Sir Stanley Matthews: Catch ’em young

Sir Stanley Matthews: Catch ’em young

A vintage article from Charlie Buchan’s Soccer Gift Book as then Vale general manager Sir Stanley Matthews explains the club’s youth policy.

How well behaved are youngsters today? My answer is that, generally speaking, they are not as black as they are painted!

Of course, there are the bad ones – there always were and always will be. But in my experience there is a much higher percentage of good ones, especially around the Soccer scene.

Since I became general manager at Port Vale I have – as a sheer economic necessity – concentrated on a youth policy which has meant interviewing dozens of promising schoolboy and youthful footballers.

They vary considerably, but I am sure that the big majority (whether they go into Soccer or not) will eventually settle down and become useful citizens.

The important thing in Soccer is to get hold of them at the earliest possible age. If they have ability they can (around the age of 15/16) be put on the right lines.

Of course, even at this age, you will find a few Good Time Charlies among them and they can be dangerous. Not only can they be difficult to handle – they affect the other youngsters. There is only one way to deal with these – get rid of them. And quickly.

Having decided to keep a youngster, it is important to guide him carefully through his early, impressionable years. While care must be taken not to stifle his enthusiasm and spirit, equal care must be taken to ensure that he quickly becomes familiar with the hard facts of Soccer life.

The value of physical fitness must be impressed upon him, and he must be made to realise that this consists of a lot more than a couple of hours daily training at the ground.

At Port Vale we try to get over to the lads that the body is a complex mechanism and must be treated as such. Liberties taken away from the ground can ruin the best of sporting schedules.

They must be taught to accept the good with the bad. I know only too well that they look up to me and think that I never had a bad time – never suffered frustrating injuries – loss of form – and the other worries that can affect one’s play.

We try to prepare them for the worst by telling them that the best of players suffer bad patches and injuries. These are occupational hazards and that they must learn to accept and overcome.

And, young and impressionable as they are, they can easily magnify their troubles. If they get a knock on the knee – immediately their thoughts turn to cartilage trouble… operations… long periods out of the game.

They get a nasty kick on the thigh and they start wondering if they will ever play again. This sort of thing can quickly ruin a boy’s confidence – which can be harder to mend then even a bad injury.

It took us six long weeks to get one of our youngsters back to confidence after a bad spell.

A mature player can sometimes be driven out of a bad patch, but when this happens to youngsters – and don’t forget they are still only boys – they require almost fatherly affection to pull them out of it.

It is no use at all, bawling and shouting at them. this only sends them further into their shells. They have to be coaxed and cajoled along until they acquire the experience to get themselves out of these troubles. Mind you, we don’t waste time on non-triers. If we find a boy losing interest, not putting his all into training and playing, we take a very stern line.

We say bluntly – if you are not interested, go home! If we feel they have the talent, we tell them to go away, think about it all, and if they really want to work hard to become good Soccer players, come back and let us know.

This method applied fairly, but firmly, can often bring a boy to his senses, and most of the lads we bring to Vale Park really want to dedicate themselves to the game.

We insist on them going to night classes just in case they don’t make the grade. We try to dissuade them from letting their hair grow too long. One wouldn’t look too bad, but can you imagine a whole team of them…?

We also believe in blooding them as early as possible, so long as they are physically capable. It does no harm to put a youngster in with older, more experienced players, provided he is strong enough. He will have the natural stamina of youth, which is perhaps his greatest and most valuable asset.

Particularly so far as recovery from minor injury is concerned, the older one gets, the longer it takes muscles to recover.

We have done this successfully with several of our young discoveries. We usually put them in a friendly or junior game to play alongside Jackie Mudie or myself. Thus we are able to control and school them much better then from the sidelines. And they undoubtedly benefit.

Some of them we are able to push right into the ‘A’ and reserve side. We have one 16-year-old wing half who has played several games in the reserves and showed promise.

We decided to give him a run and after his first game he could hardly stand up. But his youthful ability to recover quickly was very evident when he turned up the next day for training as chirpy as ever. Now – he is a full reserve team player.

If they are big and strong – they can take it. If there are not so tough, then we play them on the wing to start with.

Yes, in Soccer, at least, the lads of today are all right, but they have constantly to be watched and treated as individuals. Usually, they respond to our methods and as a result we have a number of good potential League players at Vale Park. And we are constantly on the look-out for more.

This article appeared in ‘Charlie Buchan’s Soccer Gift Book’ 1968

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