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Legends Of English Football: #1 Sir Stanley Matthews

Well if you’re going to start a series like this, there is only one person to start with in my opinion, Sir Stanley Matthews, the wizard of dribble. Matthews is a name that will always be mentioned as one of the greatest footballers of all time, never mind a legend of the English game. He was probably the first superstar footballer that we had as the growing medium of television began to creep into houses up and down Britian.

Born in 1915, in Hanley near Stoke on Trent, Matthews was a prodigious talent and was playing for England schoolboys when spotted by Stoke City. He signed for them in1932 and by the following season had become a mainstay of the Potters side. His England debut followed in 1934, even scoring one as England beat Wales 4-0.  His reputation and talent touched all that saw him, and by 1935 at 20, he was easily the biggest footballing star in the country.

Matthews had three abilities that would bamboozle opponents, he was lightening fast, could cross a ball on to a sixpence from the wing and made the ball seem to stick to his foot. If anything, Matthews created the position of winger by the power of his own talents. He looked set to take the world by storm, and after scoring a hatrick for England in another 4-0 win, history was beckoning. He almost left Stoke City in 1938 but a crowd of nearly 4,000 fans came to the ground and begged him to stay.

By the time he was 24, in 1939, Sir Stan had played 256 games for Stoke City when World War II broke out. For the next 6 years, Matthews was a member of the Royal Air Force, but played in numerous friendlies for Manchester United, Blackpool and Arsenal as well as still representing England. For most players, losing those prime years could have been the end for their careers but Matthews hadn’t finished. In 1947, he joined Blackpool, aged 32 for £11,500 and the manager at the time hoped he could get another 2 or 3 seasons out of him.

By the end of that season, he’d won the inaugural Footballer of the Year award and a runners up medal in the F.A.Cup. He was still playing for England and infamously against Italy beat his marker by so much distance, whilst wasting time in the corner, stopped to put his hair back into place. The legend became that Matthews had pulled a comb out of his shorts pocket and combed his hair, such was the time he had waiting.

Far from giving Blackpool 2 or 3 seasons, he actually spent 15 seasons at the Seasiders, reaching another F.A. Cup final in 1951, but once again Blackpool contrived to lose once more. The feeling was that the nations favourite footballer would never win a domestic honor, but in 1953 he finally earned his reward. Nowadays, the 1953 final is known as “The Matthews Final” but Blackpool looked dead and buried at 3-1 down shortly after half time but Matthews had other idea’s.

Even at 38, Matthews’ skill had not diminished and he took the game by the scruff of the neck, tearing Bolton to shreds with his pace and dribbling. With 22 minutes left, he crossed the ball to his partner in crime, Stan Mortensen to make it 3-2 and Blackpool were back in it. With time running out, Matthews kept going and Blackpool managed to win a free kick which Mortensen smashed home to bring them level.

Everyone thought they were going to have extra time, but Sir Stan had other idea’s, he broke free in the final minute and tearing down the wing for last effort. He seemed to take too long but at the last second he crossed the ball to the onrushing Perry who fired the winning goal home and finally get Matthews a medal his career so richly deserved. In 1956 he won the first European Footballer of the year award at 41!

This is a player that continued to play for his country until he was 42! His England career of 23 years will probably never be beaten and even as he moved in to his mid 40’s, he was still a regular for Blackpool. At 46 when most players are long retired, he returned to Stoke City and amazingly scored the goal that guaranteed them promotion in 1963! He also won the Footballer of the Year award again that season. Can you imagine a Second Division player achieving that these days?

He finally retired in 1965, just after his 50th birthday but felt that he retired too early. His final appearance in a football match was in a testomonial in 1981 aged 66. Matthews was also the only footballer to be knighted whilst still playing, such was the warmth that was felt toward the man. Sir Stan passed away in February 2000, 3 weeks after turning 85.

He put his longevity down to daily runs and never touching alcohol as a player, and he never received a booking or a red card in his entire career. Renowned as a gentleman, his influence far outweighed the skinny lad from Stoke on Trent born during World War I. A true legend, not just of English football but of the World game.

“I grew up in an era where he was a god to those of us that aspired to play the game. He was a true gentleman and we shall never see his like again” Brian Clough

  • 795 games for Stoke City and Blackpool, scoring 81 goals
  • 54 games for England, scoring 11 goals
  • Never booked or sent off
  • Missed 6 seasons due to the Second World War
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  1. Tijani sherif

    April 30, 2014 at 12:34 am

    Thanks to this great man,man of honour,the man that live then to prove ronaldo wrong now,may ur soul rest in perfect peace amen

  2. Jacky Walker

    December 28, 2012 at 10:26 am

    A great article! I thought you might like to have a reference to the authorised biography on Sir Stan. ‘Stanley Matthews: Black Man with a White Face’ by Geoff Francis.

    The book is published by Bonobo TV, and was commissioned by Sir Stan’s daughter Jean in time for the South Africa World Cup in 2010, 8 years after Sir Stan’s death. The book was picked up by the BBC at the time, and provided the inspiration for their short film, which was also called ‘Black Man with a White Face’, after the book.

    The e-book retails at £1.99 and the paperback version at £9.99.

  3. doombringer

    December 9, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    i have been watching Stoke play for about 20 years and Sir Stan would walk from his home down to the mighty Victoria Ground for every home game up until he was 84. he was a true gent and would stop and talk with everybody who was not to star stuck to speak with him, honestly it became the absolute norm for this legend to come walking up to the players entrance, mingling with his fans EVERY home game. TRUE LEGEND.

  4. MR C S

    October 16, 2009 at 7:01 am

    Hanley is not near stoke on trent but in stoke on trent. its the main city centre. Just thought i’d correct that opening error

  5. nikki joyce

    August 16, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    i have a sentinel book of sir stan matthews april 28th 1965.. anyone know how much its worth? reply to my email!


    July 22, 2009 at 10:03 am



    July 22, 2009 at 9:59 am

    sir mathew …………… awesome player of , i think he should be made the symbol of FIFA fair play …

  8. Eric

    July 14, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Can’t wait for your upcomming posts. I’m guessing Georgie Best will figure in this.

    thanks again. Love the old grainy B&W videos.

  9. Nick

    July 10, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Good article, but Hanley is part of Stoke-on-Trent, not near it. It’s actually one of the six towns making the city, and now the city centre

  10. Andrew

    July 9, 2009 at 5:17 am

    Hi, I have come across a Stanley Mattews Football Review, it looks like an annual, but it has no date on it, the cover is ok back and front, but the spine has gone, I think the date may have been on there, can anyone tell me anyhting about this book please? it may be 54-55, thanks

  11. Danimal

    July 7, 2009 at 11:26 pm


  12. The Gaffer

    July 7, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    I had the pleasure of meeting Sir Stanley Matthews during a meet-and-greet in Miami in, I think it was, 1993 before the World Cup. He was incredibly down-to-earth and a joy to speak with. I’ll never forget his warmth and how friendly he was to a total stranger.

    The Gaffer

  13. PHR

    July 7, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Wow what a muddy field on the You Tube video.

    Can I suggest one of my favourite players, Paul Scholes, as one of your featured players. A true understated great…..

    • Paul Bestall

      July 7, 2009 at 5:54 pm

      Hi PHR,

      There’s no doubting Scholes is one of the modern greats but I’m trying to look at players pre:premiership. Unfortunately that rules out Scholes, but hopefully you’ll enjoy the other ten too.

  14. LS

    July 7, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Awesome article ! Looking forward to seeing more of these.

  15. Jacopo Belbo

    July 7, 2009 at 7:26 am

    While I’m certainly not old enough to remember this guy it is amazing he was playing well into his 40’s and helping his team win. It is sort of sad that he didn’t get to see Stoke FC back in the Premier League.

    • Paul Bestall

      July 7, 2009 at 11:13 am

      That’s an excellent point Jacopo. He’ll be smiling down wherever he is no doubt.

  16. Sabbir

    July 6, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    A true masterpiece and a great idea. When will we see issues # 2?

    • Paul Bestall

      July 7, 2009 at 11:12 am

      Just working on issues 2 & 3 as we speak. So keep reading and thank you for comments.

  17. allsop

    July 6, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    well worth £80 million


  18. matt

    July 6, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Thanks for doing this. This is great.

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