Stanley Matthews This article is about the English football player. For the justice of the United States Supreme Court, see Thomas Stanley Matthews. Sir Stanley Matthews, CBE (February 1, 1915 - February 23, 2000) was a football player, often regarded as one of the greats of the English game. Gaining the nicknames The Wizard of the Dribble and The Magician, Matthews retains his reputation as one of the finest dribblers of the ball in the history of association football. A teetotaller and vegetarian, he kept fit enough to play at the top level until he was 50 years old, the oldest player ever to play in England's top football division.
Matthews was born in Seymour Street, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent and was the third of four sons. His father, Jack Matthews (aka The Fighting Barber of Hanley), was a renowned local boxer who fostered a sense of discipline, determination and sportsmanship that would serve his son well during his long career. He attended St Lukes School.
A natural right winger, he showed early promise and played for England schoolboys against Wales. He signed professional terms with Stoke City F.C. in 1932. His international debut came in 1934, scoring for the England side which beat Wales 4-0. Shortly after this, he was condemned in the Daily Mail:
"I saw Matthews play just as moderately in the recent inter-League match, exhibiting the same slowness and hesitation. Perhaps he lacks the big match temperament."
This would turn out to be a hugely mistaken appraisal of the young man, embodied by his hat-trick for 10-man England in a game against Czechoslovakia in 1937.
In 1938, Matthews asked for a transfer, causing a public outcry in Stoke. More than 3,000 fans attended a protest meeting and a further 1,000 marched outside the ground with placards. Matthews stayed.
The war interrupted his career, during which time he served in the Royal Air Force and was stationed near Blackpool. Surviving records show that he played as a guest for clubs such as Crewe Alexandra, Manchester United, Wrexham A.F.C., Arsenal, and Rangers during this time. He even appeared for a Scots XI. After the war, he fell out with Stoke and transferred to join Blackpool F.C. in 1947. His link-up with Stan Mortensen was very profitable, and Matthews won an FA Cup winners medal in 1953 - a match dubbed the 'Matthews Final' where, despite Mortensen's hat-trick, his outstanding dribbling in the last 30 minutes of the match when Blackpool were 3-1 down more than contributed to him finally earning the medal which had eluded him in the finals of 1948 and 1951.
In 1950, Matthews only played in one World Cup game (a 1-0 defeat against Spain).
In total, Matthews made 54 official England appearances scoring 11 goals (as well as 29 unofficial wartime appearances with 2 goals). He played his final England game in 1957; he remains the oldest player to have played in an England shirt. His England career is the longest of any player ever to play for the side, stretching from his debut on September 29, 1934 to his last appearance on May 15, 1957, almost 23 years later. His importance to the team is exemplified by the post-war circumstances he found himself in. He was excluded from the team for most of the 1946-47 season in favour of another England great - Tom Finney. He returned to the team in triumph, however, as England beat Portugal 10-0. A year later, he ran the Italian left-back ragged, helping England to a 4-0 win in Turin.
At the Football World Cup 1954 in Switzerland, England found themselves struggling, so Matthews promptly switched to inside-forward, galvanised the team, and helped it to a 4-4 draw.
In 1956, Matthews won the first ever European Footballer of the Year award.
In 1961 (aged 46) he rejoined his hometown club Stoke City. The following season, Stoke City won the English Second Division Championship and he was voted Footballer of the Year for the second time in his career by the Football Writers Association (the first time was in 1948). He remained with Stoke City until the end of his playing career, appearing in his final game on February 6, 1965, just after his 50th birthday, when he played for the first time in 12 months due to a knee injury, setting up the equaliser for his team. Even at the age of 50, he always proclaimed that he had retired 'too early'. A testimonial game in honour of Sir Stanley was played in April 1965 at the Victoria Ground, where 35,000 people watched a 10-goal thriller against a World XI side that included greats such as Lev Yashin, Josef Masopust, Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano. Stanley was carried shoulder-high from the field at full-time. Also in 1965, his services to sport were officially recognised when he became the first football player to be knighted. He received a FIFA Gold Merit Order in 1992.
After playing 698 games in the Football League, Matthews managed Port Vale F.C. (1965-1968) before moving to Malta, where he coached Hibernians, also playing for them until he was 55. He played for numerous local sides, meaning that he was still running down the wing in his 60s. He also coached "Stan's Men" in Soweto, South Africa, and in Canada. He even played in a charity match at Grangemouth as late as 1981.
During his illustrious career he gained respect, not only as a great player, but also as a gentleman. This is exemplified by the fact that despite playing in over seven hundred league games, he was never booked. Matthews was made an Inaugural Inductee of the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002 in recognition of his outstanding talents.
"When Sir Stan died in January , 2000, at the age of 85, more than 100,000 people lined the streets of Stoke-on-Trent to pay tribute. As the cortege wound its way along the 12-mile route, employees downed tools and schoolchildren stood motionless to witness his final passing." ('The Sentinel' November 19, 2005)
There is a statue of Matthews outside Stoke City's Britannia Stadium and another in the centre of Hanley. The dedication on the former reads: His name is symbolic of the beauty of the game, his fame timeless and international, his sportsmanship and modesty universally acclaimed. A magical player, of the people, for the people.
February 1 has been made 'Sir Stanley Matthews Day' and raises money for the The Stanley Matthews Foundation, which provides sports opportunities for under-privileged young people in the Stoke-on-Trent area, although this hopes to be expanded in the future.
Matthews' son, also called Stanley, was Wimbledon Boy's Champion in 1962.