Stoke City: Matthews, McGrory and a deadline day when the title hung in the balance
A TRANSFER deadline day has never seemed more important at Stoke City than Sunday, March 16 1947.
The Potters, with 12 games remaining, sat sixth in the table with genuine ambitions of winning the league title for the first time in the club's history.
Awful winter weather meant they already knew their season would go on to a potentially vital game on the last day of an extended season, at Sheffield United on June 14.
But they had arguably the world's best player to help over the line; the most famous footballer on the planet and a home-grown superstar – and he wanted to leave.
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Stanley Matthews, the "wizard of dribble" from Hanley, had been testing the patience of his manager, Bob McGrory.
On the Wednesday before the deadline, the winger and his City team-mate Neil Franklin were called up to play in a friendly between the English and Scottish leagues at Hampden Park, which they won 3-1.
Blizzards, however, left the pair marooned in Glasgow as Stoke were preparing for an away game at Aston Villa on the Saturday.
Train tracks were finally cleared enough to allow a posse of players to head south but when, at 6am on the day of the game, Franklin jumped onto a newspaper train in Preston which was heading for the Potteries, Matthews decided to go home to Blackpool first – then failed to make a train to Birmingham.
Ironically, the game was abandoned after 25 minutes due to a snow storm but that did not cool any tensions and a national newspaper predicted Matthews' imminent sale.
On the Sunday, Stoke received several bids to contemplate but rejected them all, issuing the statement: "After careful consideration, the board have unanimously decided not to entertain the transfer of any players at the present time."
Relief reverberated around the Potteries as deadline day passed and the fans' hero remained in situ, but it was not to last.
Two draws had seen Stoke climb to fifth but Matthews then said he could not play in an away match at Grimsby because of a rush of bookings at his Blackpool hotel.
Stoke won 5-2 regardless and McGrory, by then referring to Matthews as 'Big 'Ed', left him out for the following day's game at home to Huddersfield, a 3-0 win which lifted City to third.
It had become four wins on the trot by the time Matthews was recalled for a 3-1 win over Brentford.
"McGrory told Stan: 'you can't have a player of your calibre, an England international, kicking his heels in the stand', only for Matthews to shortly learn the humiliating truth – he was only playing because of an injury to inside-right Bert Mitchell," Simon Lowe wrote in the excellent Potters At War.
Matthews demanded a meeting with directors and requested a move or else he might consider retirement.
The board initially refused but on April 23, when Stoke had five games left, the 32-year-old was placed on the transfer list – and Matthews was only interested in signing for Blackpool.
Still, he scored in Stoke's next game, a 2-0 win over Blackburn, then helped them beat Leeds United 2-1 with a seventh successive victory on what should have been the final day of the season.
However, he was then called up to play for an FA touring side meaning he would miss two of the three remaining fixtures. Blackpool had already completed their campaign so McGrory sanctioned his sale.
"He was trading Matthews' availability for remaining match at Sheffield United for his supposed disrupting effect on team spirit," wrote Lowe.
The player's insistence on joining no one but Blackpool meant Stoke, who were seeking a world record fee of £20,000, could not force a bidding war.
So he left for £11,500, sparking a storm of protest and the Matthews-less Potters drew, won and lost their remaining games, ending up fourth when just two more points would have crowned them champions.