Memories of Sir Stan - by Jean Matthews Gough

Jean Gough is the daughter of Sir Stanley Matthews, and patron of the Sir Stanley Matthews Coaching Foundation.  She has very generously shared this article (previously published on the Foundation’s web site) and some photos from the family’s photo albums as a very personal insight into Sir Stanley, the family man.


2016 is Stan's centenary year and as he has also been named as the Citizen of the 20th Century of Stoke on Trent, I thought it would be nice to share with you my memories of my father.

The first Ballon d'Or (from left: Stanley Junior, Betty, Jean, Sir Stan

The first Ballon d'Or (from left: Stanley Junior, Betty, Jean, Sir Stan

As a little girl I remember him as a loving daddy who did his upmost to keep his family out of the limelight. In the 1940s Stan was the first sporting superstar and acclaimed all over the world. in spite of the fact that in those days there was no TV and little media. In order not to be recognised in the street he would go, as he thought, in disguise wearing sun glasses and a hat. It never worked.

Friday nights were always Film nights - especially cowboy films. As a family we always slipped on to the back row when it was dark and would slip out again before the playing of the national anthem for the King (George VI) and later the Queen (Elizabeth II).

I remember the discipline my Pop followed for himself but when I look back on this, he enjoyed his strict diet and his fitness regime. He often said he was keeping himself fit which he seriously wanted to do and he was getting paid for it!

I can see him now making his famous carrot juice every day. He managed to obtain a juicer that was tiny by today's standards. All visitors to the house were offered this magical health drink! The only trouble was that too much carrot juice could make your skin go yellow! However, he cut it down a little. I wish Stan were here today to use my today's juicer. He would love the blend of carrot, beetroot, celery, apple, broccoli, cucumber and tomato juice, my husband and I have every day. We notice that we don't have visitors around lunch time. I think they don't want us to inflict our juice on them!

Pop was obsessed by eating the right foods. He didn't insist that the family do this but we did become food conscious. I guess I passed this on to my own children. Stan's grand-daughter Samantha is a leading authority on nutrition in Texas and she and Pop used to have heathy eating discussions and they planned to write a book together, but sadly never got round to it. Stan loved steaks and salads. Everything used to have to be brown - bread sugar and even eggs!

Stan's food ideals have rubbed off on me so I give my poor husband Bob a hard time with regards to his weight! Bob tells of an event that shows the humour and stirring character of Stan. One day before a match at Stoke City we were enjoying the hospitality of the club. Stan whispers to Bob " Look Bob there's pork pies" Bob says "Thanks Stan!" and starts to eat one. Pop then calls across the room to me and says "Jean, Bob’s got a pork pie".

A family picnic

A family picnic

As far as fitness is concerned I can see him now doing his deep breathing and stretching exercises before going for his workout on Blackpool's beach at 7am every day. Sometimes he would take me with him and I cherished this time with him. He would sprint a little, jog a little and walk a little to change pace, as it is done on the football field. His main aim was to be the fastest man in the world over 10 yards, so that he could skip around the defenders on the football pitch. One day whilst on the beach a fog came down and Pop lost his bearing and found himself walking into the sea. Somehow he managed to survive to tell us about it.

The day of any football game was the greatest day of all for Stan. It didn't have to be a Cup Match or Final - he cherished the atmosphere in the dressing room before every single match. He always had butterflies in his stomach and was sick just before a game so he ate nothing before the match. Then he would step on to the pitch and all nervousness was gone. Normally Stan was pretty even tempered but the day before and the morning of a game the family kept very quiet! When playing for Blackpool and Stoke City Stan would walk to the ground with lead in his shoes so that when he put on his specially made lightweight football boots they felt like ballet shoes, so he could do his famous dash around the defence. Pretty clever if you think about it.

Stan was renowned for his sportsmanship and was never ever booked for a foul. That is not to say he didn't retaliate when he was at the mercy of some dirty play by a defender. He knew then that he then had the full back beaten, so he said nothing and retaliated with his feet by dribbling and passing. However, it has to be said that Pop was very competitive at home. Whatever game we were playing (even tiddlywinks) he had to win! I'm not saying he cheated but he was certainly not the same on the football field! If my brother and I were playing him at tennis and we had him a bit worried, he would say that he had to go and make an urgent phone call! Most of my family have inherited this competitive spirit so it makes for wonderful but rowdy get-togethers.

From the family album: son Stanley and Sir Stan

From the family album: son Stanley and Sir Stan

Stan was truly a real family man and I can remember the very happy years that we spent at our home the Grange in Blackpool. The house was always full of family and friends like Charlie Chester (Cheerful Charlie) the famous comedian of his day and his family. The home was full of warmth and laughter. We had a secret signal which was our family sign, in which you placed the middle finger on the thumb to indicate we were a team Pop used to do this sign every time he ran out of the dressing room on to the pitch specially for us and only we saw it.

Pop was a very strict but warm and loving father. In my teenage years my social life was very limited and confined to the tennis club so it's not surprising that I met my husband Bob there. I was delighted to be allowed to go to the tennis club hop every month but even when I was nineteen Pop would be there at 10.00pm to take me home. Bob's earliest memory of me was when he looked round to have a dance with me and I'd gone already.

When I was nineteen I went round the world with the Blackpool football team. My mother and I were the only females in the party. We went to America, the Philippines, Australia and Hong Kong on a month long tour with the team, playing exhibition games. In Melbourne my brother Stanley Junior and I had tennis training with the legendary Harry Hopman. Can you imagine a teenager going round the world with a Premiership Football Team today! I often asked Pop before he died if he threatened trouble for any player who became friendly with me. Do you know I never got an answer to that question!

It amazes me that although it is now sixteen years since Stan died, he is still remembered not only for his football achievements, but as a warm and inspirational man. I very clearly remember going to Buckingham Palace in 1965 when he received his knighthood from the Queen. He was the first footballer to be knighted, whilst playing, which is still true today. The same year he played top flight football at the age of 50 - another record - and also became a grandfather when my son Matthew was born.

Another first was being awarded the Football Writer’s player of the year which incidentally he won twice - and he was the first recipient of the Ballon d'Or as the first European footballer of the year.

Since his death other awards continue to come. The Britannia Stadium statue which was erected by the Sir Stanley Matthews Foundation and shows the three phases of Stan's life as a Stoke City player, a Blackpool player and an England player. It is said to be the finest sporting statue in the country. Being a very modest man Stan was not moved by any of his triumphs but I think that being made the Citizen of the 20th Century of his home town Stoke on Trent would have meant a great deal to him because he loved all the people there and they loved him. Stan was a frequent visitor to his old school, Wellington Road, which is now St Luke's Primary in Hanley. Can you believe his old classroom is still there along with other memorabilia. I think Stanley Matthews is on the curriculum!

People always liked to ask Pop if he wished he was playing today with the enormous wages of footballers. He would always answer "No, because I travelled the world for free and have friends all over". However, some things today have damaged the beautiful game. He would have been disgusted by the antics of some players on the field. He always travelled and had "itchy feet" and played in Malta, Canada, Australia, USA, Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Africa and South Korea - but he came back to his roots at Stoke for his last years.

In the 1950s he began his love of South Africa by going there as a guest player during the summer months, when there was no football at home. So, South Africa got into his blood and he returned every year to coach and play. In the 1970s he coached in the township of Soweto, which was considered to be dangerous during the apartheid years. He took the first team of black young players to leave South Africa for a tour to Brazil where they met Pele. The United Nations put Stan on the blacklist for entertaining in South Africa and banned him from the country. A bit ridiculous as he was coaching the black people! Stan said he was in good company as Frank Sinatra was also on the blacklist! However, Stan found his way in via Zimbabwe somehow. On his visit to Stoke-on-Trent in 2008 Bishop Desmond Tutu took Stan off the Blacklist and said he was so loved by South Africans that they called him "The Black Man with the White Face."

The family today: Back – Samantha (granddaughter). Jean (daughter). Bob (son in law); Front – Matthew (grandson). Stanley Jnr. (son). Mandy (granddaughter)

The family today: Back – Samantha (granddaughter). Jean (daughter). Bob (son in law); Front – Matthew (grandson). Stanley Jnr. (son). Mandy (granddaughter)

Stan's love of Johannesburg spilled over to Bob and me as we went to live there for 14 years and where our three children grew up. Mandy our youngest was born there.

Even today South Africa is in my blood and I've been very privileged over several years to accompany 25 students from Stoke on Trent College to Cape Town where they coaching sport in the coloured primary and secondary schools. It brings a tear from me when a thousand pupils in one school alone remember Stan.

It is wonderful for our family to know that he will still be remembered when we have gone. For this I’m so happy - and that there is a wonderful school named after him - Ormiston Sir Stanley Matthews Academy in Stoke on Trent. It is very apt that many of Stoke City Academy junior football players receive their education there.

If you have any memories of Stan please get in touch to share them. We would love to hear from you.

Jean Gough

Postscript: I heard a lovely Sir Stan story on Radio 4 just last week. Garry Richardson, the sports presenter (celebrating 35 years on the Today programme) was reminiscing about famous stars he had interviewed, and fondly remembering the days when he could phone world-famous football players at home and ask for an interview.  
Every time he phoned Sir Stan at home he would start “Hello Sir Stanley, Garry Richardson here….” and immediately get interrupted with…
“Garry, how many times have I told you, it’s Stan, just Stan…”


Peter Hooper