Stanley Matthews pipped some of the all-time great footballers to win the first Ballon d’Or in 1956.
While the modern day Ballon d’Or award has been dominated by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, it actually dates back decades to the early days of European Football.
The Ballon d’Or (or Golden Ball in French) is an awarded that is given out annually by the French Football magazine. Voted on by journalists from across the continent, it decides who is the best player in the World.
However, it was originally only for European players who played in Europe. Because of this, some of the biggest legends of the game never got their hands on it.
South American stars like Pele, Maradona and Garrincha would have won the award back in their day, as they were considered as the best in the world. However, they all were not from Europe, so were ineligible for the award.
France Football went back to retroactively decide which footballing stars should have won the award. Pele would have picked up an incredible 7 Ballon d’Or awards, while Maradona is owed two for his time on the pitch.
The trophy was a lot different back in the day than it is today. When it was first conceived in 1956, the game was a different sport than we see today, although the first winner was just as much a superstar as Messi or Ronaldo.
Stanley Matthews won the first Ballon d’Or in 1956, being one of four Englishman to lift the iconic award.
Stanley Matthews Won The First Ballon d’Or
Sir Stanley Matthews won the first Ballon d’Or award in 1956, the year the award was created by France Football.
The Englishman was an anomaly in football, and rightly regarded as one of the all-time greats. Stan Matthews broke a number of records in English football, some that still stand today and are unlikely to be broken.
Matthews was a speed winger in his day, and was regarded as one of the best in the world. He played in the top flight (then the First Division) until he was 50 years old, something which is almost certain to never be broken.
He also holds the record as the oldest England player ever. Stanley Matthews played his last game for England in 1957 at age 42, a year after his Ballon d’Or victory.
He was a star years before the celebrities of today. It is said that when he would play, an extra 10,000 away fans would cram into the terraces just to watch The Wizard of the Dribble plying his trade on a Saturday afternoon.
The peak of his career was halted when war broke out, and he spent the Second World War with the Royal Air Force. He would play exhibition and wartime matches for Stoke & Blackpool, but wouldn’t go back to professional football until the war ended in 1945.
After the war, he played for Stoke before moving to Blackpool. He famously won the FA Cup in 1953, in a final match now known as The Matthews Final.
In the match, Blackpool beat Bolton 4-3, and was named after Matthews, even though a different Stan (Striker Stan Mortensen) scored a hat-trick in the match.
In his autobiography, even Stanley Matthews called it “The Mortensen Final”, in a great act of humility.
Three years later, Blackpool finishes runners-up in the First Division. A 41 year-old Stanley Matthews starred for the team, and also helped England to win the British Home Championship, beating Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
These performances earned huge acclaim from across Europe. The legendary Matthews, now into his 40s, was voted by journalists across Europe as the best player on the continent.
He beat some of the all-time greats in the vote for the 1956 Ballon d’Or. Journalists voted him as the best footballer in Europe, ahead of some of the all-time greats like Alfredo Di Stefano, Raymond Kopa and Ferenc Puskas.
This was his only Ballon d’Or victory, but he did pick up the Football Writers’ Award in 1948 and 1963. Stanley Matthews was also knighted in 1965, while still playing in the First Division with Stoke City.
He was also the first man to be inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002, honouring one of the most legendary careers in football history.
Matthews died on 23 February 2000, aged 85, after falling ill while on holiday in Tenerife. He was honoured all across the world as a football pioneer and a legend of the game.