One thing I’ve been reading on social media pretty regularly this season is that Stoke games haven’t been entertaining enough. Entertainment never worries me, to be honest. I go the cinema, pub, or for a meal for that. For me, Stoke winning is the be all and end all of watching Stoke. If we can do it in a fashion akin to the two home games against the two Manchester clubs from last season – that’s ace. If not, I don’t care at all. The result really is the bottom line.
But I really enjoyed yesterday’s game. Yes, we didn’t play as fluently as we can, but you sometimes have to take your hat off (grudgingly) to the other team if they’ve played well. And let’s be honest, Manchester United were very good yesterday. Indeed, that’s a game we would have lost a while back – and for us to get a point against an excellent team, when we’ve been up against it; that will do for me.
In many ways, that was a TP performance – and it was no surprise that Messrs Whelan and Shawcross were excellent (more on that later). But everyone dug in: I thought Shaq was lively and Glen Johnson was defensively good defending the numerous balls slung I to his back stick environment. On the other flank Erik Pieters against Valencia was a really good personal battle. One I thought Erik did pretty well in, as Valencia is having a really good season.
Yes, I know I always go on about refs, but in my worthless opinion Clattenberg is easily the best ref in this country. Yet both sets of fans thought he was poor yesterday. So, I suppose it kind of balanced out?
Whilst the away end screamed for a penalty whenever the ball went near a Stoke player in the box (the only shout anywhere near a peno, was a ricochet and totally accidental), Stokies were scratching their head how 30 seconds after Smalling went straight through the back of one of ours, Arnie was yellow carded for nowt much.
Saving grace for Clattenberg was his refusal for giving Arnie a second yellow for blatantly booting the ball away later. Did the inevitable later TV scrutiny of the first yellow possibly stop a second card coming out? Dunno, but our talisman was a lucky boy. Not a great day for the league’s best ref, but if players can be sub-standard then so can refs.
One thing with Clattenberg – his fitness levels are outstanding, and he is always right on top of every incident.
ST4 was back to it’s best: inhospitable weather, meaning big coats and bobble hats were everywhere, and there was a welcome return to a proper old fashioned Stoke din.
Whilst we may not the range of songs that our visitors often regale us with (but that ‘Manchester United Calypso’ chant really is a shocker, no matter how long they keep singing it for), we more than made up for it by a gigantic overall noise. Take Everton. I always thought that when Goodison Park is rocking, it’s not because of witty, one-off songs. It’s because the crowd become part of the game, and there’s just a general noise about the place. Same with our place, yesterday.
Indeed, that’s the quietest following we’ve seen from Man United since we got into the Premier League. Their away following is normally mostly time-served Mancs (no matter what some believe), and usually makes noise. Not yesterday though, they were quiet as mice, and that despite having almost total possession as their team kicked towards them, second half.
And that’s credit to the 25,000 Stokies in the ground. In a game when the team really needed the crowd, we were superb. Rarely do we pat ourselves on the back, but I take my bobble hat off to our home support yesterday – it was outstanding.
And I’m Whelan……good
It was a game made for our ROI midfielder. A game where we had little possession, and one where we needed our defensive midfielder to be positionally excellent. I felt he was.
Breaking stuff up, cutting angles, and putting himself about…..it was all there. But add on a shedload of leadership qualities, too. Often the player orchestrating where others should be, Glenn Whelan really is one of the best signings this club has made in the past decade. Special mention for how often he was speaking to young N’Goy about his positions, too.
Many kids might choose to have the name of one of our more flamboyant players on their shirts, but Whelan continues to just do his job, and his level best, on football pitches for Stoke City FC. He’s a credit to our club and the game.
I don’t see the fuss; well I do – namely over the price. £8million is a bit of a derisory bid but he’s not English, so there isn’t the overrated premium that comes with it! Now, I know that lots of Stoke fans consider him to be slightly, just short of being the second coming, but is he what we need? And just in case you haven’t figured out who I’m on about – it’s our very own diminutive Spanish magician Bojan.
Now I do get the argument for him. At his best, and I’m thinking of a certain match against Manchester United as an example, he is creative, dynamic, and the face of our revolution in footballing style. He signaled a change of intention at the club, an amendment in direction that was so drastically needed after the miserable 2012-13 season that we can almost forgive him anything. He helped to make us ‘sexy’ and sell us to the stars as more than a humdrum club in the cold wastelands somewhere between Birmingham and Manchester. The stats also don’t seem too bad – 52 league games for a return of 14 goals sounds okay for a Number 10, or just over 1 in 4 games.
This then is the unpopular opinion – my choice of the word magician was done so intentionally! See, a magician can be quite mercurial in the application of their talent – and this is where I think we are with Bojan. Just over 1 in 4, but only 2 recorded assists with four ‘big chances created’. And bear in mind that 5 of his goals have come directly from the penalty spot!
Simply put, I don’t think he does enough to justify a continuous presence in the starting eleven – especially in the coveted Number 10 position! We have better or as good options; Joe Allen has a similar goal to game ratio, the same number of assists and has created one more big chance – in 20 appearances! Afellay has the same creative team play statistics –goals aren’t his remit but he can do the creative side as good as Bojan.
But that’s not all – the real issue is just where does he fit? Is he a False Nine? Is he a Number 10? Combining this positional nightmare with his inconsistent dynamism makes it tough to place my trust in Bojan to consistently do the job for us.
Now I know age is a factor in all things; Afellay is approaching 31 but Joe Allen is only 26. We also have young talent that would relish the opportunity to step up – and that’s if the protracted move for Berahino doesn’t come off!
So, to put this simply, I genuinely think we have as good options within the squad for that position. If we can get an acceptable fee, rumour is we are holding out for £12million then it’s a go for me!
Are we more in love with the myth of Bojan than the reality?
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1. The N’Zonzi effectOnly 18 months ago we banked Liverpool 6-1. I reckon we only needed a couple of key signings to really be pushing for Europe the following season.
Look at the first 45 minutes on Saturday. How has that happened?
Whilst there are many opinions, reasons, and excuses – the loss of our talismanic midfield metronome is by far the biggest for me. He’s never been replaced, has he?
A player who made every player in the team a better player, and one some never really rated for some unbelievable reason. A player termed ‘bone idle’ by some, yet had some of the best yardage covered stats in the league; a player who never went to ground unless he had to; a player who made the right decisions at the right time; a player I’d gladly piggy back to ST4.
Talking of making decisions: his step up, to Seville, means he is now absolutely bossing La Liga and Champions League games.
2. But he wasn’t there, was he?
No, and what we got was as bad a 45 as I’ve ever seen from a Stoke team. No matter what the set-up, formation, tactics – that starting 11 should not just have beaten Wolves, but beaten them well.
You can moan about the penalty that was somehow given as a freekick outside the box, or how well Wolves’ keeper played during a fifteen minute spell during the second half, all you like. Fact is, we should have been 3-1 down at half-time on clear cut chances, and we were simply miles behind on wanting the ball, wanting to win the ball, getting to the ball, second balls….and pace.
We really looked a one-paced team on Saturday, and when you analyse the squad, isn’t that one area where we really lack? Victor Moses gave it us – and that is what we need: A player who when we win the ball back can get us 40 yards or more up the pitch.
3. Vale of tears
If Saturday showed me and hopefully many others anything at all, it’s that we never, ever want to draw Port Vale in any cup competition, thank you very much.
Because, if we played to the ‘standard’ we did for the first half on Saturday against any opposition they we’d have lost. If that was Port Vale then we’d now be the butt of jokes, t-shirts, DVD’s and open top bus tours. And that would go on for decades, just as Dave Regis’ shot has. Don’t not believe for one second, that travelling back from Huddersfield on Saturday, many of the Vale away support would have been delighted to have heard our result.
On the other hand, would you even have been bothered if a non-league team had knocked Vale out? Like Crewe, for example.
We have nothing, nowt, zich…to gain from ever playing them again. I can understand if you haven’t seen a Potteries derby if you really want one. But can anyone who has seen us lose one – and the resulting giddiness from our poorly clothed neighbours – ever really clamour for another?
4. Every step along the way, by your side we’ll always stay
This is no call to arms, and it certainly isn’t blaming the support in any way, shape or form. And we’re not happy-clappers, too! I was absolutely livid after the game, and still are. We lost to Wolves. That always hurts me.
I can’t believe anyone thinks we’ve had a good calendar 2016, and losing to a local rival with half a team out in the FA Cup isn’t a great start to 2017, either. Yet another bloody late January Saturday afternoon spent at the shops or painting, eh? But the facts are: we have seen far, far worse – and we have come through far, far worse. We can’t really affect transfers, selection or tactics. But we can stick our chins into our nice big new winter coats and remember what a great club we support. And during that ninety minutes, supporting our team is what we do best.
No-one is saying don’t criticise. But there’s a big difference between difference and abuse. In our eyes, abuse isn’t deserved. And I seriously doubt what it ever really achieves.
We have a big game on Saturday at Sunderland that just got bigger. We then have a home game against a Manchester United who are flying. Aren’t these the times when we can be at our best as a support? Chances are we’ll go a goal down in future games – shouldn’t that be the signal to rally the lads rather than abuse? I thought we got behind the team well second half on Saturday, and the team responded.
We always think we can make a difference in the stands: if so, doesn’t that mean it can be either a positive or a negative difference, too?
Against modern football.
It’s quite a sweeping statement when you think about it, isn’t it? And I’d be an absolute liar if I said I was against modern football. Before you start hunting me down, let me explain……
I’ve been following and watching my club, Stoke City, for the last 40 years. And by god, have I seen some utter dross during that time. I mean utter, utter dross. But that’s just part of the game we love, isn’t it? And that dross makes any success we have so much sweeter.
An Autoglass Trophy win at Wembley here, a promotion there…….and even Abby Clancy winning Strictly Come Dancing surely can be added to our honours list, can’t it? You know what I mean though, don’t you?
The Potters have won one meaningful cup in 153 years. That’s some going. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Because as stated before, the good times then really are great times. I’d hate to support a top four club. Surely you need the crushing lows to make the highs even higher? For those totally against modern football – please don’t expect an apology that I love watching Stoke City in 2016. And I won’t say sorry that my kids now watch players of a standard that I could only dream about at their age. And I certainly won’t ever say that we don’t get unbelievable value for money, too!
I know that goes against many grains, but it’s true.
I know I am lucky. Stoke City are owned by a very wealthy local man, who puts a lot of ding into his local, beloved football team. A man who understands the city, the club, and its people. And whilst some clubs charge three figures to watch a game of association football, me and my lad watch Stoke City for around £22 a match. For both of us! Against modern football? At those prices, no! Add on free away coach transport for Stokies, and suddenly an away game with my lad in London doesn’t require a second mortgage. Our away followings have benefitted greatly from this and it’s one of the many things that my football club gets so right and leads on.
And being in the Premier League really has given Stoke-on-Trent the city a huge boost, too. I even know some Port Vale fans that have said that. Financially, being in the top league is obviously where it’s at – both for the club and the city. But it is culturally, too. And by that I mean football culture.
My schooldays were spent being the target of verbal abuse (and the odd wallop) from any number of whoppers wearing Liverpool, Man United, Arsenal etc shirts – all whilst living in Stoke-on-Trent.
The days when kids played football in parks, on the streets – remember those days? I do, because we ran the gauntlet of taunts and jibes from socially bankrupt know-nothings who simply attached themselves to those who were winning, those bigger than SCFC, and those in a higher league. You didn’t see many Stoke tops in those days.
Last week, I went to watch my 8 year old lad train: Of the 24 kids there, there were 18 Stoke City tops on display. Unheard of, even a decade ago.
We now have a generation in our city that can hold their heads up high. Being in the Premier League has given the city a huge sense of civic pride. Well, at least the red and white eleven twelfths of it, anyway! Again, I won’t apologise for this and pray my kids and their kids never get to live in a city where their club is ridiculed.
So watching Stoke is fun, cheap, and we have a new generation bang into it. It’s pretty good being a Stoke fan – but it would be very interesting to see what would happen if/when we got relegated…..Would we keep that new generation? Has the bug bitten them so hard that even relegation wouldn’t diminish or tarnish their love for SCFC? Would our crowds stay as strong as they have over the last eight seasons or so?
I don’t know, to be perfectly honest. All I do know is that if we did go down, The Championship and lower leagues are choc-full of ace awaydays, and also full of old rivals, too. We don’t have a rival in the Premier League. The Arsenal games have a pantomime edge to them, but nothing comes close to a derby game against Vale, or matches against local-ish teams such as Wolves, Derby, Forest etc.
I’ll admit that the biggest matchday buzz for me at home games is selling DUCK magazine.
We won’t go down and we won’t really push for Europe, either – and so the games kind of seep, one into another. What fires my flames is still selling a fanzine, and meeting the rank and file of our support on the streets. I especially love selling at away matches – it’s a little piece of ST4 in another city; a piece of Stoke on enemy soil. It’s also great other team’s fans recognising that zines don’t just still exist, and buy them, too. I’ve also sold away from home and then got back into may car and driven home – finances meaning I couldn’t afford to go in the game. I still buzzed from midday to kick off though!
And Anfield and Goodison Park usually see record sales for the mag and a great afternoon. They like their zines on Merseyside.
My eight year old lad loves going Stoke – possibly not as much as he did when he first went two years ago, but he prefers playing to watching. Always better to do than spectate, isn’t it? But what he really does love doing is going to see Leek Town play when Stoke are not playing. Indeed, he gets a massive buzz off it – and I get that buzz seeing my lad get that buzz!
It’s football at its rawest. But it also football as it kind of used to be.
Leek is a great little town and they play in the Northern Premier League. Indeed, it’s a truly GREAT drinking town, with any number of brilliant pubs in its midst. Pray for an away cup game there, folks, and stay over!
For a Saturday 3pm kick off (I almost remember those!) we leave home about 2.20pm and we’re parked up and in the ground for 2.40pm. The teams will be warming up and my lad goes and gets the ball when wayward shots have ended up behind the goal. He loves that. He also loves the chips and gravy there (see him acting all Poundland in the picture, drinking gravy from the tray!); he loves the players belting hell out of each other but with no play acting and imaginary card waving afterwards; he cheekily smiles when he hears a ‘rude word’, too; and loves how assistant referees (*weeps*) often have better boots on than the players (Copa Mundials are the boot of choice for linos it seems); he loves changing ends at half time; he loves the players having a drink together after they’ve shaken hands…..he loves everything about the afternoons we spend at Leek Town.
He also saw the best game of football he’s ever seen – at Leek Town….First round of the FA Cup, two years ago: Leek Town v Blyth Spartans. It’s hard to type the name Blyth Spartans to be honest…..google as to why that would be for a Stokie!
The crowd was four times its usual size, and I took Archie, his elder brother George, and George’s mate Oliver – both 12 to the game. The crowd was swelled by Blyth bringing a few hundred down plus Stoke weren’t playing, and I’m sure it was £5 for SCFC season ticket holders and free for their kids that day, so many bolstered the gate. Before the game, my lad (Archie) acted as a ball boy at the Blyth end, and the goalkeeper also had him taking some shots at him. Imagine that in the Premier League, eh!??!! When they were finishing the warm up, Archie got all the balls in for them and by now it was almost time for kick off.
But there was one ball left, right by the corner flag……
As Archie went to get it, the 400 or so behind the goal all shouted “Goooooooooooooaarrrrrrnnnnnn!!!!!!!”.
Archie was only 6 then, but he can play, and left footed, he curled it towards the empty net.
“Wooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!”………as the ball made its way goalbound.
The ball stopped, agonisingly, right on the line. The crowd hushed, whilst Archie ran the 20 yards or so to tap it in – they then took part in a full-on, 1000mph goal celebration. A proper goon/mental! I wish I had recorded it.
Archie and George still talk about it to this day. And they still talk about the 4-3 win for Blyth, with Leek missing a 97th minute penalty. They also still talk about the Blyth players walking around the perimeter of the pitch shaking hands with the crowd at the end of the game. I smiled whilst they did this, as the three lads with me sprinted to shake hands with those in green and white. It was a knowing, contented smile.
It was October 25th, 2014.
It was a football game my lads won’t ever forget. It was also a day when football kind of came home for me, and a day I knew that I’ll never lose that buzz that this brilliant sport of ours gives me. Football is simply unlike anything else in life: It can be life affirming and it can also seem to shatter your life, too. And the sport is ours. All ours. And always will be.