Anyone who knows a smidgen about the beautiful game is fully aware of the name Sir Stanley Matthews. Those of us in the know will be familiar with the famous ‘Matthews final’: Blackpool’s astonishing Matthews-inspired FA Cup comeback against Bolton under the twin towers in 1953. History is a fickle beast though, and given that he retired almost 60 years ago, how much do we really know about the man of which Pele once said, ‘taught us how football should be played’?
Matthews is widely known for his humility, charity work, footballing genius and unwavering dedication. All very fine attributes but a conundrum for documentary makers. Everyone loves a rogue, rock star’s wild lives on the road, madcap totalitarian despots. They make for good TV; committed sportsmen not so much. Gazza versus Lewis Hamilton, McEnroe versus Murray, there’s no contest for entertainment value. However, Warren manages to pander to the less attentive of us with a startling variety of interviewees – Richard Branston, Gary Lineker, Nick Hancock, Jimmy Armfield, Michael Parkinson – and a pacy 75-minute running time.
What comes across most prominently is Matthews’ commitment to his trade. Over fifty years before Arsene Wenger supposedly changed the face of English football with dedicated dieticians and sports scientists, Sir Stan was self-regulating his diet to vegetables and specific brands of tomato juice, in addition to daily pre and post-training runs and stretches. Remember, this was a time when even international players smoked, ate pie and chips and consumed a few post-match bevvies. Matthews’ last game and testimonial was at the age of 50, playing against the likes of Di Stefano and Puskas, which in a time of limited medical care and ferocious tacking is quite astonishing.
What is perhaps less known about Matthews is his work after his retirement from playing. Spending years in Apparteid-era Sowete training children to play football is enough to create the legacy of any man, yet it’s something which strangely remains unknown to many. This is where the film starts to dig in to the consciousness. Realistically, anyone who is drawn to this movie will have already seen the footballing footage here. Yet the stories of his work in Africa, and his dogged determination and focused use of his fame to get these children flying around the world to play friendlies and meet global heroes such as Zico, is sobering – good enough even to excuse the bizarrely misguided Disney-style opening scene.
Matthews is an excellent portrait of a very humble man who nurtured a natural sporting genius with absolute dedication and humility, and surprisingly a movie that would appeal to even the most ardent non-football fan.
Dir: Ryan Scott Warren
Scr: J. David Everhart, Maddie Scott
Cast: Stanley Matthews, Gary Lineker, Michael Parkinson, Richard Branson
Prd: Dutch Doscher, Ryan Scott Warren
DOP: Adrian Peng Correia, Paul Lang
Music: Bill Conn
Run Time: 75 minutes