Matthews Sheds Light On English Football Star's Coaching In Apartheid South Africa

Bedford, New York Supervising Producer discusses documentary on Sir Stanley Matthews and his youth coaching in Soweto
Matthews Sheds Light on English Football Star's Coaching in Apartheid South Africa
Source - Photo by Stanley Matthews

Babe Ruth swung for the fences in the 1920s, and America crowned him the Sultan of Swat.  In England, Stanley Matthews compares at the same cultural magnitude, and one upped the Bambino’s royalty by becoming the only active footballer to receive a Knighthood.  Their off the field activity also made them both larger than life. But just because Sir Stanley was slight and his exploits far harder to spot amongst Ruth’s girth and gregariousness, doesn’t mean the English legend got his proper due in the history books and is the subject of an upcoming documentary called, Matthews.

The story that filmmaker

 Ryan Scott Warren is telling begins as Matthews was traveling to an exhibition tour in Johannesburg. “He was driving from the airport, and he saw little boys playing soccer with a ball made out of a plastic bags. They were doing his signature move. So when he stopped the car to get out, these little boys in Soweto knew immediately who he was,” says Supervising Producer Mitch Horn.  “He had no idea how far his fame had reached, and was really taken.”

As a result, Matthews returned every summer for 20 years to coach the boys. “It’s a story that not a lot of people know,” says the Bedford resident.

The triumph culminated in 1975 prior to the Soweto riots. “He put together a team called Stan’s Men to go to Brazil and train with their national team,” says Horn.

That even went unnoticed. “Coca Cola sponsored the team and didn’t publicize the trip,” says Horn. “It was a different era.”

The low profile still ran up against vehement opposition from the Apartheid government, but they weren’t the only ones who took issue.  “The anti-Apartheid movement said you shouldn’t be going into Soweto because of the boycott,” says Horn.

Regardless, Matthews refused to let politics disenfranchise his pupils.  “These are kids. This is football,” Horn conveyed Matthews sentiment. “The game is above politics and the children deserve it.”    

But the excursion to Brazil proved to be the end of his outreach.  “It wasn’t feasible to get back into Soweto after the riots, and all communication was shut down for several years. By then he was too old,” says Horn.

There was also no real discernible impact on

the system. On the other hand, Matthews’ love of the game let him leave no one untouched by his presence - especially these boys. “All he ever wanted to do was share football with others,” he says.

Horn can attest to the impact firsthand.  

The production was able to find nine of the youngsters who made the trip to Brazil.  “My trip to South Africa to meet these gentlemen was one of the most monumental experiences of my life,” he says. 

The instinct to story tell aside, providence apparently played a role, according to Hamilton who long hoped his mentor’s story would be told. “He gave me hug, and with tears in his eyes said, ‘I was praying for 40 years that you would come,’” Horn conveyed.

However, the story did start coming to light in England as journalist began interviewing him retrospectively about his career.  “He’s England’s guy so they know,” says Horn, “But when we brought this up to US players or coaches or random people, they have no idea.”

Given the current state of Sports, he believes its an education that must not be omitted. “In modern sports, there was a time we came to a crossroads, and the road that Stan choose was incredibly noble. I can’t say that sports as a whole chose that road since, concludes Horn. “He reminds us it is still possible.”

Matthews is in the final stages of production

Trailer :

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