Stanley Matthews.

Blackpool’s Captain Harry Johnson and Stanly Matthews hold the FA Cup aloft.

Port Vale v Stockport County.   Autumn 1965.

It was a cold blustery autumn day in the Potteries, and we were playing away at Port Vale FC.   As we vacated the changing room, chorusing our usual shouts of encouragement and bravado, and set ourselves to enter the tunnel, leading to the playing pitch; there he stood, right in front of me.   Stanley Matthews – the greatest English footballer of his era and, some would argue, any other period in football history.   Matthews had recently retired from playing, and Port Vale was his first stint at football club management.   As I filed past him and out onto the pitch, with the parochial home fans bellowing the usual abuse and catcalls, my mind regressed back in time to my childhood…

West Yorkshire; May 1953.

The occasion which this encounter with Matthews had sparked off in my mind, was the 1953 FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium.   This was to be an historic occasion as it was to be the first English FA Cup Final ever to be broadcast live on television.  To add to the importance of the event, it was considered by many, as the last chance for the aging ‘wizard of the dribble’; Stanley Matthews, to win the cherished FA Cup winners medal which had eluded him throughout his long and distinguished career.

This contest, between Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers, had generated unprecedented attention throughout the country, and had attracted significance even outside the confines of the football public.   It seemed as if the eyes of the world would be cast on Wembley Stadium on that first Saturday in May.

A major problem faced our family of seven (my youngest sister Carol had not yet arrived on the scene) if we were to witness this auspicious occasion.   Luxuries such as a television set stood low on the list of priorities in our family; feeding and clothing our household from our father’s meagre seven pounds weekly wage packet took precedence, with little left over for other indulgencies.

Anne, Tom, Linda, Grace and me, during the early nineteen fifties.

However, a solution to the problem was sought, and quickly found.   Uncle Jack and Auntie Phyllis lived about four miles away at Cross Hills, and they were of the very few households at that time who owned a TV set.   Without too much fuss and protocol, it was quickly arranged for our tribe to invade their small terraced house, in order to witness this crucial match.

Affording the bus fare from Silsden to Cross Hills, for two adults and five children, was out of the question, therefore, on a gloriously sunny, cloudless spring morning our whole family, with the pram in tow, set off by foot.   We scaled the steep narrow winding Skipton road, took the turning at Kildwick, crossed the Aire Valley and arrived at Cross Hills with one thing on our minds; the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium.

Skipton Rd, Silsden.

Having arrived at my Auntie and Uncle’s neat dwelling place, and with their tiny living room packed to its capacity with interested onlookers, I positioned myself on the floor, about two metres from the fifteen inch black and white screened television, to witness a game later described as an “all-time classic.”

If Agatha Christie had written the script she could not have got the plot more ‘spot-on’.   For me, my eyes fixated on the small screen, the outside world ceased to exist as the ninety minute drama played out at Wembley Stadium.   The game ebbed and flowed, reminiscent of the tide on Blackpool’s sandy beach, culminating with those ‘villains’ from Bolton Wanderers taking, what appeared, an unassailable lead of 3 – 1, with only twenty minutes remaining in the game.

It was then that the maestro (Stanley Matthews) took the game by the ‘scruff of the neck,’ and displayed his magic for all to see.   Time and again he carved the Bolton defence to ribbons with his jinking body swerves and stunning acceleration, before delivering inch perfect crosses into the penalty area and, as a consequence, evened Bolton’s advantage to a 3 – 3 score-line.

But by now Stanley Matthews’ and Blackpool’s biggest enemy was not their Bolton opponents, but the clock; which had ticked by leaving only a few minutes of injury time left to be played.

One last attack down Matthews’ flank left him with only his fullback to elude; with a feint of his body, and a shuffle of his feet, he found the space to cross the ball into the path of his opposite winger (Bill Perry) who made no mistake in dispatching the ball into the back of the Bolton Wanderers net.   4 – 3, Blackpool had won!

Words such as euphoria and delirium could not do justice to the reaction in my Aunt and Uncle’s packed living room, as the roar of delight blended with the sounds and scenes being transmitted from Wembley after the final whistle had sounded to confirm Blackpool’s victory.

Within minutes the Blackpool players were hurried up the famous steps to the Royal Box, where the young, soon to be officially crowned Queen Elizabeth, presented the FA Cup to Blackpool’s captain, Harry Johnston.   However, the most rapturous applause greeted Stanley Matthews as he modestly strode up the Wembley stairs to receive his, well deserved,  FA Cup winners medal.

The television commentator, Kenneth Wolstenholme, (prematurely) remarked on the fitting conclusion to Stanley Matthews’ glorious football career.   He was so wrong; Matthews would go on to grace English football stadiums for a further ten years, or more, before retiring from playing, on reaching his fifties…

Stanley Matthews.

Autumn 1965.   Port Vale v Stockport County.

The game against a Mathews inspired Port Vale has all but diminished from my memory, except for the fact that we sustained an inglorious defeat.

Footnote 1:  In later years Stanley Mathews was honoured with a knighthood for his services to football.

Footnote 2:  I met the ‘great man’ on two occasions, once during my stint with Toronto Italia (Canada) during a summer sojourn in the Eastern Professional Soccer league in Canada.   At the time Mathews was making several guest appearances in the Ontario region.   The second occasion was the inglorious defeat at Port Vale during my Stockport County days, as recounted above.