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Born: Thursday 26 May 1921, South Shields, England
Died: Wednesday 22 May 1991, Blackpool, England (aged 69)
Equally competent at either inside-right or centre forward, England's Stan Mortensen averaged almost a goal a game at international level. The only player to score a hat-trick in an FA Cup final in the entire 20th century, his career has often been overlooked because he has the misfortune to be overshadowed on that day by the performance of team-mate Stanley Matthews, after whom the match came to be named.
Mortensen was born on 26 May 1921 in South Shields, where his Norwegian grandfather had been based as a sailor. He lost his father when he was just five and grew up in very difficult conditions, but displayed a great skill for football. Quick and skilful with the ball at his feet, he was capable of bursting through the defence in a flash and scoring from any angle. Mortensen regularly played schoolboy matches against players several years older than himself and after leaving school at 14 regularly played for his school's old boys team. It was there that he eventually caught the eye of scouts from First Division side Blackpool.
Mortensen struggle to break into the first team at Blackpool and was almost released by the club in 1939, shortly before the start of the Second World War. The club eventually decided to keep him on, but when war broke out he joined the RAF and was almost killed when his plane crashed near to his base at Lossiemouth in Scotland. Having suffered severe head injuries, Mortensen was never again fit for active service and for a while his football career was in doubt due to the perceived risks of heading the ball.
Once he was allowed to play again, Mortensen represented the RAF and also played unofficial games for Blackpool. He played wartime internationals, including one unique game when he appeared for both England and Wales when the Welsh team was left one man short by injury. Having finally done enough to convince the club he could be a top flight player, made his first team debut in the first season of league football after the war. Scoring 28 league goals in that season, Mortensen was rewarded with an international debut in May 1947 against Portugal. Hs impact was incredible, scoring four goals in a 10-0 win and going on to amass nine in his first five international games, including another hat-trick against Sweden.
In 1948 Blackpool reached the semi-final of the FA Cup, Mortensen having scored in every round on the way. Playing Tottenham Hotspur at Villa Park, Blackpool trailed with four minutes to go when Mortensen found the equalising goal and then went on to score two more in extra-time to take his team into the final against Manchester United. After Blackpool had let an early lead slip in that final , Mortensen kept up his great scoring record in the competition by putting his team back ahead at half-time. Unfortunately, three late goals turned the match around and Blackpool lost 4-2.
Often playing as an inside-right for England and a centre forward for Blackpool, he remained one of the most prolific goalscorers in the country throughout the late 1940s and in 1950 was selected to be part of England's first World Cup squad. Mortensen played all three of England's group games in Brazil and scored his country's first ever World Cup goal in the win over Chile, but an embarrassing defeat to the USA and another loss to Spain send England out in the first round.
Individually speaking, the finest season of Mortensen's career was in 1950-51 as he scored 30 league goals to finish as the First Division's leading scorer and help Blackpool to their highest league position to date, finishing third. That season also brought another trip to the FA Cup final, but a 2-0 defeat to Newcastle United left Mortensen still looking for a first major honour. Another chance would come just two years however, when Blackpool reached the final against Bolton Wanderers in what would come to be one of the most famous matches in the history of English football.
Mortensen's deflected shot had pulled Blackpool level after Bolton had taken an early lead, but just before half-time Bolton took the lead again and increased their advantage to 3-1 just after the interval. It looked like another runners-up medal was on the cards, but between them Mortensen and Stanley Matthews, who had formed a brilliant understanding during their years at Blackpool, turned the match around.
Mortensen converted a Matthews cross to make the score 3-2, before completing his hat-trick with a free-kick three minutes from the end. With extra-time looming, Matthews surged forward again but this time pulled the ball back behind Mortensen for Bill Perry to score the winner. Mortensen finally had a winner's medal, but the match became known as the 'Matthews Final', something which annoyed Mortensen even though the modest Matthews was known to refer to it as the 'Mortensen Final'.
In the autumn of 1953, Mortensen played what would be the last of his 25 internationals for England in the infamous 6-3 Wembley defeat at the hands of Hungary, a match which also brought his 23rd and last international goal. For several years Blackpool were a regular fixture in the top half of the First Division without ever really threatening to challenge for the league title. Unfortunately for Mortensen, who had been the club's leading scorer for ten consecutive seasons, that only began to change as his career began to wind down.
In 1955-56, Blackpool led the league for much of the autumn but Mortensen left the club after playing just 11 games. Blackpool would eventually be overhauled by the talented 'Busby Babes' of Manchester United but were still able to finish second, a new club record league position which remains unmatched today. Mortensen signed for struggling Second Division side Hull City, but despite scoring 18 goals in 21 league games was unable to prevent the club being relegated at the end of the season.
Initially staying with Hull in Division Three North, Mortensen moved on again midway through the 1956-57 season to join divisional rivals Southport. Suffering with knee injuries, he ended his professional career in 1958 at the age of 37, but did make brief returns in the non-league game with Bath City and Lancaster City. After several years out of the game, he returned to Blackpool as manager in 1967, following the club's relegation from the First Division. Mortensen almost won promotion in his first season, but after a three-way tussle with Ipswich and QPR they agonisingly missed out on goal average.
After a disappointing eighth place finish in 1969, Mortensen was sacked and his time at Blackpool would prove to be his only job in management. He was never forgotten by the club, being invited to lead the team out before an FA Cup rematch against Bolton in 1989. In May 1991 he suffered a heart attack and died in a Blackpool hospital four days before his 70th birthday. Today a statue of Mortensen stands outside Blackpool's Bloomfield Road ground.
References (all accessed 1 March 2012):
- Published on Thursday, 01 March 2012 16:57