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Sir Stanley Matthews, what’s the big deal?
by Joe Cuffaro

Sir Stanley Matthews
Why is Sir Stanley Matthews still loved so passionately by Stoke City fans ?

Sir Stanley Matthews is one of the biggest football names in the history of the game.

But why should young fans who never saw him play remember him?

Joe Cuffaro was not even born when the great man decided to bring his playing career to a close.

On the 10th anniversary of his death, Joe looks at the career of Sir Stanley from a young football fan's perspective and questions how important the man really was.

Joe's Journey

When Stan retired in 1965 it would still be another 24 years before I was even born. So, when somebody asks me about a legend of the English game, in my naivety I would usually start spouting names like Alan Shearer and Ian Wright.

Sir Stan died in 2000, aged 85, when I was just 11. I never really heard about him until I moved to Stoke a few years ago.

From the moment you arrive it's clear to see just how fondly he is remembered. He is immortalised by a statue outside Britannia Stadium that looks towards the site of the old Victoria Ground where he used to play. Another statue to him is in the centre of Hanley.
Some 10,000 people lined the streets in Stoke-on-Trent for his funeral.

Even after his passing, Sir Stan is still making firsts. In January of 2010, both he (and Stoke darts legend Phil "The Power" Taylor) were the first names to be inducted to the city's sporting hall of fame.

But I was amazed. Why would you care about a player who came from a completely different era? Isn't it time that Stoke fans looked forward, not back?

Wing wizard

So... what is so special about him? I had to make some researches.

If somebody asked me to name a 'wing wizard' I would probably come up with Ryan Giggs or Cristiano Ronaldo. But it turns out Sir Stan was the first, affectionately known as the Wizard Of Dribble, due to his unrivalled ability to burst down the flanks and the incredible swerve he had that sent opposing full-backs in all sorts of directions!

Stoke City manager Tony Pulis praises the legacy of Sir Stan

And, when asked: who in the history of English football is the best professional? I would have said without hesitation Gary Lineker. After all he was not booked in twelve years of football.

Yet... it turns out I would change my mind on this too. Sir Stan was never booked in a career which spanned almost 800 games, despite being hacked at by opponents.
It seems only fair therefore that he is often referred to as "the first gentleman of soccer".

In the modern day game there is controversy about cheating at every level. Just look at the recent uproar over French legend Thierry Henry and his handball incident against the Republic of Ireland in a World Cup qualifier last year. Stan would never have countenanced this.

Big achiever?

But what did he win?

Well, the answer is: nothing much, though many Stoke City fans believe that their team would have won the First Division in 1947, had Sir Stanley not been sold to Blackpool with just a few games remaining in the season.

Yes, he did win an FA Cup medal.
Even Potters fans would have cheered in 1953 when Stanley was instrumental in Blackpool's FA Cup final victory over Bolton Wanderers - but, remember, it his one medal of note (if you discount his medal when he was in the Stoke team that won the Second Division title in 1962).

Stanley Matthews attacking
Sir Stanley was never afraid to take a player on

Yet, it's strange - so many people still talk about that final!

When I think of great FA Cup final performances, the first thing to come to my mind is Liverpool's Michael Owen hitting the equaliser and then the late winner against Arsenal in 2001.

But even that contribution apparently did not compare to the final of '53 (which is dubbed the Matthews Cup Final) after Sir Stan made three assists, one of which set up the winning strike in injury time.

And the impressive accolades do not stop there. The European Footballer of the Year Award is one of the most prestigious awards in football today. 1956 was the first year the event was held - and Hanley born Sir Stanley was the first man who ever received the tribute. Top that Lionel Messi.

Potters love

But why should young fans of Stoke City remember a man so fondly if he left the Potters to go on to bigger and better things? One simple reason. He came back.

Sir Stan was amazingly loyal. He started his main career with Stoke City, and after his spell with Blackpool, he returned to his home-town club. Perhaps, in this era, of fast turnover of clubs, he would have won much more..

Matthews rejoined Stoke City in 1961, when they were near the bottom of the Second Division, when he was 46 years old.

Sir Stanley Matthews Statue Hanley
A statue of Sir Stanley was erected in 1987 in Hanley

The team was transformed with the return of Sir Stan and the following year they were promoted.

In 1965, he became the first professional footballer to be knighted, and the only one ever to be done so before he hung up his boots (though he did retire the same year).
Thus, he did not retire from professional football until he was aged 50. And I thought Teddy Sheringham retiring at 42 was impressive!

Squeaky Clean ?

Could such a loved man be really so perfect. Well, no one is perfect of course, but it is vey hard to find anyone who will say a word against him.

The one and only thing against him I could find was the recent story that came with records released under the Freedom of Information Act. These, which were a secret for 60 years, revealed that Matthews was formally charged with 'conduct to the prejudice of good order and Air Force discipline' during his time in the RAF in 1945.

The document claims he approached shopkeepers in Brussels with a suitcase full of contraband coffee and soap. But Matthews simply put his hand up and admitted: "I am guilty, I sold the coffee". He was cautioned.

The legend

So what's my conclusion?

Well, first, he was a man respected and admired by both fans and fellow professionals.

He had unquestionable talent and professionalism, a love for the game and for his home town. A love that has kept his memory warm in the hearts of both Potters fans, and fans of the game in general.

With this in mind I now think it is important that young people remember role models like Stanley Matthews, the man whom football icon Pele once famously referred to as 'the man who taught us the way football should be played'.

I can't imagine a much better role model for the young football fans of Stoke-on-Trent, can you?

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Sporting stars honoured by city
07 Jan 10 |  Staffordshire



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