Old rivals revive golden memory of Matthews final

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AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester are both seeking a place in tomorrow's FA Cup third round draw, and the wonderfully named Swindon Supermarine are among other would-be giantkillers in this weekend's second round.

The most romantic FA Cup story of them all, however, will be evoked by a Premier League match in Horwich.

Bolton Wanderers and Blackpool meet in the top flight for the first time since 1964 today, but the images evoked by the match go further back, to the 1953 "Matthews Final".

It comes to something when a player scores a hat-trick in the FA Cup final and the match is remembered in folklore by the name of a team-mate, but that was Stan Mortensen's fate as a nation rejoiced that Stanley Matthews had finally gained a winners' medal.

Matthews was 38 and thought his chance had gone after Blackpool lost the finals of 1948 (4-2 to Manchester United after leading twice) and 1951 (2-0 to Newcastle United). "I am terribly disappointed, a Cup medal means so much," he said after the first defeat. After the second, he wrote (in his ghosted Sunday Express column): "At times that Cup medal seemed almost there. At least I have the consolation of two Wembley medals. I'm not finished, we're a good team and there's always next year."

The "next year" Blackpool were unexpectedly knocked out at then-Second Division West Ham in the third round and their prospects seemed bleak in 1953 when they were drawn away to Arsenal, the eventual league champions, in the quarter-finals. Blackpool won 2-1 at Highbury, then defeated Tottenham in the semi-final.

So to Wembley, where Bolton and Nat Lofthouse awaited. Lofthouse had scored in every round and within two minutes he put Wanderers ahead with his ninth of the competition. By the hour-mark, Bolton led 3-1 and Matthews seemed fated to collect another losers' medal. Cyril Robinson, the only surviving member of the team, has recalled: "It looked hopeless then."

However, Bolton were effectively down to 10 men. Eric Bell had pulled a muscle after 20 minutes but was forced to stay on as substitutes had not yet been introduced to football. He did head Bolton's third, but was otherwise hopping around like "a kangaroo". Bell normally played left-half, which was significant as his incapacity meant left-back Ralph Banks faced Matthews largely on his own. With Banks struggling with cramp, Matthews – who always worked hard on his fitness – became the game's dominant player, Blackpool feeding him continually.

Mortensen pulled a goal back after a Matthews cross was spilled, then drove in an 89th-minute free-kick to level. No one else scored an FA Cup final hat-trick in the 20th century, but Mortensen was just the supporting act. Centre-stage was the right wing and in injury time Matthews again went past Banks to the byline.

In his autobiography, he wrote that he was forced to cross blind and "it was pure instinct that I pulled the ball back to where experience told me Morty would be. In making the cross I slipped on the greasy turf and, as I fell, my heart and hopes fell also. I looked across and saw that Morty had peeled away to the far post. But breaking into the box was Bill Perry." The South Africa-born winger rolled the ball in.

Matthews' medal, Blackpool's dramatic comeback, Mortensen's hat-trick; there are good reasons why this final has etched such a mark in the game's history, but there is also another factor to account for its impact. Many people had just bought their first television sets so they could watch the coronation, a month later, of Queen Elizabeth II. The match thus had a much larger audience than any previous final.

Matthews' medal was bought by comedian Nick Hancock in 2001 for £20,000 and is now on show at Matthews' other club, Stoke City. To the player though, it was priceless.