The black man with a white face – broadcasting legend pays tribute to Stoke City hero

Nigel Johnson is now into his seventh different decade as commentator with BBC Radio Stoke and to mark the landmark we asked him to select his favourite Stoke City star from each of the previous six decades – starting with the 1960s and one Sir Stanley Matthews…

Sir Stan was known as many things like the wizard of dribble and the black man with a white face, while Pele said he taught us the game.

He made his England debut at just 19 and was a player of exquisite balance, electrifying change of pace, brilliant ball control and pinpoint passing.

I was fortunate enough to see him play in his pomp, including the FA Cup semi-finals of 1951 and 1953.

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In 1951, I was lifted over the turnstiles at Maine Road and sat on my father’s lap at the age of eight.

Then in 1953, I was in the paddock at Villa Park when Stan played against a Tottenham side with Alf Ramsey and I always remember this enormous live duck waddling out of the tunnel painted in Blackpool tangerine.

Blackpool won and I watched the final on a neighbour’s black-and-white TV, because we didn’t have one, as Blackpool came from 3-1 down to win 4-3 in what became knows as the Matthews final.

Then in 1961 he returned home to Stoke and the gate went from 8,000 in the previous home game to 36,000 for his homecoming game against Huddersfield.

Two years later he was in the Stoke team that won promotion back to the top flight and then in 1965 there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at his big farewell game against the Rest of the World.

It was so rammed inside the Victoria Ground that it seemed like the rest of the world had actually come to watch the game.

I remember I’d come back from honeymoon at the weekend, just in time to see the game.

To give you an idea of his popularity, I remember Jimmy Armfield telling the story that when Blackpool played at Charlton, on Stan’s 40th birthday, the whole ground sang Happy Birthday to Stan and there were tears running down his cheeks.

Stoke v Real Madrid, friendly match at the Victoria ground . Pictured shaking hands are football greats Stanley Matthews & Alfredo De Stefano. Final score: Stoke 2-2 Real Madrid

I found him to be a lovely, modest man and whenever he met people he’d been introduced to before, he always made a point of remembering their names, however long ago it was.

That must have been so uplifting for anyone, to hear someone of his stature remember your name, and he always wanted to talk about you, not about himself.

He was very concerned about Stoke, especially in his later years when the Icelanders were in charge, and he would often say: `Nigel, what is going on down there?’ He would also complain: `Why do we have these commentators on the television, because we can see what is happening?’

A very, very nice man, he really was, and Stoke through and through.

And what a footballer.”

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