Centenary of Legend's Birth MarkedSome referred to him as ‘The Wizard’, others ‘The Magician’, symbolic of the fact that Sir Stanley Matthews would often leave the opposition and public spellbound.
Utterly compelled by his footballing brilliance, his presence alone would add an extra 10,000 people to match attendances. He was a sporting great and unrivalled dribbler.
A career spanning more than 30 years, Matthews was so far ahead of the game that he played until the age of 50.
Today (Sunday) marks the 100th anniversary of his birth, while Friday marks his final Football League appearance 50 years ago in a fixture for Stoke City against Fulham. Sadly no longer with us, his legacy as a footballer lives on.
Matthews spent 14 years at Blackpool after joining the club from Stoke City for £11,500 in 1947. He made 440 appearances in tangerine and helped the team win the FA Cup against Bolton in 1953, after defeat in previous finals against Manchester United and Newcastle in 1948 and 1951. Three years later he was named the very first European Footballer of the Year.
A man of the people, he remained forever modest throughout his career and never subscribed to the theory that Blackpool’s Cup success was down to him. Renowned as ‘The Matthews Final’, his performance at Wembley never overshadowed the achievements of a certain team-mate in his own eyes.
“I don’t think I was the hero, I think Stan Mortenson was the hero because he scored three goals. The media made it my final,” Matthews said when reflecting on his career.
Matthews lifted the cup with Blackpool at the age of 38, with his diet and exercise routine providing plenty of longevity. His final game for England came at 42.
“In those days, when you were 32 you were more or less finished,” he revealed. “I thought I had to change my habits a little bit, my eating habits and play as long as I can because I was in love with the game. I was enthusiastic about it.
“I had some very good advice and I started eating more salads and more fruit. Every Monday I had no food, one day a week and I felt better.
“When I felt I was 100 per cent fit, I had every confidence in my ability. I couldn’t tell you how I beat a man, I had no idea. In my own mind I was cruel on the field to beat my opponent and if I did that I wanted to destroy his confidence. When a player has no confidence on the field, you’ve got every chance of doing whatever you want with him.”
Although he bowed out when back with Stoke City in 1965, Matthews still harboured regrets about making that decision as the years passed by.
“When I was 50 years of age I thought that was a good time to get out and retire but that was a mistake, I could have gone on another two years. I still had my pace and I had my stamina. I knew I could get quick off the mark, which was vital for me.”
A private man who was the son of a featherweight boxer, Matthews was one of the big influences on another Blackpool legend, Jimmy Armfield. The club’s 1953 success had a huge impact on the man who went on to make 627 appearances at Bloomfield Road.
“It was probably the day that changed my life, by then I’d edged into Blackpool’s reserve team but I was still undecided whether to go on to university or to take up football as a career,” Armfield reflected.
“Frankly, I was all promise at that time but Matthews and co nudged me into giving it just one shot. I’m glad he did, football has been my life ever since.
“I had the privilege of playing behind the great Stan Matthews for six seasons. He’s probably the most dedicated footballer of all time.”
As the inscription on his statue at the Britannia Stadium proudly states:
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.