118. Stanley Matthews
Stanley Matthews was born in Stoke-on-Trent and was the third of four sons. His father, Jack Matthews, was a renowned local boxer who fostered a sense of discipline, determination and sportsmanship that would serve his son well during his long career. A natural right winger, he showed early promise and played for England schoolboys against Wales. He signed professional terms with Stoke City F.C. in 1932. His international debut came in 1934, scoring for the England side which beat Wales 4-0. Matthews scored a hat-trick for 10-man England in a game against Czechoslovakia in 1937.
In 1938, Matthews asked for a transfer, causing a public outcry in Stoke. The war interrupted his career, during which time he served in the Royal Air Force. After the war, he fell out with Stoke and transferred to join Blackpool F.C. in 1947, with whom he won the inaugural Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award in 1948. His link-up with Stan Mortensen was very profitable, and Matthews won an FA Cup winners medal in 1953 – a match dubbed the ‘Matthews Final’ where, despite Mortensen’s hat-trick, his outstanding dribbling in the last 30 minutes of the match when Blackpool were 3-1 down more than contributed to him finally earning the medal which had eluded him in the finals of 1948 and 1951. In 1950, Matthews only played in one World Cup game (a 1-0 defeat against Spain).
In total, Matthews made 54 official England appearances scoring 11 goals (as well as 29 unofficial wartime appearances with 2 goals). He played his final England game in 1957; he remains the oldest player to have played in an England shirt. His England career is the longest of any player ever to play for the side, stretching from his debut on September 29, 1934 to his last appearance on May 15, 1957, almost 23 years later.
At the Football World Cup 1954 in Switzerland, England found themselves struggling, so Matthews promptly switched to inside-forward, galvanized the team, and helped it to a 4-4 draw. Matthews traveled to various parts of the globe to take part in exhibition matches and he was famous world-wide. For example, he attracted a large crowd at Hartleyvale in Cape Town when he appeared there in about 1956. In 1956, Matthews won the first ever European Footballer of the Year award.
In 1961 (aged 46) he rejoined his hometown club Stoke City. The following season, Stoke City won the English Second Division Championship and he was voted Footballer of the Year for the second time in his career. He remained with Stoke City until the end of his playing career, appearing in his final game on February 6, 1965, just after his 50th birthday, when he played for the first time in 12 months due to a knee injury, setting up the equaliser for his team. In 1965, he became the first football player to be knighted for services to sport. He received a FIFA Gold Merit Order in 1992.
After playing 698 games in the Football League, Matthews managed Port Vale F.C. (1965-1968). After this he moved to Malta, where he coached Hibernians, also playing for them until he was 55. He played for numerous local sides, meaning that he was still running down the wing in his 60s. He also coached “Stan’s Men” in Soweto, South Africa, and in Canada. He even played in a charity match at Grangemouth as late as 1981.
During his illustrious career he gained respect, not only as a great player, but also as a gentleman. This is exemplified by the fact that despite playing in over seven hundred league games, he was never booked. Matthews was made an Inaugural Inductee of the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002 in recognition of his outstanding talents.