For many Stoke fans around the world, game day doesn’t involve a trip to the Brit, long coach rides to see the team play away, or even a few pre-match oatcakes. For many, the chance to see the club live or sing along to ‘Delilah’ or “Ma Ma Ma Marc Muniesa…” still remains the stuff of dreams and bucket lists.
Despite the distance, here’s a look at how a few fellow Stoke fans around the world do their best to follow their favourite team on game day…
Michael Forbes, Canada
I may be over 5,500 kilometres away from the Brit but I do my best to watch every Stoke game that I can. Stoke have about 15 to 20 games televised each season over here, usually home and away against the bigger clubs. It’s often games against the likes of Sunderland and the newly promoted teams that aren’t on offer.
So far this season, the Bournemouth match has been the only one that wasn’t televised. Six for seven, in terms of coverage, is a great start for the season — if only we could say the same for the team’s performance to date…
There aren’t many, if any Stoke fans in Toronto. I’ve only seen one Stoke shirt since the team was promoted – an older gentleman in a Huth jersey at a TFC game. There are no Stoke bars or pubs to go to, so I watch all the games from my couch, the last vestiges of my morning coffee in my Stoke mug.
As a stereotypical Canadian, I play ice hockey each Saturday morning at 6:30. I’m off the ice and home by 9 AM, which means I have an hour until kick-off.
I’m not the superstitious type, but I do try to wear a piece of kit when the game is on – a Stoke t-shirt, scarf or hat. If the team goes on a win streak, I’ll continue to wear the same kit week after week in hopes of bringing them a little luck. In Hughes’ first season, my daughter made me a red and white striped bracelet out of thread. The team went on a hot streak and I refused to take it off until after the last game of the season.
The game usually wraps at noon, leaving me the rest of the day to search out recaps and delight in a big win, or to stew and avoid the coverage after a loss. Sunday games are my favourite. Dinner always tastes better when your team wins.
Mark Deaville, Japan
In Japan, the average 3pm kick off happens at 11pm or midnight (depending on daylight saving in England).
I worked on Saturdays until 6:30pm, which left ample time to go out for a pint with mates in Yokohama before getting the train home in time to watch the match. I only had terrestrial TV so I relied on free internet streams. I ended up watching more of Stoke from Japan than I did in the years prior to moving there as I used to work on Saturdays in Hanley. The only negative was Sunday mornings: I’d be on the train to work at 8:30am as everyone back in England was settling down to watch Match of the Day.
Only a few times in four years did I manage to watch Stoke in bars. Twice was with an Arsenal supporting mate when we played them in early kick offs. One of the pubs filled up with Japanese businessmen types. Nothing unusual about that in Tokyo, but when I looked round again they’d all stripped off their business attire to reveal Arsenal shirts! It made for a tasty atmosphere if nothing else as me and my one Stoke mate gave as good as we got.
The other time was the FA Cup Semi Final against Bolton. The pub was pretty quiet with a few people watching Arsenal v Liverpool on the big screen while me, my Stoke mate, and a Bolton supporter sat up the corner by the small screen. That poor bloke must have got sick of our mentals as each goal went in. The staff in there thought it was brilliant. I then had to commute 2 and a half hours to work then next morning with a stinking hangover.
John Holmes, Thailand
I have supported Stoke City since 1961. I was 9 years old when Sir Stan came back from Blackpool. I watch every game here in Thailand. They’re usually on at 9pm on the weekend and 1:45am for mid-week games. The time change adds an extra hour making it a 7 hour difference, but I still stay up to watch the midweek games. I’ve never missed a match since the side was promoted to the Premier League.
Here in Thailand, the Premier League used to be on Truevision but CTH got the television rights. This meant I had to pay another 1000 baht per month to watch Stoke city (about £18) but it’s worth it. I have a few superstitions – I always set my screensaver to the skeleton head, which sounds stupid but have always used this saver. I also never wear my Stoke top in the house when watching the game. I also shut the door, close the curtains and switch my mobile off. It sounds daft but we all have our ways of willing the team to win.
Australia is either 9 or 10 hours ahead of the UK, so kick-off is late regardless (a 3pm kick off is usually about midnight or 1am, depending on Daylight Saving Time or otherwise)
I subscribe to Foxtel so I’m able to watch all Stoke’s games live on TV. I don’t have any game day rituals or superstitions, but I did at one stage make a pact with myself NOT to watch any away games because our record was so poor, and I couldn’t see much point in staying awake until 2 or 3am just to watch them get spanked.
That pact didn’t last long as I couldn’t help myself, and simply had to watch, just like passers-by at a car accident
Having lived here for decades – I came here before we won the League Cup in 1972 – I never miss an opportunity to watch our lads play, and I took the opportunity to catch them in Singapore when they played in the Barclays Asian Trophy!
I was lucky enough to meet up with a number of ‘Oatcakers’ and other rabid Stokies while I was over there, and I was so pleased I made the trip even though it was in jeopardy when I ran over my foot with a lawn mower a few weeks before!
Just like a daft teenage fan, I have a photo of Ryan Shawcross and me fixed to the partition next to my desk at work.
We make no bones about re-sharing the interview we did last year with Marc Muniesa. We love the bloke.
Why? Put on hold just what a cracking footballer he is for a minute. The best compliment I can pay him is that everyone should have Marc Muniesa in their lives for a few minutes every single day. He’s just a lovely, lovely bloke who really is as nice as he comes across in the media and on social media. He is a bloke who makes you smile.
I’m delighted that my daughter’s favourite player is Marc Muniesa: not only is she a good judge of what makes a proper footballer, she’s also a good judge of character and personality, too. When he scored yesterday the whole ground exploded as one to salute a player who we’ve taken to like few others. There is genuine affection for him. And that goes for his team mates, too. Witness how they loved him scoring. I could watch is celebration on loop all day.
It’s nice to be nice. That’s what I teach my kids. Marc Muniesa is a superb ambassador for our football club, and he’s good company, too.
I’d have a pint with Marc Muniesa #IHAPWMM
The Spanish word for player is ‘Jugador’. What a great word, eh? It’s sounds a bit gladiatorial in a way, and it rolls off the tongue, too – and it’s a word that totally sums up Marc Muniesa. The lad is a proper player, a proper footballer.
He’s the second youngest player to have played for Barcelona – have a wild guess at the youngest – and like Bojan is polite, well mannered, and superbly spoken. A real ambassador for Stoke City, and a real credit to his family.
He’s shown at Stoke that he can play in a number of positions, and when at centre half with Ryan Shawcross last season, he was simply outstanding. But Marc Muniesa’s had some cruel luck with injuries, including extensive ligament damage to both knees whilst at Barcelona. It will be great to see him back in action very soon for The Potters.
By rights, you’d think Marc Muniesa would be miserable. But he rarely is, and as well as being a cracking footballer, his manner off the pitch and on social media means he is a massive favourite of the Stoke City faithful. His song resonates around grounds even when he’s not playing. It’s an ace song. He’s an ace bloke. We caught up with him just before Christmas.
Tell us a bit about growing up as a lad in Catalunya.
I was born in Barcelona, but on my second day we were in Lloret De Mar. It’s by the sea, a popular seaside resort, and in the summer thousands go there on holiday. I don’t have a sister but I have a younger brother who is nineteen years old – he plays football too, as a hobby with his mates. My parents both work in hotels – different hotels – because Lloret De Mar is a tourist kind of place, and in the summer we get something like 300,000 tourists, so they’re really busy. Mainly from Britain, Germany, Italy…..
As a kid I was polite and I liked to study and play sports. I’m still studying at the minute (Business Management).
How did you got into football?
My father and my grandfather are massive Barcelona supporters and they went to watch games, they had club cards. I used to go to watch Barcelona with them. I started playing football with my father outside, and at five years old I started to play in the village team.
How were you spotted by Barca?
Barcelona came to see another lad playing who was a couple of years older than me. They saw me and they ended up taking both of us to train with them. I would have been eight or nine years old at the time – he was about eleven. I was lucky and he was unlucky I suppose as they kept me but didn’t keep him.
I had a leg injury and had around a year off football, but when I was ten I started playing for Barcleona regularly. I lived at home until I was 16. My mum or dad drove me three days a week to training. Unlike Bojan, I studied at home in Lloret. It was really difficult as every training day I’d end up doing my homework in the car, having dinner in the car…….I’d get back about 11pm, absolutely shattered. At 16, I moved to Barcelona, La Masia.
What was the training regime like at La Masia? When I spoke to Bojan, he talked about constantly working with a football…..
Yes, everything was with the ball. Everything. I didn’t touch the gym until I was 17/18 years old. Sometimes you hear about kids of 10 or 11 doing gym work or just running. Not at Barcelona – we had the ball all the time and it’s a concept they have there that has done well for them.
When I signed for Barca I was a left winger. When I was 11 I moved back into midfield, and then a year later I was in the defence. A lot of people at Barcelona start in the attack and then they move them around. They like players being used to different positions on the pitch. I was used as a centre back and then also as a left back. I started playing in the Barcelona Under 19’s and played really well. I love Barcelona and I knew other teams were interested at the time but….(shrugs shoulders and laughs), I love Barcelona.
You’ve spoken about La Masia – you have any plans to coach in the future?
Yes. In the future I’d like to go into coaching. I like seeing how people improve.
You made your first team debut at 17 – did you feel starstruck?
Well yes, you’re living a dream. You see the players on TV, they have won everything, and then at a young age, to train with them – it’s just incredible. I was really happy and my family were really happy. It was a great time for us.
It’s rare that you see Barcelona players who have come through the ranks messing about in public life. They all seem so grounded, especially the greats like Xavi, Puyol etc – Do you get media training there?
No, at Barca you don’t have media training, but you do get taught to be a really good person. They love you to study and they think that comes first, because a lot of players play football but don’t make it, so it’s important they have a god education to have a good career in another area away from football when they leave.
Who were your best mates there?
Sergi Roberto and Marc Bartra are two big friends, but I was really good mates with everyone I played with while I was there.
You were sent off on debut – that’s not like you! I presume it was two yellows?
No, it was a straight red, ha ha! In England it wouldn’t have even been a yellow card, ha ha!
It was on the touchline, I was running so fast and I made a tackle. I was the last man but it wouldn’t have been a red card in England! The supporters were cheering me, but then the ref came up with the red card and I thought “oh no!!!!” Even the other player (from Osasuna) came up to me and said it wasn’t a red card, and then Guardiola, Xavi etc started to shout at the ref that it wasn’t a red card!!!!
I was really upset. This was my debut for the team I dreamt of playing for. I played thirty minutes, that’s all. It was a great day, but also one of the worst, too.
You were on the bench for the 2009 Champions League Final against Manchester United?
Yes, a great night, and I got a winners medal! (Erik Pieters then jumps in the room, shouts something mocking Marc, then runs off to much laughter)
How come you left the Nou Camp?
I had a knee injury when I was 20 (in a pre-season friendly against Hamburg, he suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament), and when I came back I was playing with the second team. I was 21 and thought it was time to leave and get regular first team football. I was sad as I love Barcelona, but it was the right thing to do and the right time to go.
You had already had a major knee injury before then, hadn’t you?
I had, yes. I had already torn my other leg’s ligaments when I was 16, so I have done both legs! The second time I knew I had done it, the first time I didn’t. After the second one, I saw my family suffering and crying; far more than me, so I just had to be strong. It made me stronger, and I wanted to get back to playing again and make them happy again.
You’ve suffered a few leg injuries at Stoke since you came – is it a possibility these are linked to your knee injuries?
Yes, it could be possible. With the injuries we’re doing everything we can, like changing insoles in my boots, going to different hospitals, things like that.
Why and how did you come to Stoke?
I wanted first team football, simple as that, but I hadn’t really thought too much about whom for and what league, to be honest with you. I hadn’t thought too much about the Premier League at all, to be honest. A lot of people said how physical it would be, being a defender in the Premier League. But a defender has to also be intelligent, be good on the ball, and good tactically, too.
I then had the opportunity to come here and to speak to Mark Hughes who wanted to change the style of play, and he convinced me to come. It was a big step, but one I was really glad I made. I had to do more gym work and more running to build myself up physically at first. It is more physical over here, it’s a lot calmer in Spain.
What did you know of Stoke City and the city of Stoke-on-Trent?
I didn’t know much about the city at all, but I had heard that they played a lot of direct, physical football. I also heard about Rory Delap, too!
When you were playing superbly for us at the back end of last season – was this the best form of your career?
Yes, I would say it was. Ryan is a really good defender and I enjoy playing next to him. For me, one of the best in the Premier League. He knows exactly what qualities he has. He has superb concentration, and tactically he’s good too. When I play next to him and I want to go forward he sometime shouts me back, “Stay here!!!!”, ha, ha! I like getting in front of players, getting the ball and playing. I also learned a lot off Huthy, too.
We now have a lot of different styles of defenders, too. I know it will be hard to get back in, but I will wait for my chance.
You’ve spoken about your experiences of playing in different positions whilst a youngster at Barca. Do you see your position on the pitch possibly changing here as you get older?
Yes, I think sometimes that when I get older, when I lose some pace, I may play as a defensive midfielder. I played 10 games at Barca B there as a holding midfielder. I think I was good at helping the defence out as I have the mindset of a defender.
You’re the happiest bloke on the planet, aren’t you?
Ha, ha. Sometimes I get angry, ha ha! But it’s important to show you are happy. I like being happy. There are a lot of bad things in life, and although I am desperate to play every game, bad things in life puts not being in the team into perspective.
La Bamba!!!!! I loved the song when I first heard it in Cologne. Amazing! When you hear your name in a song it’s special, it’s a great thing. When I hear it I do think, “they are crazy!”, ha ha.
You live with your girlfriend, and have several Spanish footballing friends close by?
Yes. The first year I was alone, no other Spanish players were here at Stoke. I went around a lot with Wilson Palacios. His wife was also close friends with my girlfriend, so we did lots together. To have friends around you is really important. For example, when you’re not in a good moment it’s important to have someone there you know.
My family come over to watch too, especially in the winter. Sergi and Marc sometimes come over too, but Catalunya have a game on Boxing Day so they won’t be over then.
Thanks for your time Marc. Do you have a message for Stoke fans?
Yes. Thank you for all the love and support you give me. Every day, if it’s good or bad, you are always there for me and the team. Me and the team hope you can enjoy many more good moments this season.
It’s 2pm on a Thursday, and I’m down at Clayton Wood, Stoke’s training ground. I’ve just driven through the autograph hunters who look, ahem, ‘slightly’ disappointed when I turned the corner and my 09-plate Kia crawled apologetically past them and through the security gates……
I’m armed with any number of things, ranging from bobble hats to dictaphones, and from framed prints (of THAT cover) to a sheet or two of questions. The telly is on, and Mark Hughes and his trusty lieutenants walk past.
We exchange ‘Good afternoons’, and they are off to do a press conference or something a bit more important than nod their heads and say hello to some giddy, mid-40’s bloke from a magazine.
“He’s about, he’ll be here in a minute”.
I was early. Very early. Well, you would be, wouldn’t you?
It wasn’t really akin to being at the end of the aisle waiting for your partner to show up on your wedding day – it’s far worse. This is Bojan Krkić Pérez , El Petit Geni, or just simply BOJAN, we’re talking about!
As we take a seat and start talking, one thing becomes absolutely clear: Bojan takes his football unbelievably seriously. And why wouldn’t you when you have his God-given talent? For the entire interview he never moves his gaze away from me when he’s talking. Bojan is supremely well-mannered and polite, down-to-earth, and very serious…..and we’re there to talk football, family, friends, Spain…..and Stoke.
Tell us about the young Bojan…..
I grew up in Linyola. It’s got a small population and my family are from that town. My mother’s from there and it’s my best place, my favourite place. My family still live there, although I don’t have any brothers or sisters. It’s about an hour from Barcelona. I love it there.
I was a quiet boy. It’s great to go back. I really started getting into football when I was about four years old and I eventually signed for Barcelona when I was nine. My father was a professional footballer – I watched a few games, but not many. He played in my position; he was a number 10.
I heard you were a good musician when you were younger?
(laughs) Yes, I enjoyed playing the violin when I was young, and I love music. I would like to get back to playing music one day.
How were you spotted?
I was playing in a tournament in France. It’s an international tournament and there were lots of scouts there. They (Barcelona) saw me and liked me. A lot of teams had scouts there, but I signed for Barcelona, the team I loved. It was a dream.
So I went to La Masia (La Masia de Can Planes, usually shortened to La Masia) the Barcelona training ground at the age of 9. For the first three years I was travelling from home, but when I was 12 I moved there to live there with my grandparents where we lived in a flat. In the morning I’d take a bus to school and spend all morning there.
What’s different about La Masia compared to other academies and training camps?
Well, everyone has different ways of coaching kids and what they believe in. I think that Barcelona’s is the best academy because they put your schooling first and after that its football. I like the idea of that. School is very important as it’s everything when you are a youngster growing up.
Barcelona like to have that education philosophy and mentality in their football. But when we trained it was almost always with a ball.
So do you have any plans to coach in the future?
Yes, in the future I would like that, but that’s a long way away. But yes, I think I would like to coach in the future.
You made your first team debut at Barcelona when you were just 17 – breaking Messi’s record. Were you starstruck?
Yes, of course, because before I played for Barcelona I was always a fan. I was in the stadium to watch the games, and then suddenly I was playing for them! It was a fantastic feeling; a dream come true to play for Barcelona and with such great players. I had an amazing time there.
Who were your best friends at the club?
I wouldn’t like to single out just one player. There are a lot of players there and they all helped me, but special players like Henry, Pique, Iniesta, Puyol….they all really helped me to develop.
There was a lot of pressure as a 17 year old, but you don’t really notice it at the time. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I’m very, very proud to have played for the club I supported, such a big club, and I tried to do my best at all times. It’s hard when you’re 17 as you think as a 17 year old thinks, but when you are playing for such a great football club you must expect pressure. That’s why having such a good schooling is important. I loved my time at Barca.
Roma, AC Milan, Ajax……fans of those clubs liked you. Why weren’t you signed?
Yes, after Barcelona I played in some great cities and for some great clubs: Rome, Milan, Amsterdam…. great cities. I had a big contract at Barcelona and it’s hard when you’re on loan. But when the loan ended at Ajax I said to my family that it was now the time to settle down, sign a contact somewhere, and play regularly.
What did you know of us Stoke before you signed for us?
I knew Stoke were a Premier League club and had played many years in that league. I knew Stoke City has a lot of history, too. I knew of the reputation they had before I came and some people said to me ‘look at their reputation’ – but I knew Mark Hughes was the manager and I replied to them that if Mark Hughes wanted me then I know he wants to play in a certain style.
Mark Hughes was hugely important in getting me to Stoke. He’s the gaffer and he knew I wanted to play games. He gave me confidence and it was a really good move and I feel really comfortable here.
What changes did you need to make for playing in the Premier League?
Most important I think was to add more muscle to my body. I can quite easily get used to the pace of the game and wasn’t worried by that when I first came, but when I first came here I wanted to add more muscle as the game is more physical here. I am now far stronger.
That run of games last season from Spurs away to Rochdale: was it the best form of your career so far?
That’s difficult to say. I think I played consistently in that period. I’ve played really well at all the clubs I’ve been at, but the gaffer here knows that when I came to Stoke it was really important for me to play regularly and to be happy and feel wanted. That is how I feel. I was happy with how I played last season.
I feel a lot of love at Stoke but I also felt a lot of love at Barca and also at Roma, too. I am happy.
That night against Rochdale – did you know immediately it was serious?
Yes. I knew that something strange had happened straight away and that it wasn’t nice. I was running and my studs stuck in the turf, it was just a complete accident. Things can happen like that as we play football. It was a complete accident. I now feel strong and good.
Did you ever have any doubts that you’d be back playing?
I felt a lot of emotions at that time. You always have doubts, but for me the key is to think if you have a doubt then you have ten positive thoughts to make up for it on the same day. I looked at the injury as though your leg is just a small part of your body, and I was very positive. Recovery is about your body and mind. It’s hard when you have an injury but that’s football and that’s life. I am a positive person.
So to your recovery and recuperation. You went back to Catalonia?
Yes, it was very nice and important for me to go back home to recover. It was hard to move away from the team and the club, but I had to as I felt that it’s so important to get your mind totally right and focussed, without distractions. For that, you have to be around family and friends. The sun also makes a difference too, ha, ha!
Thousands monitored your recovery work on social media? Was this your idea?
Yes, it was my idea to put videos of my recovery on social media as we as footballers are important to our fans. But not only when it’s going well and you are in a good way – it’s easy then – but more so when it’s hard. I worked really long hours to get back to good health and get my leg strong, and I even wrote a daily diary, but it was worth it!
I wanted to show my fans that ‘ok, this hard, but I am going to come back stronger and I am doing my very best to do so’. I feel they have the right to see how I am doing and they liked doing so. I’m not at 100% yet but I am working hard towards that goal. It’s was a long time that I was out of football, but I am working so hard to be at my very best. I need games to get that fitness, plus training of course – but I am very happy with how it’s going.
What are the things you miss about home?
My town, my food, my family, my friends, the views……..I don’t need to be surrounded by a lot of special possessions, I just like the normal things in life to make me happy.
My family came over last Christmas and they are doing so again this Christmas. That means a lot to me – it’s a very special time of the year where I come from. In Spain you don’t play at that time of the year, so that’s a big difference, but it’s a very special part of the year.
You have won one cap for Spain – ambitious for more?
Of course, I’d love to play for my country again. It’s very difficult to play for Spain as they have great players and it’s so hard to break into the team, but I know that I first have to play a lot of games, be 100%, and play a lot of good games at Stoke City. Then, it’s up to others.
What’s your message for Stoke fans?
Yes, thank you for your support it means a lot to me and the guys. We are a team, a group, always together. The season is a long season and we didn’t start that well, but we try every game to do the very best things, and it’s now getting a lot better as the season goes on.
Keep supporting us, whatever the result, no matter if we play well or not – we love your support! Oh, and Happy Christmas!
…..and that was that, apart from Bojan then taking the time to sign prints that had been auctioned off for the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice. Bojan was really keen and happy that the print was so popular and had raised £600 for the Donna Louise, and asked questions about the organisation.
Not only is Bojan an outstanding footballer, it’s pretty obvious that he’s a lovely bloke too, an absolute gentleman. It’s great that such a well-known, world famous ‘name’ player can fit so easily into the Stoke dressing room DNA of being a decent human being and having time for the fans.
We shook hands, I thanked him for his time, gave him a Bon Nadal bobble hat and a framed print, and I walked back to my car. As the security gates slowly opened, I could see the autograph hunters were walking away from the training ground. I would the window down…..
“Bojan’s still in there, and is on his way out soon”.
They all turned round and jogged back to the gates. Just as I would have done. THAT, is the Bojan effect!