One of the greatest English players to have played the game, Stanley Matthews ended his FA Cup career with a goal that signalled the longest goalscoring span in the competition's history. Matthews scored his first cup goal as a 19-year-old for Stoke City back in early 1934, and on February 15, 1964 - 30 years and 33 days later - he scored for the same club in a 2-2 draw against Swansea at the ripe old age of 49.
The son of a professional featherweight boxer, Stanley Matthews was always destined to make an impact in sport, although insisted in his autobiography 'The Way It Was': "I had only one thing on my mind - to be a footballer." Helped by his father, the youngster's path into the game began when he joined Stoke straight from school at the age of 15 and, after enduring the life of an apprentice in which he was once thrown into the bath for failing to say 'good morning' to the senior players, he became a full-time professional in 1932.
Stoke boss Tom Mather had managed to convince Matthews to join the Potters and later revealed: "It was obvious he was going to develop into a genius. The chairman told me: 'Lose this signature and you get the sack'." Within two years, 'The Wizard of Dribble' had become an England international and was well on his way to becoming a true great.
Gaining the nickname for his precocious talent with the ball at his feet, his skills are best summed up by the man considered to be the greatest of all, Pele, who labelled him "the man who taught us the way football should be played". Indeed, the young Matthews wasted little time in proving himself to be a dangerous customer at outside-right and made his debut for Stoke against Bury at Gigg Lane on March 19, 1932, scoring his first goal against Port Vale a year later. Playing 15 games in his first full season, he helped the side to promotion for the 1933-34 season and was lauded across the land.
Matthews scored his first goal in the FA Cup in a 3-0 win over Bradford Park Avenue on January 13 and after helping to see off Blackpool (3-0) and Chelsea (3-1), his skills were there for all to see. Under a headline of 'Matthews - The Lad Who Wins Matches', the Daily Mail's correspondent wrote in March, as Stoke prepared to face Manchester City, that ''City would have to beware of the eighteen-year-old Stanley Matthews, the hustle of the Stoke team. Potential match winner this boy. He has scored eight goals from the wing in the last ten matches, in addition to paving the way for others." As it turned out, Stoke suffered a 1-0 defeat to the eventual winners in the sixth round.
By the end of his first season in the First Division, Matthews had scored 15 goals from 33 starts, including four from four in the FA Cup, and over the next few years he continued to improve. Helping the side to their highest ever finish - fourth - under Bob McGrory, the plaudits poured in and he became the linchpin of the side as he accumulated an average of over 40 games a season up until 1937-38.
However, his lack of silverware, especially that of the FA Cup, was beginning to cause unhappiness and his selfishness on the ball had been highlighted by some of his international team-mates. Tommy Lawton stated: "We all had moments when we've been exasperated with Stan because he'd taken the ball off down the wing as if he was playing on his own." Raich Carter also explained why he never played well with him, saying: "He was so much of the star individualist that, though he was one of the best players of all time, he was not really a good footballer. When Stan gets the ball on the wing you don't know when it's coming back."
Shortly after scoring a hat-trick in England's 5-4 victory over Czechoslovakia, Matthews' decision to hand in a transfer request at Stoke rocked the club in February 1938, but it was turned down and, after 3,000 Potters fans organised a protest to make their feelings known, he agreed to stay on. The arrival of World War II meant that he was only able to play for one more season before the league was suspended until 1946, and during the war Matthews joined the Royal Air Force. He was based just outside Blackpool, where he would eventually move in 1947 after a bust-up with McGrory and the board following stories that surfaced about his unpopularity in the dressing room. The Seasiders snapped up the 32-year-old for a measly £11,500, with Matthews keen to increase his chances of winning either the FA Cup or the league.
It did not take long for him to have his first real crack at the former as, in 1947-48, Matthews helped the club to beat Chester (4-0), Colchester (5-0), Fulham (2-0), Tottenham (3-1) and reach the final against Manchester United. "You're 32, do you think you can make it for another couple of years?" Blackpool manager Joe Smith had told him upon his arrival, adding: "There are no shackles here... express yourself... play your own game and, whatever you do on the pitch, do it in the knowledge that you have my full support." But despite an attacking line-up including the talented Stan Mortensen and Alex Munro, Blackpool fell 4-2 to Matt Busby's side after twice going ahead.
It was a blow to his ambitions, but Matthews' form that season earned him the Football Writers' Association's Footballer of the Year Award. Four years later, the 1951 FA Cup final gave him another chance, but this time it was Newcastle's prolific striker Jackie Milburn who netted a brace to deny him once more. Matthews himself described Magpies' midfielder Ernie Taylor as the "architect of our cup final defeat" and urged Smith to buy him. The advice was heeded, and Taylor was a key member of the Blackpool side that reached the final for the third time in five years in 1953.
The 'Matthews Final' against Bolton would, however, be remembered for only one man; and it was not the one who scored a hat-trick. While Mortensen's three goals helped propel Blackpool to the trophy, Matthews was the driving force behind them. The events of the game would take a feature in itself to describe, but suffice to say that the 38-year-old winger played a significant role in the comeback from 3-1 down at half-time, turning left-back Ralph Banks inside out and laying goals on a plate for his colleagues. Such was his impact that Bolton great Nat Lofthouse said after the game: "I didn't want Matthews to get a winner's medal but, if we couldn't, we were all delighted that such an astonishing player as Stan was the one to beat us."
The heroics of the 1953 final would never be repeated, but despite entering his 40s - an incredible achievement for the modern day outfield player - Matthews' career was not over. Three years later he helped the side to second place in the league and narrowly beat Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano to the first Ballon d'Or award in 1956. He remained at Bloomfield Road until 1961 when he returned to Second Division Stoke at the age of 46 and told the Daily Mirror: "I wouldn't sign for any other club. I don't see why I can't go on a season or two. I still get butterflies before a match - when I play at the Victoria Ground again, there will be a swarm inside me."
While the FA Cup remained a dream, Matthews was again voted the FWA Footballer of the Year as Stoke secured promotion to the top-flight. It was an incredible feat for a player many had written off as past his best, but he was not done yet.
In the twilight of his career, the 1963-64 FA Cup campaign saw Matthews get his last chance at silverware as Stoke beat Portsmouth (4-1) and Ipswich (1-0 in a replay) to enter the fifth round. Tied against Swansea, a 49-year-old Matthews rolled back the years to once again come to the rescue, although rather oddly The Guardian's match report reveals that the legend's goal was a bit of a shock. It read: "That Stoke equalised shortly before half-time was hardly surprising but that Matthews should be the man to do so stunned everybody. A thunderclap of applause showed the effect to only be temporary on the Stoke supporters, but Swansea groped around in a dream for a long time afterwards." Another paper simply stated: ''A strange event in the 2-2 draw between Stoke and Swansea. Stanley Matthews scored."
However, the game had taken its toll on his ageing limbs and the report noted that, for the replay, "they may be without Matthews, one of their twin sources of inspiration [alongside Jimmy McIlroy]. Towards the close he was limping badly and showing every sign of being tied to his Blackpool fireside, while his colleagues undergo an ordeal by Welsh fire." Matthews' fire had burnt out and it was his final goal in professional football. However, his memory lives on as a statue was erected outside Stoke City's Britannia Stadium with the plaque inscribed thus: "His name is symbolic of the beauty of the game, his fame timeless and international, his sportsmanship and modesty universally acclaimed. A magical player, of the people, for the people."
What happened next? Matthews' goalscoring span broke the FA Cup record set by another legendary winger, Billy Meredith, in 1924, but he bowed out of the competition as he was unable to get fit for the replay a few days later. Swansea won the return game 2-0 at home and, a year later, he became the oldest to play in a top-flight match on February 6, 1965 having reached his half century. During his career, he scored 71 goals in 701 league and cup games. His testimonial came in front of an estimated worldwide TV audience of 100 million, as the likes of Jimmy Armfield, Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Charlton, Roger Hunt and Denis Law took on an International XI including Soviet Union 'keeper Lev Yashin and legend Ferenc Puskas, while Matthews was later knighted for services to football.