Credit: Shutterstock/Stanley Matthews

I played for 33 years and never got cautioned. I like that

The first ever footballer to be knighted, Stanley Matthews was a sporting hero in every sense.

Renowned for his sudden bursts of energetic play which led him to be known by his nickname, the Wizard of Dribble, he was also known as the first gentleman of soccer, for the way he respected and abided by the rules of the game.

Born in Stoke on Trent and the son of a professional boxer, Matthews first became a full-time professional football player in 1932 and played for England in a full international for the first time just two years later.

By 1965, Stanley had transformed the fortunes of Stoke City and Blackpool in nearly 700 League appearances. He retired from play in that year.

He protested that he was no hero when his home city unveiled a statue in his honour in 1987, avowing that was a plaudit for dedicated doctors and nurses, or another Stoke-born pioneer, Reginald Mitchell, who designed the Spitfire and helped win the war.

“Now that's what I call a hero,” he said.

In Sir Stanley’s heyday it was estimated that 10,000 extra people would turn up to the gates to watch him play, yet he seemed almost unaware of the adulation, focusing his ‘terrier-like’ attention on the ball.

His presence on the field had always guaranteed a large crowd and in death he was no different. It is thought that 10,000 people stood in tribute as his funeral procession passed through the city of Stoke-on-Trent in 2000. There is perhaps no greater tribute to his enduring popularity and clear footballing genius.