All Seasiders will have heard of the legendary Stan Mortensen, hat-trick hero of the 1953 ‘Matthews Final’. What many may not be aware of is his war-time journey to stardom at Bloomfield Road.
The outbreak of war in September 1939 had led to conscription from the very beginning of hostilities, so regular organised football came to a standstill, with players scattered across the armed forces.
All professional playing contracts were cancelled, so clubs were left to find players who were available to play for them. As a result, players who were household names elsewhere would soon be plying their trade at clubs near to where they were stationed, and Mortensen was no exception. Long before he found fame with the Tangerines, his first experience of football at a professional club was in the north east of Scotland, at Aberdeen.
Mortensen had left his Tyneside roots in 1937 at the age of 16 to sign as an apprentice at Bloomfield Road, where he found difficulty in breaking through to the first-team. Only months before the outbreak of war, Tangerines boss Joe Smith had given him a one-year contract, telling him in no uncertain terms that he was lucky to have been offered that.
He joined the Royal Air Force as a wireless operator and gunner on bombing missions and was stationed at RAF Lossiemouth. He was very lucky to escape death on one occasion after the Wellington bomber he was in had crashed, killing two crew members.
After recuperating, he was able to resume his football, and made his Aberdeen debut on 13 February 1943.
The inability of clubs to know for certain whether players might be available for them led to some being listed as trialists, so it was interesting that on the morning of the game, the Aberdeen Press & Journal reported that: “A brilliant young English inside forward will play for the Dons against Dundee United at Pittodrie today. He will definitely appear under the name of Newman at inside right. He will be a decided acquisition to the Dons, for whom Harvey of Bradford City may also be available.”
If that didn’t whet the appetite at the Saturday breakfast table, nothing could. As it was, he scored the second in a 3-0 win in front of a 6,000 crowd at Pittodrie. The report carried in the following Monday’s Press & Journal opened with the headline ‘Mortensen a Star at Pittodrie’, reporting that: “Aberdeen have been fortunate to secure the services of this ‘flier’ who ranks among the best of the guest players who have donned Aberdeen’s colours. He is a natural footballer. His ball control is magnificent, but his greatest asset is the speed with which he gets off the mark with the ball at his foot.”
In all, Mortensen made nine appearances for Aberdeen, scoring ten goals in the 1942/43 season, including a starring role in a challenge match against an Army XI, which was essentially an England international side in disguise. From a half-time deficit of 4-1, Mortensen added to his first half strike with three more goals in a match which saw the visiting all-stars side win by 5-4.
Mortensen began the 1943/44 season at Pittodrie, scoring three in two games, his final appearance coming at Tynecastle with both goals in a 2-2 draw with Hearts on 3 September. His prowess in front of goal had led to regular call-ups for the RAF XI, and with a posting back in England, his brief, but remarkable time at Aberdeen was at an end. As well as playing for the RAF, he guested for Arsenal 25 times before the end of the war, at which time he was able to return to Blackpool.
Though he had played for England in wartime internationals, his full England debut came in May 1947 in blistering style, scoring four in a 10-0 rout of Portugal in Lisbon. His record for England was extraordinary, with 23 goals in only 25 appearances, the last of which was in the famous 6-3 defeat by the visiting Hungarians at Wembley in November 1953.
Aged 32, and with knee troubles curtailing his playing time, he signed for Second Division Hull City in 1955, scoring almost a goal every other game over two seasons, before dropping further down the league to sign for Southport for one season, and ending his playing career at Lancaster City at the age of 41.
After he retired from playing, he ran a sports shop in the town, and was appointed Blackpool manager in 1967 after the club had been relegated to the Second Division. He took his side north to Pittodrie in August 1968 for a pre-season friendly but was unable to return the Tangerines to their former glories, losing his job in 1969.
Mortensen died in May 1991, just days before his 70th birthday. His legacy in a Blackpool shirt is such that a statue of him was unveiled at Bloomfield Road in 2005 and he was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2006. He remains to this day the only player to score a hat-trick in an FA Cup final at Wembley, and his record of scoring in 11 consecutive top-flight matches remains unbeaten, matched only in 2015/16 by Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy.