It’s the 6th December 2008. An away trip to St James’ Park sees the Potters line up with an orthodox forward pairing of Richard Cresswell and Mama Sidibe, both with one simple objective: get the ball in the net. Somehow. Fast forward seven years, with the team set to face high flying Manchester City on a cold December afternoon at the Brit, things are different. Different to what we’ve ever seen before. Just where was our striker?
On the bench, that’s where. This new-fangled formation, labelled the ‘False Nine’ by pundits and other tactically aware figures of the game, saw us line up without a quote on quote ‘Striker’ and just pop Bojan up there instead, with both wide men ‘acting’ as the strikers. By choosing this formation, Mark Hughes had taken a risk, a big risk. There were the initial doubters, unable to see the positive possibilities this change could have, everything going into the game now was unknown, and would the risk pay off? Oh, it most definitely would.
Just seven minutes in, a majestically orchestrated run from Xherdan provided an eventual ball through to Arnie, slotting it past Joe Hart. One nil. Five minutes later, we’re back again, Shaqiri splitting the City defence with a perfectly weighted ball through to who we thought was Bojan, but acting as this ‘False Nine’ he drops back at the last second, allowing Arnie in again to place it past Hart. Again.
Several years ago, Carlos Alberto Parreira predicted that in the future, most football teams would play the beautiful game without the need of a designated striker on the pitch. And, in 2015, we proved this statement exactly right with the win over City. There was no need for the striker in that game, due to the now more centrally attacking nature of our wingers, allowing them to get into the box more, and therefore score the goals, that the ‘striker’ would have previously scored. Seems simple right? However in some games, it just doesn’t seem to have quite the same effect. For example, West Ham. In the game we created a number of chances, but continually failed to finish them off, with many being wasted mainly due to just not having someone there in the box to aim crosses and through balls towards. This was also shown with the defeat to Crystal Palace, a similar story with lovely build up play but no end product with no one being there to put them to bed.
It’s crazy to think that a formation that worked so well in its first outing has failed so dramatically in its more recent encounters. Whether its reasons for not working is due to opposition or quality on the day I don’t know, but it’s performance against Man City proves that there is some light at the end of the tunnel, it will work – occasionally. That’s the key to this formation, the occasion. If we can find the right time and place to utilise this new found way of playing, it can be very dangerous for any team that comes up against us, regardless of stature or quality.
It’s saddening to say that we will probably never see our team return to the way of two striker approach, the classic four four two, a formation that provided us with success for a number of years, a formation I’ve grown up watching my team play, week in, week out. But it also provides us with a sight of just how much we’ve changed, and how much we’re still changing and evolving as our time as a Premier League club continues.
We’ll never see front pairings of Fuller and Cresswell or Crouch and Walters again, but instead we’ll see front threes of Arnautovic, Shaqiri and Bojan, something I never thought we’d ever see. So as we continue to transition into this ‘False 9’, we need to stick by it, because with everything else that’s happened on this premier league adventure, we don’t know what’s round the corner.
Dave Crowther-Green (StokeCity101)
Unlike most football fans, I can’t really remember my first Stoke game. My first clear memories of watching us were against Middlesbrough at Vale Park and then having a season ticket in 1977 in the Butler Street Stand. Relegation, inevitably, soon followed.
So, basically, I was introduced to the Potters after a visit to the Piggery and then being forced to sit in probably the only roofless stand in Britain at that time, and watch us go down……….But am I grateful that my old man grasped my 8 year old hand all those years ago and walked me to those turnstiles? What a daft, rhetorical question.
I urge all Stokies to make sure that they pay homage in thought and deed to your fathers, as fathers are all too often the Nigel Gleghorn of families – they do lots of unseen work that always needs doing; they rarely get the adoration they deserve; often steering the ship in the right direction; they have a quiet, unassuming style all of their own, and rarely let anyone down.
That was Peter William Bunn.
And I now have the stomach-churning task of writing about him in a different tense.
Because dad sadly passed away on 24th November 2012, just an hour after watching the club he worshiped beat Fulham 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium. That he did so at exactly 5.59pm, just as Praise and Grumble was finishing, isn’t just ironic, it’s fate. Talking about Stoke City was one of life’s joys for dad. He also loved listening to the post-match Radio Stoke show.
It’s also fate, not irony, that he was aged 72 when he died. It simply couldn’t be any other number, could it?
Add onto the fact that he went quickly, and relatively painlessly, to sleep on the shoulder of his very best mate, Terry (my uncle, who was driving), and that they were within a Greenhoff volley or Sir Stan mazy dribble of the Victoria Ground, simply makes me smile and actually think that if Carlsberg did ways to pass away……
Perhaps I’m looking for fate when there’s simply none there? But whilst football is never “more than life or death”, it gives me huge comfort that dad passed away on such a seamlessly brilliant Stoke City Saturday afternoon.
The analogy with Nigel Gleghorn was given careful thought. He was a player my father admired – a flashback to players who loved their football, with a wand of a left foot, and one who always seemed grateful to be playing the working man’s ballet and to be playing for Stoke City. He also scored a most memorable goal in front of me and my father – no, not our second at Vale Park or against Plymouth at the Victoria Ground to seal the deal on promotion in 1993.
It involved another Victoria – this time it was Victoria Park, the home of Hartlepool United. It’s one of my favourite awaydays of all time and dad can be vividly, easily seen on the telly on Central Sport a day or two later– to the right of the goal, jumping up and down as the 90th minute corner came in, not in anticipation of Gleghorn’s late winner, but because his bladder was about to explode thanks to his pre-match refreshments, after an unbelievable Usain Bolt-like sprint from coach to public house at 2.25pm!
It had to be in that 92/93 season, didn’t it? So many great memories, so many days when me, dad, Terry, Brad, Owen, Andy, Tim and a few others who my grief-addled mind can’t remember right now, would descend on football grounds the country over, watching Lou Macari’s team.
That day, for some reason, it was just me and dad. The 20th December 1992, almost twenty years to the day you’re reading this….a dad and his son celebrating their team’s last minute winner, together, on the road to promotion, stood on an open terrace. Heaven.
No-one was prouder of Stoke City or Stoke-on-Trent than Peter William Bunn. When on holiday he’d nearly always be spotted in a Stoke sweatshirt or t-shirt, it was like a privilege, a badge of honour. He saw it as almost ‘representing’ his city and club in foreign climes. The Cultural Attache for Sneyd Green.
I vividly remember Wembley in 2000, and after beating Bristol City 2-1, we giddily went back to Harrow-on-the-Hill where our buses were parked.
We went into a huge pub, full of Arsenal fans watching their team’s live game at Leeds. As we flooded into the pub, high on winning a trophy, no matter how small, we were given the usual “big-club, northern idiots” jibes from the deluded, self-admiring, self-loving Gunners, looking right down their noses as we entered.
Half an hour later, as the coaches were due to leave on the journey back to The Potteries. Dad had had enough.
“Sorry, but I’m not letting them run Stoke down. Back me up, lads”, he announced.
Then, as the assembled Stokies prepared to depart, and at the tender age of 60, he stood, arms outstretched on a chair, and shushed the pub before leading a huge, proud ‘Delilah’ that finally shut those of an Arsenal persuasion firmly up.
Although his Ashes will be scattered at the Britannia Stadium – and by the way, the club have been absolutely brilliant with the logistics of this and his now redundant season ticket – his heart and soul will forever remain with his family, and at the Victoria Ground.
Dad never really took to the Britannia Stadium.
For him, the lack of a proper matchday routine has never really been replaced, even after 15 years at our new stadium. Dad’s routine was drinking in the Gardeners Retreat or Michelin Club, both close to Campbell Road, and a five minute brisk stroll at 2.40pm to the ground: Campbell Road – Nicholls Street – Lime Street. He loved holding court with tales of Sir Stan leaving the ball by the corner flag and his marker also leaving the ball and simply following him, or the time he kept a pub from rioting at closing time as the assembled Stokies wanted to see the FA Cup semi final goals on the telly on their way back from Hillsborough.
I hope the tales he told were true, but if they weren’t, we loved listening to them anyway: How he came back from Ajax, days late, and simply went straight to Stoke’s next game; or how he moved his wedding day to a Sunday to avoid a cricket match; and how he got a lift home on the team bus (and drank ale with the players) after his transport conked out on the way home from Spurs in the 70’s (all of those are definitely true!). He told his tales time and again, but it didn’t matter. Our group loved nursing a pint of ‘Peddy’ and watching the glint in his eye as he told them.
Proper Werther’s Original stuff.
But strangely, what makes him unique is that he’s just like any one of us.
Sounds daft that, yeah, but does anyone who doesn’t follow their football club truly know what it means to belong to something so special? How can they ever replace taking their kid to watch their city’s football club? How do they ever feel what we feel? Can their bond with their father ever be as emotionally watertight as ours is with our fathers who support the stripes?
I don’t really know.
All I do know is that me and my brother probably only now realise what we had and what we’ve lost, and that it would be a dream to be even half the dad he was, to our own kids. The hundreds of Stoke games we watched together and the hundreds of times he watched us, his lads, play football and cricket seem to have decreased in number as advancing years and grey hairs dim the memory. But deep down, we know he was always there, and now we somehow have to get used to the idea that he no longer is.
But isn’t life also about what you leave behind? If so, this proud man that me and my brother were honoured to call ‘dad’ has left something of more value than any lump sum of money ever could – he left us with the same standards as he had, a love of sport and the friendships this brings, and he left us to truly cherish our families. He did so in a beautifully understated manner, too. He never moaned or shouted. Good men don’t have to, do they? He was a true man of the Potteries, a proud Potteries man.
For me, my football club is part of my family – it’s such an integral part of who I am, and it was to dad, too. That’s why, at 12.01am November 25th, – I wanted it to be the day after his death – I posted about my father’s passing on The Oatcake Messageboard.
I still don’t know truly why, to be honest, it’s just that dad’s family always seemed to include every single Stoke fan. The 11,000+ views and hundreds of messages meant more than anything to me and my family. Blokes who had been the game with dad in the 50’s onwards contacted us; strangers who knew of dad and had funny stories emailed me; even Port Vale fans set up a thread on their own messageboard, which was a fantastic gesture.
What it means, and this is so clichéd I know, is that those who watch football really are one family. We feel what everyone else feels, we drink from the same pint pot, no matter the strip we wear. Whilst staunchly parochial, we all have a respect and give a knowing doff of the cap to those who go through the good and dreadful times following a football club.
Fenton Bowling Club – watching Stoke win alongside his best mate – three generations of the Bunn’s there at The Brit – going to sleep on his best mate – and 72, that beautiful, beautiful number, 72: It was scripted by the footballing Gods, dad, wasn’t it?
Whilst it turns my stomach to know he’s no longer here, it swells my heart to know that he went on his own terms and how many of us would want to go like that? I can’t believe I won’t see him in his SCFC manager’s coat again, but he’ll always be there, walking with us to the ground come sun, rain, snow, wind or whatever the weather throws at us. A truly wonderful Stokie.
That my dad got to walk down, well, shuffled down as he wasn’t brilliant on his feet for some time, Wembley Way with his family on May 14th, 2011 now means everything to me. That we didn’t win hurts, but it would have hurt more if we’d have won and he wasn’t there!
Because even if we win the FA Cup one glorious day, it will never really mean the same without dad being present: standing still, huge beaming smile, and holding his arms high in the air when we scored, as he always did as utter carnage reigned around him.
Mere memories aren’t enough, they never are. But they have to suffice as he’s not here now. I pray he knew how much he was loved, but being a bloke I rarely said it enough when it was needed and necessary. I hope he could hear me as I stood by him, stroking his hair as he lay motionless, looking serenely at peace with the world, on that dreadful Saturday night at the hospital. “We won dad, we won”, I kept muttering. He knew.
The final words?
They have to be from the most poignant, beautiful and apt football song ever written, don’t they? A song he actually sung on, back in 72, and one that simply sums up the last 2012 (wow, fate again, eh?) words:
“We’ll be with you every step along the way. We’ll be with you, by your side we’ll always stay.”
Love you, dad. God bless.
Going out, especially with the family, was the last thing on my mind at 6.30pm yesterday.
I’d just returned with the kids from witnessing daylight robbery in S-O-T. In stories, it’s usually the palace that is the place that stuff is stolen from. Yet in deepest ST4, it was Crystal Palace who were doing the pilfering…..
How we lost that game yesterday I’ll never know. Well I will, I suppose – they scored more than us. But as usual after a Stoke defeat, the last thing I want to do is be sociable.
“Don’t go in a mood, it’s Christmas and I’ve promised the kids we’ll go up to The Hive as a family to get something to eat”, my better half said. For once, I acted my age.
“Ok then, I have promised to review the new Pizza Express there, so why not go there, yeah?”
My kids love pizza – in fact, I don’t know anyone that doesn’t. And whilst it couldn’t take away the bitterness of an unwanted defeat, the wife did say she’d drive, so at least I could have a nice (large) glass or two of Merlot…..
So, to The Hive: I hadn’t seen this brand new area addition to the city centre, and I was very pleasantly surprised. I thought it would be a soulless indoor centre, devoid of any personality, if I’m honest. I was wrong. It was buzzy, and it was great to see it rinsed with families all heading out for something to eat or to go to see a film on a Saturday night. I liked how it had been designed, and we all commented on how it was a cracking addition to Hanley.
And so we entered Pizza Express……
I know what you’ll be saying: “Aren’t they all the same, aren’t their pizzas always the same?”
Well, yes and no.
Yes, as in the pizzas are invariably ace, and knowing you’ll get a quality pizza every time is never a negative. Like my eldest (15) stated, “Pizza Express bridges the gap between italian restaurants and chain restaurants. Their pizzas always seem dead authentic to me“. Whilst she’s never been to Italy, she has a point. Going there has always been a family outing rather than just getting a pizza, for us.
As for ‘no’: It really wasn’t the same. The darker-than-normal lighting added to the feel we were going out for a meal rather than going out for a pizza. The booths added a great little design touch, and the room had space yet still had a buzz…….
And then I spotted it…..bold as you like, in big letters, on the back wall of the open-plan kitchen
VIS UNITA FORTIOR
Any restaurant that wants to get into our good books could learn a trick off Pizza Express, here. Simply do your research on our great city, and get on your walls the Latin phrase from the iconic, beautiful crest of Stoke-on-Trent, and previously, the Stoke City badge.
The food arrived quicker than a Ricardo Fuller tantrum; the staff were friendlier and more courteous than Marc Muniesa being a Santa; and the family were left with grins as wide as Peter Odemwingie’s!
I went for the festive specials and I really do hope that their Spiced Lamb Romana pizza remains a permanent playing member of their pizza team. Lamb on a pizza? Not had that before, but I doubt I’d choose anything else now – it was that good. Please Pizza Express – a Spiced Lamb Romana is not just for Christmas!
The wife and kids all stuck to their well-trodden pizza path. And why wouldn’t you when you really like it? Two of the kids ordered off the superb-value Piccolo menu and my better half had the Leggera Padana pizza: Goat’s cheese, caramelised onions, spinach, red onions, tomato and garlic oil, with salad in the middle. Clean plates everywhere.
I don’t do puddings, never have. Shame, as one bite of the wife’s salted caramel profiteroles was enough to have me tuning into a Paul Hollywood programme. As if!
So the Bunny’s left: we’d had a “proper family meal out” according to the kids, who were dead impressed with both Pizza Express and The Hive. We’d met Marko Arnautovic earlier that day, before the game. Another Arnie’s famous line from a film is pretty relevant to the visit to Pizza Express: I’ll be back!