Sir Stanley Matthews: Football’s First Knight
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Sir Stanley Matthews: Football’s First Knight


Although many people still recognise the name
of Stanley Matthews, few know the full extent of his
achievements, fame and what the game today owes him – the man
who heralded the footballer as superstar and celebrity. Stanley, the third of four sons, was born
to Elizabeth and Jack Matthews in 1915. Jack a local barber and semi-pro boxer took
his training very seriously. Spotting Stan’s athletic potential early,
he helped instil in his son the temperament and dedication that
was to last a lifetime
Stan’s ability, fitness and love of the game was such that he
continued to play, at the highest level, until an incredible
50 years of age – well into the modern era. However, when Stan signed for Stoke City as
a professional at the age of 17, football was a very different
game to the one we know today. Stan had to walk to work. He was paid a maximum wage of £5 a
week, which went down to £3 in the summer break and nobody
had even considered ideas like product endorsement. Soon his reputation began to spread. Wearing the number 7
shirt he was to make his own, his ability to confound and
outfox defenders led to him being called ‘The Wizard of
Dribble’ and the ‘The Magician’. One ploy in particular rightly caught the
public imagination. Dubbed ‘the Matthews Move’ it helped proclaim
his remarkable ability. The Matthews Move was to prove the downfall
of some of the best players of the era and helped redefine
the role of the winger. Mixed fortunes with the England squad inspired
Matthews to ​ even greater efforts. He broke new ground with the sort of
strict diet, early morning runs, exercise plan, and stamina
training that is now taken for granted. It was said that Stan could draw crowds of
up to 10,000 extra people at away games, just to see him in action. Suspension of the football league during the
WWII robbed football of the joy of seeing Stan at his
peak and only allowed glimpses of the heights his career
might have reached. With the return of the football league in
1946-47, and after playing with Stoke from 1932, Stan moved to
Blackpool FC. The move provided Stan with a fresh the opportunity
to realise a long cherished ambition, and despite
falling at the final hurdle in the FA cup finals of ‘49
and ’51, In 1953, in the last 20 minutes of the game,
famously called the Matthews final, Blackpool turned a 3-1
deficit into a remarkable 4-3 victory. And in front of an 80,000 crowd,
besotted supporters began to chant: ‘On Stanley, on!’ An embarrassed Matthews pointed out afterwards
that it should be the ‘Mortenson Final’, as he had scored
the winning hat- trick. Universal fame was rare, but even little children
playing in Zanzibar knew who Stanley Matthews was – as
he found out when he visited. His raised profile meant new opportunities
for Stan to supplement what, by today’s standard, were
paltry wages; £12 a week; some £380 in today’s money. Neymar earns around
£3,000 per hour. A non-smoker, he promoted cigarettes, had
his own brand of football boots and even ‘authored’ a newspaper
column he didn’t actually write. Although, he never got a chance to shine in
a World Cup tournament, memorably, in 1956, England defeated
Brazil 4-2 at Wembley, in a match where Stanley Matthews
completely outplayed the man marking him, Nilton Santos. At the time, Santos, was 28, Matthews was
41. Santos is still
considered one of the all time great defenders. That year Stanley Matthews was the inaugural
winner of the Ballon d’Or – the European Footballer of the
Year. Stan returned to play for an ailing Stoke
City team in 1961. On his ‘debut’ against Huddersfield Town,
at the age of 46, he trebled the previous week’s attendance. Stan played his last game in 1965, just after
his 50 th birthday. Official retirement in no way saw an end to
Stan’s involvement with football. He had a long association with
Africa and had once been crowned the King of Soccer in Ghana. Something to add to the knighthood he received
in 1965. Stan’s African adventures culminated in
him being the first coach to lead an all-black soccer team on
a tour outside of South Africa’s harsh apartheid regime. when he coached a team
of boys in Sowetto. Narrowly averting an international
incident, they went to Brazil and met the boy’s footballing
heroes. To learn more about the talent that was Sir
Stanley Matthews, buy ‘MATTHEWS – the original Number 7’
– on DVD and VOD now.

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