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Stanley Matthews’s connection with Malta

The great Stanley Matthews coached Maltese club Hibs for one season in the early seventies.

The great Stanley Matthews coached Maltese club Hibs for one season in the early seventies.

Stanley Matthews had a distinguished playing career spanning 32 years and was over 50 when he retired from top-class football. He was the oldest player ever to appear in English football’s top division.

Matthews was also the oldest player to figure for England, winning his last cap at the age of 42 against Denmark in May 1957. He failed to score in that game but his last goal in an international came against Northern Ireland in October 1956 when he was 41 years old. It is possible that these records will never be eclipsed.

After joining his home club Stoke City aged 15, Matthews made his debut two years later. He spent 17 years at the club, earning a reputation as the best winger in world football. It was during this time that Matthews was given the tag ‘Wizard of the Dribble’.

On his debut for England in September 1934, he scored, helping the team to a 4-0 win over Wales. This marked the start of a 20-year international career during which Matthews won 84 caps.

In 1947, Matthews moved to Blackpool in an £11,500 transfer deal but found himself on the losing side in the FA Cup finals of 1948 and 1951. When Blackpool made it to Wembley again in 1953, all neutral supporters hoped he would finally clinch a winners’ medal.

Things looked bleak when Bolton went 3-1 ahead in the final but the 38-year-old Matthews inspired a terrific comeback. Blackpool turned defeat into a 4-3 victory and this match went down in the annals of English football as ‘The Matthews Final’.

Matthews was 46 when he left Blackpool in October 1961 but incredibly, he chose to return to Stoke as a player rather than retire.

After four more years at the Potteries club, Matthews played his last competitive match on February 6, 1965, five days after his 50th birthday. He had just received a knighthood in the New Year’s Honours List and bowed out in style with a 3-1 victory over Fulham. With his playing career over, Matthews came to Malta.

He bought a villa in Marsaxlokk and started a business with a Maltese partner. In those days, Hibs were managed by Fr Hilary Tagliaferro. The latter jumped at the chance to take the England legend on board.

Before other clubs knew of Matthews’ move to Malta, he approached Sir Stanley to coach Hibernians. Matthews accepted and in 1970-71 led Hibernians to a famous triple.

The first trophy Hibs won under Matthews was the Independence Cup which was played early in the season. They went on to record one of their best results in a European competition when they held Real Madrid to a 0-0 draw at the Stadium in the Cup Winners’ Cup. Then Hibs beat Floriana 2-1 in the Sons of Malta Cup final.

In the league, Hibs did not fare so well but they reached the final of the FA Trophy where they met Sliema Wanderers. The game was played on Sunday, May 23.

Sliema were confident of adding the KO to their league triumph but Hibs were determined to break the hoodoo which had haunted them in every final they played against the Blues.

The Paolites made a strong start and deserved to forge ahead with a goal from Freddie Delia. They continued to defend well against the champions’ attacks and with only 11 minutes left, the trophy seemed destined for the Hibs’ showcase. Then, the jinx struck again. Edward Darmanin passed to Ronnie Cocks who scored the equaliser. Extra-time was given but none of the two teams took any risks and the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

In the replay, Joe Cini, who had been discarded by Sliema, scored two great goals against his former colleagues to give Hibs the trophy for the second year running. Justice was done.

This final was a personal success for Cini but it was also a feather in the cap for Sir Stanley Matthews.

As a final note, it is right to mention that Matthews was twice named Footballer of the Year, in 1948 and 1963, and was also the inaugural European Footballer of the Year in 1956. He died in February 2000, aged 85.

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