On what would have been his 100th birthday, UEFA.com looks back on the life of England winger Stanley Matthews, recipient of the first European Footballer of the Year award.
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Praise does not come much higher. That Pelé said Sir Stanley Matthews "taught us the way football should be played" speaks volumes for the impact the former England international had on the game and, more specifically, the role of the winger.
What Matthews, born on this day 100 years ago, could do with a ball at his feet is perhaps best summed up by such sobriquets as 'The Wizard of Dribble' and 'The Magician'. In his 2006 book The Football Man, Arthur Hopcraft writes: "Matthews did not invent dribbling with a football; he raised it to its highest degree."
In a career spanning three decades and comprising two stints at Stoke City FC, one with Blackpool FC and 11 goals in 54 outings for his country, Matthews dazzled crowds the length and breadth of England. He made his last competitive appearance five days after his 50th birthday and featured at the 1950 and 1954 FIFA World Cups, but one performance stands out above all others: his display in the 1953 FA Cup final.
With Blackpool trailing Bolton Wanderers FC 3-1 in front of a 100,000-strong crowd at Wembley, Matthews was the catalyst for a stunning fightback, setting up two goals as the west Lancashire team recovered to win 4-3. Though Stan Mortensen scored the only FA Cup final hat-trick to date, it was the Tangerines' right-winger, still turning it on at the tender age of 38, who was feted as the game changer. The match did not become known as the 'Matthews final' for nothing.
If his exploits that day captured the imagination of the nation – millions were watching on television having acquired sets ahead of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II the following month – Matthews received wider acclaim in 1956 when he was the recipient of the inaugural European Footballer of the Year award. One of four brothers and the son of a barber and former featherweight boxer, Matthews had started out 21 years earlier with local club Stoke.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live in 1995, Sir Stan said: "I used to love getting a little ball and playing with it. I even used to go to the butcher's shop and get a pig's bladder, blow it up and play with that. Many a time I played at night when it was dark using a lamppost with the light on. I used to enjoy it."
Such dedication to honing his technique – together with a guiding hand from his father, Jack – paved the way for Matthews to embark on a long association with Stoke. He turned out for the Staffordshire side from 1932–47 and 1961–65, winning a Second Division title in each spell, and for Blackpool in between.
His longevity owed much to his devotion to training and a strict diet – he did not smoke or consume alcohol and drank carrot juice every day. On 15 May 1957, aged 42 and 103 days, Matthews became the oldest person to play for England when he helped the Three Lions to a 4-1 triumph over Denmark in Copenhagen.
"I wanted to play as long as I could because I was in love with the game and enthusiastic about it," he said in an interview with the Football Association (FA). "I had some very good advice and started to eat more salads and fruit, and every Monday I had no food. Just one day, on a Monday, but I felt better."
A month before his final league match, for Stoke against Fulham FC on 6 February 1965, he was knighted by the Queen for services to the sport. Having retired, Sir Stan, who was never booked or sent off, was granted a testimonial by the Potters later that year, his Football League selection tackling an International XI containing such luminaries as Lev Yashin, Raymond Kopa, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskás and Eusébio.
Matthews had a brief dalliance with management, at Stoke's local rivals Port Vale FC in 1967. He spent much of his retirement coaching abroad, however, particularly in apartheid-era South Africa, where he first travelled in 1955 and regularly returned over the next quarter of a century. In 1975, Sir Stan arranged for a team of young black players known as 'Stan's Men' from the Johannesburg township of Soweto to tour Brazil and meet Pelé.
Sir Stan died on 23 February 2000, aged 85. Around 100,000 people lined the streets of Stoke to pay their respects as his funeral cortege passed by. His ashes are buried beneath the centre circle at the Stoke Stadium, which he had opened in August 1997. "For over 80 years football has been an intrinsic part of my life," he wrote in his autobiography The Way It Was. "I have loved it dearly." The people of Stoke, and beyond, would say the same about him.