So great was Matthews’s performance that one observer reckoned ‘you’d have to be a Rockefeller to buy him now’

  • November 16, 2018 14:47
  • Jon Henderson

Eighty years ago today the great Stanley Matthews, at the age of 23, gave what many argued was the best of his many outstanding performances in a 7-0 win by England over Northern Ireland at Old Trafford. One journalist wrote at the time: ‘The poker-faced, bandy wizard sent his stock soaring so high that, all personal personal likes and dislikes apart, you’d have to be a Rockefeller to buy him now.’ While researching my book When Footballers Were Skint, I was constantly reminded by the old professionals I interviewed, quite what a brilliant player he was – and that his occasional remoteness was offset by acts of generosity.

 

What stands out is not just that nearly everyone I interview recognises Stanley Matthews as a player of conspicuous brilliance for his two clubs, Stoke City and Blackpool, and for England. Also, almost without exception, they treasure a clearly recalled Matthews anecdote – and not necessarily one that ends with them on the seat of their pants as the wizard of the dribble disappears over the horizon.

Although there are, of course, plenty of these.

Bill Leivers remembers when Manchester City played Blackpool in the 1950s: ‘Roy Paul who was our captain, a Welsh international, played left half. Before the game against Blackpool, Roy said to the manager, “Let me play against Matthews, let me play left fullback”, which the manager let him do and I don’t think Roy hardly touched the ball. Matthews ran the legs off him.

‘He always did the same thing, Matthews. He’d move over to the left and you knew he was going that way. He got everyone who played against him feeling, “There’s no way he can come back from over there and go that way.” But he did – time after time after time.’

Roy Wood, who played in goal for Leeds United in the ’50s, sympathises with Roy Paul. ‘I played against some great forwards for Leeds,’ he says, ‘but that forward line of Blackpool’s that included Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen was marvellous.

‘On one occasion Matthews was coming along the byline at me with the ball and I dived at his feet, but when I opened my eyes there was no ball and no Matthews. He’d gone. I remember thinking to myself, “What the hell’s going on here”.’

Johnny Paton says he noticed something else about Matthews, ‘which I don’t think many others did.

‘For the first maybe ten minutes of a match he would do different things. First ball he got he’d pass it back to Harry Johnston at half-back, second ball he’d find Stan Mortensen in the middle, third ball he’d cross it right away.

‘The fullback would be thinking, “Matthews isn’t that great” and start to relax and then, oh, oh, and for the rest of the match he’d have his marker in a state of complete confusion.’

Off the pitch Matthews could seem remote, but plenty of stories exist of his special brand of thoughtfulness.

One of these is told by Don Ratcliffe who was in the Stoke City side to which Matthews returned in 1961. ‘I kept asking Stan if I could have some of his handmade boots,’ Ratcliffe says. ‘He wouldn’t give me them. “No, you’ll hurt yourself,” he said. They were very soft, you see, just like skin. Very light.

‘Anyhow, when I signed for Middlesbrough and was leaving Stoke he gave me two pairs, two, brand-new pairs. I was really chuffed with them.’

Ratcliffe was mortified that ‘when I took them to Boro somebody pinched them, one of the players’.

Ratcliffe also remembers that although Matthews could be tetchy the mood soon passed. ‘I remember playing the ball to Stan and he came running up to me, “Don’t you ever pass a ball like that to me again,” he said. “Just remember I’ve got three gorillas trying to kill me. If you’re going to give me the ball just smack it straight to me, very hard.”

‘Anyhow, soon afterwards I got this ball and I was ten yards away from him and I thought, “Yeah, I’ll show you for telling me off.” So I smacked it really hard, but mis-hit it and it was going about four-foot high into the crowd. And he just put his foot up and killed it dead.

‘I couldn’t believe it. He got it on the end of his toe. “That’s better,” he said and put his arm up to say thanks.’

Howard Riley of Leicester has a curiously touching Matthews anecdote. ‘It was only towards the end of his career that I played against him,’ Riley says, ‘and when he turned up to play in a testimonial at Filbert Street he said to me, “All right, Howard.”

‘He played against so many other players more than he did against me that I hadn’t really expected him to remember who I was. I considered it a compliment.’

Colin Collindridge testifies to Matthews’s ‘gentleman’s way of doing things’. The occasion was an FA Cup tie in 1945-46 – the only season when ties were played over two legs. Collindridge scored three times in the second leg but Sheffield United still lost 4-3 on aggregate to a Matthews-inspired Stoke City.

‘As I was running off the pitch this fella came up to me,’ Collindridge says. ‘I looked round and it was Stanley Matthews, who was the best right winger for years. He shook my hand and said, “I know you’ve lost Colin but thanks for a great match.” And that was it; off he went.

‘Now I thank Matthews for this. I wasn’t in his class as a footballer but he still had the time to congratulate me.’

Stanley Matthews made his first Football League appearance aged 17 in 1932 and his final one aged 50 in 1965. In the match against Northern Ireland at Old Trafford in 1938 he gave the supreme expression of his skills as a goal provider.

Willie Hall, the Tottenham forward, was the player who profited, four of his five goals being created by Matthews. It was ample compensation for a perceived slight suffered by Hall when, 10 days earlier, he partnered Matthews on the right playing for the English League against the Scottish League. Matthews was accused of ignoring Hall, choosing instead to flaunt his sleight of foot in the 3-1 victory.

Matthews said he had been dismayed by the criticism and only after he had corrected this did he put on an exhibition against the Northern Irish, scoring England’s seventh goal after a serpentine run from the halfway line.

Billy Meredith, whose performances, mostly on the right wing, for Wales between 1895 and 1920 had made him as feted a player as Matthews, said: ‘Not until the match against [Northern] Ireland had fans talked about him being the best ever… If he’s not the best, there certainly never was better.’

 

This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.

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It was a man’s game and scrapping ‘was part of my upbringing’

  • November 15, 2018 12:34
  • Jon Henderson

Colin Collindridge is from Yorkshire mining stock, a background that defined him during his career as a professional footballer with three Football League clubs either side of the Second World War. He is 98 today.

 

Throughout my two interviews with Colin Collindridge – the second was partly to clear up some things he had said during the first and partly to convince myself I had not dreamed him up – I am constantly reminded, in various ways, that where he came from near Barnsley a man was nothing without his manhood and a footballer was nothing if he was not prepared to settle something behind the stands with his jacket off and sleeves rolled up – and then share a pint of bitter and a laugh.

These are things that obsess him over and above the considerable success and popularity he achieved at his three League clubs – Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest and Coventry City – as a speedy left-winger, and occasional centre forward, with a bullet shot.

He and his wife Glenice are as attentive and hospitable hosts as you could find, but even today seated and leaning back, his face softened by a disarming smile and never wasting an opportunity to extol the singing voice of Bing Crosby, Collindridge makes me feel ever so slightly uneasy.

In fact there is one tense moment when his face clouds and he stiffens just a little. He wants to know whether, since I keep glancing at the clock, I would prefer to be on my way. I tell him – and, thankfully, he accepts my explanation – it is the family photographs on the mantelpiece that are distracting me, not the time.

But I get the sense that in common with most men who regard their masculinity as the ultimate badge of worth, he holds women in the highest regard, even fears them a little. Of the two other people in the room with him – Glenice is the other – I suspect he would pick a scrap with me if he wanted the easier victory.

‘I’ve met hundreds of nice females,’ he says, ‘including my missus, who’s a good Nottingham girl who puts me in my place.’

Glenice rolls her eyes wearily at having to listen to a familiar script. Collindrige keeps going: ‘You’ve heard of Jock McAvoy, the boxer, a Lancashire lad who fought for the world light-heavyweight title? Well my missus is a better scrapper than Jock was.

‘And you’ve heard of Betty Grable? Well, she paid a million dollars to insure her legs and they were great legs and my missus had legs that were as good as Betty Grable’s. But she doesn’t believe me, because she doesn’t believe anything I say…’

He returns to his father: ‘He worked in the mines after he left school. He’d got one or two mates who stuck up for miners and he could use his tongue, my dad, but he could also use these [he holds up his fists]. So if the coalmine owners had one or two rough tough guys my dad used to sort them out generally with that [he holds up his right fist], although I think he were a southpaw, actually.

‘He taught me nicely but the only thing was at school I was always in scraps because someone wanted to fight me. And, of course, generally I showed them that one [he holds up his left fist] and banged them with it, because I was southpaw. So that was part of my upbringing.’

Physicality will be one of the most popular reference points for the players I visit, for none more so than Collindridge. And the fact he is from rugged mining stock, and mighty proud of it, is particularly relevant, a hefty strand in what differentiates football either side of the Second World War from what it has become.

Footnote: Glenice, Colin Collindridge’s redoubtable wife, died earlier this year.

 

This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.

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How two members of City’s reserve team helped to transform the English playing system

  • November 14, 2018 14:14
  • Jon Henderson

Manchester City’s standing as a progressive club goes back much further than the reign of the current manager, Spaniard Pep Guardiola – although in 1954 the players themselves were the innovators

 

Manchester City’s 5-0 defeat away to Preston North End in their opening match of the 1954-55 Football League season was not the most auspicious start to the launch of a revolutionary playing system.

In fact the so-called ‘Revie plan’ was radical only as far as an English club side were concerned. City were doing no more than copying the way Hungary had played a year earlier when they beat England 6-3 in London.

The victory made Hungary the first continental team to win at Wembley and shook not only the English game’s deeply entrenched complacency, also its understanding of where players should be deployed on the pitch.

This understanding dated right back to football’s emergence in the nineteenth century as a passing game (previously it had been a matter of a player dribbling the ball until dispossessed).

Most significantly Hungary deployed a deep-lying, freewheeling centre forward, Nandor Hidegkuti. This completely flummoxed England’s defence who were drilled to mark a No 9 who occupied a fixed point leading the attack from a central, forward-lying position.

But it was much more than Hidegkuti’s simply playing ‘out of position’ that so baffled England. The England players and domestic press were utterly confused by what was going on all over the pitch.

Over the years Hungary’s manager Gustav Sebes has been credited with deploying any number of formations on that late autumn afternoon in November 1953. It was 4-2-4 – but not quite. Maybe 3-1-2-4 would be more accurate – or perhaps even 2-3-3-2.

Looking back the most surprising thing was that the tried and (stubbornly) trusted way of lining up used by English clubs for years – the WM formation with the full-backs and half-backs forming the W and the forwards the M – survived for more than five minutes after the whistle blew on England’s Wembley defeat.

A certain amount of controversy surrounds the fact that Manchester City’s version of Hungary’s method has been called the ‘Revie plan’, implying that Don Revie, who played for City from 1951-56 and also played for and managed Engand, devised the plan.

In fact it carries his moniker because he was the one who filled Hidegkuti’s deep-lying centre-forward position when City’s first team adopted the system that their reserves had used with great success towards the end of the previous season.

Bill Leivers, a City player from 1953-64 and a member of the side who lost to Preston, says today: ‘I think most of the players who played for City in that match against Preston weren’t very pleased that it is now known as the Revie plan because it most certainly wasn’t called that at the time.’

The two players who came up with the idea, he says, were Ken Barnes, a skilful right-half who ‘never tackled’, and Johnny Williamson, a slow but clever forward. There was ‘absolutely no question’ that they were the ones who introduced the new system that proved so profitable – 26 matches without defeat – when they played together in the reserves.

‘It became known as the Revie plan because Don was the one who played as the deep-lying forward when the first-team took it over. Don was down as centre forward but played in the middle of the park and no one came with him to mark him. It’s astonishing when you think about it.’

Despite the 5-0 thrashing by Preston, City prospered as the players grew used to the system. They finished the 1954-55 season seventh in the First Division, seven places ahead of Preston, and reached the 1955 and ’56 FA Cup finals.

The Preston game was doubly disappointing for Leivers. Not only did his team lose heavily,

he suffered an injury that would have a lasting physical effect.

‘I went up for a high ball,’ Leivers says, ‘and this other player made a back for me. I went straight over the top and landed on the bottom of my spine. I have now got three collapsed discs and I’m full of arthritis.’

And he adds, with feeling: ‘I didn’t go off – but you didn’t in those days, you just walked about, but it put me out for quite a while, at least five months.’

 

This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing. 

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When it mattered funnyman Banks knew how to sway an audience

  • November 13, 2018 11:19
  • Jon Henderson

Off the pitch Tommy Banks was renowned for his quick wit and cheery disposition but it was in the unlikely role as an orator that the Bolton Wanderers and England defender is best remembered.

 

Bobby Charlton once said of Tommy Banks: ‘Every time I see Tommy I try to think of something funny to say, but he always beats me to it.’

Even when he was being deadly serious, Banks could raise a laugh – or several hundred laughs on the day in Manchester in 1961 that he made an impassioned address to a meeting of the Professional Footballers’ Association. His rough-hewn oratory would sweep aside any meaningful opposition to the players’ long-running campaign to have the cap on their earnings, currently standing at a maximum £20 a week, abolished.

Stanley Matthews was at the meeting, the great England winger who had said originally that on a point of principle he was against strike action if the upper limit were not removed. He then changed his mind when he found out that his Blackpool teammates were overwhelmingly in favour. He said he regarded loyalty to them a superior principle to his objection to striking.

An unassuming type, Matthews attended the meeting with the sole intention of voting. He was no firebrand and it would have taken something extraordinary for him to stand up to speak. What he could not avoid was another speaker bringing his name into the debate.

A young player put the case for wages continuing to be pegged, his words remembered by Jimmy Armfield, the Blackpool teammate who was sitting next to Matthews: ‘My dad’s a miner, earning £10 a week. I play in the lower division and I earn twice as much. I train in the open air and play football on Saturday – he’s down the pit for eight hours at a time, five days a week. That can’t be right. We earn quite enough as it is.’

This caused Banks, coming to the end of a long and distinguished career as a fullback for Bolton Wanderers and England, to seek permission to speak. ‘I didn’t go to the meeting with the intention of speaking,’ Banks tells me years later, ‘but that young lad’s words rang in my ears and so I stood up.’

It was to prove an historic contribution to the debate. No one recorded Banks’s exact words and he happily admits to not remembering precisely what he said. But his biographer, Ian Seddon, himself a former Bolton player, credits him with saying the following (Boltonese first and then a helpful translation):

‘Ah think its neaw time ah spokk Mr Chairmon.

‘Ah’m tellin’ thee t’tell thee far’her ah’m on ’ees side, ah noes pits nar fun ah ’avebin theer misell but theer wonn’t be 30,000 watchin’ ’im dig owt coal cum Munday morn, theer will be 30,000 peyin gud munny on Setdi ut Burnden Park t’si mi tryter stop Brother Matthews ’ere.’

Now Seddon’s translation:

‘Mr Chairman, I think it’s now time that I spoke.

‘I’d like to tell your father I know the pits are a tough life having worked below ground myself. However, there will not be 30,000 people watching him extract coal on Monday morning, but there will be 30,000 paying spectators on Saturday at Burnden Park watching my battle with Stanley Matthews.’

What made Banks’s speech particularly powerful was that he was one of the few fullbacks in the Football League who was reckoned to have Matthews’s measure. If he found it hard work subduing the so-called wizard of the dribble, what hope for the majority of leaden-footed defenders.

The gleeful response of the audience to Banks’s words was reflected in the vote that followed, overwhelmingly in favour of the strike whose date had been set by the PFA for Saturday 21 January 1961.

No high-earning, massively qualified advocate could have presented a more compelling case or delivered it quite so consummately as Tommy Banks.

And a matter of hours before the strike was due to take place, the clubs caved in to the PFA’s pressure and the wage cap was abolished.

 

This article is based on extracts from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson/@hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.

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Too young to die but old enough to remember – footballers’ lives that were touched by war

  • November 09, 2018 14:52
  • Jon Henderson

While many footballers fought and died in the twentieth century’s two great wars, the generation who were just too young to serve in the second of these conflicts have clear memories of it – and went on to do national service in the years that followed.

 

The most vivid of these memories belong to those who recall the blitzes. These were not confined to London and the south-east. They included cities across the land, from Bristol and Plymouth in the south-west, Cardiff and Swansea in Wales, Birmingham and Coventry in the Midlands and Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north and the Clydebank Blitz in Scotland..

Tony McNamara, who would represent Liverpool’s two great clubs, remembers intense bombing raids, notably the Christmas Blitz of 1940. The school he attended was hit on one occasion and parents opened their homes so lessons could continue. The school football team hardly played because of the disruption.

McNamara says quite a bit of bombing took place around where he lived in Sandyville Road. He and his three sisters and brother used to take cover in the Anderson shelters set up in the road outside their home. ‘Most nights during the Liverpool Blitz we’d go into the shelters at around seven o’clock and often stay there until as late as midnight.’

McNamara’s father eventually tired of the routine. ‘He got fed up and took to staying indoors,’ McNamara says. ‘When we came back into the house one night the windows had been blown in and my father was lying there in bed with glass splinters all around him. It didn’t seem to worry him.’

In fact not much seemed to worry the McNamara patriarch. On another occasion a landmine attached to a parachute went off at the bottom of the road and blew the soot from the chimney all over his wife. McNamara recalls that his father just sat there laughing and told her she looked like Eugene Stratton, a music-hall artist who used to black his face for a singing routine.’

But the luckiest escape McNamara’s father had was when the road in which he managed a bakery shop was hit in an air raid. Fortunately for him he had been called to another of Scott’s bakeries a couple of miles away to sort out a problem.

‘While he was away a landmine struck a building in Durning Road and this building collapsed on the air-raid shelter where my father would have been. More than 100 people were killed.’

Roy Wood, who was born in Wallasey on the Mersey in 1930 and was Leeds United’s goalie for much of the 1950s, produces a photograph of a wrecked building. ‘This is the house I used to live in,’ he tells me, ‘which gives you some idea of what happened when it got bombed and burnt out on the twelfth of March 1941. Buxton House it was called, my grandfather’s house, and it was in Wallasey Village.’

Wood, his grandfather and parents, his sister and brother Ronnie – two more brothers would arrive in due course – were taking shelter in the cellar when the bomb struck. ‘When I saw it four or five weeks later when we came back to the area – we’d been at my mother’s sister’s in Sale near Manchester – there was a great big dent in a girder above the cellar, so I’m surmising that the bomb had hit that.’

Others were less fortunate. An incendiary bomb coming down by parachute and blown by the wind hit a row of old people’s houses 200 yards from the Woods’ house. ‘It landed in School Lane and wiped them all out,’ Wood says. ‘They all got it, every one of them. At that stage my father was upstairs and got blown back into the house by the blast.’

Not far away from Wallasey, George Eastham was growing up with his family in Blackpool. He has slightly less fraught memories of bombing raids.

‘My father was in the Desert Rats in Africa with Montgomery,’ he says, ‘so it was the war that dominated our lives, not football. It was a case of: “Here we go into the shelters. The bombs are coming over.”

‘Nothing very serious ever happened, but you had to go to the shelters to keep out of the way. It was just a precaution. I think they might have flown over Blackpool on the way to somewhere else. Nothing fell on Blackpool. They must have known it was a holiday resort.’

For Dave Whelan, who not only went on to play professional football but to own a Football League club, the privations of war are what stick in his mind. These included basic essentials such as food and also being without a father after he joined up in 1939.

Whelan, who played for Blackburn Rovers and Crewe Alexandra before making enough money in business to buy Wigan Athletic, was three and living in Wigan when his father was sent off to Iceland, part of a force tasked with denying the Germans bases for their submarines in the North Atlantic. ‘I never saw my father for four years.’

‘Like everybody else I was hungry throughout the war,’ Whelan says. ‘All we used to live on was chips and pea wet, which was the water the mushy peas had been boiled in.

‘You’d buy fish, chips and peas if you could afford it. We couldn’t because my mum had four of us and was living on 19 shillings and sixpence [97p] a week. So we used to go and ask for threepence worth of chips with some pea wet on it. You used to get that in a basin. And that was basically your best meal of the day.’

Nearly every player who was too young to serve in the Second World War but was old enough to play professionally before the end of the maximum wage – pegged at £20 a week before it was abolished in 1961 – had eventually to submit to national service.

In McNamara’s case his club, Everton, actually saw to it that he was posted close to home so he was available for Football League matches.

‘Everton reckoned I had a future in football,’ he says, ‘and I wouldn’t have been much use to them if I’d been sent abroad, which was where most of the other recruits went. So they arranged with the RAF that I got sent to the Liver Building in the centre of Liverpool. I was given a desk job, paperwork and so on, distributing kit and other equipment to members of the armed forces going overseas.’

Sunderland did not indulge Stan Anderson to quite the same extent. But he was not sent far and, like a number of others, admits to quite enjoying national service simply because of the amount of football he played.

Based at Catterick with the Seventh Royal Tank Regiment, he says he played football all the time. ‘In two years I don’t think I did army training for more than a couple of days because I was playing football three or four times a week.’ As well as still turning out for Sunderland, Anderson represented the British Army, which he captained for a while, his regiment and the Northern Command team.

The Army team in the Fifties was more than just a random selection of good players. It contained several Football League players and had a fixture list that included trips to Germany and France. Anderson reels off a list of contemporaries who played for the Army that includes Duncan Edwards of Manchester United, Sheffield United’s Graham Shaw and Alan Hodgkinson, Jimmy Armfield of Blackpool and Phil Woosnam of Leyton Orient, West Ham and Aston Villa.

Tommy Banks, on the other hand, is quite scornful about the impact national service had on his career as a professional footballer. He could not step out of uniform quickly enough and get back to playing for Bolton Wanderers.

Initially, while he was working underground as a miner, Banks was exempt from being called up. After he surfaced to start as a full-time pro with Bolton, he lasted only a few weeks before His Majesty’s Armed Forces – George VI was still on the throne in 1950 – sought him out.

He was packed off to Aldershot to be drilled in the ways of army life with the 17th Training Regiment Royal Artillery, after which he volunteered to join the Parachute Regiment.

The Paras were also stationed at the Hampshire base and Banks, never scared of a bit of hard physical toil, watched admiringly as the men in the maroon berets were put through rigorous routines. ‘They were always running, running, running,’ he says. ‘They never stopped. Carrying heavy kit as well.’ He pauses before adding with a beaming smile: ‘It were terrible.’

But his ambition to join the Paras was thwarted because the army had other ideas for him. As a professional footballer he was barred from joining the rugby-playing parachutists. ‘You’re stopping with us, Banks,’ he was told. He was kept on to be a physical training instructor and play in the regimental football team.

Banks thought it was a very poor substitute for playing in the Football League. When the army offered him an extra twelve months’ service so he could attain the rank of sergeant – and play a bit more football – he was horrified.

As soon as his two years were up he caught the first train home to continue his quest for the one thing he wanted in life, permanent ownership of the left back’s No 3 shirt in the Bolton first team.

 

This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.    

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