12.30pm Saturday 5th May 2018. There’ll be over 30K crammed into the bet365 Stadium, the vast majority of whom will be hoping beyond hope that Stoke City can take our relegation battle into the final ninety minutes of the 2017/2018 season next weekend.
It’s been a simply dreadful season. And a completely avoidable one, too. But one that many, many Stokies saw coming quite a while ago. Many were shouted down at the time – berated for having an opinion that clashed with some others. told to “F off up the Vale”, give their “heads a wobble” and told that they were “pessimistic” and “glass half empty”. I’m sure not one of those Stokies will glean any satisfaction from being right.
I was asked on both Radio Stoke and TalkSport before the season started how The Potters would fare. Whilst age has possibly made me more pessimistic by the year it’s also given me a slightly more objective and balanced view on my beloved football club, too. I responded to Messrs Sandoz and Durham that I felt that we would finish bottom six, and that if we had two poor transfer windows we had a real chance of going down. Nether really disagreed with me, but then again, I don’t really see how many really could. Because here was a team who scored few goals, had a dearth of strikers at the club, had just sold our best attacking player to a rival, and had shipped goals by the bucketload on regular occasions over the previous twelve months.
How could you be anything else other than fearful for us? As a good friend of mine and massive Stokie said to me “Bunny, we’re sleepwalking towards relegation!”. Blind faith is great, and I wish I could have had a slice f that particular cake myself, but I type this with no element of surprise involved at all.
Well, 2.20pm tomorrow might well be the time that the trap door alarm clock goes off to wake us up from our sleepwalking.
This article isn’t to finger point and blame. That has already been done and will be done afterwards by many, I’m sure. This isn’t being typed to simply moan and groan. That’s easy. No, this article is simply imploring you to remind the Premier League that we matter. Humble, little Stoke City matter. And we always will. If tomorrow is to be the day that we say goodbye to the Greed League, let’s make sure that what we are about and what we stand for isn’t forgotten.
Cast your minds back a decade ago. Yes, it hurts to know it could be over, but in that time we’ve: established ourselves as a decade in the top league; been fortunate enough to have witnessed first-hand some of the finest players and teams in our club’s history; regularly enjoyed kicking ST4 sand I the big boys faces; got to an FA Cup Final after winning the Semi 5-0; top half finishes; some great football; some great games; Europe and several cities you could only dream about watching your team in……
…..and we’ve boasted an atmosphere that visiting fans still hark back to, to this day.
“Where’s yer famous atmosphere?” won’t be sung at 90% of Premier League grounds. Because they’ve never had one. And whilst our noise dissipated into the Potteries air like long-lost kiln smoke some time ago, anyone who ever witnessed it will never forget it. One of the few crowds to make a real difference. Us.
I’ve spoken to and interviewed any number of Stoke players and opposition players about it. Do not for one minute think that our support didn’t make a difference. And whilst some of the self-titles we appointed ourselves were a bit cringy, they were deserved. As the poem goes, “Where the crowd became part of the team”.
Those were the days when going to the match was an event, and we have to get back to that mentality. Mid-table, satisfactory, and bland don’t get the pulses racing do they, and it’s possible that we’ve become complacent as a football club. After all, no threat of relegation or really affecting the top seven can only get the heart racing so much. But no matter what the league we find ourselves in come August, the biggest thing for me is getting back to home games being an event – and for that to happen, we need a team to connect with.
That doesn’t necessarily mean long throws, tackles flying in, the 80th minute roar, clenched fists and the like – but it does mean Stokies identifying with those who represent us. We’ve had some stunning players play for us and we’ve also had players who would admit themselves, did more of the water carrying for them. For every Fuller there’s a Wilkinson; for every Etherington there is a Dickinson; for every Bojan there’s an Allen; for every Arnie there is a Walters….and so on. The common denominator was that we identified with these players, be they artists or artisans.
The players who I have done down and called artisans are worth far more than the words I wrote above. I love those lads: Delap, Wilkinson, Dickinson, Allen et al, but they can play as well as dig in, and were possibly underrated as footballers. But not by me, and certainly not as blokes, they weren’t. And at a club like ours that’s important. I hate seeing my club and city downplayed – that’s why I’m straying away from the simple “Let’s fill the team with Jon Walters and Wilko’s etc…”. I loved watching our Stoke team outplay the two Manchester teams in the space of a few weeks. and play many teams off the park But when Stoke City were flying, most of the players had a connection with the crowd. A few still do, in fairness.
And when things are going badly in life, surely the very least you expect is commitment and giving a toss? I was taught that when bad things happen, work harder. Blood, sweat and tears, not Instagram stories and crap caps. I can’t remember Marc Muniesa wearing a Superman cap after we lost at Anfield that night, or Huthy in a bright silver puffa jacket and dreadful shades after a defeat, can you?
No, give us a team with steel, with skill and one that tries to understand how great it is to be playing for Stoke City. Let them get us: We do things slightly differently around here – we are a city that connects with others differently. We are a city that consists of six towns but one lovely heart and soul that puts people first. A proud, parochial city that has that rare ability – to laugh at itself. Our strength is also our weakness, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tomorrow, when you’re biting your nails and the person’s nails whose sitting next to you, I’ll be 94 miles away, in Sleaford. Only one thing matters more to me than Stoke City, and that’s my family. That’s why I’m there and not in the ground. My youngest lad is playing for the under 9’s in a tournament there all day tomorrow, and I’ll be totally honest with you – it was the easiest decision ever who to go watch on 5th May. Family always come first to me, and that would be the same if it was a Cup Final. Er, possibly!
That’s the choice I made, and one I’m looking forward to. Watching my kid’s enjoy themselves and do well is probably the greatest joy in my life, indeed, probably any parent’s lives. But whilst my eyes will be in Lincolnshire, my heart, mind and soul will be just off that North Staffordshirian fuel carriageway. Indeed, I went shivery as I just typed that.
I can’t control what happens in ST4 tomorrow and that is what really hurts me. Not being at the Palace game means I have no influence on it at all. I have some stupid, bird-brained notion that if I’m at the game, my voice amongst the 30,000+ will be heard and somehow affect the result.
How utterly daft that is, eh?
But times my voice by 30,000 and then a massive difference can be made. Why? Because we’ve made that bloody difference before, that’s why! Please do us proud tomorrow folks and remind everyone why folk had a sneaky little, grudging respect for us back in the days when we did make a bloody big din and boot sand in big-boy’s faces. The days when every home game was an event.
Ten years ago today, I stood next to my dad in block 23 of the Boothen End. We’d just watched one of the worst games of association football you could ever imagine. But it was the game that ended 23 years of pain and suffering. I thought it was a day when Stoke City mattered again. I was right, and also wrong. Because we always matter. Despite making it back into the big time that day my old man didn’t overly celebrate or go mad. Indeed, I don’t think he even went onto the pitch at the end. An hour or so after the whistle, we simply made our way home for tea, and then me and my brother and mates went out afterwards.
That day, my dad met the ultimate triumph with a quiet dignity that I hope I can match whenever we either do superbly or dreadfully on the pitch. Maybe people like him are at peace with the fact that Stoke City simply being in their lives is more than enough? Yes, we all want us to do as well as we possibly can, but no matter what the division we were in- he knew that he’d be there. Because he always was. So promotion was treated with a huge pride, but also with a touch of humility, too. He stood, looking at that away end in mourning on 4th May 2008, and acknowledged that “what they’re feeling is what we’ve all felt before, and I’m sure will again one day. Decent club, Leicester.”
That ‘one day’ is possibly tomorrow.
So, Crystal Palace may well be our last home game in the Premier League for some time. Treasure it and please, please do your best, to make sure that when an overweight, fed-up, grey-haired fanzine editor for gets back from deepest Lincolnshire to watch Match of The Day, no matter what the result, he will watch his beautiful club – but more importantly, hear them – with a knowing smile, a heart swollen with pride, dust-filled eyes, and hopefully a little of the dignity showed by his beloved dad.
If so, it will be a bit like the ending of that mega-ace kid’s film Babe, where the old, faithful shepherd looks down at his, er sheep-pig after the competition…….
“That’ll do me Stoke, that’ll do me……”
“It’s just down here. Ant. End of the street and left”.
I’m in Burnley, Lancashire. A proud town with a population of around 75,000 just off the M65. The drive from the M6 down the M65 is a scenic, lovely one, and one that I’ve done many times before. It passes and links towns such as Colne, Nelson, and Padiham – areas that Burnley FC draws some of its passionate support from……..
It’s fair to say that not a lot has changed since I first visited Burnley, thirty eight years ago. And that’s not a criticism. It’s not unlike Stoke-on-Trent in many ways: a proud, parochial area that has borne the brunt of the worst of British politics during my lifetime. I drive down the hill into town. I don’t need sat-nav as I go past the same buildings and streets as I’ve always done. Like other towns and cities hit by hard economics, you see pubs shut and businesses closed, but I’ve always seen Burnley as a warm welcoming town whenever I’ve visited. I’ve always felt far more in common with the good folk of the town than I do when visiting other Premier League grounds.
My late dad worked quite a bit in Burnley. He worked at Michelin on Campell Road in Stoke, and part of his job was visiting various Michelin sites around Britain: Glasgow, Belfast, Ballymena, Dundee, Aberdeen…..and Burnley. Strange how he always seemed to be working in Burnley and other places when the local team had a midweek home game, I used to think!
He made some great friends in Burnley. Especially in The Falcon. He loved a beer and loved his football, and being from Potteries working class stock with o airs or graces he was pretty much accepted by the locals In Burnley, where he often spent two or three nights on the trot.
It was no coincidence that my first ever away game was at Turf Moor. February 24th 1979 was the date. It was our promotion-wining 1978/79 season and second half goals from Crooks, Randall and O’Callaghan saw The Potters stroll to a comfortable 3-0 win in the Burnley mud. We had sat in the Bob Lord Stand – our carload probably the only Stokies in there – and dad celebrated each goal as if we’d won the cup.
I feared for my very being, but somehow we got zero mither – me being sat next to him probably being the sole reason for escaping with the points rather than a banjoing. That couldn’t be said outside, where my first ever away game ended with what seemed like World War Three taking part near the cricket club.
As stated before, I’ve been Burnley a dozen times or so since then, and whilst in can sometimes be an unwelcoming ground to visit as an away fan, I’ve never had a problem there and really enjoy talking football and cricket with Clarets fans over a pint. How it should be. So, whilst I don’t ‘do’ second clubs, I have always had a respect and soft spot for Burnley. And they also seem to buy loads of our players, too!
Burnley FC has a fiercely proud support. Walking around the town on a chilly, Spring Friday afternoon this year, there aren’t many people about. Like Hanley, yeah? But what is noticeable, is that all you see around are Burnley tops, scarves, car stickers etc……they’re proud of their team and their town, and again, it’s a little like how our city has become: where once we were in the minority when it came to kids wearing the strips of their favourite club, it is Stoke City shirts that you will have seen on the vast majority of Potteries kids since 2008. And that’s a key area for me, when it comes to relegation and its possible consequences.
The division we play in is nothing I can do about, and whilst I obviously want us dining at the top table, I’ll still be there even if we were non-league. But what will kill me is seeing local people and businesses suffering because 17 other teams managed to secure more points than us this season. Much of the Premier League leaves me cold to be honest, but this city and its people really needs a team in the top flight for financial, image and kudos reasons above anything else. Our kids and their kids need to grow up as Stoke City fans.
And whilst yesterday was earth-shatteringly horrible, it was ironic that it was Burnley FC that put one of the final nails into our Premier League coffin. Indeed, do they have a slight soft spot or grudging respect for us? A fellow intruder at the top table since 1992, our clubs have similarities: what we do for our community being one of the biggest ones. I mean, even the “Going down” chant from the away end was seemingly half-hearted throughout yesterday’s game.
From what I saw yesterday, Burnley FC seem refreshingly free from some of the unlikeable added-extras that you get in the Premier League.
On the pitch, The Clarets played quite a simple, well organised game that was reminiscent of how we used to play under TP. Indeed, we’re hardly Barca now, are we? Hitting target men early, winning second balls and being defensively solid, especially against the long ball from us. They worked damned hard, seemed fitter than us (hence finishing the game far stronger despite only playing last Thursday). I paid particular attention to Sean Dyche. Constantly applauding the efforts of forwards who closed down defenders, players were regularly given thunderous rounds of applause by the gravel-voiced gaffer, looking like the lovechild of Tony Pulis and a nightclub bouncer.
But it wasn’t all brawn over brains. Far from it. In Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Burnley also had the game’s outstanding player, too. His stunning left foot was close on several occasions and delivered quality set piece after quality set piece. Add on clever positional play and good use of the ball, it took me back to the days of Nigel Gleghorn plying his trade in ST4. I do feel slightly aggrieved this season that our style of play under the capped one was seen as totally one dimensional whereas this year’s Burnley are this the footballing equivalent of beards and craft ale, but they can also play a bit, too. Their Icelandic midfielder bears testimony to that.
Off the pitch you seemingly couldn’t find a nicer bunch of lads, too. Many didn’t get the team bus home – no doubt, as several live this side of Manchester in the Cheshire Footballers Triangle – and so their cars were parked in the main car park or they were leaving with mates/family. But unlike so many teams who come to ST4, there was no-one pretending to be on their mobile, no refusal of a photo or autograph at all.
Whilst it doesn’t seem much, it does speak volumes to me. Football is all about the connection between club, team, and fans. Whilst I was truly gutted to see us virtually relegated yesterday, part of me inside smiled a little at seeing the soul of football right before my eyes. And it’s bloody good to see a club like Burnley doing well. And yes, I am bloody jealous!
Whilst Burnley may have no Galacticos, they do have any number of international players, with all only too happy to mingle with Stokies and Clarets, young and not so young alike.
Personally, I just wanted to catch up with a couple of Burnley players. Jeff Hendrick, I interviewed by telephone a month or two ago for another magazine and just wanted to meet him and thank him for a cracking chat. We met, said hello and had a brief chat, he had a pic with my little un, and he walked across the car park – to do the same with any number of other supporters waiting with pens and mobiles in hand.
You can guess who was the last Burnley player out, couldn’t you? Hugely popular, (Super) Jon Walters was still in the ground, saying his goodbyes to players and staff, and emerged a good hour after the final whistle had blown. His father was stood next to me by the club shop and no doubt overheard the Stokies present saying just how much they loved Jon in the red and white stripes and what a great bloke he is. I hope it filled Mr Walters’ heart with pride, it certainly did mine. We don’t forget our heroes here in Stoke, and Jon Walters is a modern day Stoke City legend. Fact.
Luckily for me, Jon was parked on the South Car Park, same as me, and so we walked back to our cars together – I’d given Jon a print of the cover we did of him last Summer and also a piece I’d written about him, and he was holding his youngest child whilst we nattered about football in general. He asked how my lad was doing at the academy and was genuinely happy when I told him he’d had a great year and was loving every minute of it.
“…….That’s ace, because that’s what kids football is about, Ant, they HAVE TO love it!”.
We posed for a pic with my kids, I wished him a great summer, and he was off.
“If you ever need anything Ant, just let me know……” , he shouted from twenty yards away.
Jon Walters is a proper footballer, a proper man. Burnley is a proper football club, and a town with a genuine heart and soul. I hope they finish seventh and I will enjoy watching their European adventures next season.
The opening sentence of this piece?
I was with a client who I do some writing for. In Burnley. They’d treated me to lunch in an ace Italian restaurant and afterwards one of the company’s owners walked with me on my personal pilgrimage. I had to go and find it, and have a look at it……..
The Falcon is now a gastro pub, and a lovely looking one at that, on the edge of the town centre. I was driving, or I’d have gone in and had a pint and a nose around. I will one day, but it won’t be next season now. Shame, but football is about so much more than what league your team plays in, isn’t it? It’s about heart, soul and community. It’s about your team choosing you, not the other way around. And that’s why I’m immensely proud to be from Stoke and support Stoke City. The division we play in doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. Yes, I get angry, bitter and frustrated. But I go home to what’s really important, and Stoke City is still there the next day. For me, simply having a club and support that has a fierce civic pride and is the centre of the community is more than enough and always will be.
That’s why I’m delighted my youngest kid’s first away game is at Anfield next week. He’s 9 now, so understands football, understands the passions it evokes, and understands just what might happen to our club’s status if we lose next week. I’m buzzing for him to be in that away end to be honest, cheering on the club he loves, a club from our city. And that buzz of watching his team away from home will automatically and magically be transferred into his young heart and soul as soon as we get in the car next Saturday. After all, it’s your club, Archie. Yours.
But we need to shift as many as we can to get it out at that price – so please tell as many folk as possible to think about buying it, folks! We’ve taken a punt, gone out on a limb – we wanted to produce a magazine that is a fitting tribute to a brilliant team, and one that had a brilliant season.
So, what can you expect in this issue?
Player and manager interviews – Macari, Nello, Stein, Bertie, Beest, Rooster……
Supporter memories and anecdotes from a great year
A special commemorative cover by the ace Joe Barbieri
A look at clobber from back in the day, plus city centre nightlife
Rivalries with the likes of Vale and Stockport
…..it’s all in here. And for one issue only, we’ve even knocked a quid off the cover price!
We also feature a diary of the current season (unfortunately!), and a brilliant piece about a very, very special Stokie. (We may even do some stickers, too!)
IT’S OUR BIGGEST EVER ISSUE, AND WE NEED YOUR LOVELY SUPPORT!
All online orders are entered into a draw to win a copy of DUCK issue 1 signed by Lou and several of the squad.
Blondes have more fun?
Hmm, well I’m a brunette and I had a decent time…….
Featuring X Factor, Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Eastenders stars, the musical stage version of the 2001 film Legally Blonde hits the boards at The Regent this week, and never mind blonde – it’s an explosion of pink.
Ex-X Factor (trying saying that after a sherry) star, Lucie Jones, takes on the role of ditzy Elle Woods, played by Reece Witherspoon on the screen and is excellent, especially when singing. X Factor fans will remember her wowing audiences, and Simon Cowell, several years ago. Pink-loving Woods heads to uber-smart Harvard Law School to win back her ex, and she’s well supported by David Barrett as her best buddy.
Bill Ward, he of Coronation baddie and Emmerdale fame is superb as The Professor, and there are even a couple of canine star turns, too. But it’s ex- Eastenders acress Rita Simons who is the real star of the show, playing Paulette, Elle’s streetwise, sassy, but low on self-confidence salon-owning friend. I’ll admit, it was a little bit of a shock seeing her in a musical comedy, but she was outstanding, both in terms of timing, sense of fun, and vocally.
This is 200mph, high-energy bubblegum stuff, but highly entertaining – perfect for those who have seen the film and a blast for those who haven’t. The time flew by, and this is sure to be a crowd-pleaser for the rest of the week in ST1.And whilst it is undoubtedly wrapped in sugar-coated candy, it also has moments of genuine sadness and emotion, too, as it’s basically based on overcoming preconceived ideas and prejudice.
But Legally Blonde is really designed to get you smiling and laughing, and to get you up on your feet. Judging by the ovation by a full house at the end, omigod, it succeeded!
Legally Blonde runs at the Regent Theatre from March 13-17th. Tickets can be bought via the box office on 0844 871 7649 or at atgtickets.com/stoke.
ISSUE 42 IS OUT FOR THE MAN CITY AND EVERTON MATCHES.
Rich Beedie ‘s epic three page chat to fans of three clubs, including a Potter, about this supporting life
In Shaqattack, Dave Cowlishaw pays homage to our one attacking player who looks like doing something on a weekly basis
Get the message – our editorial, where each month we try our best to be dead positive. By god, it’s getting harder and harder.
Diary – Orfy, with his take on the last two months and goings on in ST4.
Mental health – the unseen illness. Terrace Gent’s beautiful piece. It’s great to talk.
Michael Forbes’ bracelet keeps on breaking. Find out what that has to do with Stoke City’s current plight. Then blame him!
It’s good, indeed, great to know that we had ace forefathers. The story of Stoke’s link with Lidice.
Crafty is our monthly look at the world of ale. Not that we’re ever in need of it on Saturday evenings.
Rob Doolan’s unique take on hedgehogs. Kind of. You know the score with Rob’s stuff – he’s ace.
Our monthly look at sneakers – Trainer Potter. This time, it’s Saucony’s turn for some love.
SCFC Ladies team – going great guns, and James Knowles tells us why and how.
Orfy writes a poem. But it’s not just a poem. It’s a brilliant poem, about his last look at the Boothen End steps.
Class of 92/93 – a look forward at our 48 page, reduced price issue 43 – in tribute to a great, great season……
It’s been a hectic day for forefingers, eh?
Social media both is and isn’t the best place to see supporter reaction. Its immediacy can sometimes mean that supporters type before they think, but it also lends itself seamlessly to a spontaneity that you don’t get from any other form of media. But it can also mean you put yourself in one camp or the other; dangerous territory if you quickly nail your colours to the mast over an issue or decision.
But it’s always a very decent barometer of supporter feeling – from the young lads in block 19, to those of us of a certain age in the Family Stand; and from wind up merchants to members of the national media – although that may well be one and the same thing, eh Robbie?
Twitter has been gold dust all day today: humour, anger, bitterness, surprise, disbelief…..mostly negative emotions in the main, and you can’t blame folk can you, when the news broke this morning? A week of expectation and hopes over certain names and potential targets…..I’m sure that nine days ago Paul Lambert wouldn’t have been the name on many Potters’ lips And I’m sure our new manager would understand that, too.
Disappointment in the magnitude of the appointment has probably heightened due to being linked so heavily linked with managers with a much bigger name and/or pedigree. And that is to be expected. If Stokies were asked two weeks ago whether they’d like us to sack Mark Hughes and replace him with Paul Lambert then I think the vote would have been very split. That we didn’t get that absolute cool as **** lad from Espanyol or the motivational/rollocking Eire duo is no fault of Paul Lambert. At least he wanted the bloody job at Stoke!
January is a graveyard for moving clubs. Rarely do you see top players or managers swap clubs in this month. Clubs are halfway through the season and probably still looking up or down with fear or hope, and you simply don’t see the deals that you do in the summer. That’s why the timing of sacking Mark Hughes was so critical – we limited and narrowed the field massively to those candidates not good enough to be in a job, or those who are doing well enough in a job that their employers wouldn’t let the leave. The field available to us wasn’t as extensive as it could or should have been. That’s why I believe that Hughes should have been relieved of his duties – and sincerely thanked for his work – after walking around a 19/20ths empty bet365 Stadium after the Arsenal game last May.
But we can look into the why’s and wherefores all we want – it does no good. All we can deal with is the here and now, and where we go from here.
As stated above, at least Paul Lambert actually wanted to manage Stoke City. Others didn’t, and they can sod off and rot in their respective roles for all I care. And whilst his managerial pedigree might not be what Stokies wanted or expected from our new manager, all we can do at the magazine is wish him well and sincerely hope he does an amazing job for us.
Support, for me, is unconditional. I supported Stoke just as vociferously under Alan Ball as I did with Lou Macari in charge; and as fervently with Joe Jordan as I did with Tony Pulis. Why? Because I can’t affect in any way, shape or form who our manager is. So, I have two choices – I back whoever is in charge or I don’t. Each and every new Stoke City manager has my backing and always will do.
For me, not supporting Stoke City at full tilt isn’t an option. At the end of the season all I can do is look myself in the supporting mirror and know I’ve backed the lads during matches. And by god, do they need backing until mid-May.
The big word today has been ‘underwhelmed’ and I’d be a liar to say I was any different. But wasn’t that the key emotion and feeling associated when Messrs Pulis and Hughes were first appointed? Whilst both had their faults, between them they got us promoted, to an FA Cup final, into Europe, three consecutive 9th place finishes, League Cup semi final….and so many great memories along the way. Surely that is why we have to give Paul Lambert a fair crack of the whip and our full backing.
Lambert has inherited a mess, and a side plummeting towards relegation. I don’t think he can manage our squad any worse than how it’s been managed this season, I really don’t. All I want him to do is get us organised and get us motivated. As I’ve always said – THAT is what I want from a Stoke team. if he does that I’ll be happy and we’ll have a chance.
I won’t lie: Yes I’m anxious, yes I’m a bit angry, and yes I’m a bit confused – but I am a Stoke City fan, and I will be there on Saturday doing my level best to spur the lads on in a massive, huge game. Yes, we’ll have a moan after a game and in the week, but once that turnstile clicks on Saturday then so does a device in my heart and soul that makes me give unconditional backing to The Potters. And I would love everyone to do the same.
I’ve just watched our 3-0 defeat tonight, and my overriding emotion is pride. Pride in our magnificent support, and pride that our new manager heard his name booming out from the away end. That will think so much of us as a support. That is Stoke City. That is what we do. That is what we must do.
Call me a happy clapper, I’m fine with that. What I’m not fine with is getting relegated and us losing our status, Stokies losing their jobs and the local economy losing much needed revenue. Surely now is the time we see what we are all about – both on and off the pitch? Making Wembley shake when you’re 5-0 up is easy. But don’t we now need to put our big coats on, tuck our chin(s) in, and walk with a renewed vigour and purpose to the ground, to give our superb vocal support to those in the famous stripes that need it?
I don’t see this as the time for questions or recriminations. I see this as a 15 game season within a season. I see this as one of the biggest four months in the history of our beloved club. And I see our support rising to the challenge, yet again. If we can sing Joe bloody Jordan’s name for 90 minutes as we did in his first game against Leicester then we can do the same for Paul Lambert. He deserves and needs our support, as he is the new manager of Stoke City.
Time will judge Paul Lambert. And we really hope it judges him really well. Come the end of the season, let’s not have national media tossers pointing the judgemental fingers at our support and blaming us in any way, shape or form. Remember The Bearpit days? How ace were they, eh? Let’s get that back pronto. It would be great to hear full houses roaring the lads on every home game, and whilst we know that some Stokies are hurting right now, we’d love to see it happen.
This article isn’t to give our opinion on how Stokies should support our club. How patronising and up-ourselves would that be? No, we have no right to do that and we won’t ever do that! We understand frustrations and we are frustrated ourselves. After all, we all support in our own different ways. I’m just outlining what I’m going to do and how I will support the club and team. I fully respect anyone who chooses a different path. This isn’t a call to arms. This is just my own Stoke-supporting manifesto.
Stoke City need, want, and should get our support. And when it gets hard, really hard, we remember those two simply beautiful lines from 1972….
Every step along the way
By your side we’ll always stay.
Aren’t we needed at their side folks, right now? Let’s have it Stokies. Let’s ****** have it! It’s our club – let’s show everyone just how much we love it.
The first issue of 2018, and life really does begin at 40, because this issue is an absolute belter.
Inside issue 40:
Case for the defence – Dave Proudlove’s plea, for leniency, towards TP.
Driven to distraction – Orfy’s mint two-pager about our road trip to Liverpool in February 2016. The start of the end?
Crafty – The Beerdman carries on his take on the ale scene. This issue, he spreads his wings and it’s the bustling city of Leeds.
Leadership – It’s about leadership. And it’s written by Duts. Expect it to be ace.
A cry for Alp – Rob Doolan is one of the best football writers around. Here, he takes in a two-game weekend, in vastly different cities.
From the Stoke End to The Waddington Suite – Mike Richardson’s simply lovely piece about absent friends.
Following the oval ball – Rugby Union? In DUCK? When it’s Andy Stanier’s superb piece, then yes!
Jumpers for goalposts – Ant Sutcliffe and his childhood with his mates.
Sensible Stoke – Part Two of a Ben Cotton’s mint history of Stoke City in the virtual world.
Get the message – our editorial on Mark Hughes, and my support for the club.
Catalan Convertor – a look at the Catalonian capital city. Barca in Will Farr’s eyes.
Trainer Spotter – we look at the adidas Gazelle, one of the three stripe’s most iconic and seminal sneakers.
……and loads more besides!
It’s pretty hard to write this without starting it exactly in the same vein as the piece I wrote on New Years Day about football in general, SCFC, and our manager……so, I won’t bother – I’ll start it exactly the same as I did five days ago!
It was a sunny mid-May tea time, and we’d just dismantled Liverpool 6 (SIX)-1 on the last day of the 2014/2015 season. As usual, I was selling the last few of the magazine whilst my youngest lad was getting autographs, a good hour after the final whistle. It was a surreal afternoon, and a surreal atmosphere. All I’d known since a young, young age was losing heavily to the red half of Merseyside and having my nose rubbed in it by the socially bankrupt youth of Stoke-on-Trent in the school playground the following week.
The original gloryhunters, the playground wasn’t full of Man United fans back then, but faux-Reds, resplendent in their shiny 70’s and 80’s liver bird tops.
I’ve always hated Crown Paints ever since.
So, here was my moment. We didn’t just hammer Liverpool in Steve Gerrard’s last match that day – we sent a message out to football: We were a player or two off seriously having a go at the top 6 or 7. We saw Bojan hobbling around pitch at the end of the game, and thought to ourselves “put that lad into this team and we are in serious danger of bloody winning something soon!!!”. The lap of honour at the end saw Stokies to a person staying behind and giving the squad and manager a humbling reception. A corner of ST4 owned football that day, if only for two hours or so. Only Peterborough away and Bolton at Wembley came close to how I personally felt that day.
So, I waited. Well, we waited. And waited……
Me, my kids, my mate Brad, and his daughter. Long after all the players had gone. Long after the media had gone. They came out, and I had to speak to them. It was akin to when I used to take the kids down to the training ground in the school hols in our first years in the Premier League, “good things come to those who wait” I’d say to my two eldest, and then he’d appear – Ricardo Fuller, and hour after every player had left Clayton Wood. We’d always have Ric to ourselves so could have a quick chat and as many pics taken and things signed as we wanted. And it was the same with Mark Hughes.
Hughes and his two lieutenants came out….
“Mark, can I just say thank you. Thank you for possibly the best performance I’ve ever seen from a Stoke team, and thank you on behalf of every kid from Stoke who used to get the p*** taken out of them at work or at school. Today means so much to us”.
He was a tough nut on a football pitch was Sparky, but he seemed genuinely surprised and moved by the emotion me and Brad showed that day as we both thanked him. He thanked us for our support, shook our hands, and wished us a great summer. We drove off the car park but would have gladly crawled the six miles home that day.
The key word in the above paragraph is EMOTION. It’s what football is all about and it’s what Mark Hughes was all about when he strode the turf, warrior-like for Manchester United. We hated him back then. He was everything we detested about Manchester United as teenagers. Cocky, classy, tough, and win at all costs – the ultimate passionate s***house, full of emotion and will-to-win.
A press conference or an interview last week, I forget which it was, saw our manager say something along the lines of there’s too much emotion about at the moment when it comes to views on him and Stoke City. That was it for me. Never, ever should emotion be a negative in football. Ever! At times, it’s all that we have as Stokies and football fans in general, have – daft, unremitting hope, and emotion. Because take emotion out of football and it’s not football. What it is, is what those clueless tools on the playground will never, ever know or show: supporting your football club is a bond, an attachment based on total love and belonging. We don’t ask for trophies. We don’t even ask for wins. We just ask for hope and for us to be in a world, well away from the 9-5 grind. We want a world of emotions. Football is just that.
They’re often stupid, totally fact-free emotions mind you, based on blind loyalty and little else. But they’re the greatest kind of emotions. Because for every 500 times they break your heart, you get a Liverpool 6-1, a Bolton 5-0, a Paul Ware free kick at London Road, a Sidibe scrambled winner against Villa…….
So, when Sparky wanted emotion removing from the current scenario he went all a bit Holden Lane Primary School 1978 on me. He made it personal. He was basically rejecting that stupid-yet-100%-honest and cringey, blubbering homage I’d paid to him after what I’d witnessed from his team in the 6 (SIX)-1.
Tonight isn’t a night for saying where it went wrong. Tonight, for me, certainly isn’t a night for celebration or rejoicing.
A manager who did so many great things for our football club has ben sacked. And a man has lost his job. What he earns means little to me, I’m a nice bloke and don’t like to see folk upset!
Hughes’ first two years in charge must mean that he is one of the very best managers in my lifetime of supporting Stoke City. Granted, it’s not got the entry field of a Grand National, but he turned a support that had big reservations at his appointment into one immensely grateful that Mr Coates employed him. His last two years are something for another article, another day.
Tonight, I want to thank Mark Hughes.
Yes, of course it was the right decision to let him go and many, many feel he has been unbelievably lucky to have lasted this long. But whenever we lose a manager is a sad occasion. It means we aren’t doing very well, and it’s a period of massive uncertainty. And we simply cannot overlook the impact he made when came into our club. The likes of Robbie Savage may just want to look at Hughes’ first two years – and that’s their prerogative. But the bigger picture has been clear to see for a long time, and this has been coming for some time. But we have to give credit where it is due, and I just wish it hadn’t come to the likes of banners and mass shouts of “Hughes out!”.
I feel old. Perhaps I’m getting to the end of my days watching football in the Premier League and seeing what my beloved ‘working man’s ballet’ has become? Seeking contact in the box, having a ‘right’ to go down when there’s minimal contact, VAR systems, fourth officials who simply get bellowed at, hundreds of instant replays putting incredible pressure on officials, SKY Sports News, social media replacing the pub after the game…….the list goes on. I quite like that we still have a chairman who is loyal in a drive-thru world, but I also have my views on when the manager should have gone, too.
You see, I’m confused. The only clarity in all of this, is this: As a supporter of Stoke City, it’s my duty to do my bit to help my beloved club stay in this division. Even though this division often leaves me cold. Economically, this city must have a team in the top league of English football. We’ve walked the walk of 23 long, hard years without top flight football. Tonight, I’m not going to look at the hierarchy, the new manager, or the players – just what can I do, as a humble supporter, to help get my team over the line? Lord knows, they need us. Time to do what we do best, eh?
The ground needs to shake again. Opposition players need to fill their Louis Vuitton pants in the tunnel at 2.55pm again. Emotion is what we do. And we do it so bloody beautifully well. Bring it on.
They say that you should leave it for twenty four hours. To let it sink in and for it to digest. Give yourself the time to be objective and avoid knee-jerk reactions……
But I’ve got work to do tomorrow. Work that takes planning and focus – completely the opposite to what I watched three hours ago in ST4. Sorry, Mark…..
I sat in the car, in the south car park, watching the raindrops trickle down the windscreen at around 5.40pm. ”In fairness, they’re moving slightly faster than our two centre halves today”, I thought to myself as fellow disgruntled Stokies were sat alongside us in the , monotonous queue to get away, get home, and get moody with loved ones when they ask us “how have Stoke gone on today?”.
Praise and Grumble was on, and it won’t be a surprise that the latter easily beat the former. As easy as most teams seem to take three points off our team, to be honest. But one statement stuck with me, from one excellent caller….
I agreed with everything he said apart from at the end of his call he stated that “football is an entertainment business”.
I wholeheartedly disagreed. And if you are that bloke, reading this, then I apologise for disagreeing, but please read on. Plus, I thought your call was ace, mate!
Watching my football club has never been about entertainment. If it was, then I’d be watching another club, or indeed, another sport. No, we don’t choose to be Stokies: Stoke chooses us. And we then strap in and buckle up for a lifetime ride of pain, pleasure, heartache, joy, despair, fear, loathing – and any other of Snow White’s mates.
No, I watch Stoke City for hope, emotion, and belonging. Entertainment never, ever really comes into it for me. If Stoke win, then I’ve been entertained. If Stoke win and played entertaining stuff….then ace. Those days are to be cherished. But I had a more entraining day watching us lose 1-0 at Fulham back in 2009 than beat the same team 4-0 at home a few years later. Because I’ve always seen football as not just about the ninety minutes. Thank God!
Apart from family, nothing comes close to football in how it shapes my life. I don’t buy my season ticket thinking “they’d better entertain me and my kids for the £600 I’ve spent”. If Stoke win, I’m entertained. If I’ve had a great day out with mates, my kids etc…I’m entertained, even if we’ve lost.
Those of my age have seen far, far worse from Stoke City. But those not my age can’t be judged about their opinions on Stoke’s current plight just because they weren’t ‘fortunate’ enough to have been born early enough to watch Swindon put six past us, or to fall down the grass bank at Wigan watching Alan Ball’s team go through the motions. They say it as it is, and rightly so. Thing is, the football supporting goalposts have changed now…..
1992 wasn’t just the year we won the Autoglass Trophy. It was the year that football supporting changed forever. It was the year that conceived entitlement and smacked-arsesness, and a plethora of bedwetters who use rulers on TV screens to see if a lad’s left patella is offside. The working man’s ballet that has now morphed into a sport that applauds ‘seeking contact in the box’ and ‘being entitled to go down’ under a challenge. It’s all a bit shit really, isn’t it?
The money sloshing around in football since 1992 has turned it into a new sport. A better one? You know my opinion on that, but I can’t change the world, nor football. It is what it is.
Back to The Potters – What I want to see off any Stoke City team – no matter the division we’re in, the price of the players etc – is a plan, a set-up, a focus, a desire, and an effort that gives me hope. Performances that stir my emotions. I don’t expect entertaining football. I want to see Stoke City do their very best. To see Stoke City give themselves the very best chance of reaching its potential in every game. Entertainment is an added bonus, not the raison d’etre.
We apparently play in ‘The Best League In The World’. A league that has transfer totalisers every six months allowing clueless, grinning whoppers the opportunity to twice-yearly gurn orgasmically as totally crap players get transferred (for around £18 million!). They sell us this 24/7, despite us having the context of being at games like today’s and watching with our own eyes multi-millionaires struggle to control or pass a ball. Entertainment – pmsl!
And then they get the stats out: pass completion, heat maps etc – to try to tell you a crap game you’ve just watched wasn’t crap. It’s simply one huge patronisation exercise, but it really is the place to be. Because if we aren’t in the Premier League come August, then we will see local people lose their jobs and the local economy take a massive hit.
And that’s before we get on to the football bit of it…….
Let’s get it right, that game today was hardly First Division standard, was it? Yet, Newcastle fans, quite rightly, would see it as entertaining. Winning is entertaining. And if we go down, I’d wager we would not finish in the top half of The Championship with this squad. As I type this, Coventry City are 5/1 to win on Saturday. Not one Stokie I know thinks it will be a shock if we lose at The Ricoh in five day’s time, not one.
Entertainment? No! I want a Stoke team who will give their all for every minute between now and mid-May. Silky, attacking football? No! I want us to shithouse our way to wins and park the bus to scrape points. And I want a manager who will get a team organised to do so. The current one has displayed time and again over a number of months that he now cannot do it.
I watch Stoke City as they represent me and my city on that beautiful couple of green ST4 acres. And whilst I personally will never love the league we are in, it kind of is the only place to be. We need to stay in it. We have to stay in it. It took us over two decades to get back in it, and we have been sleepwalking our way out of it for almost two years now.
Today was simply shambolic in so many ways. But it’s the latest in a long, long shambolic list. The likes of various national media bods like Robbie Savage will never know what we know, as they don’t ever see what we see. You see, Stoke City are nowt to him, but everything to us. I go crazy when I hear him and his mate ask “just what do Stoke fans want, what do they think they can do?”. Patronising crap, so beautifully put in it’s place twenty months ago by Leicester City, a club he ironically played for.
I’ve been on local and national media in recent weeks, praying for the manager to turn it around. he hasn’t and indeed, it’s getting worse. The stats are damning – and even more pertinent, performances are even more so. Of the games we’ve won, only Swansea and possible Watford were merited. Team selections, tactics, set-ups are seemingly done at the behest of whichever way the wind is blowing as it scatters the Match Attax cards across the manager’s desk at Clayton Wood. It’s desperate stuff. And it got beyond desperation as we lost yet another six-pointer to a very poor team who were simply better organised, hungrier and pacier than us.
Football is nothing without hope. Mine has been all but sucked out of my soul for this season now. Football is nothing without emotion, yet all I feel is bitterness and anger. And football is nothing without belonging. That is what will never leave me, as it’s mine and our club. Those three in themselves are what entertain me, and always will do. Football isn’t a product, it’s not a consumerable. For something that relies on points, tables, and statistics – football supporting is ALL about feelings and emotions. Yes, entertainment is one of those – but it will never be the sole reason for watching my football club, for me. And in the state we are now, it’s the very last thing on my supporting mind.
Happy New Year.