Stanley Matthews played his last game for England at the almost unbelievable age of forty-four.
He was born on 1st February 1915, has the record for the longest serving England career at twenty-three years and remains the oldest man to ever play for England. Let’s face it; it is completely unlikely that this record will ever be beaten. He didn’t retire from football altogether at this time though and he continued playing at the very highest level in the English First Division with Stoke City until he was fifty years old when he finally retired in 1964.
To find a player in the mould of Sir Stanley is almost impossible nowadays. With all the press and media hype that surrounds today’s celebrity players such as David Beckham and Wayne Rooney, Matthews was the first real football celebrity. Unlike many other players, he was able to maintain his professionalism at all times and lived only to play the game. Matthews at the time was only earning £20 per week in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of pounds nowadays.
I can actually remember seeing Stanley Matthews myself because from about the age of seven years old dad started to take me to Filbert Street to watch his beloved Leicester City. I can recall quite clearly going to the matches because this always involved a long walk of about three miles there and three miles back. Very close to my grandparents house there was a bus stop with a direct service into the city with a bus stop close to the ground but dad rather cunningly always started out for the match at a time certain not to coincide with the bus timetable. I never caught on to this little trick of course and he had a very brisk walking pace that required me to run along side him just to keep up as he strode out ahead. Dad just didn’t like paying bus fares and considered them to be an unnecessary item of expenditure.
Football grounds were totally different to the all seater stadiums that we are used to now and were predominantly standing affairs. I was only a little lad so it was important to go early to get a good spot on the wall just behind and slightly to the left the goal. This required an early arrival and although matches didn’t start until three o’clock dad used to get us there for the opening of the gates at about one. This must have required great patience on his part because two hours is a long time to wait for a football match to start standing on cold concrete terracing and I really didn’t appreciate at the time that all of this was done just for me.
In the 1960s of course it was common to have pre-match entertainment when local marching bands would give a thirty minute medley of tunes up until kick off time so at least there was something to watch.
Footballers like Matthews were completely different from the prima donnas of the modern game; they got stuck in and played like men with a big heavy leather football, shirts that became waterlogged and uncomfortable in the rain and the mud and boots that would have been more appropriate for wearing down a coal mine. What’s more it wasn’t unusual to watch the same eleven men play week after week because they just shrugged off the knocks that put modern players out for weeks. An injury had to be almost life threatening to stop somebody playing in those days. And if you don’t believe me, the 1956 FA Cup final, in which Manchester City beat Birmingham City 3-1, is famously remembered for Manchester goalkeeper Bert Trautmann continuing to play on for the final fifteen minutes of the match after unknowingly breaking his neck!