Here I am on Stanley Matthews Way at Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium, drawn here by Sir Stanley Matthews the legendary English footballer and one of the greatest players of the game. He is the only player to be knighted while still playing the game.
I drove up Stanley Matthews Way (not many people get a carriageway named after them.) There’s a statue of Stanley in the local town and I thought the one here outside stadium was him too however it’s the footballer Gordon Banks. I got a couple of horns beeped at me as I positioned my camera at a steep angle on its tripod and took a photo of me next to Gordon (trust a bus full of people to stop as I was doing it.)
But I was here for Stanley Matthews. His magic feet and long-term lavish successes are too much for me to go into here but he spent 19 years with Stoke City from 1932 to 1947 them later on from 1961 to 1965. He was so fit (barely any meat and no beer) he was still playing top level football at 50 years old. He was also the oldest player ever to play in England's top football division and the oldest player ever to represent the country. His last competitive game was in 1985 when he was 70 years young.
Stoke was in the blood. He wasn’t born far from the ground in a terraced house in Seymour Street, Hanley (the third of four sons.) His dad was a boxer and wanted him to follow him but Stanley decided at the age of 13 that he wanted to be a footballer. Following a training session that was so tough her son vomited his mum said their son should be able to follow his ambitions. His dad almost relented saying that if Stanley was chosen to play for England Schoolboys then he could continue his football career. This happened and in 1929 he played for England Schoolboys at 14. He was on his way.
Please look him up to find out more information. As football mean’s little to me I’m more interested in the person than the wizardry ways of his feet. As a footballer and coach he led an exemplary life but as a husband he wasn’t a paragon of perfection. Aged 19 he married Betty Vallance (who he’d met on his 15th birthday when starting work as office boy) and they produced two children who produced grandchildren. The marriage and family life looked to be built on concrete foundations but when Stanley was 52 and touring Czechoslovakia with Port Vale he met Mila the 40-year-old interpreter for the trip. His heart was turned and the marriage and family was shattered. He divorced Betty then married Mila. It was profound love and when Mila died aged 71 Stanley was a greatly reduced man and died within months. He fell ill while on holiday in Tenerife in February 2000 and died aged 85.
He was a legend to the folk of Stoke and when the funeral cortege snaked through 12 miles of Stoke-on-Trent over 100,000 people came out on the streets. Shops closed temporarily, workers downed tools and children stood motionless as the man who’d sprinkled a bit of gold dust over working-class lives passed through the city once last time. What a send-off. Pelé said Stanley was "the man who taught us the way football should be played." Not many folk have statues made of them or are known around the world or get knighted so young.
His ashes were buried beneath the centre circle at Stoke City's Britannia Stadium. I got on my tiptoes while stood by the Gordon Banks statue and could see a bit of the pitch but not the centre circle.
In February 2010 the boots Stanley wore in the 1953 FA Cup Final were sold at auction for £38,400.