Sir Stanley Matthews
Full name: Stanley Matthews
Date of birth: 01/02/1915
In the days of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Ryan Giggs, it’s easy to forget that wingers used to be a very rare breed in the earlier days of football. The reason for the change was, in large part, due to the arrival of Sir Stanley ‘The Magician’ Matthews. He was a type of footballer who lived for the game and worked extremely hard on and off the pitch to improve his performance and fitness.
Sir Stanley Matthews was born on February 1st 1915 in Hanley near Stoke. Matthews’ raw pace and quick feet automatically got him recognised and soon he was playing games for England schoolboys. By the age of 17, he had already signed a professional contract with Stoke City and soon started matches regularly.
In his second season, he was a key player in Stoke’s midfield and was duly awarded his first cap for England in 1934 at the age of just 19. Matthews’ England debut could not have gone much better, scoring a goal in a 4-0 thrashing of Wales. In just three years, he was a regular on the right wing for England, with his worth emphasised after scoring a hat-trick against Czechoslovakia.
At only 20, Stanley Matthews was quickly becoming the biggest star in English football. His speed and constant trickery helped him to strike fear into opposition defenders. The ‘Wizard of Dribble’, as he was known, had become a dangerous weapon for both England and Stoke.
During the Second World War, league football was postponed and Matthews was sent to Blackpool to serve in the Royal Air Force. Sir Stanley continued to play friendly matches for many teams around the country such as Manchester United, Glasgow Rangers, Arsenal and Blackpool.
Move to Blackpool
However, it was to Blackpool where his career would take him on a permanent basis. After 262 matches and over 50 goals at Stoke, Matthews was transferred to the Seasiders for £11,500 in 1947. In his first season with Blackpool, Matthews took part in the FA Cup final at Wembley against Manchester United but lost 4-2; however Matthews would have more chances of winning the trophy soon after.
Matthews’ good form was rewarded with a place in England’s World Cup Squad to go to Chile but he was only chosen to play one match. Nevertheless, domestically he was a mainstay for Blackpool and had helped them to another FA Cup Final against Newcastle United in 1951, only to yet again suffer defeat. At the age of 36, most people thought that this was his last chance to win an F.A. Cup medal.
However, on May 2nd 1953, Sir Stanley Matthews was to make FA Cup folklore. Playing Bolton Wanderers, Matthews’ Blackpool were 3-1 down at half time and almost certain to lose. Then, at the start of the second half Matthews dribbled past Bolton’s left back and brilliantly crossed in for Stan Mortensen to pull the score back to 3-2. Throughout the second half, Matthews continued to terrorise the Bolton defence and eventually Blackpool equalised with only a few minutes to play.
Then, deep into stoppage time, Matthews picked up the ball on Bolton’s half-way line. After beating a few players, he closed in to Bolton’s goal-line, bamboozled his opponent with his trademark trick – faking to go to the left before taking the ball past the left back – and then crossed the ball straight to Blackpool’s Bill Perry who scored the winning goal and secured a winners medal for Stanley Matthews at the age of 38. Despite a hat-trick from Stan Mortensen, this game has been dubbed as the ‘Matthews Final’ and is widely recognised as one of the greatest FA Cup finals ever.
Matthews continued his good form for Blackpool, helping them to second position in the football league in 1955 and was chosen for England’s World Cup squad in 1954. In 1956, Matthews became the first ever winner of UEFA’s European Player of the year award at 41.
Matthews was a thoroughly professional player and ahead of the game in terms of fitness. Whilst at Blackpool, he went jogging on the beach every day and never drank alcohol at all. A true testament to his fitness is the fact that he was able to play top-flight football until he was 46 and carry on playing until 50. He stayed a regular starter for England for 23 years, until he was 42. This is an achievement even today when most players retire completely at around 33 years old.
Return to Stoke
Matthews eventually re-joined Stoke City in 1961 and got them promoted from the second tier of football in his first season there. At the age of 50, a knee injury made him retire although he maintained that he could have carried on.
In April 1965, a testimonial was played for the great man in front of 35,000 people in Stoke’s Victoria Ground. This match attracted world stars of the time such as Lev Yashin and Ferenc Puskás. Later that year, he would become the first ever football player to be knighted. A true sportsman to the end, Matthews never received a yellow card in 701 games.
After retiring from football, Matthews stayed in the game, managing Port Vale for three years and Maltese side Hibernians. Finally, Sir Stanley Matthews died in 2000 at the age of 85. His funeral procession drove through Stoke’s old Victoria Ground. A statue of him has been erected outside Stoke’s new Brittania Stadium and a stand at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road has been named after him. He has even been granted his own collection of memorabilia at the National Football Museum in Preston.
To find a player in the mould of Sir Stanley is almost impossible nowadays. With all the press and media hype that surrounds today’s celebrity players such as David Beckham and Wayne Rooney, Matthews was the first real football celebrity. Unlike any other players, he was able to maintain his professionalism at all times and lived only to play the game. Matthews at the time was only earning £20 per week in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of pounds nowadays.
Sir Stanley Matthews will always be remembered as one of the best players in the history of the game, and one of its consummate gentlemen.
- FIFA Gold Medal Order: 1992
- Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year: 1963, 1948
- European Footballer of the Year: 1956