Welcome to Last Word on Footballs ‘Returning Players’ Series. In this edition, we take a look at winger, or outside forward as he was known at the time, Sir Stanley Matthews.
Matthews came through the youth setup at Stoke City and was on the books from 1932 until 1947. He made a switch to Blackpool, where he spent 14 years, before returning to his hometown club.
He famously played the beautiful game until he was 50-years-old and won the FA Cup with Blackpool in 1953. Matthews also won the inaugural Ballon d’Or in 1956 and ended his career at Stoke having scored 62 goals in 355 appearances for the Potters.
Returning Players – Sir Stanley Matthews
First Spell at Stoke for Stanley Matthews
Born in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Stanley Matthews came through the academy at his hometown club, Stoke City. He attracted interest from several clubs, including Wolverhampton Wanderers, Birmingham City, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion, but he signed his first professional contract with the Potters.
Having already made over 20 appearances for the youth team, Matthews made his first-team debut in a 1-0 win over Bury at Gigg Lane. He turned out 15 times the following season and won a winners medal as Stoke were crowned Second Division champions.
In the First Division, Matthews made 29 appearances. Stoke ended the season 12th and Matthews was called up to an England squad shortly after.
By now, the outside forward had become famous for his trickery and dribbling skills. Stoke finished fourth in 1935/36 and Matthews made 45 appearances. He turned out 42 times the following season and played in Stoke’s club record 10-3 win over West Brom.
However, at the end of that season, Matthews was only paid £500 of what he believed should have been £650 of a loyalty bonus. He handed in a transfer request, which was rejected, before returning his focus on matters on the pitch.
From the age of 24 to 30, the Second World War halted football in England. He did, however, join the Royal Air Force and was based just outside Blackpool. He made 69 Wartime League and Cup appearances for Stoke and even turned out 87 times for Blackpool. He played 29 times for England during the six years but wasn’t awarded any caps as they were classed as unofficial games.
Football returned after the war and Matthews continued to showcase his brilliance. He played 23 league games in 1946/47 and laid on 30 of the Potters’ 41 goals. Stoke finished fourth but ended the season just two points behind winners Liverpool.
Despite his return, Matthews handed in a second transfer request, something Stoke reluctantly accepted. He turned out 289 times for the Potters in his first spell, scoring 57 times.
Teams That Matthews Played for in Between
Matthews only played for one other team before his return to Stoke in 1961. He joined Blackpool, where he still lived following his RAF duties, in a move worth £11,500. The 32-year-old would spend the next 14 years of his career at Bloomfield Road.
In his first season, Matthews helped the Seasiders finish ninth in the league and reach the 1948 FA Cup final. Blackpool lost the final 4-2 against Sir Matt Busby’s Manchester United.
Matthews became a fixture in the Blackpool side with only injuries keeping him sidelined. He also played a part as the Seasiders reached another FA Cup final, only to lose to Newcastle United in the 1951 final.
Injuries also had an impact during the 1951/52 season, limiting him to just 19 appearances. Despite missing a further three months with a muscle injury the following season, Matthews made it third time lucky as Blackpool secured the FA Cup. At 37-years-old, Matthews produced a breathtaking performance. Although Stan Mortensen scored a hat trick, Matthews turned the game on its head, with Blackpool coming from 3-1 down with little over 30 minutes remaining to win 4-3 in what was later known as the ‘Matthews Final.’
A sixth-place finish followed the following season before he made 35 appearances in 1954/55. The following season, at 40-years-old, Matthews and Blackpool ended the First Division in second place. At the end of the campaign, Matthews was named the winner of the inaugural European Footballer of the Year award, having narrowly defeated Alfredo Di Stéfano.
1956/57 brought further injuries. He was limited to just 25 league appearances but he netted his 18th and final Blackpool goal in a 4-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur.
A change of manager limited the veteran’s playing time. 34 appearance over his next two seasons was signalling the end of his time at Bloomfield Road.
Matthews then spent time on loan at Toronto City. He made 20 appearances over two short spells before returning to Blackpool. Upon his return, he made his 440th and final appearance in a 3-0 defeat away to Arsenal.
Return to Stoke
He returned to the Victoria Ground but was playing Second Division football for the first time in 28 years. He made his second debut against Huddersfield Town and set up one goal in a 3-0 win. He scored three times from 21 outings in his first season back with the Potters.
The following season, Matthews scored his only goal of the campaign on the final day as Stoke beat Luton Town 2-0 to gain promotion back to the First Division. Matthews, who was now 48, was voted FWA Footballer of the Year for the second time in his career, 15 years after he was made the inaugural winner of the award.
Injury limited his appearances the following season, including the 1964 League Cup final defeat to Leicester City. The following season, as he entered his 50s, was to be his last. He became the only ever player to be knighted for services to the game whilst still playing. He made just one appearance that season, featuring mainly for the reserve team. It came in a 3-1 win over Fulham, just a few days after his 50th birthday. He ended his second spell at Stoke with five goals from 66 appearances, taking his tally to 62 goals in 355 appearances.