the first Ballon d’Or in history

Award to honor the best football player each year, the Ballon d’Or was created by France Football in 1956. But who is the first footballer in history to have obtained this trophy? This is Stanley Matthews, the “dribbling wizard”. Focus on the career of the first Ballon d’Or in history.

Stanley Matthews is an English footballer who began his career in 1932 and ended it in 1965. That is more than thirty years at the top level. As well as being the first Ballon d’Or, the England winger has several longevity records.

Stanley Matthews, promising beginnings

Very young, Stanley Matthews was already doing miracles with the ball at his feet. After scoring eight goals in an inter-school game, his father encouraged him to turn to a professional football career. In 1932, Stanley signed his first professional contract with Stoke City, then in English Division 2.

The young British played the 1930/1931 season with the reserve of Stoke. But given his quality, he quickly reached the first team. It was aged 17 that he took his first steps with the pro group. However, he remains physically fragile and finds it difficult to get used to the harshness of the English championship. Stanley Matthews would eventually score his very first goal in March 1933.

A name engraved in the history of Stoke City

At the end of the 1932/1933 season, Stoke City were Championship champions and entered the Premier League. It is on the elite pitches that Stanley Matthews will express all his talent and creativity through dribbling. During the 1935-1936 season, he carries Stoke City to an unexpected fourth place in the standings. The best in club history.

As his career took off and his performances wrote Stoke City history, the Second World War forced Stanley Matthews to take a six-year break. Enlisted in the Royal Air Force, Stanley finds himself confined to Blackpool. The city of his future club.

In Blackpool, Stanley Matthews impresses the football world

In 1947, then aged 32, Stanley Matthews joined Blackpool. While the coach, Joe Smith, hoped to be able to count on him for two or even three seasons, the dribble wizard remained until 1961. That is 14 years. During his time at Blackpool, Stanley Matthews is considered the best player in post-war Europe. He will notably bring back the title of Footballer of the Year for the 1947/1948 season, which is equivalent to the best player in England according to the country’s journalists.

stanley matthews gear
The equipment with which Stanley Matthews evolved (credits: DR).

Yet accustomed to mid-table or even maintenance, Blackpool ended the 1950/1951 season in third place in the championship. Playing 44 games this season, Matthews also takes his team to the FA Cup final. However, it is a defeat that awaits Blackpool against Newcastle.

To continue to shine despite old age and injuries

However, after that season, the injuries started piling up for the then 37-year-old Stanley Matthews. At this time, many fans and even informed observers of the world of football predict an imminent end of career for the player, with no further brilliance possible. However, Matthews would impress his world and in the FA Cup final in 1953.

During this final against Bolton, Stanley Matthews plays his best football. His team are down 3-1 with twenty minutes remaining: but the dribble wizard causes the score to be reduced, his teammate Stan Mortensen equalizes with one minute remaining. It’s in the very last seconds that Stanley Matthews will dribble several players before delivering an assist for Blackpool victory. Despite Mortensen’s hat-trick, this match is known as « The Matthews Final ».

Stanley Matthews’ career crowned with the first Ballon d’Or

In 1956, Matthews beat Alfredo Di Stéfano and Raymond Kopa in the race for the first Ballon d’Or. While Di Stéfano and Kopa benefited from their respective club’s journey in the first edition of the European Club Cup, Matthews was rewarded with England’s invincibility that year, marked in particular by a victory over Brazil (4-2). Stanley Matthews receives this award at age 40. It is both the first and also the oldest Golden Ball in history.

Matthews then returned to Stoke City in 1961 to end his career there in 1965. During his very long career, in addition to the Ballon d’Or, Matthews won an English Cup and two English Division 2 championships, in 1933 and in 1963 with Stoke City. Even if the prize list is very lowthe dribble wizard won unanimous support from journalists and football fans of the time.

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