Football legend Stanley Matthews dies at 85

Obituary: Sir Stanley Matthews
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Sir Stanley Matthews, one of England's greatest players and twice European footballer of the year, has died aged 85.

Matthews, who turned professional with Stoke aged 17, was capped 54 times for England and made 710 Football League appearances for Stoke and Blackpool.

Knighted in 1965, Matthews made his last Football League appearance in the same year at the record-breaking age of 50 years and five days. In his retirement, Matthews became an ambassador for football and received a FIFA Gold Merit Order in 1992.

Sir Stanley died at North Staffordshire Nuffield Hospital following a short illness, the hospital said.

A spokesman for the private hospital in Newcastle under Lyme said: "Sir Stanley Matthews died peacefully this evening after a short illness related to health problems that had first seriously affected him three years ago. "We have no further statement at this time."

It is understood Sir Stanley may have had an accident of some sort on the island of Tenerife before being flown to the Nuffield for treatment. A spokesman for Stoke City football club said the former star regularly went to Tenerife to escape the British winter. The spokesman said that he understood Sir Stanley had gone to the island in the Canaries in December last year and had been due back some time now.

Matthews made his international debut at the age of 19 and collected his last cap in 1956 when, aged 41, he mesmerised the Brazilian defence in England's 4-2 win at Wembley.

Matthews spent his 33-year league career with two unfashionable north of England clubs, Stoke City and Blackpool. But he won 54 international caps and was the first man to be named European footballer of the year. He won the affection of football fans throughout the world who marvelled at the right-winger's ability to ghost past defenders.

Matthews' rewrote many record books with his feats but his shining moment came in the 1953 FA Cup final. Twice a losing finalist with Blackpool in 1948 and 1951, Matthews stood 20 minutes away from a third defeat with his team 3-1 down to Bolton. Then his dazzling footwork carved out the last two goals of a hat-trick for Stan Mortensen, and Matthews went on to set up the winner for Bill Perry with 20 seconds left. Despite Mortensen's treble it was a game which would always be remembered as "the Matthews final".

Matthews was born in Hanley on February 1 1915, the third of four sons. He joined Stoke in 1929 at the age of 14 as an apprentice and spent his time cleaning boots and sweeping out the dressing rooms. Within five years, Matthews won his first England cap against Wales while still a teenager. And in 1937 he hit his only international hat-trick in a 5-4 win over Czechoslovakia.

At Matthews' 80th birthday celebrations, former England captain Jimmy Armfield praised his skills and sportsmanship. "You could kick him and do anything with him and he would never retaliate," said Armfield. "He was the perfect example of self-discipline. I never remember a referee speaking to him once - and he didn't speak to them either."

Matthews, known as 'the Wizard of the Dribble', was a crowd-pleaser to generations and tempted a British record crowd, 149,547, to Hampden Park in Glasgow. But he never earned more than £50 a week, plus £25-a-game bonus. Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, who was Prime Minister when Matthews was knighted, wrote in a foreword to his autobiography: "Stanley Matthews was a symbol of the country which gave football to the world, and internationally a symbol of English sportsmanship in the days when that was a quality acknowledged worldwide."

Sir Tom Finney led the tributes to Matthews tonight. England team-mate Sir Tom said: "I've so many memories of Stan and he was the greatest in my era in terms of close control.

"In those days you weren't expected to go back and tackle and his game was attacking the full-back.

"He was a humble man and he never got carried away by how well he played."

Former England manager Sir Walter Winterbottom said: "Stan was very fit and one thing he had was that he was very quick off the mark.

"Wingers in those days just stayed on the wing and Stan had that unique way of dribbling past people."

Tonight, Newcastle boss Bobby Robson, speaking at Wembley ahead of the England friendly against Argentina, said: "He was one of, easily, our greatest, greatest players.

"He would have played in today's game, he would have adapted - don't you worry about that.

"He had immense skill - great skill off the ball, a beautiful dribbler. I'm very sad at the news."

David Davies, executive director of the Football Association, described Matthews as "a legend who did not disappoint."

Speaking on his arrival at Wembley for tonight's England game, Davies said: "He was a great, great player. As a child I was thrilled when I watched him. I knew then he was a legend and I was lucky later in life to meet him and unlike some legends he did not disappoint when you met him.

"He was a great ambassador and served football all over the world long after many players have packed it in. Our country should be very proud of him and very sad tonight."

Asked if the new Wembley Stadium might include a monument in memory of Matthews, Davies said: "He will be remembered in a proper way - he was a legend worldwide."

News Unlimited staff and agencies

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