Stanley Matthews was, for well over two decades, the most revered footballer in the world. He played for England over a longer period than any other player before or since, the last of his 54 caps being won in 1957 at the age of 42. He was the game’s first global superstar. The first Footballer of the Year in 1948, the first European Footballer of the Year in 1956 and, in 1965, the first footballer to be knighted.
He started with Stoke and moved to Blackpool for much of his career. His ability to control the ball was combined with a sudden acceleration. Many can still visualise the film of the 1953 FA Cup final. With the scores level 3-3 in the final minutes, Matthews went past his defender and crossed back from the by-line for Bill Perry to strike home the winning goal. A nation cheered as Matthews, aged 38 and in his third final, won his first FA Cup winner’s medal.
The second coming at Stoke came in 1961 when, aged 46, Matthews rejoined his former club. The following season, Stoke City won the second division title and Matthews was voted Footballer of the Year for the second time. He played his last match shortly after his 50th birthday.
An imaginative larger than life-size three-figure statue stands at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium. Crafted by three local sculptors working in collaboration, it shows Matthews at three different stages of his career. The first is a teenage Stanley wearing the baggy shorts typical of football in the 1930s; the second reveals the number 7 at the peak of his career in the 1950s; and the third as a 50 year old. The sculpture conveys the longevity of his career and a real sense of movement, with Matthews twisting and controlling the ball with magneticism, grace and balance.