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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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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