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Sir Stanley Matthews. The first gentleman of football and a true sporting legend.
I never had the fortune of seeing Stanley Matthews in action, but as a Stoke City fan who was born and raised in Stoke-On-Trent I do know just how important he is to the people of the city. A truly inspiring man who played at the top level of English football until the age of 50, simply astonishing by anyone's standards and a record that will surely never be broken. He eventually played his very last competitive game at a staggering age of 70 in Brazil.
Matthews was born in Hanley, Stoke-On-Trent on 1st February 1915. His father Jack, a boxer was known as the fighting barber of Hanley. As a sportsman himself and a strict disciplinarian he encouraged his son to follow in his footsteps and become a boxer like him. Matthews however had his heart set on football. In 1932 he signed a professional contract with his local club Stoke City and began on his path to become one of the greatest players to have ever played the game.
In his first spell at Stoke Matthews played 256 games and scored 51 times in the process. He made his England debut in 1934 whilst playing for the club. In 1947 he made the move to Blackpool for £11,500. Blackpool manager Joe Smith said to Matthews "You're 32, do you think you can make it for another couple of years?".
His career only got better at Blackpool. In 1948 he was named Footballer of the year but his finest moment undoubtedly came in 1953 in the FA cup final which is now famously known as "The Matthews final" The fact that it's known as this even though Matthews teammate Stan Mortensen became the only player to score a hatrick in an FA cup final at Wembley (a record that still stands today) shows just how much influence Stanley had on the game that day. Blackpool were heading for a 3.1 defeat at the hands of North West rivals Bolton Wanderers when Matthews stepped up to the plate. His 68th minute cross was met by Mortensen to begin the comeback. Two minutes from time Mortensen scored again to level the scores. Incredibly though there was still time in the game for Matthews to cross for Mortensen to complete his hatrick, a fantastic comeback and give Matthews the prize that had alluded him in his last two attempts. A great moment of pride for the Matthews household.
In 1961 Stanley Matthews (aged 46) made an emotional return to Stoke City. His second debut for the club attracted a crowd of 35,974 just weeks after a depressingly low attendance of 8,409 against Preston North End. There was a buzz back around the city, the prodigal son had returned. People could be forgiven for thinking that Matthews was finally past it, that he'd seen his best days, they were wrong of course. Stanley Matthews helped Stoke to win the second division title and gain himself a second footballer of the year award in the process in his second season back at the club.
Matthews saw out the remainder of his playing career at his hometown club. His last game came in February of 1965 when he played his first game in 12 months as a knee injury had been keeping him out of action. He was 50 at the time. He later claimed that he had retired too early.
Stoke gave Matthews a testimonial game in the same year he retired as 35,000 people turned out at the Victoria ground to see the likes of Lev Yashin, Josef Masopust, Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano play in a star studded affair. Matthews was carried aloft at the end of the match. He also became the first footballer ever to be knighted in that very same year. Matthews also had a little dabble in management, most notably at Port Vale but didn't prove to be as successful a manager as he was a player in the english game.
The news of Sir Stanley Matthews death was announced on 23rd February 2000. Matthews died while on holiday in Tenerife after a recurrence of an illness that first started 3 years prior. The tributes flooded in from around the globe as the world mourned the passing of a true legend of the sport.
The day of Matthews funeral saw the city of Stoke-On-Trent come to a stand still. Matthews last journey before being laid to rest was one final run down the wing as his funeral procession was driven through the britannia stadium in front of thousands of mourning supporters (including myself) en route to St Peters Church. The raw emotion of the day was something that i had never witnessed on such a grand scale, the man meant so much to everyone. Over 100,000 peope lined the streets to pay tribute to Stoke-On-Trent's favourite son.
Sir Stanley Matthew's ashes are today buried under the centre spot of the Britannia stadium pitch. He has two statues in the city to honour him. One at the Britannia and one in the centre of Hanley. The tee-total vegetarian footballer who played until the age of 50 and never received a yellow card in his 700 plus games was not just a fantastic footballer, but a great role model to kids and a great inspiration to everyone. If only today's overpaid, primadona footballers had half the humility and sportsmanship that the great Sir Stanley Matthews had in abundance.
As a player
- FA Cup (1): 1953
- Football League Second Division (2): 1932–33, 1962–63
- British Home Championship (9, 3 shared): 1934 (shared), 1937, 1938 (shared), 1947, 1948, 1950, 1951 (shared), 1954, 1955
As a manager
- Maltese Cup (1): 1970–71
- Independence Cup (1): 1970–71
- Sons of Malta Cup (1): 1970–71
- FWA Footballer of the Year: 1948, 1963
- European Footballer of the Year: 1956
- CBE: 1957
- Knight Bachelor: 1965
- FIFA Gold Medal Order: 1992
- English Football Hall of Fame: 2002
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