The Wizard of Dribble
There’s been a wee gap but like a good midfielder I’ll play a ball right through it and the intended receiver is Sir Stanley Matthews, RIP. But Sir Stanley will no longer control a through ball on earth and the news of his passing onto the Great Soccer Field in the sky has been greeted with a genuine sense of loss, even at the “acceptable” age of 85 years.
The man insinuated immortality on the playing fields and although I never got to see him “live”, he had become a “living” legend before the phrase was popularized. He was the first footballer to be knighted for his services to soccer, and was actually still playing top class football at the time, incredibly at the ripe young age of 50. He was later to say that he quit the pros too soon and went on to thrill spectators and torment defenders for the love of the game into his seventies.
Many tributes greater than mine have been eloquently placed in evidence, but I chose deliberately to allow some short passing of time before committing pen to paper in order to somehow acknowledge in my own mind a respect for a man I never met and yet learned so much from.
His career reads like a Ripley’s Believe it or Not text and will never be remotely close to being replicated. As much as I would like to think it’s possible, can anyone seriously suggest that current world number one footballer Rivaldo has thirty seasons left at the top? That would be a hundred years after Sir Stan was cleaning boots and sweeping the Stoke City dressing rooms.
Now I’m not picking on Rivaldo, because I agree with his number one ranking and I admire him greatly for his composure in what are obviously even more stress-filled cauldrons today, but I cannot see him playing international soccer at age 42, and European Footballer of the Year to boot, English Footballer of the Year at age 48, or scoring an FA Cup goal at 49, and still playing at 50.
Imagine scoring a hat trick in the FA Cup final at Wembley, but the occasion not really being remembered for your achievement. Fact stranger than fiction, did I hear you say? But that’s exactly what happened another Stan almost fifty years ago.
Stan Mortensen’s name appears three times on the score sheet for Blackpool in the 1953 Cup final but the game has forever been known as the “Matthews Final,” truly epitomizing the crowning glory of the beautiful game. Two goals down with twenty minutes remaining, Matthews refused to accept defeat and carved out the last two goals of Mortensen’s hat trick, and then set up the winner with twenty seconds to go in the game. The stuff that dreams are made of. For my younger readers, remember that it ain’t over ‘till it’s over.
See you soon.