No footballer was ever more patriotic than Tommy Banks, but in the 1950s serving King and Country meant far less to him than returning to serve his Football League club


As far as Tommy Banks was concerned the end of his compulsory national service in the army could not come soon enough. He could not wait to step out of uniform and get back to playing for Bolton Wanderers.

Initially, while he was working underground as a miner, Banks was exempt from being called up. After he surfaced to start as a full-time pro with Bolton, he lasted only a few weeks before His Majesty’s Armed Forces – George VI was still on the throne in 1950 – sought him out.

He was packed off to Aldershot to be drilled in the ways of army life with the 17th Training Regiment Royal Artillery, after which he volunteered to join the Parachute Regiment.

The Paras were also stationed at the Hampshire base and Banks, never scared of a bit of hard physical toil, watched admiringly as the men in the maroon berets were put through rigorous routines.

‘They were always running, running, running,’ he says. ‘They never stopped. Carrying heavy kit as well.’ He pauses before adding with  a beaming smile: ‘It were terrible.’

But his ambition to join the Paras was thwarted because the army had other ideas for him. As a professional footballer he was barred from joining the rugby-playing parachutists. ‘You’re stopping with us, Banks,’ he was told. He was kept on to be a physical training instructor and play in the regimental football team.

Banks thought it was a very poor substitute for playing in the Football League. When the army offered him an extra twelve months’ service so he could attain the rank of sergeant – and play a bit more football – he was horrified.

As soon as his two years were up he caught the first train home to continue his quest for the one thing he wanted in life, permanent ownership of the left back’s No 3 shirt in the Bolton first team.

Banks, who was eighty-nine last November, was on Bolton’s books from 1947-61. He played for them more than two hundred times, including in the 1958 FA Cup Final, when Bolton beat the Manchester United side whose strength had been depleted by the Munich air crash.

He also made six appearances for England, including playing all four matches in the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden.

This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback