I was stood outside the club shop yesterday, selling issue 55 of the mag. It’s grey, but reasonably mild for ST4, and the usual faces are streaming past. Faces I’ve got to know well over the last six and a half years of standing in the same spot, shouting the same thing, and chatting to the same people. People who have become far more than DUCK readers…..
One bloke comes over. He will remain nameless for this article, he’d want to. We talk Stoke, how my lad is doing with his football, and he then he asks me how it is watching Stoke without my dad…….
“It actually gets harder for me, mate”, I reply……”Perhaps because we have been poor these last few years or whatever, I miss matchdays even more without him.”
Three hours later, and Mame Biram Diouf peels away after his 93rd minute winner. Like a total idiot, I;ve gone charging down the wet steps of block 18, kicked the floor and gone flying. I’ve broke my left big toe three or four times. As I scrape myself off the floor, I reckon it’s done again. So what, injury time winners, eh?
But what I loved, was the sight of all 10 outfield players in a huge pile-on, right by where my dad’s ashes are buried. Whilst not wanting to be morbid or trite, there was a poignancy about it all. The lads, celebrating, right by where the bloke who introduced me to Stoke City lay, almost 7 years exactly to the day when he left us.
24/11/2012…….the day my dad passed away. Seven years ago today. I can’t even say if the time has passed slowly or quickly. It’s just passed. And the pain actually has got worse over time. For me, this article is my way of remembering him and saying thank you. Because I never really did when he was here.
I make no apologies that every year this goes on our website and that I put it out on social media: I’m proud to have had him as my father. I won’t ever hide that.
The old man has six grandchildren (who he did get to see whilst alive), and he’d have been in his element watching them growing up, but sometimes that’s not to be, is it? Today, the youngest of his grandkids, our Archie, plays for Stoke’s academy against Birmingham. I’d give every single thing I have for him to be there watching with me at Clayton Wood or for him to take him to training and talk to the brilliant parents we share so much of the week with. No one would be prouder or more content.
Every now and then, I look over to block 23 at the bet365 Stadium to where we sat as dad and lad. I probably should look over there a bit more often, to be honest. But it hurts. Because things will never be how they were. And sometimes, I drive past where the Michelin Athletic Club used to stand, The Gardeners Retreat, and down Campbell Road – and remember some of the best times of my life: going to watch Stoke with dad.
As soon as I got back from the ground, seven years ago, after our home game against Fulham, I remember getting a phone call from my auntie telling me that my dad had had a heart attack. He’d sadly left us by the time I got to his bed side at the hospital. My auntie met me in the packed reception of the hospital and her face told me everything I dreaded.
I broke down there and then. I literally screamed that it couldn’t be true and sobbed uncontrollably. I lost the plot, not that the plot mattered. Several hours later I was sat on my own. I had to write. This is what I wrote…..
Unlike most football fans, I can’t really remember my first Stoke game. My first clear memories of watching us were against Middlesbrough at Vale Park and then having a season ticket in 1977 in the Butler Street Stand. Relegation, inevitably, soon followed.
So, basically, I was introduced to the Potters after a visit to our rivals ground and then being forced to sit in probably the only roofless stand in Britain at that time, and watch us go down……….But am I grateful that my old man grasped my 8 year old hand all those years ago and walked me to those turnstiles? What a daft, rhetorical question, eh?
Fathers are all too often the Nigel Gleghorn (or Glenn Whelan in new money) of families – they do lots of unseen work that always needs doing; they rarely get the adoration they deserve; often steering the ship in the right direction; they have a quiet, unassuming style all of their own, and rarely let anyone down.
That was Peter William Bunn. And I will always now have the stomach-churning task of writing about him in a different tense.
Because dad sadly passed away on 24th November 2012, just an hour after watching the club he worshiped beat Fulham 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium. That he did so at exactly 5.59pm, just as Praise and Grumble was finishing, isn’t just ironic, it’s fate. Talking about Stoke City was one of life’s joys for dad. He also loved listening to the post-match Radio Stoke show.
It’s also fate, not irony, that he was aged 72 when he died. It simply couldn’t be any other number, could it?
Add onto the fact that he went quickly, and relatively painlessly, to sleep on the shoulder of his very best mate, Terry (my uncle, who was driving at the time), and that they were within a Greenhoff volley or Sir Stan mazy dribble of the Victoria Ground, simply makes me smile and actually think that if Carlsberg did ways to pass away……
Perhaps I’m looking for fate when there’s simply none there?
But whilst football is never ever “more than life or death”, it gives me huge comfort that dad passed away on such a seamlessly brilliant Stoke City Saturday afternoon.
The analogy with Nigel Gleghorn was given careful thought. He was a player my father admired – a flashback to players who loved their football, with a wand of a left foot, and one who always seemed grateful to be playing the working man’s ballet and to be playing for Stoke City. He also scored a most memorable goal in front of me and my father – no, not our second at Vale Park or against Plymouth at the Victoria Ground to seal the deal on promotion in 1993.
It involved another Victoria – this time it was Victoria Park, the home of Hartlepool United. It’s one of my favourite awaydays of all time and dad can be vividly, easily seen on the telly on Central Sport a day or two later– to the right of the goal, jumping up and down as the 90th minute corner came in, not in anticipation of Gleghorn’s late winner, but because his bladder was about to explode thanks to his pre-match refreshments, after an unbelievable Usain Bolt-like sprint from coach to public house at 2.25pm!
It had to be in that 92/93 season, didn’t it? So many great memories, so many days when me, dad, Terry, Brad, Owen, Andy, Tim and a few others I can’t remember right now, would descend on football grounds the country over, watching Lou Macari’s team.
That day, for some reason, it was just me and dad. The 20th December 1992……..a dad and his son celebrating their team’s last minute winner, together, on the road to promotion, stood on an open terrace. Just before Christmas. Heaven.
No-one was prouder of Stoke City or Stoke-on-Trent than Peter William Bunn. When on holiday he’d nearly always be spotted in a Stoke sweatshirt or t-shirt, it was like a privilege, a badge of honour for him to wear it. He saw it as almost ‘representing’ his city and club in foreign climes. The Cultural Attaché for Sneyd Green, I suppose.
His love of all things Stoke was amazing. I vividly remember Wembley in 2000, and after beating Bristol City 2-1 in the final, we giddily went back to Harrow-on-the-Hill where our buses were parked.
We went into a huge pub, full of Arsenal fans watching their team’s live game at Leeds. As we flooded into the pub – high on winning a trophy, no matter how small – we were given the usual “small club, northern idiots” jibes from the deluded, self-admiring, self-loving Gunners, looking right down their noses as we entered.
Half an hour later, as the coaches were due to leave on the journey back to The Potteries. Dad had had enough.
“Sorry, but I’m not letting them run Stoke down. Back me up, lads”, he announced.
Then, as the assembled Stokies prepared to depart, and at the tender age of 60, he stood, arms outstretched, perched on a chair, and shushed the pub before leading a huge, proud ‘Delilah’ that finally shut those of an Arsenal persuasion firmly up.
Although his Ashes are scattered at the bet365 Stadium – and by the way, the club were and still are absolutely brilliant with the logistics of this and his now redundant season ticket – his footballing heart and soul will forever remain at the Victoria Ground.
Dad never really took to our new ground……
For him, the lack of a proper matchday routine was never really replaced, even after 15 years at our new stadium. Dad’s routine was drinking in the Gardeners Retreat or Michelin Club, both close to Campbell Road, and a five minute brisk stroll at 2.40pm to the ground: Campbell Road – Nicholls Street – Lime Street. He loved holding court with tales like when Sir Stan left the ball by the corner flag and headed backj to the halfway line as his marker also left the ball there and simply following him, or the time he kept a pub near Buxton from rioting at closing time as the assembled Stokies wanted to see the FA Cup semi final goals on the telly on their way back from Hillsborough after we were robbed against Arsenal.
I hope the tales he told were true, but if they weren’t, we loved listening to them anyway: How he came back from Ajax in the UEFA Cup so late that he and his mates simply went straight to Stoke’s next game; or how he moved his wedding day to a Sunday to avoid a cricket match; and how he got a lift home on the team bus (and drank ale with the players) after his transport conked out on the way home from Spurs in the 70’s (all of those are definitely true, by the way!).
He told his tales time and again, but it didn’t matter. Our group loved nursing a pint of Pedigree and watching the glint in his eye as he told them.
Proper Werther’s Original stuff.
But strangely, what makes him unique is that he was just like any one of us.
Sounds daft that, yeah, but does anyone who doesn’t follow their football club truly know what it means to belong to something so special? Can they ever replace taking their kid to watch their city’s football club? How do they ever feel what we feel? Can their bond with their father ever be as emotionally watertight as ours is with our fathers who support the stripes?
I don’t really know. I’m eternally grateful that I don’t.
All I do know is that I only now realise what I had and what I’ve lost, and that it would be a dream to be even half the dad he was, to my own kids. The hundreds of Stoke games we watched together and the hundreds of times he watched me and my brother, his lads, play football and cricket seem to have decreased in number as advancing years and grey hairs dim the memory. But deep down, we know he was always there, and for the last seven years we somehow got used to the idea that he no longer is.
But isn’t life also about what you leave behind?
If so, this proud man, that me and my brother were honoured to call ‘dad’, has left something of more value than any lump sum of money ever could – he left us with the same standards as he had, a love of sport and the friendships this brings, and he left us to truly cherish our families. He did so in a beautifully understated manner, too. He never really moaned or shouted. Good men don’t have to, do they? He was a true man of the Potteries, and a proud Potteries man.
For me, my football club is part of my family – it’s such an integral part of who I am, and it was to dad, too. That’s why, at 12.01am November 25th 2012, – I wanted it to be the day after his death – I posted about my father’s passing on The Oatcake Messageboard.
I still don’t know truly why, to be honest, it’s just that dad’s family always seemed to include every single Stoke fan. The 11,000+ views and hundreds of messages meant more than anything to me and my family. Blokes who had been the game with dad in the 1950’s onwards contacted us; strangers who knew of dad and had funny stories emailed me; even Port Vale fans set up a thread on their own messageboard commemorating him, which was a fantastic gesture.
What it means, and this is so clichéd I know, is that those who watch football really are one family. We feel what everyone else feels, we drink from the same cup, no matter the strip we wear. Whilst staunchly parochial, we all have a respect and give a knowing doff of the cap to those who go through the good and dreadful times following a football club.
That bloody day in 2012: Fenton Bowling Club before the game – watching Stoke win alongside his best mate – three generations of the Bunn’s there at the game that day – going to sleep on his best mate – and 72, that beautiful, beautiful number, 72: It was scripted by the footballing Gods, dad, wasn’t it?
Whilst it turns my stomach to know he’s no longer here, it swells my heart to know that he went on his own terms and how many of us wouldn’t want to go like that, eh? I can’t believe I won’t see him in his SCFC manager’s benchcoat ever again, but he’ll always be there, walking with us to the ground come sun, rain, snow, wind or whatever the weather throws at us. A truly wonderful Stokie.
That my dad got to walk down, well, shuffled down as he wasn’t brilliant on his feet for some time, Wembley Way with his family on May 14th, 2011 now means everything to me. That we didn’t win hurts, but it would have hurt more if we’d have won and he wasn’t there! Because even if we win the FA Cup one glorious day, it will never really mean the same without dad being present: standing still, huge beaming smile, and holding his arms high in the air when we scored, as he always did as utter carnage reigned around him.
Nothing ever phased a man who taught me that swimming in the invigoratingly freezing seas around the beautiful Lleyn Peninsular in North Wales was one of the most life-affirming things that you could ever do. And whilst his ashes reside behind the goal at the bet365 Stadium, level with where he sat (and I pray that he was shouting grief at the Wigan keeper and haunting the referee yesterday), a huge part of his soul and his heart will always be in one small, perfect corner of North Wales, a place where he simply adored. We all did. As we adored him.
Mere memories aren’t enough, they never are. But they have to suffice as he’s not here now. I pray he knew how much he was loved, but being a bloke I rarely said it enough when it was needed and necessary.
I hope he could hear me as I stood by him, stroking his soft, perfectly combed grey hair as he lay motionless, looking serenely at peace with the world, on that dreadful Saturday night at the hospital. “We won dad, we won”, I kept muttering. He knew.
The final words?
They really do have to be from the most poignant, beautiful and apt football song ever written, don’t they? A song that he actually sung on way back in 72, and one that simply sums up what I’ve written above:
“We’ll be with you every step along the way. We’ll be with you, by your side we’ll always stay.”
Love you, dad. God bless.