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The Matthews Final
Blackpool 4, Bolton Wanderers 3
Wembley, 2 May 1953
For those who remember the year, 1953 is remembered for three things: the Coronation; the conquest of Everest and the F A Cup Final of that year which has gone down in history as ‘The Matthews Final’. It was also Blackpool Football Club’s finest hour. With players of the stature of Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortenson the club were regular challengers for the League title and reached two FA Cup finals (losing to Manchester United and Newcastle in 1948 and 1951 respectively) before that epic victory over Bolton Wanderers in 1953.
Ten minutes after half-time, when the injured Eric Bell rose to head home Bolton's third goal, it looked as if it was all over. It was Matthews’ moment to step forward as he started to probe the Bolton’s defence for weaknesses. He had lost none of his skill, and now aged thirty-eight he knew, and the whole country knew, that his last chance of a winner’s medal was at stake. The Times football correspondent could not contain his admiration: ‘Matthews is a superb artist, a football genius beyond compare. He paints, as it were, in water-colours and not oils. His work always has had that beautiful bloom that oils cannot give. He has it within him to turn mice into horses, and nothing into everything. Now in those last 25 minutes he turned Blackpool into giants at a time when all his inspiration might well have drained away after earlier disappointment’.
Blackpool had gone one down as their goalkeeper, George Farm, was deceived by Nat Lofthouse’s low, dipping cross shot. Ten minutes before half-time, Blackpool equalised, when Harold Hassall deflected Mortensen’s shot into his own net. Before the first half ended Bolton had restored their lead when Farm failed to reach a lob into the goalmouth from Bobby Langton, the veteran outside-left and the ball, deflected off Billy Moir's head as the inside-right ran in, floated gently over the line.
When Bolton went 3-1 up early in the second half, few believed there was any way back for Blackpool. With twenty-two minutes to go, a Matthews’ cross was met by the boot of Stan Mortensen. Blackpool were back in the match, and Matthews’ continued to torment the Bolton defence in search of an equaliser. It came with three minutes remaining, when Mortensen surprised a static Bolton defence with his free kick on the edge of the penalty box. Amazingly, with extra time looming, Matthews pushed forward and cut in towards the goal area. He dragged the ball back to the waiting Bill Perry who drove the ball into the net.
Perry later recalled the team’s reaction to Mortensen’s equaliser: 'That changed everything. We were on a high. Stan Matthews was playing a big part. He beat a man and made his way down the wing before crossing, falling over as he did so. The ball came skimming across and I let fly. It flew into the net. But apart from the goal I don't think I played particularly well.' He remembered it as a fantastic match though. 'That is what makes a great cup final, when a team comes from behind.'
As Matthews moved up the gangway and at long last received that elusive medal at the hands of the Queen he received an ovation from the fans, and on returning to the pitch he was hoisted shoulder-high alongside Johnston, who was holding the Cup, in acknowledgement of his amazing performance. According to The Times the cup final would long live in the memory: ‘It will live largely because here in the presence of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh the game of football, the game of the people, was crowned with all felicity in this year of Coronation and national rejoicing.’