David James on World Cup History

The ever-candid David James offers some interesting responses in an interview with the Guardian’s David Hytner.

He’s particularly confused by why a save from Gordon Banks that helped England win the 1966 World Cup final is less famous than the save Banks made four years later in England’s 1-0 loss to Brazil in the group stage of the 1970 World Cup:

“Banks’s save in the final wasn’t just a continental tip-over-the-bar, fling-your-legs-about job, it was a proper decent save and I never knew anything about it until I saw the DVD,” James said. “It’s bizarre. We lost the [1970] game 1-0 to Brazil but the overriding memory was of Banks’s save, whereas he made a save in 1966 which was more important because it contributed to a win for England. But no one talks about it.

“It was a better save because of the outcome. It was the unsung bit of goalkeeping – he does something that influenced the outcome of the match.”

Perhaps what made that moment from the 1970 World Cup, along with a number of others (Pele’s two famous near-misses seem to be played more than any goal he actually scored), was it was the first to be broadcast in technicolour, with highlight reels blasted around the world.

The luminous colours, the performance of Brazil, the growing media coverage and feedback loop surrounding the tournament: all made many moments more memorable than ever before. In England, there was greater television coverage of the tournament in Mexico than there had been of the previous World Cup on English soil in 1966, with ITV’s television studio crew changing the way the game was presented.

Two of the three television channels then available in England showed the England versus Brazil game live, with unprecedented hype leading up to the clash between the two countries who had won the previous three World Cups between them:

The favourites vs the holders, and the most keenly anticipated match of the group round. Both channels showed it live – BBC1 were first on air at 6:20-8:55pm (with David Coleman commentating), ITV were on from 6:45-9:10pm. Ten minutes into the match England keeper Gordon Banks made the most famous and seemingly impossible save of all time, diving to the foot of his far post to scoop a downward Pelé header up and over the bar, Jairzinho scored on the hour by finishing off a fine move involving Tostao and Pelé, England then made a double substitution and within minutes of coming on both players had missed great chances, first Alan Ball who misskicked and then a terrible miss by Geoff Astle in front of a practically open goal. There were also some iconic masterly tackles by England captain Bobby Moore in which he dispossessed Pelé and robbed Jairzinho inside the penalty box.

It wasn’t so much about the save, or about the result, but about the moments and the media coverage that made them iconic.