When the protagonist is carried off the pitch after a testimonial match on the shoulders of legends like Ferenc Puskás and Lev Yashin, one can assume that a very special career has just come to an end. The star of this particular game was Stanley Matthews, the first professional footballer to be knighted while still an active player by Queen Elizabeth II. His testimonial match at Victoria Ground, the stadium of Matthews' home club Stoke City, on the 28th of April 1965 marked the end of a career that had no equal.
It all began when Stanley Matthews, blessed with the talent and absolute will to become a professional footballer, signed his first contract with Stoke City on his 17th birthday. There, the right-winger quickly made a name for himself and two years later "the Wizard of the Dribble” was called up to the England national team. After playing nearly 300 games for Stoke – despite being robbed of what were supposed to be his best years in football by World War II – Matthews transferred to Blackpool FC in 1947 at the age of 32. 14 years and over 400 games later, he returned to Stoke City. He ended his professional career there four years later at the age of 50. For his farewell he invited the who’s who of national and international football. And the stars answered his call.
Sir Stanley Matthews’ XI
Sir Stanley Matthews’ XI, or simply Stan's XI, featured three players who had starred alongside him at Blackpool and Stoke City - Tony Waiters in goal, Jimmy Armfield in defence and substitute John Ritchie. Matthews had hoped that Bobby Charlton and Denis Law would also feature but Manchester United played the last two games of their League campaign that week and both players were unable to make it. Four players from Matthews’ team – Armfield, Georg Cohen, Ron Flowers and Jimmy Greaves, went on to represent England in the 1966 World Cup the next year, winning the first and only title for their country.
SIR STANLEY MATTHEWS XI 4-6 INTERNATIONAL XI
Victoria Ground, Stoke-on-Trent
Referee: Arthur Ellis; Linesmen: Ken Parr & R Capey
Goals: Douglas (2), Greaves, Ritchie; Puskas (2), Masopust, Kubala, Henderson, Van den Boer
Sir Stanley Matthews XI
Tony Waiters - Jimmy Armfield, George Cohen - Johnny Haynes, Ron Flowers, Jim Baxter - Stanley Matthews, Jimmy Greaves, Alan Gilzean, Bryan Douglas, Cliff Jones
Lev Yashin - Kai Johanneson, Karl-Heinz Schnellinger - Svatopluk Pluskal, Jan Popluhar, Josef Masopust - Willie Henderson, Raymond Kopa, Alfredo Di Stefano, László Kubala, Ferenc Puskas
On the side of the International XI, the starting line-up included Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, who would also reach the World Cup Final a year later. But as a German national player he would not come out as champion. Behind Schnellinger, legendary Russian goalkeeper Lev Yahsin stood between the posts and, according to newspaper reports, showed a strong performance without which his team would probably have lost. The three Czechoslovakian runners-up of the 1962 World Cup, Svatopluk Pluskal, Jan Popluhar and Josef Masopust, played in midfield. The naturalised Spanish trio of Kubala, Puskás and Di Stefano spear-headed the attack with both Puskás and Kubala making the scoresheet. According to Matthews’ autobiography, the International XI also featured the German Hans Schäfer, a 1954 world champion, and Hans Tilkowski, Wolfgang Weber, Wolfgang Overath and Uwe Seeler, four additional future runners-up from 1966.
The star of the game steps down
The two global superstars Ferenc Puskás and Lev Yashin also played a leading role in the emotional climax of the evening. After the game, they made sure Matthews got the exit worthy of a living legend. While the official crowd of almost 35,000 spectators sang "Auld Lang Syne", the two stars lifted Sir Stanley Matthews onto their shoulders and carried him off the pitch. By the way, the game ended 6-4 for the International XI. But at this point, nobody really cared.