Archive for December, 2012


Match To Remember – Stoke City v Leeds United 1986/87

mick mills 2IT WAS Leed United’s bad luck that they should come to the Victoria Ground four days before Christmas in 1986. Bad luck because Stoke were blazing their way up the table, part the way through a storming run that would eventually propel them all the way from rock bottom to 4th place in the space of just ten weeks. From a team that couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo from two paces in August, September and October, Mick Mills’s side were now a fearsome attacking force, ready to dish out a savage beating to any team unlucky enough to catch them on a good day.

Not that Leeds were at all worried when they visited the Victoria Ground on Sunday 21st December. We were still in a lower mid-table position and they were just a couple of points outside the play-off places. A victory would strengthen their own promotion credentials and they had already beaten us at Elland Road early on in the season.

For one Leeds player – goalkeeper Mervyn Day (pictured below) – there was a point to prove as well. The season before he and his Leeds team had come to Stoke and been walloped 6-2 as Mark Chamberlain had run amok. This time they wanted revenge and Day went so far as to promise that Stoke would not score six goals this time around…

The Sunday dinner time kick-off and all-ticket restrictions – demanded by the Police – kept the crowd down to just 12,358, but the atmosphere was still electric as Stoke fans anticipated another entertaining game. We did though have no idea of just how entertaining the game would prove to be.

It was all Stoke from the word go and Leeds were left breathless and chasing shadows as The Potters simply bypassed their defence at will. Nicky Morgan had been a revelation following his arrival from Portsmouth a few weeks earlier and he was on the scoresheet after only five minutes as he drilled the ball home from inside the area to make it 1-0 to Stoke.

Scarcely had Leeds had time to recompose themselves than they were 2-0 down. This time it was Carl Saunders seizing on a loose ball to score with a sweet finish. We can only wonder at this stage if Mervyn Day was remembering his less than prophetic words to the press ahead of the game!

Stoke’s pressure was utterly unrelenting and merciless and the Leeds players looked as shell-shocked and bewildered as their 1,500+ supporters as the barrage continued at the Stoke End.

mervyn dayFrom a dead ball situation the ball looped behind Lee Dixon inside the area and he stunned the entire crowd with a breathtaking overhead kick to send the ball sailing over Day and into the far corner of the net. It was 3-0 to Stoke and there were only 20 minutes on the clock!

At this point many teams would take their foot off the pedal and start to stroll, or at least showboat, but that was not what Mick Mills’ side did. With players like Dixon, Parkin, Ford, Kelly, Morgan, Saunders and Heath all in superb form we almost couldn’t help but play killer football.

Any hopes that Leeds had of making it into the half-time interval with their dignity and a fighting chance of a recovery intact were to be blown away as Stoke finished the game off before 45 minutes were up on the clock.

Nicky Morgan drilled home another shot from inside the box to make it 4-0 and then just a minute before the break Tony ‘Zico’ Kelly curled home a peach of a free-kick from 25 yards to make the score a scarcely believable 5-0 as the teams left the field for their half-time cuppas.

To be on the Boothen End and down on the concourse when that whistle went was to witness a collective state of disbelief amongst a sea of happy faces and hoarse voices.

As delighted as we all were, the breathtaking, non-stop nature of Stoke’s football and the FIVE mentals we’d celebrated had taken it out of us. This might be the only occasion in the history of our club where the supporters were more shattered than the players at half-time!

We all prepared ourselves for what was sure to be a much calmer second half, but were in for another 45 minutes of non-stop action. Stoke came roaring back at Leeds straight from the re-start and it was only the award of a generous penalty for the visitors, from a referee who was by now taking pity on them, which gave them some respite as John Sheridan made it 5-1.

Mervyn Day might have been keeping his fingers crossed that he would avoid the embarrassment of conceding six for the second season running but his hopes were crushed just after the hour mark. Stoke’s attacks were just relentless and when the ball ran for Tony Ford inside the box he hammered home in front of the Boothen End to make it 6-1.

But Day had promised it wouldn’t be six-goal scoreline this time around and he was proved right after 72 minutes as Stoke surged forward again and Nicky Morgan smashed the ball home to complete his hat-trick and make it 7-1.

We were actually still celebrating that goal when Leeds caught us out straight from the kick-off as Ian Baird went up to the Stoke End and made it 7-2 in front of their own fans who, by this time, had gone into their “we’re not bothered anymore” pissing around antics.

That would actually prove to be the final score but don’t think for one minute that Stoke actually sat back and coasted for the last 20 minutes. They carried on attacking until the very last minute, especially as substitute Keith Bertschin was desperate to get his name onto the scoresheet as well.

An eighth goal just wouldn’t come though. Day made some decent saves, a couple were cleared off the line (including one quite clearly with the use of an arm) and we had two cast-iron penalty appeals turned down. It finished 7-2 but it could, and perhaps should, have been eight, nine or even TEN!


Lee Dixon, Carl Saunders, Nicky Morgan, Tony Kelly and Tony Ford celebrate after the game

It’s hard to remember such an ovation as the one which greeted the final whistle of this match. The players didn’t milk the victory as much as they tend to these days but even so they had to acknowledge the adulation of a Stoke support that could scarcely believe what it had just witnessed.

You walked out of the Victoria Ground that day as though you were floating – privileged to have witnessed such an awesome display of football and finishing from a Stoke City team. It’s hard to recall a day similar to this when we had done EVERYTHING right for an entire 90 minutes.

Some Stoke fans will claim that they actually enjoyed the previous year’s 6-2 win more than his one, perhaps because it was our second home game after the dreadful ‘Holocaust’ season or maybe because of the stunning individual performance of Mark Chamberlain at his very best?

In my mind though this was the one. Leeds were a good team in 1986/87 and would go on to make the Play Offs and FA Cup Semi-Final come the end of the season, unlike the year before when they’d finished in lower mid-table, yet Stoke had simply ripped them to shreds and stripped them of any excuses whatsoever.

Stoke City: Fox; Dixon, Parkin; Talbot, Bould, Berry; Ford, Kelly (Bertschin), Morgan, Saunders, Heath.

Leeds United: Day, Aspin, Robinson (Ritchie); Thompson, Ashurst, Swan; Doig, Sheridan, Baird, Edwards, Rennie.

From Issue 367


Stoke City Heroes – Howard Kendall

ONE figure who often tends to get overlooked when we think of Alan Durban’s team that won promotion back to the top flight in 1978/79 is Howard Kendall. You seldom see his name included in any all-time XI teams compiled by Stoke supporters, nor hear tales of his exploits in a Stoke City side he was an integral and influential part of for two whole seasons.

Howard Kendall enjoyed an illustrious playing career, most notably at Everton where he was one third of the “Holy Trinity” midfield alongside Alan Ball and Colin Harvey, and won a Championship in 1970. He was also a member of the Preston team that reached the FA Cup Final in 1964.

He was noted as an elegant and industrious player, who gave a lot to the team and was also often remarked on as being the best midfielder NEVER to play for England.

After he left Everton in 1974 he spent three years at Birmingham City and it was from St. Andrews that Stoke picked him up for £40,000 in the summer of 1977, following our relegation from the top division. As a manager it is probably true that George Eastham didn’t make as many good decisions as any of us would have liked. However, bringing an ageing veteran like Kendall to the club for that sort of money, to lead the engine room of the team, was a stroke of genius.

Even though things didn’t go particularly well for Stoke in that first back down in the Second Division Howard Kendall was one of the players who stood head and shoulders above any criticism from the supporters and press alike.

He was a class act in midfield and could be relied on to work at both ends of the pitch. He could break up opposing attacks, set up attacking moves of our own and also be in the right place at the right time to finish off a move, with a good eye for goal.

Kendall was part of the Stoke City side that was infamously beaten by Blyth Spartans in the 1977/78 FA Cup, though it was that defeat which was to herald a dramatic change in fortune for Stoke City and the beginning of a new career path for him.

Following on from that harrowing cup shocker, the Stoke board appointed Alan Durban as the new manager, and one of Durban’s first acts was to make Howard Kendall a player-coach. Any worries that the extra workload might have a detrimental impact on the player’s game were unfounded. Kendall was well-suited to the role and combined it effectively with his playing duties.

Once Alan Durban had steadied the Stoke ship, and finished the 1977/78 season on a high, he set about putting together the team that would see Stoke back into the top flight after a two-year absence.

Durban knew a good thing when he saw it and he had no hesitation in building his midfield around Howard Kendall and it was a smart move.

Kendall continued where he’d left off the season before and, if anything, the 32 year-old’s performances were even better than they had been the year before. In a team that kept it ultra-tight and denied the opposition time and space to play their own games, Kendall’s organisational skills and work-rate proved to be real attributes to the team.

And Stoke fans were in no doubt about what Kendall brought to the side. Having seen the likes of Hudson, Dobing, Eastham and Mahoney in action in the previous few years they knew a good midfielder when they saw one and they were always appreciative of his efforts and what he brought to the team.

When Stoke won promotion back to the top flight there was a genuine disappointment and concern that Howard Kendall decided against staying with us. Stoke fans were confident that he had plenty to contribute back in the top flight. As far as he was concerned though his 33 year-old body wasn’t up to life at the highest level.

Consequently, Kendall found himself dropping down two divisions to become the player-manager at Blackburn and he guided them to promotion before being snapped up by Everton and reaching the pinnacle of his managerial career.

His time at Stoke may have been restricted to just two seasons and 79 first team appearances, and his name may forever be synonymous with his Everton connection, but as far as the Victoria Ground faithful were concerned Howard Kendall was a true Stoke City hero.

This article first  appeared in Issue 429 of The Oatcake.