Who is this Christ-like figure?
In an era where heroes were necessary, there is a name that stands out in football. Stanley. He was the embodiment of the Roy of the Rovers or Eagle cartoon favourite. He was brave, feisty and modest but could always be relied on to save the day.
His name is in the history books, but his achievements have been largely overlooked. I hear you, dear readers cry out that this “Wizard of the Dribble” was knighted whilst still playing. Well, I am talking about the other Stanley, posthumously dubbed “The Jesus Christ of Bloomfield Road,” by the band Half Man Half Biscuit.
Not Matthews. Mortensen. The record books have his name written recorded yet he was the understated hero without whom Sir Stanley Mathews would not have won the coveted FA Cup Winners medal. To be fair, without Matthews’ precision assists, the goals would not have been scored and they both knew that. A true hero knows his worth and basks in his personal glory. Who needs worldwide adulation? Not Stanley Mortensen, “The Tangerine Wizard”.
Will the real Stanley stand up?
Having been signed by Blackpool, after being spotted whilst playing for South Sheilds Ex Schoolboys, he took up the role of a war hero which nearly ended his career before it started. He sustained serious head injuries when the Wellington Bomber he was in crashed. Despite being told he would never play again, he did. For the RAF.
He was selected to play against the Army in a match that featured, amongst other Joe Mercer, Laurie Scott, and Stanley Matthews. It was the two Stanleys’ other activities that could have gained them notoriety as they were caught selling coffee and soap on the black market. Fortunately, the protocols meant that the inquiry wasn’t taken further but their partnership was.
After the war
When the Football League resumed, Mathews resumed his pre-war career and Mortenson’s really began. The fact he had a powerful strike with both feet made him an impressive striker and his strike rate reflected that. He scored a hat-trick that gave Blackpool a chance at winning the FA Cup.
They were to face Matt Busby’s Manchester United. Unfortunately for the two Stanleys, Busby knew he would have to devise a special plan to stop their strike force. He couldn’t stop Mortenson scoring but he did prevent Mathews from providing him with more scoring opportunities and the FA Cup went west to Old Trafford. Mortensen had scored in all the previous rounds of the FA Cup but the fact he scored in 12 consecutive rounds of the competition may be a record it does not give you the deserved medal.
Three years later it was Mortensen’s goal-scoring ability that brought them to another FA Cup final, this time against Newcastle. Jackie Milburn’s first goal was disallowed for offside and Mortenson had one cleared off the line by Cowell so the score was 0-0 at halftime. Milburn scored two after 10 minutes and this was enough to bring heartache to the Tangerines and Newcastle received the trophy from the King.
In 1953, Blackpool had another shot at FA Cup glory, this time in front of a new, as yet uncrowned monarch. Maybe this would give Blackpool the impetus and inspiration for glory. I am not sure if it was the change in national leadership but this cup final certainly has captured people’s imagination and it certainly had the hype.
Whose final is it anyway?
Well, you can’t have goals without assists and you don’t win anything unless you score goals so I guess we will all reach our own conclusion on that one. Commonly referred to as “The Matthews Final” this epic match had seven goals including an injury time winner. It had on-pitch injuries which were ignored by those that sustained them as it would be another 12 years before the idea of substitutions would be introduced. We also have the first and the only hattrick scored in a FA Cup final. So I conclude it’s the Stanleys’ final.
In another, all northern final Blackpool were to take on Bolton Wanderers who had won the competition on three previous occasions. Nat Lofthouse opened the score sheet for Bolton and it seemed like there was just going to be misery piled on misery for Blackpool. Initially, Mortensen’s first goal was wrongly credited as an own goal by Harold Hassell by commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme. Fortunately for the record books, it was given to Mortensen as it was headed towards the back of the net even though there was a deflection. It didn’t seem to matter as Bolton were leading 2-1 at halftime when Bobby Langton gave them the lead.
Having an injured player limping on the pitch might not help morale when you are winning. But it did inspire the injured Eric Bell to make it 3-1 and another runners up medal was on the cards for the bridesmaids of the FA Cup. It seemed to have inspired Blackpool. When other players might have been thinking about the warm bath and consolation speeches the two Stanleys did what they did best and dug deep.
The other Stanley picked up the pace on the pitch and reminded Bolton of his match-winning talent. Mortensen scored in a goalmouth scramble that reflected the desire to win if not showcasing his talent. It seemed to cause him much physical pain but he could not hobble off now at 3-2 the match wasn’t over. In the dying minute, Mortensen levelled the score and completed his hat-trick. It was a belter of a free-kick, the power of which you can feel, no swerves, nothing fancy driven home but the desire to win.
Injury time and a miraculous legend is born
The two injuries meant there were going to be four minutes of added time and with the scoreline at 3-3 it looked like a draw was on the cards. “Magnificent Matthews” got his third assist. This time Joe Perry was there to finish it off and the legend was born. It seemed like the legend had been born before it was actualised as Frank Butler reported a week earlier if Blackpool were to win this would become the “Matthews Final.” The Sunday Chronicle compounded the story by saying, “Matthews 4, Bolton 3 is more correctly the result.”
Modest Mortensen scored his way to legend status and Stanley Matthews is the only person to call this match the “Mortensen Final” in his autobiography. Their partnership was perfect and they both deserve recognition for gentlemanly conduct as much as their goalscoring enterprise. They both had FA Cup Winners medals, which was the most coveted prize in the game. With two unbeaten records to his name Mortensen was a legend.
In his first outing for England, Mortensen stood out, not for his goalscoring but for a quirk of fate. He is the only Englishman to make his debut against England. On 25 September 1943 Mortensen was England’s reserve player in a friendly against Wales. When Wales’ Ivor Powell was injured Mortensen took his place and played for Wales. The Welsh fans had no idea that Powell was replaced and cheered on their new inside right. It wasn’t until half time that the commentary team were aware of the switch. Wales lost 8-3 but it made for a great story.
When Mortensen donned the “Three Lions” he scored four against Portugal. He also scored England’s first ever World Cup goal in a match against Chile. In 25 appearances, he scored 23 goals, which is an impressive strike rate. His final game for England saw him score in the 3-6 defeat at Wembley by the “Mighty Magyars”. You would think they would have made a biopic about this impressive player. His story has all the right ingredients. Celluloid reimaginings can sometimes be even worse than their tale. Mortensen was wrongly portrayed as an upper-class twit in a film about the USA’s bizarre victory over England in 1950. Not cool, Hollywood.
For the love of it
Stanley Mortensen was as modest as he was great. He would go that extra mile for his town and his club. He even auctioned his own medals to help Blackpool out when they went through a time of financial crisis. He died on May 22 1991 when his beloved team reached Wembley for the first time since they had won the FA Cup. He is remembered as a “great” as the statistics and records speak for themselves. There is a statue of him outside Bloomfield Road and the North Stand bears his name which would have meant more to him than anything else.