazilian football, so I am part of this continuation in the history of Brazilian football. In 1970 Brazil was able to put together the best ever team in the history of the World Cup. In 1994 Brazil was again champion of the world, this time with certain defensive philosophies, but it still had two players who didn’t use this defensive philosophy – Romario and Bebeto. Now in 2002, Brazil was able to get its fifth championship and I don’t think I’m going to be alive to see if another country will surpass this. The ‘four Rs’ – Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinio – were acting as one, and these four players made the difference in this World Championship, not only for Brazil but for the whole tournament. No other team played as offensively and with such happiness, and no other team could put four players together like this. As long as Brazil played offensively, by merit Brazil will always be the champions.”
BANKS: “It’s not the same game today. There’s not a great deal to chose between them, but I would still put these lads – the 1970 Brazil forwards – on a slightly higher plane.”
JAIRZINHO: “It’s a different time, it’s a different football. Today football lives in the media and there’s so much money. In those days the idea was really to score goals, now it is more defensive. Now there are a lot of men in the midfield.”
BANKS: “You’re right, because in our game I remember Bobby Moore passing the ball just outside their penalty box, 30 yards from goal. Today you never see centre-halves passing the ball that close to the opposing penalty box.”
JAIRZINHO: “It was easy for the English to attack because of the skills of Bobby Moore and also Bobby Charlton. The ball was all the time in the attack and England had many opportunities in that particular game.”
BANKS: “That’s right, we had many chances. And Bobby Moore always said it was his best game for England, but I always said that as well, that it was MY best game for England too.”
JAIRZINHO: “In my opinion, you and Felix [Brazil ’keeper] were the best players in that game…”
BANKS: [looking bemused at being compared to the erratic Brazil ’keeper] “We were both very busy, but if you look at the shots on target, England didn’t take the opportunities. Felix made a couple of saves, but a lot of our shooting was over the top.”
JAIRZINHO: “Lee struck one with his head, and then Charlton, but about 15 minutes before the end of the game there was one moment… there were a lot of crosses over the Brazilian area, and there was the one when the ball came in from the left side of the English attack and Brito didn’t go up to meet it and Piazza couldn’t clear it and… I don’t know the English player’s name…”
BANKS: “Jeff Astle, it was Jeff Astle…”
JAIRZINHO: “…and he missed. Ooohh! [laughs] he missed. Right across the goal, you remember! Ooohh, oooh, oooh [loud laughter]. But there was so much emotion in that match, so many moments that remain in my mind… the save that you made from Pele, it seemed that you had a spring in your body. When I crossed, Pele headed it way down, and the save was fantastic. I think that the most difficult moment for the goalkeeper is when you have a ball that is coming down in a diagonal. It was a great game, the best game of all time.”
BANKS: “I agree. We might say it, but a lot of people out there think it’s true, that it was the best game.”
JAIRZINHO: “Even in Brazil the feeling is the same. People who lived that game, who saw that game, even people that were born later, they still see the game on TV because they show it all the time, they think the same thing.”
BANKS: “We thought that we would meet Brazil in the Final. We thought we’d see you there.”
JAIRZINHO: “They were the best two teams in that tournament and they should have met in the Final.”
What did you make of David Seaman’s performance against Brazil in Japan? Was he to blame for Ronaldinio’s goal?
BANKS: “I thought he’d had a good World Cup, he was very steady. No, I didn’t attach any blame to him. I thought it was a position where I would have been standing because the guy was unlikely to ever try a shot from that angle, but I’ve said before that this lighter ball is killing the art of goalkeeping and I don’t think the people at the top realise what it’s doing. It’s become a bit farcical for goalkeepers now because the ball is just moving all over the place.”
After the game, many of the England players still believed that Ronaldinio’s goal was a fluke. What do you think?
BANKS: “I really don’t know. I think it might have been a shot because of the way that he ran up to it, but I think he meant it for the other corner.”
JAIRZINHO: “Unfortunately I have been asked this question many times and I don’t want to be offensive in any way, but it’s the kind of question that you wouldn’t ask if you know about Brazilian football, if you understand Brazilian football. When Ronaldinio took that free-kick he saw that Seaman was two steps out of the goal, so he tried to put the ball in – and he put it exactly where he wanted. He put the ball where he wants because he’s one of the best free-kick takers in the world.”
As a nation the English seemed to get carried away with the performances of their side this summer.
BANKS: “I think we were carried away – I think the media pushed it to silly heights, after all we only just qualified. We didn’t set-off too bad though, but I didn’t think we were that great either. One thing that worried me more than anything was that we tired 20 minutes from the end, and I was a bit surprised by that.”
A lot was made by England this summer about playing in the heat, but when you played against each other in Mexico it was pretty hot too.
BANKS: “It was 102 degrees in the stadium when we played Brazil that day, so we worked hard at getting used to it by training in it and preparing well. Alf Ramsey did an absolutely magnificent job in that respect. He’d taken the British dossier from the Mexico Olympics and studied that.”
How has it been meeting each other again after all this time?
JAIRZINHO: “I have lived with Gordon Banks in my memories for the past 32 years and today I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him again personally, all years after I scored that goal in the 1970 World Cup. It has been an honour.”
BANKS: “Whenever I meet players from that Brazil team there’s always a little nod and a smile of appreciation. You can always sense the respect that we have for each other. It’s the same when I’ve met Pele and Rivelino. They were the best international team that I’ve ever seen – and I saw them all. I saw them when Stanley Matthews and the like were playing, I saw them when I played, and I’ve seen them since I finished playing, and for me that Brazil side were the greatest.”
© Words copyright Chris Hunt 2007