"He told me that he used to play for just 20 pounds a week. Today he would be worth all the money in the Bank of England." —Gianfranco Zola
This is probably one of the many quotes about the one and only Sir Stanley Matthews. There are so many greats in the history of football, but today I wish to write about this right winger for so many reasons. I wonder whether my attempt in doing so will be good enough, as the list is endless.
In 1934, after Stan made his international debut for England against Wales, this was what was written about him in the Daily Mail: "I saw Matthews play just as moderately in the recent inter-League match, exhibiting the same slowness and hesitation. Perhaps he lacks the big match temperament."
Probably the reporter never foresaw what this man was going to achieve. His first professional club was Stoke City FC. He played for Stoke City from 1932 to 1947. His career, as was inevitable, was hampered by the Second World War. Still he managed to score 51 goals in 259 appearances.
A teetotaller and vegetarian, Matthews kept himself fit enough to still be playing at the top level at the age of 50, and finally retired in 1965.
A mark of Matthews' greatness was that his testimonial was played against a World XI boasting true greats like Ferenc Puskás, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Lev Yashin, and Josef Masopust.
At the end of the game, which Stoke won 6-4, Matthews was carried off the field on the shoulders of Yashin and Puskas. He played nearly 700 league games, was never booked, and after retiring was the first footballer to be knighted.
His next club was Blackpool. His transfer from Stoke City to Blackpool was monetarily £11,500 for a person at the age of 32.
Probably the most famous stint was that at the FA Cup final against Bolton Wanderers. Blackpool was lagging 3-1 when in 30 minutes, Stan's speed and dribbling saw Blackpool make an amazing turnaround. Stan Mortensen scored a hat-trick for Blackpool but the match was rightly termed as the Matthews Final. The final score was 4-3.
This man was running along the right side of teams even in his 60s. He was not a machine. He was the true embodiment of a football player. I seriously do not think we could have another player like him again.
Nowadays when I see players being transferred and exchanged around with big numbers attached, I wonder how many of them would match this great.
Yes, we do live in different times and Stanley did change teams too. I still cannot help looking on in awe at what this man has achieved. Even at the age of 50, he always claimed that he had retired "too early." Can anyone beat that?
There is probably a lot more that I can write about this great, but I suggest every football lover read about him instead. As I end this article I wish to quote from the dedication engraved below his statue outside Stoke City's Britannia Stadium:
"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."