Stanley Matthews is a legend of the game of soccer. That is not up for debate. However, there is a debate as to whether his greatest impact on the game is on the pitch or off. Most people know him for wearing the England shirt or his FA Cup medal or winning the first Ballon d’Or. Yet his history of teaching the game, even today, presents a legacy that alone would place him among the greats.
Veteran Hollywood producer Ryan Scott Warren cuts no corners in putting together the documentary Matthews: The Original No. 7 for Amazon and DVD. The 78-minute documentary spans the life of Sir Matthews both on and off the pitch and calls upon diverse voices to tell a compelling story.
Documentary filmmakers can fall into lazy habits. When there is a lull, they sometimes call upon a historian who has a general knowledge of the subject. This is not slander of historians on film, but in a documentary, they can be a crutch. Warren almost never calls upon historians but uses celebrities, writers, reporters and the people at key moments of his life to tell the story of Sir Stanley. There are no voiceovers from a narrator, so Warren had to take hours of interviews and weave together the best parts for a compelling film. He even goes to people like the rector at Matthews’ funeral to add 20 seconds on the logistical nightmare of planning the funeral of the great man. The closest we have on film to a historian is David Goldblatt, who as many people know is far from a traditional historian.
The documentary begins in an odd place – Africa. A young African boy sneaks into a professional club locker room and stares at the number seven jersey. Of course, the coach comes in (we find out his identity later) and sets up the story of “number 7.” We hear Matthews’ soccer story with time spent on his FA Cup victory and his move to Blackpool. Oddly, Warren uses his children and grandchildren to talk about how great of a family man Matthews was, but leaves it to Goldblatt to explain why his divorce and remarriage made sense in his character.
The final third of the movie is where it takes a turn. Rather than focusing on his playing career exclusively, Warren spends time sharing the story of Matthews’ “Sir Stan’s Men” and his sharing the sport in Africa. Warren even gathered together a handful of the original Sir Stan’s Men – his touring team – to explain their experience learning from the legend. Again, it would be easy to get a historian or journalist to cover this period, but Warren actually works to weave a first-person narrative.
Like many documentaries, The Wizard’s story glosses over any warts in his life. The bookend scenes in Africa with the current Sir Stan’s Men is also a little cheesy.
Yet this is a worthwhile addition to a now-growing library of quality soccer documentaries, especially since it is available on Amazon Prime in the United States. Especially for a younger generation or newer soccer fans, watching footage of Matthews and his moves will remind them of some current superstars as well as hopefully give them an appreciation of a legend.