Sunday was the final of the African Cup of Nations in the 11th November Stadium in Luanda, Angola, between two-time defending champions Egypt, and the up and coming young Ghana team.
All over the continent soccer fans were glued to their TV sets, in large cities and country villages, to watch the match of the day-Arsenal v Manchester United from the Emirates in London, England. The EPL is a global brand with billions watching, while the match in Luanda was at the end of a somewhat tedious three week tournament that had few magic moments. There were many less- than-full stadiums, the Togo tragedy, and crowds that buzzed and blew their horns but lacked the chants, songs and passion from the stadiums in England, with many travelling fans and close to the action without running tracks to separate gladiator and spectator.
For the first time ever, nine pubs in England showed the EPL match live in 3-D, with separate cameras, commentators and production teams. By April, 1,000 pubs will be so equiped, and a few months later television sets for the home will be in the stores. As you know, United blew away the Gunners and it seems that we will have a two way battle for the title with Chelsea, a point ahead and a game in hand. Nani's stunning run on the right wing and the resulting goal, plus Wayne Rooney's rocket shot, followed by a stroll in the park, Park Ji-Sung,for goal No. 3, and it was curtains for the Gooner fans.
Today is a special day, for me and my boyhood hero, Sir Stanley Matthews. February 1st is Stan Matthews Day in Stoke and the surrounding Potteries, when people go to work in casual clothes. First at Stoke City, then at Blackpool, including The Matthews Final at Wembley in 1953, and back to Stoke. He played his final First Division match for The Potters, in the then top tier, at the age of 50!!, and later played for the Post Office team in the Maltese League, including a guest European Cup match at 58. A long way to go Wayne!
He was born February 1st, 1915, one of four sons of Jack Matthews, 'The Fighting Barber' and signed for Stoke City at age 14. His last match for England was against Denmark in Copenhagen in 1957 at the age of 49, and I have the official programme of that match, which he signed for me in 1993. In the World Cup of 1954 in Switzerland he was listed in the programme as St. Matthews !.
There is a fantastic statue of him outside the Britannia Stadium-three 9 foot statues in his different ages and soccer uniforms, hair styles and boots, all pointing towards the old Victoria Ground. He passed away on February 23rd, 2000 at age 85, and the funeral cortege wound through the streets of the 5 towns-The Potteries, lined with fans, and past the Victoria Ground for the last time.
Early this season I had the chance to chat with his daughter Jean Gough in the Sir Stanley Matthews Lounge in the Britannia Stadium after a match against Burnley. His son, Stanley Jr won Junior Wimbledon 3 times, and now runs a tennis academy in Connecticut. Sir Stanley coached a team called Stan's Men in Soweto after he retired. His grand daughter went to college in USA on an athletic scholarship, and a great, great grand son plays-baseball! in Southlake,Texas.
www.ssmf.co.uk is the Sir Stanley Matthews Foundation web site, for all you want to know, for souvenirs, donations, photographs and the annual dinner on 26th February.