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Even in those happy days the dread that I might be too tiny for big-time football was with me. So, it is fortunate that I have settled down on the wing because there is not the same need to be tall as in the middle. There is more room too unless you are up against a back like Eric Caldow of Glasgow Rangers. He was marking me in the Football League v Scottish League game at Newcastle last season and was closer to me than a shadow. Editor’s note – The football League won 4-1 with goals from Derek Kevan (3) and Ronnie Allen with Tommy Gemmell replying for the Scottish League in front of 48,800 on March 26th, 1958.
Sometimes I am accused of holding the ball too long. Let me confess immediately that I like beating a man. Ever since I was a kid playing in the streets I have enjoyed the thrill of taking the ball up to an opponent and then going past him. If I beat a man I am creating an opening from which a colleague may score a goal or I may even score myself. It’s easy enough to say, “You’re holding the ball too long” after you’ve lost it. That’s being wise after the event. My defence is that I was trying to do something to create a goal opportunity.
All good players do the unexpected. The basis of their game is to do the simple things quickly but they make their game infinitely more dangerous by throwing in the unorthodox move occasionally. Take Johnny Haynes of Fulham & England as an example. He will often shape to pass to me on the right wing and then wheel suddenly to hit the ball to the opposite wing. If the move breaks down he is criticised but if it comes off he has the opposition off-guard and the opening is created. When I reported to the ground for training one Thursday morning last October (1958) I was greeted with “Congratulations” by my clubmates. “Congratulations, what for?”, I asked. Bill Eckersley, our cheery left back, said, “You’ve been picked to play for England against Wales”. It was my first cap. I had expected Stan Matthews or Tom Finney to be selected and had not listened to the early morning news. I was delighted, of course, as well as surprised. My feelings gave way to apprehension when the newspapers labelled me, “the second Stanley Matthews.” It was the hardest task of my career to take over from the man who was one of my schoolboy heroes and whose play I had watched with awe on many occasions. Sometimes at an away game when the ball is not running kindly for me I hear a voice in the crowd shouting, “Douglas, you’re not as good as Stanley Matthews.” Nobody knows that better than me. Can anyone name a player who is better than Stan Matthews?
It needs two men to stop Bryan Douglas. He is tackled by Thomson and Andrews of Stoke in the league match at Ewood Park. But Douglas still retains possession of the ball between his legs as he lies on the ground.
Bryan Douglas deservedly wore the mantle of Stanley Matthews when he gave a brilliant display against France at Wembley. He frequently bamboozled the defence with dazzling footwork, as in the case where he draws goalkeeper Abbes before passing for Robson to score easily.
I had never met Stanley Matthews until this season when I hope to run up against him in First Division football. The nearest I got to him was when he came into the dressing room to chat with the trainer after our Youth side had played Blackpool. I stood, a nervous 16-year-old, a couple of yards away from him, hardly daring to breathe.
Another of my boyhood heroes was Peter Doherty, the red-haired inside forward, who now manages Bristol City and Ireland. When he had the ball, he looked majestic and streamlined. He could do anything – head, shoot, score goals, beat a man and pass accurately. Like Johnny Haynes he had the flair for suddenly switching the game in a way which baffled defences.
Once when he played for Huddersfield at Blackburn I tried to secure his autograph. I waited outside the dressing rooms and then followed him along the street. But there were too many boys and I was too tiny. I was bitterly disappointed. So, whenever I am surrounded by autograph hunters I do my best to sign every book, especially that belonging to the little fellow at the back of the queue. I know what it means to go away empty-handed.
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