Can’t start a fire, can’t start a fire without a………

Posted on December 11th, 2017 by

Can’t start a fire, can’t start a fire without a………

24th May 2015…..

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. Over 25,000 Stokies had just witnessed one of the greatest Stoke City displays of our lifetime. Five-nil up at half-time to the mighty Liverpool in their greatest ever player’s last game. Okay, so that Brendan Rodgers ‘vintage’ wasn’t particularly brilliant, but they were easily good enough to beat us., and for many a Stokie this was payback for all the trouncings that we had witnessed first hand from The Reds.

“Can I just say thank you, lads, for one of the greatest days of my lifetime watching Stoke”.

I was talking to Mark Hughes and Mark Bowen about an hour after the final whistle had blown. Yes, it was a bit cheesy, but it was the truth. We were the talk of football that night. Pictures of Steve Gerrard with a smacked-arse of a face at half and full time set against the backdrop of the scoreboard were everywhere. He fittingly scored on his last performance in a Liverpool shirt, but it was more fitting on the day that Peter Crouch had ensured that we had the last word on such a memorable day that we had bossed.

Fast-forward two and a half years……….

In fairness, two and a half years is a very long time in football. Indeed, if you’re a Crystal Palace manager then it can seem an actual lifetime. And in double fairness, I don’t think anyone could really expect us to massively improve on what we were in May 2015. We had a cracking team, and we had the sight of an injured Bojan grinning ear-to-ear with Messrs N’Zonzi and Arnautovic at the end of that game as the players were thrown scarves, love and plaudits galore as they did the yearly lap of hour. We were ready to be a force in English football.

Fast-forward again……this time to our last lap of honour, against Arsenal in May 2017……..

We’ve gone from a team on the edge of Europe and great things to one of the edge of relegation, and one that receives absolute beatings on a regular basis. We’ve gone from a team just one or two players away from possible silverware to one that if you take Messrs Butland and Shaqiri out of it would struggle to finish top half of The Championship if that league is, as they say, based on doggedness and sheer bloody mindedness.

Frightening, isn’t it? So, has been 25,000 staying behind to applaud the team on the last day to a couple of thousand.

But let’s forget the manager for a minute – and quite a few are trying to. This is the state of play: Stoke City Football Club simply can’t afford to be relegated. We’ve just spent umpteen million quid on ground developments, and just spent a decade in the Premier League. And never mind as a football club, our city needs a team in the top league, too. Apparently, around 150 Sunderland employees lost their job at the end of the season, and you can add onto that millions lost in sponsorship, TV deals, tickets and merchandise revenue etc – and it would also be worrying times for our Cat 1 academy, too, if we went down.

No, at the heart of all of what’s going on, we do feel that as supporters we have a duty to support the team as we simply can’t go down – and isn’t that what supporters do anyway? Supporting Stoke City isn’t a lifestyle choice. Indeed, it shouldn’t be a choice. No Stokie should ever want us to lose to sate their manager-sacking appetite. Because we have to stay in this league.

Hey, don’t get me wrong, if we go down I’ll still be here – and so will countless others. There are any number of cracking aways in The Championship (albeit more expensive, ticket-wise!) and more local rivalries, too. But I couldn’t see our current squad returning to the top league the following season, I really couldn’t.

So, we need to keep getting behind the stripes. Indeed, we need to do so more than ever. Isn’t it easy to support in the good times? We find out about ourselves in life when we face tough situations. Let’s tuck our chins into our big coats and get belting out our choruses in homage to the lads.

“Happy clapping, *******!”, I hear you say. Far from it. Please read on……

No-one is happy with what’s happening on the pitch at Stoke at the minute. Indeed, you can trace it back over the long rather than short term. And once again, Liverpool feature.

We knew that all that Stokealona garbage wouldn’t last. Massively cringey. But Christ, it was bloody good whilst it did! We were always going to get figured out, and Liverpool did it by pressing our back four in the League Cup semi final first leg at our place. But before that night we’d gone to The Hawthorns with it seemingly obvious what kind of game it would be and which of our players seemed to need a rest. We ran into a Tony Pulis ‘masterclass’ and we started the new year on a negative. A few days later we met Liverpool, and our false nine blueprint was in tatters. After ten minutes it was obvious we had to change the personnel and shape, but we didn’t. Indeed, we were lucky to get a 0-1 if truth be told.

Saying that, we were bloody unlucky to not go through to the Final after a superb showing at Anfield in the return leg. Indeed, we were the width of a post from doing so. The sight of a distraught Muni on the pitch being consoled and serenaded by 5000 Stokies was one I won’t forget in a hurry, and that night hit us and the squad hard.

But was there any need to almost totally go against what we had built up over Sparky’s first two seasons in charge almost overnight?

As a support we were flattened by that night at Anfield. It knocked us for six, so heaven knows what it did to the lads in the stripes. Those final few months of the season were understandably solemn ones. Wounds were licked but we unbelievably limped to 9th place, as we leaked at least 3 goals in a game five times after that Anfield penalty shoot-out heartache. A portent of things to come.

That’s when we needed to stick to our guns and go again.

What we got was a start to the following season that saw us win not one of our first seven games, finally getting three points against the relegation fodder that was Sunderland, and being kept off the bottom three by Derby’s reserve team keeper. The writing on the wall from the previous Spring was now more prominent. It’s now written in IMPACT font, in block capitals, in marker pen, and fills the page.

I’m not one for data and stats. I tend to rely on my own eyes, common sense and experience of watching and playing football for my context. But have a look at some of the info below. Most are based on defensive stats – because isn’t that the first port of call when things are going badly?

  • 0-3; 0-3; 0-3; 1-4; 0-4; 0-4; 1-4;0-4; 0-4; 1-3; 1-4; 2-4; 0-4; 1-4; 0-4; 2-7; 0-3; 1-5…….
  • Since that first leg against Liverpool we’ve let three goals or more in on 18 occasions. Or half a season’s worth of games. That’s simply dreadful. Even JLS haven’t got a record that crap! And by regularly getting hammered you can’t help but call into question the work we do defensively on the training ground, and how we set up for matches.
  • At present we have the worst defensive record in the Premier League – and that’s after signing two centre halves for around £25 million this summer. For Stoke City, that’s big money.
  • Three at the back and zonal marking. Seriously, don’t get me started on either. Please don’t. We continue with both despite the facts and figures above, and despite not having one player who is a genuine wing back, too. The one game we’ve looked half-solid in during recent weeks and win, we then go back to a back three at Spurs and get tattered a week later. Wow!
  • In the calendar year of 2017 we’ve won just 9 out of 37, and let in 63 goals whilst scoring 37.
  • Remember when we all made fun of Tony Pulis’ ‘Bonus games’? Well, against the top six teams we’ve let in 54 goals in our last 18 games. White flag, anyone?
  • And how about this…….we’ve let in 35 goals so far this season. That’s the most we’ve let in at the same stage of the season since 1984/85. And didn’t that year go swimmingly?
  • We’ve spent massive fees (for us) on Messrs Imbula and Berahino, both of whom seem/are surplus to requirements.
  • Losing to Championship reserve teams in the cups. Indeed, getting outplayed by them in the process.
  • Loanees: do we really think Bojan, Imbula and Muniesa would produce less than what we’ve seen from quite a few this season? Indeed, Muniesa is tailor made for the left side of a back three and yet we replace him with a player who only really got close to Spurs players when he was hugging them at the end of the game?

There are a number of other criticisms that can be levelled at the management, too, but my fingers are hurting. As is my head and heart.

Hughes out? That’s not for me to say. I have my own views, but I’m mindful as co-editor of a magazine that my view may not be that of others. I don’t represent anyone else and respect everyone’s opinion. I can categorically say though that I want the current malaise turning around. I have severe doubts that the current manager can do that, but I hope he does, and I still feel that the powers that be will give him some more time. I also hate it, and my stomach churns, when a manager’s head is called for. It means we’re doing badly. That’s never good.

I’m all for loyalty, and I detest the drive-thru mentality of modern football, but I also realise that at most other clubs the bullet would have been fired long before now. Some say it’s a gamble to get rid mid-season, but when does it become a bigger gamble to stick with the hand you’ve got?

All I want is for a manager to right obvious wrongs. The figures show that this hasn’t been addressed, has it?

All I want is for a manager to make the best of what he has available. Again, should a squad with several Champions League winners and many internationals be so beige and rudderless?

All I want is for Stoke City to have an identity on the pitch, and to show it matters. I expect the odd hammering – it’s an unforgiving league. But 18 in just over two seasons, and players coming out and questioning desire and effort of others?

And the players don’t get away scot-free in all of this. I don’t care if players don’t play for the manager – play for us bloody lot, then! Those 3000+ who spent a good proportion of their wages journeying through dreadful winter weather to watch another capitulation. Give it your best for them lads, and if a really good team beats you 5-1 then we can accept that. Hardly putting a tackle in we can’t, and won’t.

“Be grateful for what you’ve got”, other supporters say about us. Shut up and mind your own bloody business, folks, ta. Our club is nowt to do with you, and you don’t spend your hard-earned following Stoke. I have no interest in the plight of other clubs, absolutely none. Why? Because I don’t support them. I support Stoke City FC. That’s why I’ll be singing my heart out at Turf Moor tomorrow night in sub-zero temperatures along with 1300 or so others.

I want my club and team to be as good as it can be. Three top half finishes showed that it could be done, so why can’t we aspire for 8th place and a cup run? Failing that, just doing our level best is always good enough.

I don’t expect us to win games. I never have, or will. We are Stoke City, after all. I just want us to give it a go and to make the best of what we have. I’ve seen countless average-to-useless managers and the off cracking one. I’ve seen relegations, promotions, and countless false dawns. I’ve never shouted for a manager’s head purely because it’s nowt I can ever control – and I also hate anyone losing their job, I really do. But gone are the days when I want my club and city to settle for average or satisfactory. Our last ten years and recent City of Culture bid has shown us that we should be blowing our own trumpets. No-one wants Stoke City to win at Burnley tomorrow more than me. But I’m also a realist and I’m not totally tick, either.

Mark Hughes has given us some great times. That’s only fair and right to say and I am grateful for those days and nights we’ve witnessed. But we’re talking mainly past history here – and unless we find the plot we’ve so evidently and obviously lost, history is what he and we’ll be.

ANTHONY BUNN


SIX FOOT TWO, EYES OF BLUE – The Denis Smith interview

Posted on December 6th, 2017 by

SIX FOOT TWO, EYES OF BLUE………..

Five broken legs, four broken noses, a cracked ankle, a broken collar bone, a chipped spine, broken most of his fingers and toes and has needed more than 200 stitches. All in the line of duty. Oh, and don’t forget, a great footballer, too.

Denis Smith. One of us. One of the very best of us. And DUCK spoke to him…..


I was football mad. I played for my school and then represented the City of Stoke-on-Trent team along with Bill Bentley, and we won the National Schools Final at the Victoria Ground in 1963. Quite a few lads from that team made it, but I wasn’t taken on straight away by Stoke. I was offered terms by Spurs and Portsmouth, but I was a Stoke lad and didn’t want to leave the city.

Alan Bloor grew up a few streets away from me, but I didn’t know him too well as he was a few years older than me. ‘Bluto’ and me had a great partnership. I attaked every ball in the air and if they got past me then Bluto would sort them out! We got on really well, and talked a lot during games. Indeed, we often talked centre forwards out of the game!

I was eventually taken on when I was 18 years old at Stoke. My first wage was just £12 a week!

Who were your big mates at Stoke?

I wasn’t really a drinker, and didn’t socialise too much. I always thought I work with and see you lot all week anyway, so if I did go out I went out with mates who weren’t at the club.

For away trips I tended to room with Jackie Marsh, and then for some reason always seemed to room with goalkeepers, such as Roger Jones and Shilts.

The biggest day of your career – the League Cup Final?

Definitely. Many say that Wembley passes you by, but not me. I remembered everything, especially the sea of red and white as we came out of the tunnel.

Most folk had us down as underdogs that day, but not us. Indeed, we fully expected to win. We were a really good team , playing well and we played reasonably well on the day. I wasn’t nervous: the big games suited me and the only nerves I had were during Mike Bernard’s back pass! The one surprise was that we didn’t go back to Wembley more often with such a cracking side.

A great story from the final was Jackie Marsh losing his contact lense, which he did regularly. Chelsea had a corner, and I heard Jackie shout, “Oi, Den”. I replied, “What Jackie, I have my man, mark yer own”. He replied, “But Den, I conna bloody see a thing as I’ve lost a contact lense”.

So there he was: the middle of a League Cup final, on his hands and knees in the penalty box, looking for a contact lense!

So Europe, and the mighty Ajax. They wanted to sign you, didn’t they?

Yeah, we drew the first leg at Stoke 1-1. I scored from three yards and Rudi Krol from about thirty three yards. We played brilliantly in Amsterdam: I got a nasty gash on my shin but carried on playing and we should have scored in the last minute. We deserved to win.

Apparently, Ajax wanted to sign me, and so did Manchester United and Leeds United around that time, too, but I loved it at Stoke. That night the players went out on the town in Amsterdam with Brian Clough, but I was feeling so low that I didn’t bother.

When you look around at football in 2014 does it make you wish you played in this era, with all the riches around?

No, not at all. You can’t pick and choose when you play and you simply have to enjoy the period when you are fortunate enough to make a living playing football. I wasn’t badly paid, and if I had gone Ajax I would have made a lot more, but I loved my playing career and it’s not abput making money, it’s about playing football. I was simply delighted to play for the club I loved.

….so I bet you’d love to see a local lad in this current Stoke team? Well, we have Wilko and Shotts in the squad, so that isn’t bad. There’s nothing better than seeing a Stoke lad playing for Stoke, but football has changed and it is a huge step up from youth football to the first team.

You always champion the city of Stoke-on-Trent. How would you improve it? Well, I would make the town of Stoke the city centre. We have the football club, train station and civic centre there. How difficult is it to explain to people from outside the area that Stoke actually isn’t the city centre, but Hanley is? It drives me mad!

There are some beautiful areas in the city, plus some lovely places just outside it. We are very fortunate in that Stoke is so central and is in such a great position in the country. Shouldn’t more be made of that? I have sons living in Oxford and York, and I can get to them in a few hours, have lunch with them, and get back the same day.

Talking of your kids, did you want them to go into football? My two lads have played semi-pro to a good standard. Like I said before, one lives in York and one in Oxford, plus my daughter is down in Cornwall. All are happy, and that’s all that matters to me.

Right, let’s talk injuries. The plethora of broken bones, operations and stitches that you suffered as a player – do they affect you now?

Ha, ha. Yes, I suffer from metal fatigue as I have plates all over my body, from my neck down to my ankles! It’s part of being a professional footballer. I think I had 24 or 25 broken bones and over 200 stitches in my face – they didn’t improve it though! I remember one period, I fractured my ankle and it was put in plaster. I had the plaster on all week until the next game and then it was taken off so that I could play. I’d have an injection, play, and then back on went the plaster.

Once, I had done my back in and we were due to play a huge cup game against Man United. I wasn’t playing, but the missus drove me to the ground to watch. As she dropped me off, I got out of the car and the back clicked back into place! I told Waddo that I was a bit better, did a couple of step ups, played, and scored!

Geoff Hurst famously said that he signed for us as he was fed up of being kicked up in the air by you!

Ha, ha. It’s funny that I was attacked at Upton Park once. I had treated Geoff like a crash barrier all game to be honest, and as I was coming off at the end some woman started whacking me on the head with an umbrella!

Disappointed that you never played for England?

At the time, Roy Mcfarland was a great centre half. He was a good footballer, but I was a lot better on the ball than many people made out.I was just a bit unlucky as I got in squads and got injured. I did my knee in 1975 and was never as quick again. There’s a lot of luck involved in sport.

Many folk will have forgotten the longevity of your managerial career too….almost 1200 games?

Yeah, I really enjoyed it. Had some great times, especially at York and Sunderland. The Sunderland people were great; very similar types of people to us Stokies. Very loyal, passionate, and always wanted to talk football. I think they saw that I was the same. I had great times there, but you always will when you are successful and have a great affinity with the fans.

What were your best attributes as a manager?

I’m an honest and straightforward person. There’s never been any hidden agendas with me, and the players always knew where they stood. This might have put off a number of chairman I suppose, but that’s just the way I am.

Some players make good coaches and some make good managers. I think I can spot which will do well and which won’t. I did fall out of love a bit with coaching to be honest, and quickly knew I’d be a manager. I didn’t agree with some of the coaching methods being used at the time: as Waddo used to say, “If you can’t pass and control it, you can’t play”.

Management is a lonely place at times, as many folk think they know better than you do. The best advice I ever had was from Waddo: “Just make sure you sign good players”.

You signed Andy Cole, and he credits you with really kickstarting his career…

Yes, I signed him from Arsenal. It was seen as a gamble, but when I spoke to him he told me that he thought he deserved a chance in the Arsenal first team. Well, if he felt he was good enough to play in the Arsenal team then I felt it wouldn’t be too big a gamble to take him to Bristol City.

Cole wanted to come short and link play, but I told him to simply play on the shoulder of the last man and score goals. He certainly did that, didn’t he?

Who is the best player you have ever worked with? It must be Banksy. He was the best in the world in his position. Outfield players must include Huddy, an amazing player. He was very one-footed but could do nore with one foot than most others could with two. Considering the way he lived he was an incredible athlete.

Best player you’ve played against? George Best. He could go inside or outside you, was strong and quick, and had amazing skill. I just aimed at his chest and hoped for the best, ha, ha.

And the toughest?

Big Joe Royle was always a handful. Also, Frank Worthington was a brave lad, too. I would clatter him, but he’d the try to show you up later. Mick Jones at Leeds was a hard player. They liked a tackle, Leeds. The likes of Bremner, Charlton and Hunter were hard but fair.

Any regrets on your football career?

No, none at all

Not managing Stoke?

No. It was an unbelievably hard decision, but I listened to my wife. She was right. Kate didn’t want it to go wrong as that would hurt me more than anything.


CITY OF CULTURE 2021 – GET THE MESSAGE

Posted on December 5th, 2017 by

GET THE MESSAGE


Whilst we adore football and our football club, we hope that we get across to you lovely readers that the mag is about a bit more than simply the ninety minutes on the pitch? Thank the good Lord, eh?

Take the city’s bid to become the UK City of Culture 2021, for example……

Whilst recently we saw a report stating rather brilliantly how much a successful Stoke City FC had done for the local area and local economy, shouldn’t it be on every single Potteries’ agenda to push our beloved city’s bid for cultural success? The city was shortlisted for the title in July, and the final bid was sent off to government on 29th September. Indeed, the bid was launched (literally) via a duck that was shot 20 miles straight up into the atmosphere!

The submission was accompanied by the city’s distinctive bid logo and the SOT duck videoed and photographed against the incredible backdrop of the planet and thin blue line separating earth’s atmosphere from the blackness of space. We did offer to send Orfy instead of the duck (as he does look a little alien-like), but the powers-that-be weren’t having it!

The bid for UK City of Culture status isn’t something that just happened by chance. Nor did the final submission come down to the work of one person. This is a city-wide submission, and is the culmination of months and months of hard work. It has been driven by Paul Williams – a Scouser by birth, but more than a honorary Stokie in this day-and-age, and a man who loves his football, loves this city, and has an amazing energy for pushing this city forward. I’ve met him a number of times, and you can’t help but be impressed by the bloke.

The bid is for us all. Every single one of us. To see the impact and benefits of actually winning the title, just take a peek up the M6/M62 towards Hull, where we’ve seen the following figures bandied about…..

– 9/10 residents have attended or experienced a cultural event or activity since it claimed the title
– recent months have seen more than 1.4 million visits to cultural events, exhibitions or activities in Hull
– a 14% increase in hotel occupancy.
– at least 450 events, exhibitions and cultural activities taking place during the first season, which attracted over 1.4 million visits
– there’s been a huge, positive feelgood-factor amongst the people in Hull since they won their bid

This is a chance to show everyone what this city is about and it’s a chance to ensure our city – one that has made very positive progress in recent times – is one that reaches its full potential.

Cities aren’t about buildings. They’re all about the people who live in them. We’ll never be a Chester, a Bath, or a York, but there’s no need to be – we’re a Stoke-on-Trent. And we’re a city that has the friendliest, most down-to earth folk in the UK. We should be singing what we have got from the rooftops, and not hiding it under a bushel/kiln, as we always have done. Creatively, the city has boomed in the last few years, with any number of start-ups and people getting off backsides and having a go. This, all on the back of a resurgent pottery industry, means it really is our time.

We are also in a brilliant logistical position, with any number of airports, motorways, and major railway stations within easy reach. We also have a depth of cultural heritage and history – but it’s about time this city started making more history, for future generations of Stokies to wax lyrical about.

It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, or what football team you support. The bid has had the relentless backing of community, resident and art groups; businesses; education establishments etc…..as well as the support of many partners throughout the region and beyond. And we’re proud that Duck has been on board since day one, too. We see what it can, and will do, for Stoke-on-Trent.

For too long we were the ‘Sick city’; for too long we were the butt of jokes from the ignorant and clueless. But when the likes of TV’s Clare Balding walks the streets of this city and then plasters positivity all over social media (when she had no reason to do so), then as Bob Dylan said, “The times are a changin”.

And every one of us can influence that change in our own small way. Just get behind the bid. Do what you can, when you can. Share information with others – both inside and outside the city; join the thousands who back the bid on social media (just search for sot2021 and don’t forget to use #sot2021). Tell @DCMS on Twitter just why Stoke-on-Trent is ace!

Our city has so much to offer, and winning this would create a massive boost for the entire region, plus it would also give people in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and beyond the chance to share in the culture and heritage of Stoke-on-Trent on a national stage.

Sorry that this isn’t a football-based editorial. In fact, no, we’re not sorry at all! As proud Stokies and editors of this humble magazine we can never influence how our team doe: But we’d love to influence everyone reading this to back the bid. And come decision-day in December, we pray we get the chance as a city to sing……“UK City of Culture, we know what we are/we won it one time!”

To the people responsible for making the decision. we say choose wisely – you have the power to change our city forever. It’s s city that is eager to change; we’re a people that deserve change.

ANTHONY BUNN


CATALONIAN CONVERTERS – Duck speaks to Muni & Bojan

Posted on December 4th, 2017 by

CATALONIAN CONVERTERS

Bojan Krkić and Marc Muniesa are both fiercely proud of their roots in Catalonia, yet now find themselves plying their trade in ST4 – although both are on loan in La Liga at present. Both made their debuts for the Barca first team as teenagers, both have Champions League winners medals, and both love life in The Potteries. Both are massively popular with Stoke fans, too.

We chatted about their life growing up in Catalunya, attending La Masia and how that differed from other academies, playing for their beloved Barca, injuries, and life at the bet365 Stadium.

BOJAN AND MUNIESA ON – LIFE GROWNG UP IN CATALONIA

BK: 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.

MM: 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 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).

(To Bojan) I heard you were a good musician when you were younger?

BK: 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.

 

BOJAN AND MUNIESA ON – BEING SPOTTED AS KIDS

BK: 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.

MM: 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.

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.

 

BOJAN AND MUNIESA ON – LA MASIA

BK: 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.

MM: 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.

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.

 

BOJAN AND MUNIESA ON – CRUCIATE INJURIES

BK: 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.

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 I went back to Catalonia. 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!

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.

MM: I have done both legs! 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 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.

 

BOJAN AND MUNIESA ON – STOKE CITY

BK: 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.

MM: 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.

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.

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!

ANTHONY BUNN

No part of this interview is to be used without our permission


DUCK 39 OUT NOW/BOBBLE HATS

Posted on December 3rd, 2017 by

DUCK 39

The new issue of DUCK magazine. Fresher than you under the mistletoe, it’s the only present you’ll need. Maybe one of our bobbles, too, eh?

Inside issue 39:

The Kevin Keen interview – Orfy talks to Keeno about life under the likes of Macari, Little and Kamara. It’s a bit good, this. Don’t tell Orfy though.

Something’s changed – You can’t change from being a Stoke fan. Can you? Paul Anderson, his lad, and a real quandary.

Crafty – The Beerdman carries on his take on the local ale scene. this issue, it’s the bustling canal town of Stone.

Jumpers for goalposts – Ant Sutcliffe and his childhood with his mates

Football – Dave Cowlishaw’s superb take on the beautiful game. Short, sharp, sweet. Not Dave.

Sensible Stoke – Part One of a Ben Cotton’s mint history of Stoke City in the virtual world.

‘Twas the night after Christmas – Bunny remembers a certain last minute Boxing Day winner

Get the message – our editorial.

Last night a DJ made my life – Our regular feature about the platters that matter. Sorry for going all 80’s there, but there’s good reason – this is a beautiful homage to The Ramones by Peter Kennedy..

Christmas Spirits – Rob Doolan’s regular two pages. So you know full well it will be ace. This isn’t – it’s really ace! And it’s dead Christmassy, and it’s got BMX in it!

Those were the days pt 2 – The second instalment of Dut’s take on modern football. The lad wears nice coats and can write. That’ll do for us.

Off a DUCK’s back – we look at Hawkwood Mercantile and their absolutely ace military clobber that you really, really should be wearing on the streets.

……and loads more inside the glossy, A5 pages.

The new DUCK bobble hat

Our new bobble hat: The ’63. Our first batch sold out before it was even made, but on 11th December we have a second lot coming – so in plenty of time for Xmas.


VISIT OUR ONLINE STORE TO PURCHASE MAGS AND HATS

http://duckmagazine.bigcartel.com/products

 

 


My only proper Euro away…..Twenty from Thun.

Posted on December 1st, 2017 by


MY ONLY EVER PROPER EURO AWAY….Twenty from Thun

“and to the draw for the Europa League knockout stages, where Stoke’s reward for beating Hajduk Split is a two-legged tie against FC Thun. First leg in Switzerland”

Heard the news on my favourite ever beach – Porth Dinllaen, sat outside the Ty Coch Inn watching the kids playing on the beautiful North Walian sands, cradling a pint of Brains SA, and all was well with the world apart from having to cancel my intended trip to Split after a series of money-losing calamities like car crashes, broken boilers etc…

We were skint, but I wasn’t missing this. I immediately contacted my mate Jamo, as I knew him and Chas would be going. They were. On a Thomsons organised trip. On a plane. I couldn’t afford it. I searched and searched for cheap flights and someone to go with but by the time I had a tentative “if I can get the dosh together, Bunny lad”, than the flights from Gatwick to Basel and Luton to Geneva had either rocketed in price or sold out.

And so it was that at 6pm on 17th August 2011 that I set foot on a coach outside the Britannia Stadium. Yup, I went alone on an official coach. I looked up and ever sigle seat was taken apart from one – thank the good Lord, next to a bloke I knew. Graham. Many will know him, and to say I was delighted to park my ample backside next to his was an understatement.

And so off we went….I soon saw two other lads I knew and it made service station shops and the ferry so much better to have lads I knew. The midnight ferry from Dover was our first chance to have a beer. The sprint for the bar was akin to the gates being opened at a One Direction concert (so SDH tells me!).

But it wasn’t long before we had crossed the channel and were driving on the right hand side of the road. Towards Switzeland. Or so I thought. It was daft am, and it was bloody freezing on the bus. I had shorts on (indeed, no jeans in my rucksack) and as I looked around I was the only one awake. We soon passed a sign that said Paris 20km, and I tried to get some shut eye.

I awoke a couple of hours later and looked at out the window at nothing in particular until a motorway sign caught my eye – Paris 30km. I looked at the map on my phone and as I thought, we were going the wrong way as we should have been well clear of Paris by now.

And so it was that landed in Thun around 2pm – a couple of hours of drinking time wasted. I’d arranged to meet Jamo “by the bridge over the river”. Shame that Thun seemed to be Switzerland’s version of Venice, with any number of bridges spanning the waterways. But the noise told me where they were….

Hundreds of Stoke fans were congregated by the main bridge in the centre of town. The river, spotlessly clean and yet flowing at some rate, was being dived into by any number of inebriated Potteries folk. How someone didn’t die that day…..

“Three beers please mate”. I handed over the twenty euro note into the bartender’s awaiting palm. His hand didn’t move. “I’ve given you twenty mate, I only want three beers”. He pointed at a sign. 7 euros a beer. Time for another plan…..

…So off to the mini-market we went, and there like the finest mirage of an oasis in the middle of the Sahara, was the sign we all wanted to see BEER, TWO EUROS. Me, Chas and Jamo swiftly got a four pack each and went down to the beautiful lake to have a quiet sup in the most surreal and beautiful settings for a game of football. Some more of our aquatic-barmy following were swimming in the lake. As much as I love open water swimming I was knackered after a twenty hour journey, and sat there with cans and sarnie thinking it was more akin to a pre-season game feeling I got at the Lyme Valley Stadium than a Europa League game.

We walked into town. Someone had chucked a local bloke’s bike into the river. We all gave our heads a wobble and got the free bus to the ground.

Around 1,000 had made the trip. In front of us was an Astroturf pitch, a better version of the Bescott Stadium, and the haunting vision of The Eiger rising majestically in the distance behind the home end.
Danny Pugh scores the winner for Stoke in a European away game. Read that again, and think about how magical the last six years have been.

It started in the concourse, fuelled by huge quantities of expensive lager and it spread to the terraces as the second half went on. A huge Potteries conga line singing “Do a deer…” from the Sound of Music. Some Thun fans over the segregation barrier laughed, some pulled their loved ones a little closer to them. We just sang and sang as the game was always going to be a 1-0 win, a result both teams looked happy with during the match.

……and then the final whistle and the thought of “that’s it….that’s my Euro over”. All I had left to look forward to was the journey home. Me and Graham had spent many an hour talking excitedly on the way out, but everyone was knackered now – we just wanted to get home. We did so at around 10.30pm. Noone wanted ale; just our beds.

Such a shame then that we missed the bloody ferry by five minutes!
And so lo and behold we eventually rocked into Staffordshire around 7pm – a journey of twenty one hours or so. And then the unthinkable happened: we pulled into Stafford services. Our coachload was gutted. WHY? “Health and safety lads, need my half hour break now”. Fair enough, but one wag in the seats then got up, took his baseball cap off and shouted that the driver “was now going to have a whip round for the passengers” to much guffawing.

So that was it. On the road for the best part of two days, an easy 1-0 win, some great memories of a simply beautiful place, and I got to see Stoke play competitively in Europe after seeing us twice in Asurtia, pre-season.

Oh, and finally, the TV programme ‘My family’. It’s utter crap when you’re sat at home with a beer in your hand in the warmth and comfort of your living room, but imagine it played on loop during an eighteen hour journey through Europe!!!!!!!!

Bunny


The Band – review, Regent Theatre, Hanley

Posted on December 1st, 2017 by

THE BAND

THE REGENT THEATRE, HANLEY

    

Reality TV, eh? Where would we be without it? The pub, spending time with our loved ones, doing ace stuff?

Alright, alright, I get what you mean. But for every dreadful boy band, breakdancing OAP and singing goldfish, you get some ‘contestants’ with real talent. Like tonight.

As a big fan of Take That, I was always going to enjoy tonight’s opening night. But ‘could it be magic’? Well yes, it was. But not in the way you’d think……

I went, fully expecting simply a Take That tribute band of an evening. A night simply filled with a plethora of hits from the band. Possibly my favourite band. What’s not to love, eh? Yet, whilst it delivered plenty of the band’s biggest hits, it really wasn’t about Take That. Sounds daft, yeah, but The Band is a drama, superb drama – all about love, friendship, spirit, community and dreams. The fact that it has Take That as a hook makes little difference to something that is joyous yet tearful, funny yet poignant, gritty yet light-hearted.

It’s all about life and what it throws at you. Seen through the eyes and ears of a group of girls who are simply bonkers about The Band, it takes you on their almost-three-decade journey from adolescence to adulthood. Set against a pair of gigs twenty five years apart, what you get is a group of friends brought together, twice, through music. Written by Tim Firth – who wrote the amazing Calendar Girls – The Band is a big surprise. It’s a superb piece of musical theatre with outstanding acting, singing and choreography. One that will appeal to everybody. A superior Mamma Mia, I’d say.

And without spoiling it, the ‘Back for Good’ section is simply superb stuff, and worth the admission price alone! The Band could have been a cheese-fest, but what it should be is a brilliant film in a few years’ time.

The Band goes beyond stereotyping and generalisations. Such a shame that my other half couldn’t, and I ended up going with my daughter instead of him. His loss, her gain! Indeed, a night she’ll ‘Never forget’. Sorry, couldn’t resist!

VICTORIA BUNN

THE BAND runs at The Regent Theatre, Hanley, until December 9th. For more information and to book tickets, visit atgtickets.com/stoke or call their box office on 0844 871 7649