Farewell, Farnworth's finest - a tribute to former Alty skipper Tommy Banks

Words John Edwards

THERE are several strands that contributed to Tommy Banks' legendary status, and going from a World Cup that announced Pele as a global superstar to playing Cheshire League games for Altrincham in the space of three years must surely be one of them.

To Alty fans of that generation, it will be, anyway, after the 1961 intake of summer signings at Moss Lane included Tommy, who sadly died last week at the age of 94.

Here was a player famed for an unmatched ferocity in stopping opponents in their tracks but also for barking out orders to team-mates amid the din of packed stadiums at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden and before a handful short of 100,000 in Bolton Wanderers' FA Cup final win over Manchester United at Wembley.

Suddenly, that same voice was echoing round Cheshire League venues populated by a few hundred, but it made no difference to Tommy's wholehearted and fiercely-committed response to being made captain and leading from the front for Alty over the course of two seasons.

In his pomp, through the 1950s, Farnworth-born Tommy formed a full-back partnership with Roy Hartle that dared visiting wingers to try plying their trade on either flank at Burnden Park.

Not many did, fewer still as the legend grew of how these two fearsome enforcers dealt with anyone trying to get past them. There was a cinder track that ran along both sides of the pitch at Bolton's old ground, and the story goes that, midway through one game, Tommy looked across from left-back and bellowed: "Roy, when tha's finished wi' 'im, send 'im o'er 'ere and I'll see if 'e leeks gravel rash!"

That uncompromising approach to defending, allied to an ability on the ball that was often overlooked, brought him England honours, with four of his six caps coming in a group stage of the 1958 World Cup that included a 0-0 draw with a Brazil side who won every other game on their way to beating the host nation in the final.

England failed to qualify from the group, but what a year that was for Tommy, proudly filling the left-back berth at international level that had been left vacant by Roger Byrne's death in the Munich air disaster and helping his beloved Bolton lift the FA Cup at Wembley.

After 255 appearances for Bolton, spread over 14 years, injury problems began to take their toll, but no-one would have known it from the way he wore the armband at Moss Lane and demanded the same unceasing commitment from those around him in every one of his 63 games in Alty colours.

It was the start of the Noel White/Peter Swales era, and Alty finished 11th and 8th respectively in the Cheshire League in those two seasons, with Tommy's contribution including two goals, one in a 4-4 draw with Hyde United at Moss Lane on New Year's Day 1963 and the other in a 1-1 FA Cup third qualifying round draw at home to Wigan Athletic.

Tommy, who was a prominent voice in the successful campaign for the abolition of the maximum wage in 1961, moved from Alty to Bangor City, where he again made a favourable impression as he saw out his playing days up to 1965.

Throughout his long and distinguished career, his knack of keeping wingers in check without overstepping the mark earned him respect everywhere he went, while, away from the pitch, he was a true gentleman who had a ready smile and kind word for everyone he met.

On hearing of his death, one Alty fan recalled asking for an autograph and Tommy replying "what's your name, son?" so he could include it in a personal message, rather than just scribbling his signature.

A nice touch from a thoroughly nice man, and everyone at the club would like to send their condolences to Tommy's family and friends.

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