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Blistered, broken – sore, callous-hard;
Gifted with balance, a deftness of touch
That outwitted them all. He lived along
The wing – half in, half out. When that
Ball came his way, it was rarely wasted –
A treasured possession to be caressed
And cajoled past lumbering backs, who
Lunged and missed so crudely; long gone
Goalwards for the exquisite kill; one-nil.
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Net breached, no clean sheet today for
The valiant victims of this predator, this
Surgeon – a lethal operator in the truest
Sense. Hanging in there, year on year –
Defying age, defying time, defying life even
To come back; again and again from that
Peripheral touchline existence in the seven
Shirt – an outside right, right outside any
Human limit; past a half century, still strong.
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Quite a man, this secretive, silent destroyer
Of defences; show them the ball, that switch
The other way, opponent mesmerised into a
Clumsy kick at thin air. Longevity a bi-product
Of fitness, of diet, of determination – a modern
Outlook, it might be said; still, the games rolled
By and Stanley stayed sure – Veteran a name
Coined just for him, it seemed. Admired, more
Than loved; too single-minded for pure idolatory.
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So, how did he do it – that impassive artist who
Bewildered strong men for more than thirty
Long years…a freak of nature ? Unique genius ?
Modest to a fault, but coldly focussed on his
Own ability to an intense degree; Stoke City
Twice over, in between sunshine memories up
At Bloomfield Road. From the frugal thirties to
The swinging sixties – a final illumination from
Puskas, Yashin, Di Stefano et al; King among kings.