Memory Match: Arsenal 3, Blackpool 0 - October 7, 1961
It was the end of an era when Stanley Matthews trotted off the pitch when the final whistle sounded this day at Highbury.
It marked the close of the great man’s 14-year stay at Bloomfield Road, during which time he became one of the best footballers in the world, earning admiration for his skill. He captured the imagination not just with his exploits for England, but earning widespread admiration for gaining that elusive and much-valued FA Cup winner’s medal for Blackpool at Wembley in 1953.
He could bamboozle players with his quick feet and control of football, but there was a certain steel to his play as his long-term skipper Harry Johnston once recalled in an interview.
Matthews’ mastery of an opposition defender turned into a taunt if the player in question had the temerity to dish out the rough stuff.
Johnston, who also played alongside Matthews for England, said: “He was utterly ruthless on the field.
“He would beat the full-back at will - he used to paralyse the opposing team when he was in the mood.
“He was exceptionally fit - fitness fanatic, you might say - and once he got his opponents down, he murdered them.”
Johnston continued: “He was like a boxer delivering a knockout punch.
“Stan did not like dirty players.
“He always played cleanly and he expected others to do the same.”
Johnston recalled one player taking liberties with underhand tactics, but revenge was dished out by Matthews in another match when their paths crossed again.
He said: “Stan trampled all over him. He beat him again and again.
“He gave the same treatment at one time or another to several full-backs who had tried to foul him
“He remembered them - he punished them.
“Stan had the killer instinct all right - but it was all done by skill.”
There were goals galore this sporting Saturday - Sheffield Wednesday beat Chelsea 5-3, Everton put six past Nottingham Forest, Southampton six against Brighton and Walsall five against Rotherham,
Fleetwood Town edged it two minutes from time in a seven-goal thriller against Padiham, while a Ronnie Fenton hat-trick was enough to see Burnley reserves beat Blackpool at Bloomfield Road.
In boxing the build-up was starting to Brian London’s heavyweight clash with the highly-rated American heavyweight Eddie Machen.
The main news-line to The Gazette’s story was that Machen was kept waiting for 30 minutes by fight promoter Harry Levene!
When the two boxers met later at the Empire Pool, Wembley, Machen stopped London.
Blackpool’s fortunes were at a low ebb when they arrived in North London to take on the Gunners and the subsequent defeat was to dump the Seasiders too close to the relegation-zone for comfort.
Matthews was back in the side on the right-wing after missing the previous game with Chelsea, while the home side, managed by George Swindin, made some interesting selections.
On the right-wing for Arsenal was Alan Skirton, a recent signing from Bath City.
Blackpool had been tracking Skirton too, but Arsenal got in first - the Seasiders snared their man in the end and later they signed him from Arsenal and he made a significant impression on the Fylde Coast.
Blackpool-born George Eastham was in the Arsenal line-up - opposing him was his old Arnold schoolmate and friend-to-this-day George Eastham.
Matthews may have reached the evening of his career, but his presence in the Blackpool team was bound to have a big, positive effect on attendances.
That was the case in this instance as 41,166 crammed into Highbury.
The Blackpool team had spent a couple of days in Brighton to prepare for this First Division match, but the ploy failed to pay dividends.
It was virtually all Arsenal and they prevailed by 3-0, the outcome rarely being in doubt.
Mel Charles grabbed two and George Ward was also in target.
Mel was the brother of John Charles and both of them played with distinction for Wales.
Mel was one the names that British football lost during 2016 - he died in September, aged 81.
Gazette writer Don Creedy pulled no punches in his damning assessment of Blackpool’s display, branding it ‘pathetic’ though Matthews did earn some measure of praise as ‘Blackpool’s best and sometimes only exponent of the quick, through-pass.’
Warming to his theme, Creedy continued to let rip.
He said of the Seasiders: “They were terrible at times and if Arsenal, who always looked to be playing well within themselves, had really turned on the heat in the second half, goodness knows what the result would have been.
“Arsenal, only a shadow of the great Arsenal teams of the past, were still good enough virtually to cruise to victory over a Blackpool side torn asunder in the first half and hopelessly unable to save themselves in the second.
“What was particularly disquieting was the absence of the fighting spirit, which helped to pull Blackpool through earlier in the season. It was the same old sorry story of passes giving backwards and sideways, but seldom forward.”
This was top-flight football that with Blackpool playing at some of the pre-eminent grounds in the country.
What Mr Creedy would have made of Blackpool’s current predicament, slumming it in the bottom tier can only be imagined.
As it turned out, The Gazette man’s dire forecast of relegation was to prove wide of the mark. Blackpool were to clamber out of trouble by the season’s end, though by then Matthews was long gone and was enjoying his ‘second coming’ at the place where his career started with Stoke City.
Matthews continued playing until past 50, his only regret being he retired too soon!
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