Pele scored more than 1,000 goals, but it’s the one denied by England goalkeeper Gordon Banks that has stood the test of time as one of the most famous moments of the World Cup.
Pele, who died at the age of 82, was at the height of his power as Brazil’s dazzling side faced defending champions England in the sweltering heat of Guadalajara during the 1970 World Cup group stage.
The match, seen at the time as the final it could have been, was beaten by Jairzinho’s goal on the hour mark.
However, it was the brilliance of Banks that denied Pele what looked like a certain goal during the first half that would see both men forever linked to football folklore.
Defender Carlos Alberto released Jairzinho for a sprint down the right and the winger rounded Terry Cooper before cutting in a perfectly weighted cross into the England box.
Pele rose majestically and sent a header towards the corner, the ball lifting off the hard Mexican turf and looking destined for the back of the net.
The Brazilian was ready to cheer, but Banks somehow dashed over the goal to his right and with his right hand pushed the ball over the bar.
At the time, the 1966 World Cup winner didn’t realize the significance those few seconds would have, etched in the memory of all who watched the parade and subsequent generations who watched the footage.
Pelé paid a personal tribute to Banks following the former Leicester and Stoke goalkeeper’s death in February 2019, once again recalling the moment that continued to unite them so many years later.
“The save was one of the best I’ve ever seen, in real life and in all the thousands of matches I’ve seen since,” the Brazilian said in a post on his official social media accounts at the time.
“When you are a footballer, you know immediately how well you hit the ball. I hit that header exactly as I had hoped. Exactly where I wanted it to go. And I was ready to celebrate.
“But then this man, Banks, appeared to me, sort of like a blue ghost, that’s how I described him. He came out of nowhere and did something I didn’t think was possible. He pushed my headboard, somehow, up and down.
“And I couldn’t believe what I saw. Even now that I look at it, I can’t believe it. I can’t believe how he moved so far, so fast.
“I have scored many goals in my life, but many people, when they meet me, always ask me about that save.
“While it was truly phenomenal, my memory of Gordon isn’t defined by that, it’s defined by his friendship. He was a kind and warm man who gave so much to people.
“So I’m glad he saved my headbutt, because that act was the start of a friendship between us that I will always treasure. Whenever we met, it was always as if we had never parted.”
Pele described his old friend as “a goalkeeper with magic” and also “a good human being”. It was a shared mutual respect.
Banks attended a Pele tribute evening in London held by the Football Writers’ Association in January 2018, which the Brazilian had been unable to attend as a guest of honor due to ill health.
Former England number one Banks was in no doubt where Pele ranked in his generation.
“He was a great player, something special,” Banks said in an interview on the FWA website. “I played against some great players and he was the best player he ever played against.
“He just seemed to know everything about the game and introduced these new things that he’d made himself, so it all just shows what skills he had.”
Banks may still remember the finer details of how we pulled off what many believe remains the best bailout of all time.
“When we trained (in Mexico), I noticed that when the ball fell in front of me, it would go up, it didn’t stay low like in England,” he said.
“I stopped to do some extra shooting practice to get used to it and that helped me make the save.”
Reflecting on the moment itself, Banks added: “Pele was close to the penalty spot when the boy went through him from the sideline and I knew he was going to get there, because he could jump very high.
“I knew I had to get out of the way to narrow the angle, then once Pele hit my head on the right side, I knew I had to get there really fast.
“The ball was coming in and as I dived I had to anticipate how high it would come off the hard surface.
“When I reached out, I got it right, the ball hit the top of my hand and went away…but honestly, I thought it was a goal.
“I fell to the ground and spun around, saw the ball bounce behind the goal and thought to myself, ‘Oh, Banksy, you lucky little shit.'”