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Football and the First World War

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Stanley Matthews 

The ‘Wizard of the Dribble’

Stanley Matthews is arguably the most famous of all English footballers and probably the greatest of all wingers.  His playing career spanned 32 years 10 months and was over at the ripe old age of 50 when he finally retired from top-class football.  He is the oldest player ever to appear in English football’s top flight and at 42 he was the oldest England player winning his last cap against Denmark in May 1957.  In the days before televised sport, his presence in a side could add 10,000 or 20,000 to the fate for a match. 

At the age of 15 Mathews joined his local side Stoke City and made his debut two years later.  Matthews spent 17 years at the club, establishing himself as the best outside right in world football.  About 5ft 9 in tall, he was a thin, frail-looking man, but he was blessed with a marvelous sense of balance and timing; his sudden bursts of speed over 20 yards or so was one of the wonders of the game, but it his greatest gift lay in his dribbling.  He could bring a ball up almost to the feet of an opposing defender, show it to him, tempt into the first balance-change of a tackle, and then suddenly set off in another direction at great speed.  ‘If I can show the man tackling me the ball by taking it close to him and then whip it past him, causing him to lunge when he thinks he has cornered me’, he was said ‘I will soon have caused an inferiority complex from which my opponent will not easily recover’.  A successful dribbler must develop a superiority complex in his own mind’.   This ability earned him the tag  'Wizard of the Dribble’, and the admiration of football writer and Labour MP,. J.P.W. Mallalieu, who was moved to ask ‘Have you ever watched a dragonfly, how it hovers in one spot with its wings vibrating and ten, apparently without changing gear, darts away at top speed’?   

In 1947 Matthews joined Blackpool in a £11,500 transfer, but found himself in the losing cup finals in 1948 and 1951.  When Blackpool made it to Wembley again on 2 May 1953, all neutral supporters hoped he would finally get a winner’s medal.  Matthews inspired a terrific comeback, Blackpool triumphing as 4-3 winners.  The match went down in the annals as ‘The Matthews Final’

Matthews was 46 when he left Blackpool in October 1961 but incredibly he chose to return to Stoke as a player rather than retire. His return to the Victoria round attracted 36,000, six times the average attendance. He finally played his last competitive match on 6 February 1965 five days after his 50th birthday.  Matthews had just received a knighthood in the New Year’s Honours List and went out in style, with a 3-1 win over Fulham. 

Matthews was twice Footballer of the Year, in 1948 and 1963, and was also the inaugural European Footballer of the Year in 1956.  On his retirement he became general manager of Port Vale football club, and went on in the next three decades to coach all over the world.    He died on 24th February 2000, aged 85.

See a tribute to Stanley Matthews: http://br.youtube.com/watch?v=54HRpvcRn0w

For more information on Stanley Matthews read his autobiography, Stanley Matthews: The Way It Was