‘Gordon, can I have your autograph?’ I said, offering pen and small notebook folded back at a new page. I’d butted into his conversation, but he swung round in his seat and smiled pleasantly up at me and took the pen and notebook and inscribed his name. ‘You’re a great man, Gordon,’ I said, as I looked over his shoulder to watch him write. ‘I was behind the goal that night you saved the Geoff Hurst penalty.’ ‘You’re West Ham, then?’ he said respectfully. ‘I am,’ I said. Gordon Banks OBE returned my pen and notebook and then opened his right palm and presented it to me.
The economy and intimacy of the gesture took me by surprise. This was no formal invitation to shake hands. The gesture was humble and fraternal, as from one lover of football to another. Instead of grasping the palm of the greatest English goalkeeper of the 20th century, however, I could only gaze open mouthed at it.
The hand of Gordon Banks OBE was well above the average size. The lifeline was long and unbroken, as was the heart and fate line. It was a strong and energetic palm — the palm of a young labourer rather than a retired footballer. But more importantly for English football, it was the hand that lifted the World Cup at Wembley in 1966, and the hand that denied Pele a certain goal in the 1970 World Cup when Banks pulled off what many regard as the most incredible save they are ever likely to see.
All evening I’d been trying to pluck up the courage to bother this football legend for his autograph. We were about 200 guests, gathered around the indoor swimming pool at the Haymarket hotel in London to celebrate the launch of the New Football Pools.