The Potters had started the 1982/83 season in great style, winning games, scoring plenty of goals and entertaining supporters both at the Victoria Ground and on their travels. The star of the show had been winger Mark Chamberlain, whose performances had catapulted him from Fourth Division obscurity at Port Vale and into the England team in just four months!
Though we found it difficult to maintain our sensational early season form, we remained solid enough – particularly at the Victoria Ground – and went into our final seven fixtures in fifth place and in with a chance of qualifying for Europe for the first time in nine years.
The first of those fixtures saw us host struggling Manchester City at the Victoria Ground. The Maine Road club had looked a decent bet themselves for an assault on the European places at the turn of the year, but they were in a real slump by the time they arrived in the Potteries and were beginning to look nervously over their shoulders having won just once in their previous twelve games.
The main obstacle Stoke had to overcome if they were to finish in the top six, was a worrying injury list that was threatening to decimate our squad. Mark Chamberlain had suffered from persistent hamstring trouble for much of the second half of the season and both George Berry and Brendan O’Callaghan were ruled out of this fixture.
Sammy McIlroy and Mickey Thomas were both doubts leading up to the game, but to our relief they both lined up alongside Chamberlain and 20 year-old Paul Bracewell to form our regular midfield quartet.
Centre half Dave Watson – whose future with the club was in some doubt after agreeing to move to Vancouver Whitecaps before the end of our season – had suffered a cut eye in our previous game at Everton, and his wound was quickly opened as the game got under way. The former Manchester City defender gamely battled on though and required stitches at half time.
There was too much at stake for both teams for this game to be a classic, and Stoke in particular were struggling to get into their rhythm with so many walking wounded in their starting eleven. Our front two of Ian Painter and Peter Griffiths were proving too lightweight up against the experienced Manchester City defence, but Chamberlain was giving left back Bobby McDonald plenty of problems and the ubiquitous Bracewell was putting in quite a performance in the centre of our midfield.
The young midfielder came close to opening the scoring in a tight first half when he forced visiting ‘keeper Alex Williams to tip a dipping 20 yard shot over the bar and Chamberlain cut inside McDonald but saw his left foot shot flash just wide.
But it was The Potters, attacking the Stoke End in the second half, who broke the deadlock on the hour. Chamberlain skipped past McDonald once again to cross low into the box, Bracewell dummied the ball smartly and Sammy McIlroy was on hand to bury his right foot shot past Williams from twelve yards.
It was time now for the character of the Stoke team to show through, and they didn’t let their fans down. The magnificent, blood soaked Watson continued to dominate at the back as the visitors frantically sought to get back into the game, Bracewell covered every blade of grass as his midfield partners struggled in the closing stages and despite continually holding his troublesome hamstring, Chamberlain still troubled the visitors.
The tension was unbearable as the game reached its finale. Griffiths’ lob just cleared the bar as The Potters went in search of a decisive second goal and at the other end, we were indebted to left back Peter Hampton who was on hand to nod a David Cross diving header off the line, but The Potters held on to maintain their position of fifth in the league and keep their European dream alive.
Sadly though, that was as good as it got as our tired squad ran out of steam. Draws against Swansea and Southampton more or less ended our hopes and after bidding farewell to the Canada-bound Watson we fell to heavy defeats at Aston Villa and Tottenham and at home to Coventry, a result which saved their skin and had far reaching consequences for Manchester City.
Having beaten Brighton at the Goldstone Ground on the penultimate Saturday of the season, they needed just a point against Luton at Maine Road to stay up and condemn The Hatters to Division Two. Hilariously though, a goal five minutes from time by Raddy Antic led to David Pleat’s famous jig of joy on the Maine Road pitch and sent Manchester City down instead.
This article first appeared in Issue 473 of The Oatcake on 16th February 2010