England will pay tribute to goalkeeping great Gordon Banks at Wembley on Friday when Tom Heaton will return to the squad having heeded the advice given to him by the World Cup-winning “hero”.
A sell-out crowd will remember the 1966 star when Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions kick off their Euro 2020 qualification campaign against the Czech Republic.
There will be a period of appreciation in England’s first match since Banks died aged 81 on February 12, with players to wear black armbands and a banner to be displayed featuring his yellow World Cup shirt and the number one.
Members of his family will be in the Royal Box and representatives from his former club Stoke have been invited to a match that will see their current goalkeeper Jack Butland involved.
Last summer’s World Cup number one Jordan Pickford and Burnley’s Heaton complete the group, with the latter praising Banks’ performances on the field and help away from it in the build-up.
“The fact he was England’s World Cup-winning goalkeeper and made the iconic save, of course, 70-odd caps for England was an incredible achievement,” Heaton said.
“I was fortunate to meet him a while ago at my dad’s golf course. I had a quick chat with him and he was brilliant towards a young goalkeeper at the time.
“I asked him a few different questions about what sort of advice he would have for me.
“Only straightforward stuff, but a brilliant moment for me to have such a hero, really, to give me some really good words of advice.
“I was about 20, I think, around about that. It was just along the basis of, ‘what work you put in, you get out’. As straightforward as that, really.
“That, and I remember him telling me to make sure I enjoyed it. And he is right.
“You have certainly got to appreciate it. I have found that myself coming back after being out so long, you get an appreciation for being out there and enjoying every moment of it.”
Heaton has certainly benefited from that advice in recent years.
Having gone to Euro 2016 and established himself as part of the squad, the 32-year-old’s World Cup hopes were derailed at the start of the 2017-18 season by a nasty shoulder injury.
Heaton watched on as Burnley understudy Nick Pope broke into the England set-up and capped a fine season by heading to Russia, with club competition then increased by Joe Hart’s summer arrival.
It meant the former Manchester United youth prospect had to bide his time on the sidelines, although his impressive return to the fold at Turf Moor brought an international recall for this month’s Euro 2020 qualifiers.
“Brilliant,” Heaton said of his return. “Obviously it was a frustrating first part of the season.
“To get back in the team and be back here, it’s sort of a nice end to a difficult journey, really.
“It was tough. You get injured. It was a longer-term injury, I probably didn’t know the details of it at the time, didn’t realise the scale of it, to be honest.
“The first part of it is OK, you get your rehabilitation in. Towards the end when your mind sort of thinks that you’re ready but physically you’re not quite there, that can be a touch frustrating.
“And probably the hardest bit of all is being back fit and then not playing.
“It’s difficult but you put the work in, the graft, the opportunity comes and thankfully I’m back here today.”
Heaton’s return to the England squad comes with arguably the first calls for him to be England’s number one, thanks to Pickford’s recent wobbles.
The Everton goalkeeper’s penalty shootout heroics against Colombia capped a fine all-round tournament, but the 25-year-old’s form has been questionable with the Toffees.
Heaton has not spoken about it with Pickford but does not believe he would “bat an eyelid” about the scrutiny.
“There is a support network there with discussion about how best to face certain things but that is how the life of the goalkeeper is,” he said.
“Since being back in the team I have been enjoying every moment.
“It can be tough, but the important thing is you have got the broad shoulders to take it and keep ploughing on, and that’s what I think.”