Finest Hour 180, Spring 2018
By Paul Trevillion
Paul Trevillion is Artist in Residence at the National Football Museum in Manchester, England.
In 1994 the United States hosted the World Cup, and I was the artist on Umbro’s Soccerblast: Legends of Soccer Tour. I worked alongside American soccer superstar Michelle Akers-Stahl; Sir Stanley Matthews, who was England’s wizard of the dribble; England’s 1966 World Cup goalkeeper hero Gordon Banks; and Brazilian legend Roberto Rivelino.
It was my role standing pitch side to draw the goals as they flew in so that the fans could see my images on the big screen high above the field of play.
Michelle Akers-Stahl and Roberto Rivelino hammered the ball into the back of the opposition net again and again, much to the approval of the roaring fans. Even Sir Stanley Matthews, then nearly eighty, raised laughs from the crowd when, with a shoulder feint or body swerve, he left a defender on the seat of his pants.
When the games were over, I had an opportunity to talk to the soccer superstars. On one occasion, I asked Sir Stanley what Winston Churchill had said when he greeted players before matches during the wartime England internationals. These moments were recorded by the newsreels and shown in cinemas. The Prime Minister stopped as he walked down the line of the England team to shake hands and speak with each player.
“It was pretty much the same words every time,” said Stanley. “Winston would still hold onto your hand after the initial handshake, but not too tightly. I imagined he was checking for any sign of nerves, a slight tremble or something. Then he would ask me if the ‘troops’ were ready for action. He never said players or footballers. I always nodded. Then Winston would invariably lean forward and ask me if I was going to lead the opposing defence a merry dance. ‘Yes sir,’ I always instantly replied. Winston would then look straight into my eyes, smile, and then walk away.”
Before Stanley continued he started on another glass of water. I never saw him drink anything else but water. “I always played well when Winston was watching,” he said. “Truth is the whole team played well. All of us found that little bit extra. We never lost a game. Never. Thanks to Winston.
“I will never forget one particular game when I had one of those days when I could do nothing wrong. Time after time, I would waltz through the opposition defence. After that game, Winston congratulated me, and I remember asking him if he had ever played football. ‘Never,’ said Winston. ‘Polo and always with a very courageous horse. Courage is everything. It is the greatest of all qualities. It guarantees all other virtues. That is the reason why you are such a successful player Stanley. Courage. Am I right?’ ‘Yes sir,’ I replied. ‘I always believe I can and will beat the opponent facing me.’ ‘Splendid,’ said Winston and shook my hand, and this time I was very conscious it was quite a firm handshake.”
Stanley put down his glass of water and laughed. “Looking back, I regret when talking with Winston about courage, the two of us didn’t exchange autographs. Winston might not have wanted mine, but what a golden opportunity I had to get the great man’s autograph. I can see it now: ‘To Stanley, Best wishes, Sir Winston Churchill.’ To have got that would have been something I would have treasured for a lifetime.”
From nowhere, another bottle of water appeared, and Stanley continued: “Sadly, when in 1965 I became the first footballer to be knighted, it was also the year when Sir Winston Churchill passed on. A very sad time, but I am thankful I have been left with some wonderful memories of our greatest war leader.”
I watched Sir Stanley Matthews walk away, possibly in search of another bottle of water, but inwardly I smiled. I did not pass up on the golden opportunity to get the great man’s autograph, and I have the portrait I painted signed by Sir Winston Churchill. [See back cover of FH 175.] Of course Stanley was right: it is a lifetime’s treasure!