A few days ago I went to a pre-season friendly at Vale Park, Burslem, home of The Valiants, Port Vale F.C. and one of the few Football League stadiums I had never visited before. Manchester United were the visitors, with a very young team, aged about 19 years, who lost 3 quick goals before coming back to lose 2-3.
In the bad old days Port Vale had a record crowd of 50,000 mostly standing in poor conditions, and I remember as a kid that they wanted a 100,000 capacity stadium, with only 15,000 seats and to hold the F.A. Cup Final and other big games. Thankfully it was not to be. Now it's an all seater stadium and the 7,000 attendance was probably half its capacity. A giant new main stand is almost completed. Burslem is one of 6 old towns in STOKE ON TRENT and a long way from the center of things. It took me 2 buses to get from Stoke station, not far from the more successful team in the area ,Stoke City F.C.
My favourite player OF ALL TIME Sir Stanley Matthews was the 3rd of 4 sons of Jack Matthews The fighting Barber of Hanley and signed pro for £10.00, for Stoke City in 1934 and after 13 years and 2 major demonstrations became the 'best buy' of all time, transferring for £11,500 to Blackpool F.C. in 1947,after starring for Great Britain vs Europe in front of 147,000 fans at Hampden Park Glasgow.
The WIZARD OF DRIBBLE only played 54 full international matches for England, plus 29 wartime internationals, restricted because of the War Years 1939-45, and the fewer number of international matches played in that era . His last match was in Copenhagen against Denmark in 1954. I have the official programme of that last international, and one day I asked him to sign it for me and he went through the line-up and described the match as if it was yesterday. He invited me for a cup of tea and we talked for an hour or so about 'the good old days' although he was only earning £14 a week in the '50's, the same as young players(and £10 in the summer).Yesterday England captain John Terry signed a new contract with Chelsea F.C. for a 'basic' £130,000 a week.!!! He played in the 1950 and 1954 World Cups in Brazil and Switzerland, and took Blackpool to 3 F.A. Cup Finals in 1948, 1951 and in 1953 nicknamed The MATTHEWS FINAL when the team came from 3-1 behind and with the help of a Stan Mortensen hat-trick and Matthews' famous pass to Bill Perry for the winner in a 4-3 triumph. He was carried shoulder high alongside captain Harry Johnston with the F.A. Cup around Wembley Stadium.
In 1961 at the age of 47 he was persuaded to return to Stoke City and the attendance jumped 5 fold and he finally retired playing for Stoke in the First Division(the top divission in those days) at 50 years old. He managed Port Vale for three seasons and then went to play in partial retirement in Malta, Canada and South Africa. He had played in 698 Football League matches without a caution and has the record for the longest ever England team career, from 1934 to 1954. He had his own team called Stan's Men in Soweto, South Africa and at the age of 66 played an exhibition match in Greymouth, Scotland. In 1992 he was honoured by FIFA with the Order of Merit.
Stan was the first ever European Footballer of the Year in 1954 and twice English Footballer of the Year and was the first football player knighted, while he was still playing. There are two statues of him in the city. One is at a traffic free shopping precinct in Hanley, which is the centre of Stoke and the other outside the Britannia Stadium of Stoke City, which the club moved to a few years ago after over 110 years at the old Victoria Ground.
As a youngster I used to go to Bloomfield Road, the home of Blackpool F.C. and pay my 9 pence, (about 5 cents) to watch him play. Since the retaining wall around the pitch was 5 foot high I took 2 bricks in a bag to stand on(can you imagine the reaction of the authorities to that these days.) When I arrived late, the crowd on The Spion Kop' was so tighly bunched that they used to send me and other youngsters over their heads hand after hand, until we sat on the cider area behind the goals for a perfect view. After matches we would stand outside the team locker rooms to get autographs and then get the bus home with some of the players. Stan always used to walk the mile to his large house and I think only one player at the time, Stan Mortensen, could afford to own a car. Most lived in small club owned houses and paid about £1.00 a week rent.
Like myself, Stan was born on February 1st, and annually that day Sir Stanley Matthews Day is celebrated as a 'dress down day' where workers wear football jerseys to work. On his death at the age of 85 in 2000, over 100,000 people lined the 12 mile route of the funeral cortege