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Everybody should see Stanley Matthews play at least once.

Updated on February 13, 2016

‘Everyone should see Matthews play at least once while they still have the chance.’

That was my uncle Jack talking.

We were all standing in the kitchen; me, my dad and uncle Jack. There were three match tickets laying on the table for Stoke City vs Burnley.

‘They call him “The one trick magician”. Do you know why they called him that?’

I looked up at uncle Jack because I knew the question was directed at me. I’d heard of Matthews of-course, everybody had. “He’s England’s best player” my dad was always telling me, “and there isn’t a defender in the world who knows how to stop him”.

But I didn’t know why he was called the “one trick magician” so I shook my head.

‘Because he always beats his man by going on the outside,’ uncle Jack told me as he pulled out a chair and sat down at the table.

‘Does it every time,’ my dad added.

‘Everybody knows that’s what he does. Every full back who faces Matthews knows that he will go on the outside but he beats them all the same,’ uncle Jack said.

‘But if they know that’s what he’s going to do why don’t they just stop him?’ I asked.

‘I told you lad,’ my uncle said ‘because he is a magician.’

‘Just because you know what is going to happen’, my dad said ‘it doesn’t mean there is anything you can do about it.’

‘Exactly!’ cried uncle Jack.

‘Anyway, you’ll see for yourself this afternoon,’ my dad said ruffling the hair on my head.

And I couldn’t wait! This was going to be special. Like uncle Jack said, “Everyone should see Matthews play at least once while they still have the chance.”

We arrived early at the ground and we managed to find a place close to the touchline. I was so excited and as the stadium started to fill up my sense of anticipation increased. To me it felt like Christmas Eve when I went bed shaking with excitement at what I would find under the Christmas tree in the morning. I remember looking round at my uncle and dad standing behind me and at the crowd who were in a noisy festive mood and excited as I was. I looked round at them amazed at how many there were and I imagined that every man in the world must in the ground that afternoon.

And then, at last, the players appeared. I tried to pick out Matthews but in their kit they all looked the same to me.

I turned round and my dad pointed him out for me, ‘over there. That’s him. See him?’ but I didn’t see anything.

‘He’s wearing the No. 7 shirt.’

I still didn’t see him.

‘In the red and white strip. Over there.’

And then I saw him. I was shocked. He looked so old. Like my dad. I had seen pictures of him of-course in the newspapers but here he was trotting around and sprinting and he just didn’t look like a footballer; let alone like a magician. He looked so ordinary. There was nothing special about him at all.

I don’t remember much of the first half. Mainly because all the action seemed to be happening at the far end of the pitch miles away from where we were standing and I only caught glimpses of Matthews on the wing and from what I could make out he didn’t seem to do very much. I was disappointed. I had expected much more than this. During half time it must have been obvious that I was disappointed because Uncle Jack clapped me on the shoulder and bending down said into my ear, ‘you wait. You’ll get a much better view of him now in the second half.’ But as the second half started all he did was walk or trot up and down the touchline and when he did get the ball all he did was pass it straight back to a team mate. There was no magic at all.

Then I remember there was a strong attack on the Stoke City goal by Burnley. After a flurry of activity the Stoke keeper finally caught the ball and kicked it down field. A Stoke player headed it down to a team mate who passed the ball to Matthews on the wing. All of a sudden he sprang into life and sprinting after the ball he brought swiftly under control and began to jog towards Burnley’s penalty area. Matthews was faced by the full back who was tracking him never taking his eyes off the ball. He made no attempt to block or tackle Matthews. All he did was retreat. But when he reached the edge of his penalty area the fullback realised that retreating any further would be dangerous and he decided to make a stand. Matthews meanwhile had jogged to within a few feet of the fullback who was hopping from one foot to the other like me when I was desperate for the loo. Matthews though didn’t seem to be in any great hurry. He just stood there with the ball cupped in the inside of his right foot and he began to lean to over his left. And still the full back did nothing. Matthews leaned even further to his left. At that moment I felt that the whole stadium was holding its breath just as I was doing. Because we all knew what the fullback was thinking because we were all thinking it too.

He was thinking; “I know Matthews always goes on the outside. But this time...this time he is going on the inside.” I can still see that fullback’s face screwed up in a grimace of indecision. When all of a sudden he made up his mind and lunged at the ball.

But Matthews wasn’t there. Matthews had gone...on the outside! The crowd roared. And I jumped up and down screaming with excitement. My uncle clapped me on the shoulder and I spun round beaming. ‘What did I tell you?’ my uncle cried out as excited and thrilled as I was, ‘what did I tell you! He always goes on the outside!’ And it was magic.

And on the journey home I excitedly described that moment telling my dad and uncle what we had all seen. “Dad, dad! Did you see it. Did you really see it?...everyone knew what was going to happen but nobody could do anything about!...It was magic.” And when I got home I told my mother all about it too, “you should have seen it should have seen it. It was like magic!” And then I grabbed my football and dashed outside and recreated that moment for myself until my mother called me in for tea.

Since then I have seen many great players in action and whenever I hear someone sing their praises and tell me how skilful they are I always nod in agreement but I always think to myself; “yeah, I know, but they’re not Stanley Matthews.”


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