Ballon d’Or 1956: Stanley Matthews

“He told me that he used to play for just 20 pounds a week. Today he would be worth all the money in the Bank of England.” — Gianfranco Zola

“His name is symbolic of the beauty of the game, his fame timeless and international, his sportsmanship and modesty universally acclaimed. A magical player, of the people, for the people.” — Engraved on the Stanley Matthews statue at Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium.

The Ballon d’Or (golden ball) was a brand new award given to the best football player in Europe as judged by an extensive panel of sports journalists from UEFA member countries. The inaugural winner was Stanley Matthews on 18 December 1956.


Stanley Matthews = Blackpool, England — 47 Points

Alfredo Di Stefano = Real Madrid, Spain — 44 Points

Raymond Kopa = Real Madrid, France — 33 Points

Ferenc Puskas = Budapest Honved, Hungary — 32 Points

Lev Yashin = Dynamo Moscow, Soviet Union — 19 Points


(Despite Alfredo Di Stefano being born in Argentina, he acquired Spanish citizenship in 1956, and went on to play for the Spanish national team)

 Originally journalists could only vote for Europeans playing in Europe but a rule change in 1995 meant that players from other continents could also win the award if they were playing for a European football club. This meant that the number of journalists allowed to vote increased to 96 around the world.

 During a time period where Stanley Matthews won the “European Ballon d’Or”, he was renowned for being a humble character and certainly much more appreciative than any international “superstar” of today. The only similarity between Stanley Matthews and Lionel Messi is their ability to draw crowds of up to 10,000 extra people at away games, just for people to see them in action.

 The England and Blackpool star was labelled the “Wizard of Dribble” due to his outstanding dribbling ability. Such an incredible ability has been unrivaled for several years, although Messi and Ronaldo may run him close. There is one thing which is for certain, neither Messi or Ronaldo will ever achieve such an awe inspiring longevity as Matthews did.

 Having signed for Stoke City on his 17th birthday, Matthews didn’t retire from professional football until the age of 50. His first international was played against Wales at the young age of 18 and he came away having scored in England’s 4-0 victory. His international career drew to a close at the veteran age of 42 after a fixture vs Denmark in 1957. During his international career Matthews scored 11 goals for England.

Matthews made it through his entire career without picking up a single booking and became the first ever professional footballer to be awarded a knighthood in 1965. Matthews was known for his modesty after he spent an incredible 14 years at Blackpool, he played so well in the 1953 FA Cup final against Bolton Wanderers that the game was renamed the “Matthews Final” after a masterful performance by Blackpool.

Matthews remained intent to bat away the accolade and within his autobiography he labelled the game as the “Mortensen final” in tribute to Stan Mortensen who scored a hat trick in the 4-3 victory.

By the end of Matthews’ career he had 84 international caps and made nearly 700 league appearances during his time at Stoke City and Blackpool. Matthews died in 2000, three weeks after turning 85, and was rightfully inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

Zak Bird.