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Sir Stanley Matthews 1915-2000: A Potteries hero; Stanley stayed loyal to his beloved quote quote quote quote quote.

Sir Stanley Matthews was the perfect sportsman. The man who, according to Brazilian legend Pele, taught us how football should be played.

The great Tommy Lawton saw Sir Stan as the greatest player who ever kicked a ball.

A globetrotting ambassador for the beautiful game, who lived out his final years, ever the fitness fanatic, near the terraced streets in his beloved Stoke-on-Trent where he first showed his legendary speed and ball control.

Sharing a stylish home with his Czech-born wife Mila, Stan had become the proud president of Stoke City - his first and last club - who marked 1997 with a move to a new pounds 16 million stadium beneath the shadow of the hills where Stan had made his home.

The comfort of his autumn years was in stark contrast to Stan's early life, the son of Jack Matthews - the Fighting Barber - a professional boxer who notched up 350 fights.

Like his brothers Jack and Arthur, young Stan was soon steered towards athletics and sprinting.

He made his first appearance at Stoke City's Victoria Ground in an August Bank Holiday Under-14 sprint handicap.

Nerves got the better of him the first time round and he sloped off home crying.

But the next year he was back, he won it, and continued to do so for four years' running.

From the age of six Stan did deep breathing exercises by the open window. And he never forgot his boyhood habit of daily exercise.

Indeed, in May 1997, when, at the age of 82, he was first admitted to hospital suffering from chest pains, Lady Mila Matthews explained that, even through a bout of flu and bronchitis he had not given up his daily run.

"Stan thinks he's still 50," she laughed, even though her husband was in hospital recovering from a heart attack.

Young Stan first showed soccer prowess kicking about on rough ground near the family home in Hanley.

Notable successes in local soccer saw him quickly make the England schoolboys side but, when he left school, he was briefly employed as a bricklayer.

Stoke manager Tom Mather had noted the precocious talent though and eventually persuaded the 14-year-old to join the club's office staff on pounds 1 a week.

As an apprentice, he was subservient to the senior pros, and was once thrown into the bath for failing to say "Good Morning."

On his 17th birthday, he signed professional forms, with wages of pounds 5 a week in the season, pounds 3 during the close season, a win bonus of pounds 1 and 10 shillings for a draw.

He made his professional debut for Stoke in a 2-1 win at Bury on March 19 1932, making his home debut against Barnsley, who were beaten 2-0.

He married Betty Valance, daughter of Stoke trainer Jimmy, in 1934, scored 15 goals in the 1934-35 season and earned his first England cap - starting an international career spanning 23 years at the tender age of just 19.

In 1938, the Potteries were rocked by a transfer request from the man who was already a world class international.

Stan was in dispute with his club over a pay rise, and had asked for a move.

Thousands packed the King's Hall, a stone's throw from the Victoria Ground, to launch the 'Matthews Must Not Go' campaign.

The directors were urged to resolve the matter and successful negotiations were duly completed.

Stan remained a Stoke player. His first overseas international took place in Nazi Germany, in Berlin, causing massive controversy in Britain when the English squad were ordered to give the infamous Nazi salute.

Stan wore the blue uniform of the RAF and was posted to Blackpool, training on the beach and guesting for local club sides.

His father died in 1945, and Stan tasted a second tragedy a year later when, playing for Stoke in front of a crowd of over 70,000 in an FA Cup quarter final at Bolton's Burnden Park, 33 spectators were killed in a crush.

He was so upset he was unable to train after the disaster.

With typical generosity, he gave two weeks' wages to the disaster fund and, with typical modesty, he kept quiet about his donation.

The inevitable happened when, at the age of 32, Stan left the Potteries, signing for Blackpool for the bargain fee of pounds 11,500.

Mere runners-up medals came in FA Cup Final appearances against Manchester United and Newcastle, but he finally struck gold in 1953 - the game that became known as The Matthews Final - when Blackpool triumphantly beat Bolton Wanderers 4-3, with the Wizard of the Dribble in mesmerising form.

Modesty prevailed, and Stan insisted the real honours for the game should have gone to his old friend and colleague, and that day's hat-trick hero, Stan Mortensen.

In 1956 the legend - still an England regular after 20 years in the national squad - was named European Footballer of the Year and featured on This is Your Life.

And it was a proud day for Stan and Betty, their children Stan junior and Jean when he received his CBE at Buckingham Palace.

In 1961, Stan was regarded to be in the twilight of his career when he joined Canadian team Toronto as a guest player but, at the age of 46, he was invited to rejoin Stoke City 14 years after he had left the club for Blackpool.

This time it was Stoke who had the bargain - the fee was just pounds 3,000.

Stan's return to the Potteries transformed Stoke and, in 1963, he scored the goal against Luton Town which clinched promotion to the First Division.

He also became the oldest player to score in a Football League game.

Then, on February 6 1965, he broke the great Billy Meredith's 1924 record by becoming the oldest player ever chosen to play in a first class soccer match - he was five days past his 50th birthday.

Seventeen days later he became soccer's first player-knight when he went to Buckingham Palace to receive the knighthood announced in the New Year's Honours List.

Stan's career was capped with a farewell appearance in front of a packed Victoria Ground and an estimated worldwide TV audience of 100 million.

The maestro was visibly moved, as his squad, including Jimmy Armfield, Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Charlton, Roger Hunt and Denis Law took on an International XI including Russian keeper Lev Yashin and legend Ferenc Puskas.

Charlie Chester organised the entertainment, and there was not a dry eye in the house as a pipe band played Auld Lang Syne, and Stan Matthews was carried from the pitch on the shoulders of Yashin and Puskas.

After 33 years in top class soccer, 50-year-old Stan hung up his boots, although he was fit enough to have played on for another few years.

He turned his attention to management at his first love Port Vale, but the job ended in shame when Stan, famous for his honesty and integrity, was in the hot seat over irregularities in payments to young players and win bonuses to first teamers, and felt the full might of the football authorities for what would now be seen as trivia.

His marriage to Betty ended, but love blossomed when, during a visit to Prague he met Mila, a Cultural Assistant at the American Embassy and his interpreter.

They fell in love and escaped the advance of Russian forces in 1968.

He married Mila in South Africa, his adopted home where he is still hugely admired, and even had his own team, Sir Stan's Men.

Stan also had a great affinity with Canada, and divided his time between there and South Africa.

But, not for the first time, he felt the pull of his roots, and returned to the Potteries, and a house almost overlooking the Victoria Ground.

At the age of 60, he was still playing football, and enjoying the game running rings round opponents for a Post Office side in Malta.

His fitness into his seventies and eighties was an inspiration to many, especially those living near him who witnessed his early morning runs.

He never smoked and, for years, was a vegetarian, fasting one day a week.

Ironically, the heart that beat so strong for so many years and the fitness that became legend gave way when he suffered a heart attack in May 1997.

The wishes and flowers that poured into the North Staffordshire Hospital when he was first admitted showed that the world of soccer still remembered its favourite son.

Since then, he continued to enjoy his football, drawing queues of autograph hunters every time he watched a game at Stoke.

His wife Mila died last year, but Stan continued to be revered by the football public.

Fans all over the country - whatever their team - loved the man who typified the beautiful game.

The grief and tributes that have followed his death are more proof, if proof were needed, that he will never be forgotten.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 24, 2000
Words:1492
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