MANAGER Tom Mather built a team many considered to be capable of challenging the best in the country as the 1930's dawned.
Finances remained tight and Mather worked with little or no resources. But lessons had been learned after the players' near-revolt of 1924 over wage cuts. With plans to further develop the Victoria Ground the future looked bright. But nobody could have envisaged the impact just one home-grown player would come to have not only on Stoke but on British and world football.
Stanley Matthews grew up in Hanley. He joined the Club as an apprentice and made his debut at Bury in March 1932 aged 17. But the end of the decade, with football suspended due to the outbreak of World War Two, he was an established England international and had cemented his reputation as one of the greatest players on earth, the 'Wizard of Dribble'.
It would be unfair to say promotion to Division One was achieved and the Second Division title collected in 1932-33 on the back of Stan's skill. He played only 15 games that season, scoring his first league goal in the 3-1 win at Port Vale, and the real bedrocks were the likes of centre-forward Joe Mawson and left-winger Joe Johnson, with 31 goals between them, goalkeeper Roy John, half-backs Billy Robertson and Harry Sellars, and centre-half Arthur Turner. But, once in the First Division, Stan blossomed. He won his first England cap against Wales in 1934, becoming the first City player to pull on an England shirt for 30 years and put thousands on the gate as the people flocked to see his magic.
At the start of the 1930's average attendances were 11,500. Four years later they had more than doubled to over 23,000 and the Club was in the black. The Board of Directors issued a statement in 1934 claiming the financial position was the best-ever while Mather began to assemble a formidable side without spending a fortune thanks to the emergence of a crop of young, local, players. While Matthews remained the undisputed star attraction Tommy Sale and Freddie Steele plundered the goals. The team finished mid-table in the first two seasons back in Division One, but in 1935-36 started to unfurl their true potential and finished fourth, nine points behind champions Sunderland but only a point behind runners-up Derby.
Bob McGrory hung up his boots after 510 appearances for the Club to succeed Mather as manager in the summer of 1935. Stoke were never out of the top four in the final three months of the season and also reached the fifth round of the FA Cup, surprisingly going down 2-1 at Second Division strugglers Barnsley. Nevertheless, the team was respected as one of the best in England, though it was a reputation they failed to live up to over the next two years, finishing 10th and 17th.
The period did, however, produce a record League win - 10-3 over West Brom in February 1937 with Steele scoring five, a record home league crowd - 51,373 against Arsenal in April, while Steele's 33 League goals in 1936/37 remains a Club record. By 1938 growing rumours that Matthews was unhappy at Stoke and may leave prompted a public meeting at the Kings Hall. Three thousand crammed inside with a further thousand eagerly awaiting news outside. The verdict was that Stan must stay and that Club should do everything to keep him. He did stay, and an improved seventh place was the result in 1938/39. Stoke was then rocked not by a transfer, but by war.