England footballer shamed the badge ... over 65 years ago
In an illustrious playing career spanning 39 years, Sir Stanley Matthews was renowned for his gentlemanly observation of the rules. In nearly 700 league games, he didn’t receive a single booking.
But when presented with an opportunity to make a fast buck on the black market during the Second World War while playing in Belgium for an ad hoc England side, the ‘Wizard of the Dribble’ found the temptation to break the law impossible to resist.
Documents reveal that Sir Stanley, along with another legend of English football, Stan Mortensen, was arrested for hawking contraband coffee and soap around Brussels during an international match while serving with the RAF.
Ministry of Defence record released under the Freedom of Information Act at the National Archives in Kew, London, detail how the two players sought to turn a quick wartime profit by approaching shopkeepers in the Belgian capital in March 1945 with a suitcase filled with bags of coffee and soap while signing autographs and bragging that they were England internationals.
The incident is an early example of the tradition of ignominious behaviour by touring England players, ranging from the arrest in Colombia of World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore in 1970, to the gaggle of drunken stars who rode the luggage carousel at Belgrade airport four years later.
But the shady dealings of England's wartime footballing heroes hark back to a more modest era when even the most lauded team members were not averse to dabbling in contraband to supplement their meagre wages.
Competitive football was initially suspended early in the war and later partially resumed, with top players such as Sir Stanley and Mr Mortensen “guesting” for teams close to wherever they were stationed with the Armed Forces.
The documents, kept secret until now, describe how the then Corporal Stanley Matthews (30) fell into a trap laid by the RAF's Special Investigation Branch.
The scam was interpreted as grounds for launching a criminal inquiry into the whole England team.
In the end, when confronted with evidence that he had sold 5lbs of coffee for about 700 Belgian Francs, equivalent to about $16, Sir Stanley simply said: “I am guilty, I sold the coffee.”
After receiving formal reprimands, the footballers were asked what they had spent their ill-gotten gains on. The rather old-fashioned response was that they bought presents for their wives.