Wembley Stadium, London
2 May 1953
Bolton Wanderers – 3 (Lofthouse, Langton, Bell)
Blackpool – 4 (Mortensen-3, Perry)
The everlasting images of Sir Stanley Matthews’ farewell match which show him being carried on the shoulders of two men – Lev Yashin and Ferenc Puscas, perfectly sums up his career. There has perhaps never been any footballer since Matthews who enjoyed such universal love and respect. Matthews’ career had truly epic length and productivity and its zenith arguably came in the summer of 1953 when he played a match which eventually came to be simply known as “the Matthews final”.
A 17 year old Stanley Matthews was already predicted to do big things when he signed his first senior contract with Stoke City in 1932. Just two years later he had broken into the English national team. At 24, Stanley Matthews was all ready to enter into the most productive era of a professional footballer when the Second World War broke out and football in England was suspended. When football finally restarted Matthews had lost the best years of his life, he was 32 then. In 1947 he fell out with Stoke management and made a switch to Blackpool, in a place where he had relocated already, for a fee of £11,500. Joe Smith his manager asked Matthews, “You’re 32. Do you think you can make it for another couple of years?” He did play for a couple of years, then 18 more.
A prolific goal-scorer during his playing days, Joe Smith had taken over Blackpool in 1935. A season after starting his stint Smith had ensured promotion for Blackpool and they would remain firmly etched in top division for rest of his coaching tenure. Smith was an attacking coach and his Blackpool teams played free flowing, attractive football – making them one of the most loved outfits in the first division. Stan Mortensen survived an aircraft crash in 1939 during the War before signing his first professional contract with Blackpool in 1941. Six years later Stanley Matthews signed for Blackpool while 17 year old Jackie Mudie graduated to the senior team. Together the “three Ms” would form the crux of Blackpool in next few years. The Tangerines’ league performance often fluctuated but it was in FA Cup where they really dazzled. In 1948 they lost 4-2 to the hand Matt Busby his first trophy in Manchester United while three years later a Jackie Milburn brace saw Newcastle pip them to the title. Blackpool made a solid start to their FA Cup campaign in 1952/53 season but it was in the later stages that they really made the headlines. In sixth round proper Blackpool upset Arsenal, league winners the previous season with a 1-2 score-line. A month later it was turn of Arsenal’s bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur, league winners in 1950/51 season and under the tutelage of legendary Arthur Rowe, to fall victims to Blackpool, with the same scoreline.
Former Man United and Man City striker William Ridding started his Bolton coaching career in October, 1950 after the resignation of Walter Rowley due to ill health. Ridding soon turned around Bolton’s form curve as the trotters steadily rose up the table in the two seasons preceding the 1953 Cup final. A major reason behind Bolton’s upward surge was the goals of Nat Lofthouse. Lofthouse, who started his senior career for Bolton in 1946, was by that time the most prolific scorer in the top division. He was also a regular for English national team and had already scored over a dozen goals for the Three Lions. Lofthouse was Bolton’s top scorer in five out of six seasons between the re-start of league football and 1953 and amassed 61 league goals in first three seasons of 1950s. Bolton began their FA Cup campaign with a handsome 3-1 win over Fulham but ran into trouble against Notts County in the next round, needing two replays to get past the Magpies. After two narrow 1-0 wins in the next two rounds they ran into Everton in semi-final, clinching a 4-3 win to reach their fifth FA Cup final, first since 1920s. Lofthouse had scored in every round of the FA Cup and was also adjudged the league’s player of the season.
Joe Smith’s only impediment on the way to his first major trophy as coach was ironically a club where he was a hero. Smith scored 254 goals in 449 games for Bolton in league during his playing career, a club record at that point. He was also the captain when Bolton won their third FA Cup title in 1923 in a famous first match played in original Wembley stadium. Three years later he captained them to another FA Cup title.
This was the first football match attended by Elizabeth II and would later become the first major sporting spectacle televised across the Islands.
Blackpool: Farm; Shimwell, Garrett; Fenton, Johnston, Robinson; Matthews, Taylor, Mortensen, Mudie, Perry
Bolton Wanderers: Hanson; Ball, Banks R.; Wheeler, Barrass, Bell; Holden, Moir, Lofthouse, Hassall, Langton
It took Bolton just over a minute and half to take the lead in this final. The move started when Holden dinked past Garrett in Blackpool’s left wing before crossing towards Hassall, who passed towards Langton. Seeing a body of Blackpool defenders in front of him Langton passed back to Hassall, the latter letting the ball go between his legs towards Holden. Seeing an onrushing Lofthouse with the corner of his eye, the Bolton #7 rolled the ball as the center-forward unleashed a full blooded volley which Farm failed to judge properly.
Conceding such an early goal in front of 100,000 strong crowd naturally jolted Blackpool, as they struggled to string together any coherent moves for much for the first few minutes. Barely five minutes had passed after their opening goal when Bolton right-half Wheeler’s free-kick dipped dangerously as Farm made a last ditch save. Holden was yet again a thorn in Blackpool’s side seconds later as he took advantage of a missed clearance to pass towards Loftouse inside the box. Lofthouse’s shot though, lacked the venom of his previous shot, as it went over the goal.
Blackpool’s first serious foray came on 12th minute when a bursting run from Mudie saw him evade a tackle from Wheeler. He attempted a quick exchange of passes with Mortensen to get near the goal but failed to control the return pass. Lofthouse could have and should have made it 2-0 as the clock struck 20 minutes. Captain Moir pressurized his opposite number Johnston to win possession near the center circle before rolling in a perfect through pass for his striker. With only Farm to beat, Lofthouse somehow manage to find the post. The ball had bounced clear towards Holden, who tried to score with a diagonal shot, only to see it saved by a desperate Farm. At this point Blackpool defence was clutching at thin air and a little more pressure from Bolton could have easily saw them double their lead. Instead, Bolton players decided to slow things down, allowing their opponents some breathing space.
Blackpool obliged. After Fenton and Perry’s shots had flashed past the Bolton goal, Mortensen levelled the scoreline on 35th minute. A punt from deep defence saw Mortensen receive the ball, weave his way past two defenders before scoring as his shot was deflected by a defender on its way in.
Two minutes after the equalizer Lofthouse peeled away from Shimwell before latching on to an overhead ball. His angle was much more difficult and narrow, as a result of which the shot went over. Bolton did retake their lead five minutes from the half time whistle. Farm took too long to react to a hopeful lob from Langton as Moir blocked his vision at the very last moment. Bolton had done most of the attack in first half and deservedly led at the break.
The first chance in second half fell for Blackpool as Hanson comfortably punched out Perry’s shot. Few minutes later a poor pass from Garrett enabled Lofthouse to take a shot which glanced over. Bolton’s third goal on 55th minute was a perfectly worked ‘English” goal. Outside right Holden floated in a perfect cross from the touchline as Bell out-jumped his marker to head in from close range.
A minute before the hour-mark Stanley Matthews cut back from the wings, dribbled past a diving Banks before spraying a cross towards the far post which was shot wide by Holden. A sign of things to come. Few minutes later another surge from Matthews saw two Blackpool players rise for a header, hitting it straight at Hanson. On 68th minute a dangerous cross from Matthews was not properly held by Hanson. Mortensen was following up and bundled in Blackpool’s second goal after Hanson had dropped the ball.
A number of Bolton players were limping by this time and smelling blood, Blackpool attacked in numbers, virtually camping in their opponent’s half. With two and half minutes left in regulation time they did the improbable by clinching their third goal. Mortensen completed his famous hattrick with a wonderful free-kick from edge of the box.
A minute after the equalizing goal Matthews yet again pulled out two Bolton defenders out, but Mortensen failed to connect with his shot properly. On 92nd minute Stanley Matthews made his final lunge. He moved into the penalty box, dribbled past Banks before pulling back a low cross across the face of the goal, dissecting two more Bolton players. All Perry had to do was keep his composure. 4-3.
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Both teams started with similar WM formation but approached the game differently in first half. Blackpool stuck to the more English style of spraying passes at their outside forwards and launching long balls towards the inside forwards. Their approach didn’t really work in first half because of the windy conditions as well as sleek turf of Wembley. Bolton was more patient in their build-up and with Lofthouse continuously playing in the gap behind two full-backs; they were able to spread the play around with the center-forward as fulcrum. Holden was especially lively in this match and caused unlimited problems to an abysmal Garrett, two of Bolton’s goals also came from moves along Garrett’s flank.
This changed in second half and rather than a change of tactics, it was injuries to Bolton players which helped Blackpool’s cause. Lofthouse received treatment twice during second half and in last 15 minutes he was barely able to stand, let alone move into scoring positions. Eric Bell’s injury further dented Bolton’s attack as Blackpool defence, which never looked solid in this match, got some reprieve. With Lofthouse being taken out of the equation Bolton’s attacks didn’t have the bite or proper direction.
Stanley Matthews operated in a number of positions, each time surprising the BBC commentator. He played as an inside forward and even changed flanks on some occasions. His position switches may have helped out his team numerically at times but also meant he was not able to use his main weapons. That changed after the hour mark as Matthews stuck to his position on the left-wing. Banks was visibly tired and was beaten time and again by Matthews’ dribble and pace as the veteran became a crossing machine. There were at least half a dozen crosses attempted by Matthews in last 15 minutes, each differing in flight and target, but with equal venom.
Man of the Match
More than anything, this match showed Stanley Matthews’ super-human fitness levels. He was rarely static during the match and yet, in last few minutes when some of the younger players were barely able to stand, the veteran kept running. Two of the goals Blackpool scored were solely because of Matthews’ perfect crosses but it also has to be noted that he always pulled out one or more Bolton defenders away from the box, thus creating more space for Mortensen and Co.
Any notion that Stanley Matthews would have slowed down after winning the FA Cup title was soon crushed as he turned back time to play some of his best football in mid-50s. Between a 1953 and 1956 Matthews, nearing his 40s, played 35 or more games for Blackpool. In 1956 when Ballon d’Or was started Stanley Matthews was an almost easy choice for the award, the same year he became the oldest English player to score an international goal. Injuries slowed him down slightly after that but he was still playing reasonably regular football. After 15 seasons in Blackpool, Matthews made his final switch, moving to his boyhood club Stoke City for a fee of £3,500. In 1962/63 season a 46 year old Stanley Matthews played 31 times in the harsh and unforgiving world of English second division. He fittingly scored in the last home game as Stoke sealed promotion by winning the division. After 2 more seasons Stanley Matthews called curtains on his three decade long career. When he retired he had 783 games at club level, scoring 80 times. He also represented England 54 times. In 1965, he became the first footballer to be knighted while still playing the game.
A clutch of Blackpool players including Matthews lined up for England few months after the FA Cup final. Their opponents Hungary, the Eastern European country which had won gold in 1952 Olympics. Confident at the stronghold of Wembley, England was given a footballing lesson, literally, as Hungary destroyed them 6-3. Modern football had arrived on English shores and English tacticians were made aware how backwards they had dropped post World War-2. It also signified an end to Blackpool’s golden run as the Tangerines failed to reach another FA Cup final in their history.
Bolton though, had another deserved chance at glory when they reached the 1958 FA Cup final. However, the occasion was marred by the fact that their opponents Manchester United had lost most of their first team players in the Munich tragedy just a few months before. Nat Lofthouse struck two goals as the trotters lifted their fourth and till date last FA Cup title. By the time Lofthouse retired he had broken Joe Smith’s goal-scoring records for Bolton.