When I was a kid, the school holidays used to be ace. Absolutely ace.
The weather always seemed to be sunny; mates would knock-on and you’d play football all day long until you were ‘called-in’; I’d stay at my nan’s house in Cobridge and we’d walk into Burslem (yes, I know!) most days in the afternoon to meet my mum who worked at Johnson Matthey, but not before popping into Bourne Sports to look at the new Subbuteo stuff; then there was the Potter’s fortnight, where about 25 of us went to Nefyn in North Wales and stayed in static caravans – again, it never seemed to rain and we’d all huddle around the telly after getting back from the beach to watch Wimbledon (where the courts always seemed scorched by the omnipresent sun)……
Halcyon, great days. Days of innocence. Days without plans. Days with either family or mates. But they never seemed like wasted days. Something was done, every single day. And that often involved football….
For a big treat, me and my older brother were taken by my dad to watch Stoke train. And no, before you ask, we hadn’t been naughty! Dad worked, like so many Potteries folk did, at the Michelin factory down Campbell Road. He’d drop us off at the Victoria Ground and go to work, and then he’d head back to the ground at lunchtime and we’d all go in the players/supporters club on the corner and have dinner (not lunch, it’s dinner!). And the players would all be there……
So, we’d be having a sarnie or bowl of lobby with the likes of Smith, Dodd, Pejic, Greenhoff, Shilton (who trained harder and longer than anyone I’ve ever seen) etc etc…and no one batted an eyelid. The room was full of players and supporters. Imagine that now…..
“Pass the mustard over please, Xherdan……Crouchy, any of that gravy left? Budge up a bit Marko, lad!”
This isn’t a name-dropping exercise. It was simply what happened back then. Many others did the same. But how I wish my own kids and everyone else’s had that nowadays. But we didn’t see it as anything special at that time – it was just part of the school holidays: watching them run up the Boothen End steps, train on the muddy pitches outside the Butler Street, have a bit of food etc…..
Fast-forward nearly four decades, and what do we have in 2016?
Well, what I have is an hour’s drive to work every day, and one thing I notice on my way home is that I never see any kids out playing, never mind playing football. Not one kid! And why should they, when they can sit on a lovely settee and pretend they’re Lionel Messi (or save the earth from zombies)? Vast swathes of grass areas and pitches lie dormant. Areas that used to see dozens of kids playing football now lie deserted. It’s not just a shame, it’s a disgrace to be honest.
“He’s off on one of his it-was-better-in-his-day rants again, isn’t he?” – I hear you cry, just about to log off…..
Well yes, I am. Because in the case of what I’ve seen this past few days in football, it really was!
I’m not going to dissect what’s been in the news this week and I’m not going to assassinate characters or question morals. I live by my own set of standards that were laid down for me by my parents. Ordinary Potteries folk. Why? Because they were my role models, that’s why. Nobody in the world of association football was or is a role model to me, and that’s not having a go at anyone; it’s just that personally I take my moral and ethical lead from those who brought/dragged me up.
I adore and worship my football club/team/players, but I really don’t want my own kids thinking footballers are role models. They live in a separate world now. Football at the sharp end is not life as we know it. And why should I burden any footballer with being responsible for my kid’s future standards? It’s got nothing to do with them.
Yes, worship the ground they walk on when they play for Stoke City! Yes, get uber-giddy when you get to meet them and they sign your copy of DUCK! But it’s my responsibility to guide my kids and show them the way, it’s not Bojan’s (as much as I love the bloke!).
I’d like to think I’m a half-decent human being. And that’s because of my parents. We didn’t have much money or flash cars etc….we lived in a standard, semi-detached house in Sneyd Green, by the Holden Bridge pub. What we didn’t get in materialistic stuff we made up for in time and love. Because time and love are the most precious, but free, things that you can give a kid. My folks never missed a game of football or cricket that me and my brother played. And I only now appreciate that, as a dad myself, and try to do the same for my three kids.
We played and played and played on that tiny patch of grass in front of the Holden Bridge pub, right next to Berwick Road and a dead busy Leek New Road. No-one got injured, no one had to fill a risk assessment form in, we all got on, and we all looked out for each other. Whatever happened to that, eh?
For me, all this is about money. Money creates cultures and shapes lifestyles in 2016. It didn’t use to, did it?
But why go out and interact and socialise, when you can connect over the PS4 or whatever from a different postcode away? Are cyber mates>real mates in 2016? At least that Pokemon game played on phones enables kids to get some fresh air!
I type all this because the biggest thing that has changed over the past four decades is money. There is just so much of the bloody stuff about. Apart from in our bank account. Money doesn’t just make the world go round in 2016, it makes it spin akin to a basketball on the end of a Harlem Globetrotter player’s index finger. In many ways, money is ace. But as we have seen this week, it can also be the root of all evil.
We’re talking about big amounts to you and me, but tiny amounts when the bigger footballing picture is seen. But whilst we quite rightly demonise and judge, isn’t the bigger picture one where the likes of Hereford United went to the wall for an amount what some players get paid for a week’s work? Has money made football a better game? Has it?
I’m not saying that footballers don’t earn their wages. Free market economy and all that, and it doesn’t bother me what they get paid to be honest; as a blinkered, passionate football supporter I mainly look at what they do on the pitch for my club, not their bank accounts. I know that’s wrong, before you say. But I don’t begrudge that FA Cup Final team one penny because of the way they lifted the hearts, minds and souls of this city in 2011. I don’t temper last minute winning goals away from home with a subdued celebration because it was scored by someone who earns more in three days than I do in two years.
Football is emotion. Money just muddles the emotions. It’s not that there’s tons of money in the game that I’m particularly bothered about. It’s more so of how it’s affected the game. And who it’s affected.
As stated before, for me, getting paid £100K a week doesn’t mean you have to be Mother Theresa off the pitch. But the whole world of football does sicken me when I see clubs, pillars of their communities, being allowed to struggle and wither with all the money that is within the game.
And don’t get me on to the state of kid’s football facilities in this country!
Whilst I love where my club is right now, I do get sick of all the media attention that comes with it. Yes, that’s very contradictory when I’m writing a piece that may well earn me some money for it, but you know what I mean. An example? I’m fed up of transfer deadline day and a transfer totaliser showing a sum of money that would make such a difference to so many people in the ‘real world’, whilst some presenter thinks that shouting about it with an inane grin on their face is a good thing. And I’m fed up of everything football being scrutinised, 24/7.
I want football to breathe again. To be an organic entity. For that to happen, in my humble opinion, money can’t be the influencing factor.
We’re quite lucky as Stoke City fans. From the management of the club to how we treat supporters, we get so much right. Far more than others seem to. We also have a group of players who are pretty sound. When selling the mag after the Sunderland and West Brom home games in recent times – and when we let in injury time equalisers in both games – the players came out and signed everything long after the final whistle. It would have been so easy, and understandable, to just get in their cars and head off home. From the days of the mobile changing rooms in 2008 to the now state-of-the-art Clayton Wood complex, it seems we have a group who know the score when it comes to interacting with supporters.
And kudos to a certain Jermaine Defoe, too. Whilst the vast majority of away team players after the game simply put on their massive headphones and get on the team bus, he took the time to not only sign everything in sight, but to open the gates and get loads of kids in for pictures and a chat, too. Yes, it’s a small thing – and if we were all lucky enough to live the dream, we’d be signing stuff all day – but that was the exception, not the norm. He made people’s day, that day. It didn’t take much – just a bit of thought. Brilliant to see, and I know that footballers do loads for others, but as stated before – time and love are priceless.
So, depressingly, we may well see more and more of what has been in the news this week. Long gone are the days when football was simply the preserve of the back pages of a newspaper or at the end of the news. Football is money. And in 2016, money is life.
How very different than those brilliant days of my childhood, where two brothers so innocently loved the game of association football.
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He’s a hero in these parts, but he doesn’t act like it. He will be a guest-speaker at a black-tie dinner at the ground later tonight but for now he spends two hours in tracksuit bottoms and polo t-shirt, munching on a toasted teacake and voicing his absolute love of the game that has defined his life. He even buys my coffee, when really he should never have to buy his own drink in S-O-T (well, Burslem, perhaps). The little man with a big heart.
Not only was he a top player, inspirational manager and a crucial part of the BAFTA-winning ‘Marvellous,’ but Lou Macari is the owner of a great name. A name that lends itself to terrace anthems and ease of adulation.
We gladly reignited the Stretford End’s 1970’s ‘Skip to My Lou’ back in our Boothen End in the 90’s and the simplistically brilliant chants of ‘Macari’s! Red Army!’ thundered around the Victoria Ground, penetrating every nook, (Ian) crannie and eardrum of the old place. And then 2Unlimited received a rare tribute in the form of our cover version… at times under Lou it seemed there really was no limit for Stoke City.
In 1992, we believed again; in 1993, we finally emerged from the shadows; and in 1996 against even longer odds, we very nearly did the job we eventually completed in 2008.
For many, his 1997 departure added to the mixture of gloom and nostalgia around the club as we prepared to move to Trentham Lakes – but in some ways, the timing was fitting. Surely, no other manager’s name could have done the The Vic justice, had it survived any longer.
These days, Lou Macari still lives the football life and he likes to be busy: MUTV regular; Sentinel columnist; popular pundit on national TV and radio shows; speaker on a local journalism course; organiser of a Hanley homeless shelter; guest at functions at ST4 and Old Trafford. For the unenlightened, he was just a bloke who owned a chip shop near a football ground – but then along came the fairy-tale of Nello and his reputation rocketed; many of us will know a none-football fan whose heart was warmed by the bond between the world’s most popular kit-man and the boss who gave him a chance.
Given the standard and length of his career on the pitch and in the dugout, hundreds of questions came to mind but in two hours, a selective focus was a must. Besides, his autobiography ‘Football, My Life’ tells the whole story and there’s a recently-made documentary, ‘My Life on Film,’ which I implore you to unearth: it’s moving, remarkably insightful and thorough – he travels the length and breadth of the UK to reflect on an eventful 67 years of heart-breaking lows and impressive highs.
Lou Macari’s is quite a story.
And for many a Stokie, Lou Macari’s part in our story will remain the best time of our supporting lives……..
Your life has revolved around football – what are your earliest memories?
I lived in London as a very young boy. I’d be at Hackney Marshes every weekend with my dad, watching his team. I would stand behind the goal and wait for the next shot to miss (which they did most of the time!) and just chase after it then give it back to the keeper. I loved it. Playing on the streets every night – that’s how kids grew up and most had good ball control because of it. There were no coaches for youngsters then, but it didn’t seem to hold teams back did it? England won the World Cup in 1966, the European Cup was won by Celtic in , and then Man United the following year. Street football culture explained a lot of that.
When Alf Ramsey was England manager , he didn’t coach – he managed, with just one assistant manager and a physio. Nowadays, like in the Euros, there are hundreds of staff milling raound and it doesn’t always seem to be working.
You were part of the famous ‘Quality Street Gang.’ Did you always know you’d ‘make it?’
No way! I wouldn’t have made at it all as a pro at all, unless it was for the manager I had – Jock Stein. I lacked height, strength and power. My weaknesses became obvious to me one night playing for Scotland against England under 18s at Southampton’s old ground, The Dell. Muddy pitch, heavy ball and awful conditions. Mick Mills, Mick Shannon and a few others in their team dominated me – like a boy against men. I had an absolute stinker.
The next day, I went back to Parkhead and admitted to the boss how badly I’d played and he said “right, you need to build up and get working on what you’re not good at”. Kenny Dalglish received the same treatment. Soon, I’d be playing up front on my own, long before this apparently new invention of that formation!
I had a great grounding because of the boss I had. Jock Stein ruled with an iron fist. His way, or you were gone. He had complete control. Just like Shankly, Busby and later, Ferguson. Tough and demanding men who knew exactly what they wanted. You were either on their wavelength or by the wayside.
It must have been tough telling him you wanted to leave the club then!
I’d had 6 great years at Celtic, two years as a first team regular (scoring 58 goals in 110 games) and I was on £50 a week when my contract was up for renewal. They offered an increase of a fiver a week which just wasn’t enough. I told him that I had to look after one parent because I’d lost the other – family circumstances were my priority.
So, it’s 1973 and I’m just 21 years old – no agent and no clue what to do to get a move elsewhere. The next ten days or so went by as normal and then one day after training, Jock called to tell me to be ready the next morning because a car would be there to pick me up and take me to England. That was all he said! The wife asked where I was going and I didn’t have an answer! You just didn’t ask questions – he was the boss and that was that – lots of respect and a bit of fear as well!
The next day, I’m travelling down through these new towns like Gretna and Carlisle before finally ending up in Southport. The cup of tea and sandwich in the Prince of Wales Hotel were nice enough, but I didn’t know which clubs were nearby and I didn’t fancy playing for Southport! The next thing I know, I’m walking through the gates at Anfield and Bill Shankly is there waiting to meet me. He said: ‘I’ve watched you since you joined Celtic and I like the way you play. You’ve got a big heart.’
There was a game on that night – Liverpool were playing Burney in a cup replay. I was told to sit in stand, watch the match, then sign forms afterwards. They were offering £200 a week and players then kept 5% of the fee, which was £10k – worth half a house to me – massive money and a great opportunity. So, I’m sat in watching the game and the seat next to me was empty for a while until eventually, Paddy Crerrand turned up and sat down – he was a Celtic and Man United legend and assistant manager at Old Trafford by then.
He said ‘What the hell are you doing here? Don’t sign for them! We had no idea you were available – we want you to sign for us!’ Stein and Shankly were mates and probably kept it quiet, away from the papers. I thought bloody hell – that means telling Bill Shankly I’m not signing for him anymore! So, the move to United was a total coincidence.
I wanted to play for them because of the club’s history with the holy trinity of Best, Law and Charlton. They were in poor form at the time but I knew that was the team for me – I went with my heart not my head and I’ve always been one for following my hunches. I bottled telling Shankly and just said I’d have to think about it. I wanted to get far away from him quickly! Soon after, in the press, Shankly said he only wanted me for Liverpool reserves! That was fair enough, and it made me chuckle!
One of your career highlights was scoring in the FA Cup final against arch-rivals Liverpool but Duts wants to know exactly where that ball would have ended up, if your shot hadn’t hit Jimmy Greenhoff’s arse!
Ha, ha! Wembley Stadium tube station behind the goal probably! It came off his shoulder actually! Jimmy turned away because I shouted for him to leave it, so it worked! Finals are just about winning, not how you do it. We’d lost two other finals around that time – to an off-side goal against Southampton and then the 5 minute cup final against Arsenal.
That’s football, so when a bit of luck comes your way, you take it and enjoy the winning feeling.
You went straight into management after your playing days – Jock Stein must have been a big influence on your approach…
I started my managerial career at Swindon and on day one I’m thinking ‘Where do I begin? What the f*****g hell do I do here then?!’
We were bottom of the old 4th Division, so in my mind I went right back to my beginnings for inspiration. We are talking about a man who won a European Cup with a team a team of local Scots assembled for £30k. So that was surely the secret – follow people like him because the record books don’t lie – if a no nonsense work ethic helped my career, why couldn’t it help any player after me?
Before managing Stoke, what were your memories of the club from your time as a player?
My memories of visiting Stoke as an opposition player were important to my decision to return as a manager 20 odd years later.
In the nicest sense, the Victoria Ground was a horrible, nasty place for visiting clubs. Walking down the tunnel was tough enough – it felt like you had to beat the home crowd as well as the team. It was a much tougher place to visit than most other clubs. In that tunnel, they could get to you – touch you and vocally let you know what they thought of you! It was hostile and unwelcoming – how it should be!
I thought I could use that to work for me when I was manager. Actually, I was dead against moving to the Brit, years later – we had players with a good attitude but the huge advantage was the home ground. Wet Ham might suffer in a similar way this season – that Chicken Run was worth a goal they used to say. Upton Park and The Vic were similar – the crowd dead against you and almost on top of you.
I know Stoke struggled when they first moved up the road – that 7 nil defeat against Birmingham can’t have been nice!!?? Obviously, things have changed and they’re not doing badly now are they?! But it took Tony Pulis and that siege mentality we had at the Vic to do it, after so many other managers had fallen short before he came along.
How did the move to Stoke come about in 1991? Your early impressions?
I was in charge of Birmingham when I got a call from Peter Coates. He’s since told me he’d already agreed to give the job to someone else but for some reason he thought I could do a better job and he had to go back on his word.
Things were not going well. There had to be a reason I was wanted – there normally is when a new man is appointed. Usually, someone else has failed and finding the reason is key. I think that good players were allowed to do what they wanted – that doesn’t work – there needs to be only one boss. The only thing that counts to a new man is the team – nothing else matters – so I looked at what was going wrong. There was too much slack and freedom around the place.
From my time at Celtic and United, I learned that allowing a drinking culture in and around club was a bad idea. People change after too much alcohol and allowing a bit leads to a lot. So I was dead against players getting sloshed anywhere near the football club and ground. Before I arrived, it was common for them to drink a lot on the coach after matches all around the country. It was not my style – I’d never touched a drop in my life but to be fair, what they did in their own homes was their business and they knew that. Most of them did as they were told anyway!
You made some key early signings from bargain basement – what was the secret?
The job was so different then. I had to go out, watch game after game and find good players. Money in the bank was limited: at first there’d just be 20 or 30k available and then a year later, perhaps 80k for the odd buy. A tight budget but I knew what to expect when I took it on. So the key was to work with a good scout and watch lots of football.
I had Bernard and we formed a good relationship, having a laugh and a joke along the way. We’d often meet in London for a chat then go off and watch different games. Peter Coates let me get on with all football matters. I’d also pick players I knew already as well – good characters like Vinny Overson, Nigel Gleghorn and Stevie Foley.
Other times you just get lucky. Mark Stein was a good example. I went to see my pal Ashley Grimes play for Luton at Oxford one night and Steiny happened to be playing for Luton as well. It was a really heavy pitch and he looked overweight and lacking in confidence but I thought there was something there – an eye for goal.
We bought him – got him much fitter quickly and got to know him as a lad. He was a lovely fella who would always listen and was willing to learn. He was not a natural trainer but he responded to what we asked of him. He even lived with me for a bit on Campbell Road – the club owned a house there. I would stay there – much better than a hotel and cheaper for the club. Kevin Russell and Steve Foley were there for a bit as well. Many of the lads dropped in – I keep an eye on them that way! I often cooked their meals!
Steiny had talent – he just needed discipline and belief. He went on to get his rewards with the big move to Chelsea. In those days no Stoke player earned more than £275 a week so a move to a top flight club was life changing. If anyone says money for players wasn’t important, they are so wrong. At that level, money was an important incentive for players to get into the team, win a match and score a goal. A win bonus could add 50% to a player’s weekly wage. It would be a talking point in dressing room after game and their families might need the extra cash.
Were there any players who went the other way – those that you didn’t get through to?
Lee Sandford was a good example – I was tough on him. He liked a beer and I didn’t! I always felt if I could get him to come round to my way of thinking, he’d play for England. I told him that wouldn’t happen – not unless you’re at your peak physically by training as well as you should. He was a challenge. I saw him at a funeral actually, last year. He came up to me and thanked me for what I did for him at Stoke.
The only one that I felt really get away from me was Carl Beeston. I couldn’t get him on the pitch regularly enough. Injuries cursed him and was so frustrating. Whatever the reasons, we missed out on seeing the best of such a talented player there. A real shame.
We did well in your first season but at the end we experienced contrasting fortunes…
That’s football. We lost to Stockport in the Play Off semi final, but I didn’t read too much into that. I knew we had a good team so little sleep was lost. We had a sending off and things just didn’t go our way. We had some good battles with Stockport. There was that trouble between Stein and Jim Gannon of course, some time after. They were a solid, difficult team and Edgeley Park was a tough place to go.
We had some good battles. It’s crazy where that club are at now. So the Autoglass Final at Wembley was like round 2… here we go! It was good getting there, but in a final – you have to win. I fancied us – on that big pitch with our stamina, I just thought we’d need a touch of luck to do it. Having won it the year before with Birmingham (John Gayle scored two goals that day he’d never score again!), I knew the impact it would have: belief, tickets, merchandise sales……the whole place was buzzing.
At Swindon years earlier, we had good cup wins against bigger teams and that kind of thing sparks a club – it was the same at Stoke after Steiny’s winner. That season summed football up, really. The same team lost at Telford in the cup and then went to Anfield and got a draw. You can’t over-analyse everything. You just keep doing the right things and see where it takes you. The Wembley win felt like mission accomplished. It would then hopefully lead to a winning habit the following year.
The 1992/ 93 season – were you confident we’d seal promotion?
You never know what will happen and you’re not daft enough to sit in your office, thinking we are definitely gonna do it. Only after, can you look back and explain what it takes. The main ingredient in our success was that the team gave their all every week, even in defeat. Look at Leicester City last season – what got them there? Desire and Commitment. Those qualities were mentioned last year for the first time in a while. That’s what we had and like Leicester, a sprinkling of good players.
Players liking me as their manager is irrelevant – l was never bothered what they thought of me. Some will like you, others will think you’re too tough on them. My job is to get best out of them and guide them to best of my ability – and them not sitting in a pub, getting p****d every night any more was a part of it!
Those games against West Brom were always fun…
They were the opposite to us in many ways – apparently talented individuals who other players relied on. We were more of a team and – the record says it all – we loved playing against them. We never took the fixture for granted, but we always felt comfortable coming up against them.
You were on record as never enjoying the Vale games – but those 5 Potteries derbies were important to the fans…
They were always fiercely contested – don’t think for one minute it’s not as competitive as the Manchester or Glasgow derbies. The Pride of the Potteries means just as much. The crowd are desperate to get one over their rivals. We all knew what it meant to win for the fans. Unlike these days, Vale were a good team. Rudgey always did his homework – what they achieved in results and selling players was brilliant – bygone days never to happen again. Like us, they did well to get in real bargains. The clubs are miles apart in terms of status now, of course. They’ve stumbled from disaster to disaster and can’t deem to make any progress. In those days, you wouldn’t have seen the gap between the clubs ever being so wide again.
That night against Plymouth, when we clinched the title…a nervy finish?
Nights like that are so special to so many people. You reflect on it all after we’d won the league. When I joined the club I never thought we would make such progress so quickly. It was great to have complete control of the football side of things. The players knew where they stood with me and they got their rewards that night. Some managers these days are like puppets on a string.
But in the squad, we had leaders too. Real men with opinions. There was no tactics board in the dressing room, believe me. I kept it simple, because if you fill their heads with too much rubbish, they’d forget it anyway. When that whistle blows, you are in a different zone. The players would argue and I would listen, stepping in when I had to remind them who the boss was. At times, I’d be sat in the office hearing them ball and shout at one another and I’d see that as a really good sign.
Was the win over Man United the following season your best night at the club?
Absolutely, what a night. A cup tie against my old club. The Vic was heaving. Both clubs had just won league titles and were on highs. The best football manger in the world was sat in the next dugout to me. When I saw the teamsheet, I doubted our chances. Schmeical the great Dane in goals, Bruce and Pallister at the back, Ince in midfield, Hughes up front……a tough team, and I knew it would be a battle but we did it and the place was rocking.
I remember it got to about 88 minutes and we were 2-1 up, nearly there. I was thinking we are gonna do this now, just blow the bloody whistle ref, please! But at the same time, I was mindful about Nello in the dugout behind me. As the world now knows, Neil Baldwin loves introducing himself to a celebrity and Fergie was a big one, so I was concerned that after the final whistle, he would jump all over Fergie, who would not be in the mood for it after a defeat – that man hated losing.
You have to think ahead as a manger, so I was planning to keep my eye on him. But the whistle went and we were all celebrating, hugging. I went to shake Fergie’s hand and forgot about Nello. A minute later, to my horror, I saw him all over Fergie! Later on, I invited him into my office for a cup of tea and a sandwich. He burst in and asked ‘Who the f*****g hell was that big fella giving me grief on the track out there?’ Apparently Nello had grabbed him and shouted ‘Welcome to Stoke, Alex!’. I explained Neil’s story and he begged me not to tell the press or word would get out that a circus clown had defeated him!
He thought the whole thing was ridiculous, but he was laughing he even more when I told him that Nello had given the team talk before the game! He told me to “f*** off”, with a smile on his face! It was true – Nello said to the lads ‘Just go out there and win.’ And it worked. Fergie was dreading the headlines, had it all got out!
A while back I bumped into Sir Alex in the States. We were watching a United friendly. He saw me at one end of the restaurant I was in. He was heading for me at a good pace – and normally when Fergie targets you like that it means you are in big trouble, hide or get ready for the hairdryer! He ran over and just said “Bloody brilliant, Lou! My wife made me watch it and I did – I’ve never seen a better football film in my life!” I soon told Nello what he’d said and it was the best compliment he’d ever received.
You left for Celtic, but 11 months later, you returned from Parkhead……had things changed at Stoke?
I’ve spoken to Joe Jordan about it since. He said that when he took over, he couldn’t believe how fit the squad was. Joe is a good pal, but we have different styles. I’m off the cuff, more explosive and unpredictable, wheras Joe is super organised and much more serious.
Money was still really tight but we worked hard at getting good lads in to the club. We bought two players out of the army for 500 quid that season! One was a chef, and I don’t know what the other one did! Justin Whittle and Gary Holt. They came into a squad that was already fit and worked hard, but those two soldiers blew them away on training ground. We signed Larus Sigurdsson from a team in Iceland for next to nothing and he was the same – a beast in training. After his first day, some of the coaches told me that he was shockingly bad but that Iceland win over in the England in the Euros was no shock to me – I found them to be polite, professional, honest and fit lads – their attitude was better, too.
Anyway, I was in the office after Larus’ first session and some of my coaches said that he didn’t understand the game and that his positioning was poor. The next day I was out there watching and I asked them: ‘Do you not think there’s something there already without your coaching? He’s as strong as an ox, has electric pace and he will recover from his mistakes, no bother.’
Getting into the playoffs the season after was just as good an achievement as winning the league in 1993 – maybe better. The Leicester games though – oh my God! In some ways, the first leg draw was more heartbreaking because we played well in that early kick-off at Filbert Street. Graham Potter misses that chance, which would have put us in the driving street, but it still was a good result and we had a good chance to do the business at home. Things went wrong for us on the night. We conceded a good goal at a bad time, but Martin O’Neil’s team were no mugs – they had good players. There had to be a loser and it unfortunately was us.
The SAS of Sturridge and Sheron did the business that year – how were you able to turn water into wine again?
I remembered Sheron from his time as a young lad at Man City. He was at Norwich and I knew for starters he was miles away from his North West home, which might give us a sniff. We went to watch another player there one night but I saw his name on the teamsheet and remembered how prolific he was at Maine Road as a kid. I wondered if he was just fed up living so far away.
He didn’t score that night but he took up good positions and hit some strikes. I told Bernard we’ll get him. Like Steiny, he was out of condition, but if we could get him fit and feeling good about himself, he’d be worth a punt.
The season after, 1996/97 was all about saying goodbyes to the Victoria Ground for the fans……what do you remember?
Andy Griffin was a bonus. He was in the youth team – I’d always go and see them to keep an eye on the young lads. Griff was a warrior – no nonsense, willing to steam into people and was hard but fair. His enthusiasm boosted the team – he was a mature young man trying to make his way in the game.
The last game at the Vic against West Brom – of course it meant a lot. I’d spent nearly 7 years as boss at Swindon and it was 5 or 6 years (with a break) at Stoke – it became my place. We had some special nights at other grounds like Anfield and Old Trafford, but home is home. I was also saying goodbye to our fans for good too, as well as the ground. The support was always brilliant. Unlike at some modern grounds, where you can hear a pin drop. At the Vic, even with a small crowd, you could hear the crowd noise and it made a real difference.
Jez Moxey joined as Chief Exec……
I had no problem with it. It would be his job to run the club and my job to run the team. So, I met Jez Moxey – and let’s just say he wasn’t really for me. That’s the best way of putting it! I was massively against moving grounds, but, time moves on and in that documentary I did recently, I went to the Brit before a match against Liverpool and it’s clear to see now that it was the right decision for the club, long term. It just felt wrong to me at the time.
You played for your country a fair few times and you had a good team but Scottish football isn’t what it was – why?
The difference between now and then is amazing. In 1978, I played in the game at Anfield against Wales, which we won – the famous Joe Jordan hand ball goal got us to the World Cup that night – but I wasn’t even sure I’d be in the final squad. Ally McLeod was manager then – believe it or not, he selected 80 players in the original squad! Imagine that now! The midfield names were quality – Willie Carson, Willie Johnson, Grahame Souness, Bruce Rioch, Asa Hartfort and others so I was unsure of my place on the plane. He then narrowed down to 40 and it was a relief to still be in it. D-day came and when the final 24-man squad was announced to go to Argentina, I was in. It was a real achievement. There were 300 Scottish players playing in top leagues then.
Things have changed so much now. The carrots I got at Celtic just aren’t there and it doesn’t seem to mean as much: I played for Celtic vs. Rangers in a reserve cup match and before the game, we were told that if we won, we’d each receive £10!!! We nearly collapsed – that would mean doubling our weekly wage! We went out like men possessed and we won. Not having to graft is the biggest disservice to the younger generation. No players are ground staff now – they’re not even allowed to clean boots before earning their trade.
You’ve had a wonderful career in football but ‘Marvellous’ and the BAFTAS…you couldn’t have seen that coming?!
It has changed my life in some ways – all my career achievements as a manger and player, are out of the window, now. When I’m with Neil Baldwin, I am number 2 to him! I got a call from him last year one night. I was working late at Old Trafford. He asked ‘When are you home and are you passing my house?’ I wasn’t planning to but it’s hard to say no to Nello. Then he asked “Can you please bring me cod and chips and a can of diet coke please?!’ I’m not the boss anymore – the boot is on the other foot now!
Do you miss managing?
In some ways, but I’d be foolish to think in the modern game my methods would work as well.
Too much talk and nonsense around these days. I used to joke with the Stoke players in training on a Monday after a defeat – shall we watch the tape back to see how crap we were on Saturday or shall we go out and train? They all wanted a rest and to watch the tape and I’d say no chance, we all know where we’re going – get out there! No point sitting there, feet up, doing no work.
Things are over complicated nowadays. I saw Jock Stein once take a player off for doing things they were not capable of doing. If you’re a runner, get about the pitch. Tricky winger? Beat your man……a simple recipe. Look at England struggling in the Euros. I was at Trentham with Gordon Banks, Jimmy Greenhoff and Denis Smith the other day – we were talking about England and I asked Gordon, a World Cup winner: “Has anyone ever rang you and asked how you won it?’”.The answer was no. They even asked Stuart Lancaster, a rugby man but they haven’t rung Gordon Banks!
But I blame the game overall, not just the players. Contracts with release clauses for example – who invented that one?! If I had said to Tommy Docherty at United I want a £300k clause in my deal in case someone else wanted me, he’d have said “off you go pal, you can go now – there’s no point in you staying here!” Football is a simple game – choose the right manger and let him have full control.
And finally……..How’s the chip shop going well and what’s your favourite meal?
I still own it and originally bought it for my mum. The plan was for her to move from Glasgow to Manchester and run it. I rent it out to a firm now and it’s going welI, I think! Chicken and chips is my choice – but it has to be the breast. Salt and vinegar. and a buttered bap!
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Oh, isn’t social media a great place to be when Stoke City lose a game of association football. We can go from ”by far the greatest team the world has ever seen” to “worst Stoke side of my lifetime, this” in just ninety minutes.
I would say it’s the way of the world, but it’s not quite, is it? It’s the way of football though. Rather than go to the pub and have a pint with mates, or go home and not speak to your family until the next game, as we used to do – we now have instant opinion, right at our fingertips.
Don’t agree? Just have a look around you the next time you go a game – huge numbers on their phones. It’s akin to iPads at gigs: put them away or don’t take them if it means it takes something away from what you’re there to do: See a band/support the lads. And I’m as guilty as most…..mainly about refs, in fairness. I’m in the Family Stand, so ‘tweeting about the clueless ones in the middle’ is the new ‘venting your spleen in block 19’ (make a good flag, that).
So what’s going on with Stoke City? What’s going on with the gaffer? And why do folk think it’s a good idea to put tomato sauce on a sausage sarnie?
To be honest, I haven’t got the answers. Just opinions. No, that’s wrong: I have got the answer to the sauce question, but that’s for another day or issue…..
I’ve waited to express an opinion on what’s going on at Stoke – not to not upset anyone or not because I don’t have one. Locally and nationally, I’ve expressed it plenty this week. I just wanted to sit down and take some time before putting it down on paper.
This is not about taking sides. You can love and appreciate Messrs Pulis and Hughes. There’s no wrong or right here, no lines drawn in the sand. It’s not brown v red sauce on a sausage sarnie territory, this. That is way more important in the great scheme of things! Indeed, I detest it when the crowd turns against a Stoke manager. I get that knotted stomach feeling, and when the crowd does turn (at any club) rarely does the manager get the time to turn it around.
Do I want Sparky to have more time? That’s not for me to guess. That’s for PC. But what I really do want, is for us to show the footballing world on Saturday that we are different – we support Stoke City, no matter what has gone on before. That’s not to say happy-clap. That doesn’t solve anything. But the footballing world and media is EXPECTING us to turn now. They’d love that, wouldn’t they?
So why not do exactly what Stoke fans are ace at, and what winds others up: we close ranks, tuck our chin (or chins in my case) into our jackets, and unfurl a cauldron of support and venom. Why? Because our football club really needs it, right now. And we always tick up for our own in Stoke.
So, before anyone thinks the below is blaming the fans, think on. It certainly is not. It’s just that WE, the supporters, are Stoke City Football Club. We are the constant. So this isn’t a Mark Hughes-based article – that’s for next week……
We do anger so well at Stoke, don’t we? Often it’s bloody brilliant, too: witness some of the absolute caged-animal-like poundings we’ve verbally given some teams, and also some of the backing we’ve given our own team.
For me, atmosphere is not a chicken-and-egg situation. The team and manager on any given day Stoke City are playing deserve and get my support. No, I’m not always positive, and as stated before, I’m certainly no happy-clapper. And I also feel that sitting in the Family Stand also gives me an added responsibility when it comes to giving stick out. Far different than when I was in block 23!
But I feel that support comes first, not the team’s performance. If that was the case, for most of my 43 years watching Stoke City it would have been akin to a morgue. Or even Arsenal. What d’ya mean it has!??!? Pipe down at the back.
No, in my prime supporting years, my vocal backing came before any set piece or thrilling passage of play. Saturday 3pm or midweek 7.30pm (remember those days, eh?) was MY time. A few hours where I escaped the ‘have you put the bins out?’ grind and treadmill of everyday life.
It mattered not whether we were ace or garbage: support was always unconditional, as it took me away from normal life. And by god did I moan: Ball, Kamara, Little, Bamber, Donaldson…they all got it in spades!
So this isn’t a go at the atmosphere or anyone that doesn’t sing. Although in truth, our din has been average-at-best for some seasons now. No, this is my personal supporting manifesto. And I’d love for us to go back, as one, to a time when we didn’t need the team to lift us. A time when we didn’t sat down on a red plastic seat and bloody tweet! Like I do now.
So that’s what I would love to see on Saturday. A crowd who really tries to make a difference, when we are at a low ebb. Why? Because it’s bloody enjoyable and ace when we do, isn’t it? Like I said before: we do anger dead well at Stoke. Far better than we do love. Let’s channel that for us, and against the opposition.
We’ve done things a bit differently at Stoke as a support, especially in recent times: we were the team and supporters kicking sands in the muscle-bound big boys faces in 2008/09; we were the fans who produced one of the best dins to will a team to victory in a game of football I’ve ever heard; we were a support who opposition players actually said affected them and who our heroes loved us doing it; we went on the furthest of far-flung European tour to hostile hotbeds of football and made countless friends; and we were the supporters who stayed behind to shower love on our heroes as they trudged up those Wembley steps in May 2011 and then stay on to clap the victors lifting the cup.
That hurt, that day. But that was class. That was us.
Our support is outstanding. And right now, it’s angry. And rightly so.
But far better we show anger than apathy. Anger shows we care. It shows we are still here. It shows that Stoke City FC matters to us more than most other things in life. I’m not saying be positive for the sake of it and think everything is rosy: that never works and it isn’t right (but personal, vindictive, and ill-thought out abuse towards our own isn’t and never will be an option for me). And please don’t think I’m not as depressed and livid about this situation as everyone else!
But for me, Saturday isn’t about Hughes in or out. It’s all about Stoke City playing their hearts out, and please god, winning. Playing well doesn’t matter – just pass me those three bloody lovely points, ta. And for just those 90 minutes, let’s be with them, every step along the way.
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