June 07, 2020

Article at Jeremy on Authory

When Sir Stanley Graced Eynesbury - A Day We Will Never Forget

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A remarkable archive has been uncovered telling the story of the day the world’s most famous footballer turned out for a village team in Cambridgeshire.

By 1955, Stanley Matthews was a legend of the game, who had inspired Blackpool to an unforgettable FA Cup victory two years earlier and was still playing regularly for England.

Known as ‘the magician’, he was renowned for his speed and skill and one of the best crossers in the game. His good close control was coupled with an excellent dribbling ability.

Eynesbury Rovers, meanwhile, could be found in an historic village just outside of St Neots in Huntingdonshire, now part of Cambridgeshire. It was a club that punched above its weight, playing in the Eastern Counties League and fielding several professional players.

Now a treasure trove from the club’s archives has been made available online. The documents, press cuttings and photographs tell the story of a momentous spring evening in 1955. Some 4,000 fans, far more than the total population of Eynesbury, poured into the Hall Road ground to watch Stanley Matthews play for the local club.

These days the club plies its trade in the South Midlands League Premier Division. Its vice-chairman Graham Mills was recently entrusted with the club’s archives by the family of the late Deryck Irons who served as club secretary for over 50 years. Among the treasures that Irons had preserved was a box of press cuttings and other memorabilia relating to Matthews’ appearance.

Mills thought it was important to share this with a wider audience in time for the game’s 65th anniversary. He worked with Sue and David Jarrett, who run a local history website Cambridgeshire Community Archive Network, to preserve the documents for future generations.

Mills told NLP: “The thing that’s quite remarkable, he was still an England international at that time. If you take it in a modern context, it’s like us approaching Tottenham to ask if Harry Kane can have a kick around for us. It’s just unbelievable, a different era. It was remarkable generosity.”

The documents tell a fascinating story from the club making a first tentative approach to Blackpool in December 1954. Eynesbury had recently spent £1,500 on materials for a new stand covering the length of one side of the Hall Road pitch, with dressing rooms, committee rooms and offices. The development was built using voluntary labour, but the club needed to raise funds to help pay off the remaining bill.

Under the leadership of general manager Ernie Childs, Rovers had improved their playing strength and support base. They recruited Charlie Revell, a former professional with Charlton and Derby County as player-coach.

The letters suggest that Matthews already knew Revell. This seems to have prompted Childs to write to Blackpool, asking if the England international could detour to Eynesbury on his way back from Portsmouth between Christmas and New Year 1954. He followed up with a direct approach to Matthews, stating: “it would mean ‘a grand gate, which would help us tremendously. Furthermore, it would be one of the greatest honours and privileges that could be conferred upon us.

‘We would not allow the match to become wearisome to you but perhaps even a tonic in helping an ambitious club to progress upwards and in the thrill you would bring to the youngsters of the district to whom you are a magic name.”

The letter mentions the impact that Revell had brought to the club with “a new conception of tactics, an excellent style and the right approach to the game. His presence ensures that we are quite formidable opponents.”

Matthews was instantly receptive to the idea and sent a handwritten response saying he could not come to Cambridgeshire in December but would be happy to appear at some other time. The game was on.

Eventually a date was fixed for April 1955 with a Fulham XI – featuring four stars from their first team – making up the opposition. Eynesbury ramped up their publicity, producing posters, shop window displays featuring memorabilia donated by Matthews and writing to local press about the appearance of ‘the world’s greatest footballer’.

The reference to Matthews in the commemorative match programme was no hyperbole. Matthews was a winner of both the European Footballer of the Year and the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year awards.

Stating that Matthews stood for everything good in the game, the programme said, fans would see: “the shuffling gait, the tantalising dribbles, the outward flicks, the dazzling movements and acceleration, the superb ball control and pinpointed crosses, yes above all, we shall see the unbelievable spectacle of STANLEY MATTHEWS playing here on our own Eynesbury pitch to help our Stand Funds. So to STANLEY MATTHEWS – GREAT SPORTSMAN and MODEST GENTLEMAN – a humble thank you, sir.”

Although Eynesbury lost after Pat Whiteman put them ahead, local newspaper The Hunts Post reported: “The result was an entertaining match, the overall pattern of which was the cleverness of Fulham, the enthusiasm of the Eynesbury players and the tantalising bursts of Matthews’ brilliance. When Matthews ran onto the field, the roar which greeted his appearance was equalled only by the enthusiasm of the dozens of young boys, autograph hunters all, who chased him off the field at the end.

“Matthews did not disappoint the fans. It was only an exhibition game, but he pulled out some of his best tricks. The only shadow on the game was the fact that Charlie Revell, Rovers’ player-coach was injured and could not play. For the record, Eynesbury lost 1-2 – but what matters, it was a great occasion.”

Matthews clearly enjoyed the occasion and wrote back to thank Eynesbury, hoping they would meet again. Childs soon started hatching a plan to bring him back to Cambridgeshire.

Although proceeds from the game helped reduced the club’s debts by £200, Eynesbury had taken further steps to reduce expenditure, deciding not to re-sign three of their professionals including Charlie Revell. However, letters from Childs to Matthews suggest he was looking positively to the future and starting to build a new team.

Matthews agreed to make a further appearance for Eynesbury against an Arsenal XI in May 1956, but plans were scuppered at the last minute by an England recall at the age of 41.

That though was not Matthews’ final involvement with Eynesbury. Four decades later, aged 82, the then Sir Stanley Matthews attended the club’s centenary dinner as guest of honour. He also took the time to visit the ground and spend time coaching young players.

Since 1955, Eynesbury and St Neots have merged with significant development in the area. Eynesbury though retains a distinct identity and Rovers recently reached the fourth round of the FA Vase for the first time in its history under manager Mark Duckett who has since joined Bedford Town.

New manager, former St Neots striker Steve Kuhne took over the reins in late January and saw the club finish ninth in the curtailed season.

• The full archive relating to Stanley Matthews’ appearance for Eyenesbury Rovers can be found at: https://st-neots.ccan.co.uk/wp-search/stanley+matthews/

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