Sir Stanley Matthews: 12 Fascinating Facts About the Oldest Ballon d’Or Winner


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The Ballon d’Or has evolved over time. If today it rewards the best player in the world, this was not quite the case in 1956. The absolute first Ballon d’Or winner in history in 1956, Sir Stanley Matthews had an exceptional aura at the time of the Glorious Thirties in England even though he only played three matches in the final phase of the World Cup in 54 selections. He wasn’t even technically supposed to win the Ballon D’Or but he played in circumstances that favoured the win. We explain such fun facts and more in this article about the one and only Sir Stanley Matthews. 

Sir Stanley Matthews: 12 Things You Didn’t Know About The First Ballon D’Or Winner! 

1. Stanley Matthews wasn’t (technically) supposed to win the Ballon d’Or: 

It happened on December 18, 1956 – the first Ballon D’Or. 

Indeed, when it was created, the Ballon d’Or awarded the best European player, the latter also having to play in a European championship. The list was therefore perhaps a little shorter than today, it did not prevent beautiful duels. Because of this, only 3 points separate the big winner from second place. At the same time, there weren’t as many voters either. For the first edition, counting only 16 journalists, the calculations are done quickly. In second place with 44 points, the Spaniard Alfredo Di Stefano, the winner that year of the first European Champion Clubs’ Cup – then the Champions League.

On the other hand, Sacred Golden Ball went first place to Stanley Matthews, holding 47 points, named six out of sixteen times in the first row. The Englishman did not win the European Cup, but he allowed his club, Blackpool, to reach second place in the league behind Manchester United. 

It is interesting to note that the first Ballon d’Or rewards the mentality but also the longevity of Stanley Matthews on the pitch.

2. Here’s how Matthews beat Di Stefano: 

On an individual level, Matthews had great qualities and he made his team play well. He played in a right wing position where he had great freedom of maneuver, his coach trusted him completely and relied on his technical qualities.

To beat his adversaries Alfredo Di Stefano and Raymond Kopa, brilliant with Real Madrid, he played a match of beauty against Brazil (42). Even with age he does not lose his dribbling skills and his technique. At the same time, the European Cup does not yet have great importance in the eyes of voters.

Otherwise, Di Stefano would certainly have won. However, Matthews made his career in modest clubs, Stoke and Blackpool. Blackpool had not had an extraordinary season in 1956 and the voters may have wanted to reward his entire career and his longevity. He will only end his career at the age of 50, showing extraordinary longevity. Whatever happens, Stanley Matthews will remain the first Ballon d’Or winner for life, the man who beat the great Alfredo Di Stefano.

3. Stanley Matthews was then 41 years old:

A look back at this first edition and the coronation of Stanley Matthews’s epic day receiving the first ever Golden Ball will show us that he was well into his prime. 

The first Ballon d’Or awarded to the Englishman was the oldest in history.

That year, he also broke a record with the English selection by becoming the oldest English international in history against Northern Ireland, he was then 41 years and 248 days old. It is more thanks to his selection than to his club Blackpool that he won the Ballon d’Or.

4. An English retirement and death:

A true idol, the man who never received the slightest warning and was never expelled returned to Stoke in 1963, which was then playing in the second division, for a last footballing adventure, which would last five years. 

He played his last match in 1985, at the age of 70. It was the Brazilian Veterans against the English Veterans. Tostão, Amarildo, and Jairzinho offered a 6-1 victory to the old Seleção. On this occasion, Matthews injured his cartilage. With his usual humor, he commented on the event in his autobiography, saying that that day “a promising career came to an abrupt end.” 

He died at the age of 85 in Stoke-on-trent where around 100,000 people accompanied the funeral procession to its final resting place. His ashes are buried in the central circle of Stoke’s stadium, the Britannia Stadium, which he himself opened in 1997. His family received letters of condolence from the Queen and Prime Minister Tony Blair. All of this would certainly have made him both proud…and embarrassed. “Football has treated me well. A ball to kick in and a cup of tea once in a while. I don’t ask for anything else in life, “said Matthews. Some time later, a statue of him was erected in the heart of his hometown.

5. Before 1985, he had claimed to retire in 1965:

Stanley played what he thought was his last match on February 6, 1965 against Fulham, two weeks after celebrating his 50th birthday. 

His jubilee, April 28, 1965, is one of the most famous of its kind, with big names in football like Ferenc Puskas , Eusebio,  Lev Yachine and even Alfredo Di Stefano. But in reality, this jubilee was not one, because Matthews was not done with football.

6. He was knighted before he died:

Considered one of Britain’s finest talents, Sir Stanley Matthews the only player to have received a Bachelor’s Knight before retiring. 

Knighted in 1965 by Queen Elizabeth II, he famously became Sir Stanley Matthews before he died in 2000. 

Like Britain’s other greatest sportsmen, when he was knighted by the Queen in 1965 this was a distinction certainly due to obtaining. Even though we think about it, the Ballon d’Or even if, at that time, had fewer repercussions and less importance than today.

Sir Stanley Matthew was actually entered into the English Football Hall of Fame when it was inaugurated in 2002 – by then the value of the Ballon D’Or was untouchable greatness. 

7. A support to South Africa:

After an unsuccessful period as Port Vale coach between 1965 and 1968, he began to travel training the amateur world. 

Every summer between 1953 and 1978, he traveled to South Africa, then in an apartheid situation, to share his knowledge with children. In 1975, he created a team of young schoolchildren, called the “Stan’s Men” (“Stan’s men”), from Soweto, an extremely poor suburb of Johannesburg. 

What was the most significant in this case was the passion to create an all-black team (called Stan’s Men) despite harsh apartheid laws.

He even takes them on tour to Brazil, where they have the privilege of meeting the legendary Zico. 

8. Famously dubbed the ” The Wizard of Dribble ” and ” The Magician “: 

The best player of the post-World War II era, Stanley Matthews’ talent for the ball can be summed up in the nicknames he has been given, especially that of being The Wizard Of Dribble

Renowned for his technique and ability to eliminate one-on-one, this right winger has been the terror of British defenses for more than three decades. Those who only discovered his legend today note that there are very few clear images of the Magician’s dribbling. A gentleman of the field who only appears as a very small player in football manuals. It doesn’t matter, Stanley Matthews conquered the world of football at the time thanks to his talent.

9. Habits of a monk: 

A model off the field, he was, by his own admission, a vegetarian and did not drink a drop of alcohol. He got up at 6 a.m. every day, drank carrot juice for breakfast, ate only the crust of bread, and fasted every Monday to rest his body.  

10. Childhood and becoming a Prodigy for Stoke: 

Born in 1915 into a family of four boys in Hanley, Staffordshire, the Englishman was mainly educated by his father, Jack, a local barber and ex-boxer. From him, he learns the values ​​of effort, combat, and surpassing oneself. This a lesson that little Stan retains when starting out in football. And already, the child impresses with his speed of execution and his qualities as a dribbler. The young player first started with the reserve team of Stoke before playing his very first professional match on March 19, 1932 against Bury at Gigg Lane; the “Potters” prevailed by the score of 1 goal to 0. 

He asserts his status as a young prodigy and quickly becomes a driving force – and scorer – of his team, over the meetings. During the 1935-1936 season, during which he played 45 matches, he carried Stoke to an unexpected fourth place in the standings. The best in club history. In total, between 1932 and 1947, Matthews walked the lawns of the Kingdom nearly 260 times, and already planted around fifty goals.

11. At 19, he played for the first time in the England team: 

He does not win major international competitions with the Three Lions, apart from nine British Home Championships, the magician leaves with fond memories when he retires from international football. After 54 selections spread over 23 years of good and loyal service. The club, he then joined Blackpool at the age of 32 for the modest sum of 11,500 pounds and won his only major trophy there: the FA Cup conquered in 1963. In the final, while Bolton led 3 goals to 1 and went straight for a fourth crown in the FA Cup, he goes down in history. As the 100,000-stunned Wembley crowd looked on, the then 38-year-old winger blew up the game, gave a few assists, and half an hour later, Blackpool won 4 goals to 3. A game that remains engraved, even today, in the hearts of fans, and is known as “The Matthews final”. 

Another feat of arms: at the end of the 1955-56 season, the Seasiders will still finish second in the championship, largely thanks to Matthews. That year, he was designated for the first edition of the Ballon d’Or trophy as the best European player ahead of two prospects: Alfredo Di Stefano  and Raymond Kopa. The former having beaten the latter in the Champions League final for Real Madrid’s first European title. 

12. Married life: 

In the summer of 1934, he married Betty Matthews Vallance, daughter of Stoke City manager Jimmy Vallance, who first met on his fifteenth birthday Victoria Pitch, where he acted as a messenger. The couple had two children: Jean, born in 1939, and Stanley Jr., born six years later, he became a tennis player. 

Matthews became a grandfather in 1965, when his daughter Jean, who always considered him a good father, gave birth to Matthew. He first became a godfather in 1999, when his nephew Matthew had a son, Cameron, with his wife. 

In 1967, during a tour in Czechoslovakia with Port Vale, he met Mila, the group’s interpreter. 

Although he was married to Betty Vallance, Matthews was convinced she found true love with Mila, then divorced his wife. Matthews and Mila spent several years together between Malta (In particular Marsa Scirocco) Canada, and South Africa until ultimately Mila disappeared aged 71 in 1999. 

According to Lee Scott (who helped the player write his autobiography), Matthews was never the same person.


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