SIR STANLEY MATTHEWS

His magical skills graced the soccer pitches of the world for an unprecedented third of a century; his name will live as long as Roy of the Rovers; truly Stanley Matthews, the only man to be knighted before the end of his playing days, was a unique phenomenon.

The Matthews mystique did not stem from his footballing ability alone. Throughout his career he remained a self-effacing, undemonstrative figure, utterly dedicated to the work ethic.

Stan received the Footballer of the Year trophy twice (1948 and 1963) and after being knighted in the 1965 New Year's Honours list, that February he achieved the even more remarkable distinction of playing in the First Division five days after his 50th birthday. 

He wanted the ball at his feet. He was the true winger, the fastest man in the game at that time over 10 yards which most consider are the ones that matter. Stan would shuffle slowly towards a defender, then sway to his left, as would his opponent - only to find himself tackling thin air because the Wizard of Dribble had changed direction at the last split-second and darted away on the outside! Once he was past there was no hope of catching him. He did it so often that opponents knew what was coming but, such was the great man's balance, timing and dexterity, they were unable to prevent it. Some critics reckoned his wiles slowed the game, but in reality they lured defenders out of position and created space for colleagues.  

Stan never drank, never smoked and ate salads, starved on Mondays and got up before six to exercise! He played for England between 1934 (aged 19) and 1957 (aged 42) and graced the English game for over 30 years. He scored on his first outing for his country, but was thereafter to find himself in and out of the England reckoning, playing in only 54 out of 119 full internationals between 1934 and 1957, a shocking statistic and one which constantly outraged fans.

He joined the Stoke ground staff at 14 on 1 a week, he played his first League match for them six weeks after his seventeenth birthday and his last, five days after his fiftieth. In 1938 Stan fell out with his Manager and asked for a transfer. The dispute was such that businessmen claimed production was being affected and, following a massive protest meeting, it was settled amicably. After the war, though, there was further animosity and, in 1947 aged 32, he was sold to Blackpool for 11,500. 

What a bargain that turned out to be as the veteran reached new heights, proving the leading light as the Seasiders reached three FA Cup Finals in six seasons. Despite overwhelming support by neutrals desperate to see their hero pocket a winner's medal, Blackpool lost to the Manchester United (1948) and Newcastle (1951). Come 1953 it seemed a third final was going to end in dismay, this game is best remembered as the "Stanley Matthews Final". Blackpool were three one down with 20 minutes to remaining; 3-2 down with three minutes left and 3-3 with less than one minute of injury time to go. The ball went to Matthews on the wing - losing left-backs was Stan's favourite past-time - he skipped past the full back and raced for the goal-line. The Bolton centre-half had abandoned hope of catching him and went to cover Stan Mortensen in the centre. The Wizard pulled the ball back behind Mortensen and Bill Perry the left winger grabbed the fourth and most important goal.

His talent was still undoubted when he returned to his original club Stoke City in 1961. They paid Blackpool 3,500 for the privilege and offered Stan the highest wage he had known. The week before his return Stoke's gate was 8,409. Two weeks later with Stan on the wing it was 35,288! Some dismissed the transfer as a gimmick; it was anything but. 

He inspired them to win promotion out of the Second Division and played in 35 of their 42 matches at the age of 48. As mentioned he completed his 33-year career, aged 50 years and 5 days playing for Stoke and then he went out in style with a testimonial match at Stoke City which included stars such as Di Stefano, Puskas and Yashin. 

He became General Manager of Port Vale for a short time (1965-1968) and managed Hibernian (1970) and then took coaching and exhibition courses around the world, in particular in Africa. Later he lived for many years in Malta before returning to settle in England.  

 

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