THIS YEAR IN 1953
Scot-loving Brazilians, breathtaking Hungarians and the tea lady who sealed a transfer – the early-50s had it all
THE MATTHEWS FINAL
Veteran winger Stanley Matthews, 38, helps Blackpool come from behind to beat Bolton 4-3 in May’s FA Cup final. The Wizard of the Dribble’s brilliance becomes so synonymous with the tie, Stan Mortensen’s hat-trick – still the only treble in Wembley showpiece history – is a footnote. When Stan dies in 1991, a popular joke is that his wake would be called ‘The Matthews Funeral’.
KEEP THE CHANGE
Barnsley striker Tommy Taylor joins Manchester United in March for the bizarre fee of £29,999. Not wanting to burden the 21-year-old with the tag of a ‘£30,000 player’, manager Matt Busby hands a £1 note to tea lady Lily Wilby, who treats herself to a new hairdo. The move agreed, the projectionist at the frontman’s local cinema interrupts a film with an on-screen plea: “Would Tommy Taylor report to the football ground as soon as possible.” Taylor would be one of the eight United players to lose their lives in the Munich air disaster five years later, having hit 112 goals in 166 league matches.
GUNNERS SNEAK GLORY
Arsenal defeat Burnley 3-2 in May to clinch the closest championship in English league history. They claim the title by just 0.099 of a goal on goal average, after the Gunners and runners-up Preston win 21 games, draw 12 and lose nine. At full-time, left-half Joe Mercer announces his retirement on the Highbury pitch. “Joe has been promising to retire for years,” huffs a sceptical wife Norah. She was right, too – Mercer plays in another 19 league games the following season.
HUBRIS MEETS NEMESIS
“We should be all right here, Stan,” England captain Billy Wright tells striker Mortensen as they prepare to host Hungary – wearing lightweight footwear “cut away like slippers under the ankle bone” – in November. “They haven’t even got proper kit.” Twenty-four minutes later, the visitors are 3-1 up as Ferenc Puskas (right) drags the ball past Wright (left) to score one of the game’s great goals. Deep-lying centre-forward Nandor Hidegkuti hits a hat-trick as Hungary win 6-3, the first foreign side to beat England at Wembley in ‘The Match of the Century’.
MADRID BEAT BARÇA TO DI STEFANO
Real Madrid finally win their tug-of-love with Barcelona for Argentine forward Alfredo Di Stefano’s signature in September. The latter had reached an agreement with River Plate, the club who held the Blond Arrow’s rights, while the former had done a deal with Millonarios in Colombia, for whom he was starring. The Spanish FA suggest the pair share Di Stefano by season, starting with Real, but an irked Barça pull the plug. They blame Spain’s dictator for the “strange federative manoeuvre with Francoist backing” which meant they missed out on a player who bags five consecutive European Cups.
MR SMITH TURNS HEADS
Hibernian head over to Brazil in June to contest an intercontinental event the Brazilian FA dubs the ‘World Club Championship’. After a draining trip, the Scots draw 3-3 against Vasco da Gama before losing to Botafogo and Fluminense. But the flair of forwards Bobby Johnstone and Gordon Smith (below) wows the South Americans, prompting Botafogo’s chairman to tell his Hibs counterpart Harry Swan: “Name your price for Gordon Smith.”
TRAGEDY FOR DOOLEY
After a 50-50 challenge with Preston goalkeeper George Thompson on Valentine’s Day, Sheffield Wednesday striker Derek Dooley’s leg is amputated to save his life following the onset of gangrene. “I shall have to think about the future,” said a surprisingly chipper Dooley, who left school at 14 to work in a hearing-aid factory. “I hope it will be something in football.” The local lad takes charge of Wednesday in the ’70s, later becoming managing director and chairman of steel city rivals United.