Sir Stanley Matthews, CBE. Is quite rightly regarded as one of the greatest players of the English game, he is the only player to have been knighted while still playing, as well as being the first winner of both the European Footballer of the Year and the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year awards. Matthews' nicknames included "The Wizard of the Dribble" and "The Magician".
He spent 19 years with Stoke City, playing for the Potters from 1932 to 1947, and again from 1961 to 1965. He helped Stoke to the Second Division title in 1932–33 and 1962–63. Between his two spells at Stoke he spent 14 years with Blackpool, where, after being on the losing side in the 1948 and 1951 FA Cup finals, he helped Blackpool to win the cup with a formidable personal performance in the "Matthews Final" of 1953. Between 1934 and 1957 he won 54 caps for England, playing in the FIFA World Cup in 1950 and 1954, and winning nine British Home Championship titles.
Stanley Matthews was born on 1 February 1915 in a terraced house in Seymour Street, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. He was the third of four sons born to Jack Matthews, a local boxer who was also known as the "Fighting Barber of Hanley". In the summer of 1921, Jack Matthews took six-year-old Stanley to the Victoria Ground, home of the local club Stoke City, for an open race for boys under the age of 14, with a staggered start according to age. His father placed a bet on his son winning, and he did. Matthews attended Hanley's Wellington Road School, and later described himself as "in many respects a model pupil". He also said the kickabout games the children played helped to improve his dribbling, and prepared the children for future life by giving them "a focus, a purpose, discipline, and in many respects an escape". At home, he also spent "countless hours" practicing dribbling around kitchen chairs he placed in his backyard. Though he would later become indelibly associated with Stoke City, Matthews grew up supporting that club's local rivals Port Vale. His father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become a boxer, but Stanley decided at the age of 13 that he wanted to be a footballer. After a rigorous training session that made Matthews vomit, his mother, Elizabeth, stood firm and made Jack realise that his son, who had one more year at school, should follow his passion of football. His father conceded that should he be picked for England Schoolboys then he could continue his footballing career; around this time his school football master picked Matthews as an outside-right, rather than as his then-preferred position of centre-half. Matthews played for England Schoolboys against Wales in 1929, in front of around 20,000 spectators at Dean Court, Bournemouth. The Stoke City manager Tom Mather persuaded Matthews' father to allow Stanley to join his club's staff as an office boy on his 15th birthday for pay of £1 a week. Matthews played for Stoke's reserve team during the 1930-31 season, coming up first against Burnley. After the game, his father gave his usual realist assessment: "I've seen you play better and I've seen you play worse".
After spending the 1932–33 pre-season training intensely by himself (as opposed to playing golf with his teammates), Mather selected Matthews in 15 games, enough to earn him a winners medal after Stoke were crowned Second Division champions, one point ahead of Tottenham Hotspur.
In 1935-36 Matthews continued to improve, and he added the double body swerve technique to his increasing arsenal of tricks. Largely out of the international picture, he put in 45 games for the "Potters" as Stoke finished fourth under Bob McGrory – the club's best-ever finish. He played 42 games in 1936-37, including the club's record 10–3 win over West Bromwich at the Victoria Ground. At the end of the season he was paid a loyalty bonus of £650, though the Stoke board initially insisted he was only due £500 as he had spent his first two years at the club as an amateur – this attitude left a sour taste in Matthew's mouth.
The regular Football League returned in time for the 1946-47 season, during which Matthews played 23 league games and was a major contributor to 30 of the club's 41 league goals. Stoke matched their record finish of fourth in the league, finishing just two points shy of champions Liverpool after losing to Sheffield United on the final day of the season. However, in February Matthews was returning from a knee injury when manager McGrory told him he was not in the first XI for the game against Arsenal; the press reported this as a bust-up. Relations between McGrory, the Stoke City board, and Matthews had indeed always been sour – though once again a story that the players sided against Matthews were untrue. Matthews put in a second transfer request, which the Stoke board eventually accepted. He selected Blackpool as his next club as he still lived in the area following his service in the RAF; the Stoke board sanctioned the move on the condition that the deal was to remain a secret until the end of the season, to not disrupt the club's title bid.
On 10 May 1947, immediately after a Great Britain versus Rest of Europe match in Glasgow (Britain won 6-1), he made the move for £11,500, at the age of 32. The match itself raised £30,000 for the four Home Nations Football Associations, and since the eleven British players received £14 each, Matthews questioned where exactly this money ended up – he doubted that much of it ended up as funding for grass-roots football.
Joe Smith, Blackpool manager, told Matthews "there are no shackles here ... express yourself ... play your own game and whatever you do on the pitch, do it in the knowledge that you have my full support." He assembled a talented frontline in Matthews, Stan Mortensen, Jimmy McIntosh, and Alex Munro; with an emphasis on entertaining football. The Seasiders finished in ninth place and reached the 1948 FA Cup Final. On 23 April 1948, the eve of the final, Matthews won the inaugural Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year award. Despite taking the lead twice in the match, Blackpool lost out 4-2 to Matt Busby's Manchester United in the final, with Matthews assisting Mortensen for Blackpool's second.
Despite spending some three months of the season out with a muscle injury,] the 1952-53 campaign proved Smith's words to be accurate, as a 38-year-old Matthews won an FA Cup winners medal in a match which was, despite Mortensen's hat-trick, subsequently dubbed the "Matthews Final". Bolton were leading 3-1 with 35 minutes to go, but Matthews had "the game of his life" in "the greatest ever FA Cup final" and spurred his team on to a last gasp 4-3 victory. He always credited the team and especially Mortensen for the victory, and never accepted the nickname of the "Matthews Final". He made his 440th and final appearance in a Blackpool shirt in a 3-0 defeat at Arsenal on 7 October 1961. It was a fitting final bow as he always enjoyed playing against Arsenal, and he had "so many wonderful memories" at Highbury. With former team-mate and close friend Jackie Mudie at Stoke City, and with Tony Waddington keen to welcome Matthews back to the Victoria Ground, his return to his home-town club was sealed. However, Matthews was not impressed when the Blackpool board demanded a £3,500 transfer fee, with one director being so bold as to tell him "You forget. As a player, we made you." Having kept secret from Stoke a niggling knee injury Matthews had been carrying, Blackpool got their £3,500 for the player.
At Stoke, Matthews found himself playing Second Division football for the first time in 28 years. Despite Stoke being strapped for cash, Tony Waddington gave him a two-year contract at £50 a week - this was double the wages he received at Blackpool. The signing was broadcast live on Sportsweek, as Waddington whispered in his ear "Welcome home, Stan. For years this club has been going nowhere. Now we're on our way". Waddington delayed his return debut until 24 October 1961, when Stoke played Huddersfield Town at the Victoria Ground, the attendance was 35,974 – more than treble the previous home game - and Matthews set up one of City's goals in a 3-0 win. He went on to score three goals in 21 games in the rest of the 1961-62 campaign. Waddington signed hard man Eddie Clamp to protect Matthews in the 1962-63 season, and the two would also become close friends off the pitch Stoke went up as Second Division champions, and Matthews was voted FWA Footballer of the Year for the second time in his career, 15 years after he was made the inaugural winner of the award.
When running along Blackpool's beach, at 7 am, no matter the weather, Matthews wore shoes that contained lead, so that when he changed into his football boots, his feet felt light, giving himself the impression that he could run faster. Having trained to a level of fitness few other players would reach, by the mid-1950s he could cut back on his intense training as his level of fitness was by then ingrained in his body. He never smoked; instead, he was very conscious of every item of food and drink he consumed, and he maintained a rigid daily training regime from childhood up until his old age. In an interview with the FA he said, "I had some very good advice and started to eat more salads and fruit, and every Monday I had no food. Just one day, on a Monday, but I felt better." The only time he knowingly consumed alcohol was when drinking champagne out of the FA Cup in 1953.
He was never booked or sent off throughout his entire career, and teammate Jimmy Armfield noted that Matthews would never retaliate to the many extremely physical challenges opponents would often make to try and take him out of the game. Indeed, he ran the full gauntlet of emotions that all footballers run, but always retained a level head on the pitch, never losing his temper or allowing his emotions to affect his game.
He did have a life away from football and here is a photograph of Stan the racehorse owner with Parbleu.
"Self-willed, strong-minded, humorous, generous of spirit and, for all his fame as down to earth as the folk who once adorned the terraces in the hope of seeing him sparkle gold dust on to their harsh working lives."