This is the contract that shows that Stanley Matthews – who would go on to become one of football’s all-time superstars and the first player to be knighted – was earning when he broke into the Stoke City team.
Matthews made his Stoke debut at Bury on this day in 1932. He had signed his first professional contract just a month earlier, on his 17th birthday, and was called up to the first team to deputise for the injured Bobby Liddle.
Stoke were challenging for promotion to the top flight and won 1-0… with fellow winger Tim Maloney, as explained below, earning the headlines.
Tom Mather’s side only lost one of their final 10 games but five were drawn and they missed out on a top two spot by two points. They would go up as champions the following season, with Matthews, who was taking home £5 a week during the season and £3 a week during the summer, gradually playing a bigger role.
Inflation calculators suggest that £5 a week in 1932 would be worth about £350 in today’s money, or about £18,000 a year.
By 1933/34 the Wizard of Dribble was getting into full swing and starting to draw huge crowds wherever Stoke went.
That first contract was sold at auction three years ago for £4,100. It had been estimated to sell for between £1,000 and £1,500.
A second contract, signed by Matthews in 1935, was bought by a London-based Stoke City fan for £3,100, again well above the original estimate for the document of £600 to £800.
The crowd in the saleroom broke into applause as celebrity auctioneer Charles Hanson brought the hammer down on the unique lots.
The London buyer, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “My father originated from Stoke and saw Stanley Matthews play. I have supported Stoke City all my life and it was just something I wanted to own.”
March 19, 1932: Bury 0 Stoke City 1
The Sentinel reporter at Bury on the day Stanley Matthews made his Stoke City debut thought he had witnessed the start of a promising career – but predicted big things for the wrong winger.
In fact, Matthews should not have been at Gigg Lane at all on March 19, 1932, for what was a Division Two promotion clash: the fifth-placed Potters against third-placed Bury, separated by just a point as they fought for a top two spot.
The 17-year-old winger had been included in the squad for Stoke Reserves, who were busy drawing 1-1 with Blackpool at home that same afternoon.
He got his break as outside right when tricky Bobby Liddle, a former miner, failed to recover from an eye injury he had picked up in a 4-3 loss to league leaders Leeds the previous weekend.
On the other flank was another new man, Tim Maloney, who was making his second start since joining from Darlington, deputising for Harold Taylor (ankle).And it was Maloney who took the plaudits after he sunk a freak last-minute winner.
Keeper Tommy Mills ran out of his area to attempt a clearance but only succeeded in heading the ball into the onrushing 22-year-old, who then strolled towards the empty net.
The Sentinel was gushing in their praise for almost every Stoke player … apart from the debutant.
“It was a meritorious performance against one of their rivals for the leading positions,” we reported. “The major portion of credit for such a happy result to such an important game must be given to the defence, in which Arthur Beachill and Bob McGrory played magnificently. Norman Lewis was also great in goal.
“Arthur Turner was in capital form in the pivotal position, and for once Bury’s brilliant left winger Water Amos was subdued, William Robertson being his master.
“Harry Sellars, after a moderate start, did a lot of constructive work later in the game which had much to do with the revival of the City attack.
“The forwards showed themselves in their right light once proper use was made of the wing men, of whom Maloney was the more promising.”
Matthews was also in the side which beat Barnsley 2-0 at home a week later.
But Stoke paid the price for drawing five of their last nine games and finished in third, two points adrift of the promotion spots.
It left Matthews realising he had to make adjustments if he was going to make it in the big time, let alone thrive at the top for another three decades.
“When I ran out on to Gigg Lane with the rest of the Stoke team, I was as excited as I had been on my schoolboy international debut, perhaps more so,” he said.
“But I noticed there was a cemetery backing on to one end of the ground and just hoped it wasn’t an omen – the football career of Stanley Matthews was born and died here.
“Within minutes I realised that first-team football was a totally different game. Arms were flaying, shirts were held. When I tried to get near an opponent with the ball, his arm would shoot out to keep me at bay.
“When a high ball came my way, I found I couldn’t get off the ground to head it because the player marking me stood on my foot as he jumped to meet the ball with his head.
“Not once did the referee blow up. It was my first lesson that in professional football, such things are all part and parcel of the game. Accept them otherwise you wither away.
“The best way of combating all this was to improve my individual skills, to make it harder for my opponent to get near me and the ball.”