By Bob Wray
Local elder football supporters yet recall with great pleasure the match at Simonside Hall between South Shields and Port Vale which included Sir Stanley Matthews CBE.
As club general manager, the former Stoke City, Blackpool and England wing legend had enjoyed an illustrious career, and become a living legend.
He was the holder of 54 international caps in a war-interrupted career, that but for this may very possibly have been even doubled.
This occasion was a real treat for Shields fans and a challenge match in a series of special fixtures of the mid-1960s, and the very name of Matthews on the visitors’ team sheet was sufficient to attract 12,000 fans to Simonside Hall on the evening of Monday, April 25, 1966.
This to see the great man in action, then at the age of 50!
The Mariners were managed by the former Newcastle United and Northern Ireland full-back Alf McMichael, who had played against Sir Stanley on 14 occasions at club and international level during his own fine career, and who was one of few left-backs who was able to shine against the great player who had terrorised the best in opposition to him.
For South Shields, then the leading contender in the North East for Football League status, it was another attempt to influence people and win votes by entertaining league clubs and with celebrities such as Matthews, on this occasion, being top of the bill.
League scouts were reported to have been in attendance, to run the rule over McMichael’s young stars such as centre forward Len Smith, who had 40 goals to his credit so far that season, with three games yet to play, having bettered his 34 goals tally of the previous season that broke the North Regional League’s goalscoring record.
Other members of the Shields attack who were also under the spotlight were Billy Robinson, Billy Graham, Norman Cardew and Gerry Donaghue, each with double figure scores to their credit.
The match was a great success, a most entertaining and exciting game that ended all square at 1-1, and which was end-to-end high tempo football played at tremendous pace.
Shields from the kick-off caused a roar when in the first minute a ball from Cardew found Donaghue in open space, but his finish was saved by goalkeeper O’Neil.
Shields took the lead with a trademark 25 yard free-kick by ace goalscorer Smith in the fourth minute, with Matthews having touched the ball only twice.
Smith’s shooting ability caused real problems for the Port Vale defence, and he was unlucky when on the 15 minute mark another free-kick grazed the crossbar.
Shields’s half back line left little room for the visitors to move as the middle was sealed up, but it took a good push over the bar by Garrow for a corner in their first serious threat from a 20 yard drive by Mitchell.
Port Vale got back on level terms in the 35th minute through Mitchell, who put the ball home after McKenzie had pulled it back from the byline.
Shields began the second half as the first on the attack, and in the 50th minute Donaghue had a great chance, but his effort was unsuccessful.
Port Vale came more into the game and Matthews, the ageless maestro, tormented the Mariners defence with his dribbles.
A great move in the 65th minute by Elwell and Cardew let in Pigford, but his effort was saved as Shields began to pile on the pressure for a winning goal.
O’Neil made the save of the game in the 85th minute from a tremendous 30 yard drive from Shields captain Elwell, and the game’s last action was a trademark vintage run down the right wing to delight the great crowd from Sir Stanley to conclude a memorable evening at Simonside Hall.
PIGFORD RUTHERFORD ELWELL
ROBINSON GRAHAM SMITH CARDEW DONAGHUE
McKENZIE CULLERTON GEORGISON MITCHELL MATTHEWS
MILES DICKSON JOHNSON
In retrospect of Sir Stanley Matthews CBE, capped 54 times for England, twice named Footballer of the Year, awarded the accolade of knighthood, and awarded the CBE.
He was a Companion Rat in the Grand Order of Water Rats, the famous show business organisation, in 1957 the then Gold Coast (Ghana) Commissioner presented him with a West African Chief’s Stool, a symbol of chieftainship in West Africa….he received every honour football could offer with dozens of awards and presentations as tributes.
Dick Kirkup, the then-Shields Gazette sports editor, wrote in the Matthews match programme of the greatness of his career as a catalogue of magnificence.
Over the many years on his world travels, millions were spellbound by his wizardry, the magic of which inspired the famed brand of soccer by such nations as Brazil.
Yet it was as a centre-half that he gained his solitary cap for England Schoolboys in 1929, and joined his hometown club Stoke City in 1931 as a 17-year-old.
He won his first senior England cap only two years later to begin a career of 22 years as an international.
In his later time with Blackpool, he helped the club to three Wembley appearances in six years, the 1952-53 occasion being labelled as ‘The Matthews Final’ and being saluted as the greatest player of all-time.
The following match programme commented at length on the game, stating what a great show it had been, and of the club’s efforts to give the fans a big night and how much it had been enjoyed.
For the 12,000 who were there to return the compliment to the great man of football and for the gala occasion he had graced with his presence and performance.
For all the hard work done behind the scenes to help make it a night to remember and of the club’s gratitude to all who had worked so hard.
In particular to the Shields Gazette and staff and the SSAFC Supporters Club members, and the entertainment presented by the South Shields Caledonian Pipe Band and the Simonside Mariners Junior Jazz Band.
Now at a distance in time of almost 50 years, to refresh memories of those who were present at what was indeed a historic occasion for South Shields AFC and to relate to all who have perhaps only heard of this particular match, it is indeed a pleasure to present this significant occasion that the town club once staged.