AT 5.00pm on Saturday January 29th 1994, Tony Waddington passed away at the Leighton Hospital in Crewe. As one supporter pointed out during Radio Stoke’s tribute programme last week, it was as though Tony had held on to hear how Stoke had done at Oldham in the F.A. Cup. Wouldn’t that be so typical of a man who devoted much of his life to the cause of Stoke City Football Club?
Waddo’s misfortune with his own playing career turned out to be our salvation. A knee injury, suffered whilst serving in the Royal Navy during the War, ended his chances of starring for Manchester United, where he had been on the books. Instead, he joined Crewe Alexandra, making 179 appearances, before making the short journey down the road in 1952 to join the coaching staff at the Victoria Ground.
He became assistant manager to Frank Taylor in 1957 and then, in June 1960, following Taylor’s dismissal, City Chairman Albert Henshall promoted Waddo to the position of manager, after advising him to apply in writing for the post!
Waddo could scarcely have taken over the reins at Stoke at a worse time. In his first season, the average gate at the Victoria Ground plummeted below the 10,000 mark for the first time since before the First World War, and even slightly below Third Division neighbours, Port Vale! Indeed, Stoke only missed joining their rivals in Division Three by three points as they finished in eighteenth position.
Waddo’s defensive tactics, which soon became known as “Waddington’s Wall” had been slammed by many commentators, though he had little choice, as the team had been sadly lacking in the goalscoring department.
The 1961-62 season started in a similar vein and crowds were soon hitting the 8,000 mark. It was then that Waddo first displayed the kind of managerial genius that would lead to a radical upturn in the fortunes of Stoke City. To the astonishment of just about everybody he brought Stanley Matthews, now aged 46, and ten years older than himself, back to the Victoria Ground from Blackpool. The move was ridiculed by many, and the Daily Express’s Desmond Hackett headlined a column on the subject with “DONT DO IT, STAN. RETIRE WITH PRIDE – NOW”.
However, Stan did do it, and helped to kick-start in earnest the ‘Waddington Era’.
Stoke’s first match with Stan back in the side was against Huddersfield Town on October 28th 1961. An incredible 36,000 people turned up to witness his second coming and to see Stoke run out 3-0 winners.
From that point on, The Potters surged up the table, and with the help of other Waddo signings, such as Mudie, O’Neill and Viollet, finished in a creditable eighth position.
Despite a sluggish start to the 1962-63 season , Stoke soon started to live up to expectations, and promotion back to the top flight began to look a distinct possibility as Waddo added Eddie Stuart, Eddie Clamp and Jimmy Mcllroy to his side. The highlight of the season was undoubtedly a 1-0 win over eventual runners up Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in front of an astonishing crowd of 66,199. Promotion, and the Championship, were then secured in fairytale fashion with a 2-0 win over Luton Town at the Victoria Ground, where Stanley Matthews scored the clinching goal. Ten years after dropping out of the First Division, Stoke City were back – maybe with some old, and some very old, players, but with a dynamic young manager who knew exactly where he was going!
Incredibly, during the frantic run-in to the Second Division Championship, Stoke had taken time to organise their centenary celebrations which were crowned with a visit from the undisputed kings of European football, Real Madrid! In a remarkable public relations coup, the club had invited many dignitaries from the world of football to Stoke-on-Trent, and the goodwill fostered on this memorable occasion laid the foundations to what would become a testimony to Stoke City during the Waddington years.
Back in the First Division, Stoke’s progress was steady if not spectacular, though the crowds were exceptional, as only Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur averaged better. Despite a final position of seventeenth, Stoke had never been in relegation trouble, and indeed finished the season with a flourish, defeating the top three sides, Liverpool, Man United and Everton in successive home matches, all by three goals and watched by a combined total of over 113,000 spectators!
The best signing of the season had been a young centre forward by the name of John Ritchie, bought from Kettering for £2,000. Another highlight had been Stoke reaching the final of the unfashionable, fledgling League Cup where they had been beaten by Leicester City over two legs.
As soon as the season had finished, Stoke were reaping the reward of the hospitality they had extended during their centenary celebrations, as they set sail for a prestigious seven match tour of South America, the first of many such trips that they would make during the next fifteen years under the leadership of Tony Waddington.
This then was how Tony Waddington had resurrected Stoke City. Three years after taking over a club floundering in the nether regions of the Second Division, Waddo had taken Stoke to their first championship in thirty years, more than trebled attendances, spread and enhanced the name of Stoke City Football Club all over the world and lured some of the biggest names in the game to the Victoria Ground. This was the impact that Tony Waddington had on Stoke City.
Though success on the playing field continued to elude The Potters throughout the remainder of the sixties, the reputation and stature of the club continued to increase, to the extent that in 1967, Waddo was able to bring England’s World Cup winning goalkeeper, Gordon Banks to the Potteries, despite the interest of Bill Shankly’s Liverpool.
The playing style was also often praised and admired, as Waddo continued to bring quality players to Stoke regardless of their age or reputation.
As it turned out, the 60’s, good as they were, were merely a springboard for the even better 70’s. Stoke City’s players became household names as they fought their way to the F.A. Cup semi-final in both 1971 and 1972 and captured the hearts of the nation when Waddo finally led the club to its first major honour on March 4th 1972, when The Potters defeated Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley to lift the now fashionable League Cup.
The names just roll off the tongue…Banks, Marsh, Pejic, Smith, Bloor, Mahoney, Skeels, Dobing, Eastham, Conroy, Greenhoff, Ritchie, Bernard and Burrows.
The League Cup success meant that Stoke had qualified for a place in Europe for the first time. Kaiserslautem, of West Germany, were our first ever opponents in the UEFA Cup, though sadly Stoke fell at the first hurdle, despite winning the first leg 3-1 at the Victoria Ground.
Still more great names arrived at Stoke; Jimmy Robertson, Geoff Hurst and the supremely gifted Alan Hudson, who helped secure a second European appearance for Stoke with some breathtaking displays at the back end of the 1973-74 season. Can Stoke City have ever played better than they did when they ended mighty Leeds United’s 29 match unbeaten run on 23rd February 1974?
It was in 1974-75 however that Stoke City reached their zenith under Waddo. It was quality football all the way and Stoke were widely acclaimed as the most attractive and entertaining team in the country. However, the cruel luck which had afflicted Waddo and his team in being defeated in successive F.A. Cup semi-finals against Arsenal, and tragically losing the services of the world’s greatest goalkeeper in a car accident came back to haunt them again.
The mighty Ajax scraped through on away goals in the UEFA Cup after being completely outplayed in Amsterdam, a performance that had Brian Clough (invited over to Holland by Waddo) singing our praises. The League Championship would surely have been won but for the incredible misfortune which saw Stoke lose four key first team players with broken legs during the season. At the end of that season, Stoke were even denied the consolation of another place in Europe as UEFA changed their rules to allow two clubs from one city to take part in the same competition, thus giving our “place” to Everton.
The bad luck continued into the 1975-76 season with an event that was to have traumatic consequences for Stoke City and which would signal the beginning of the end of the Waddington Era. On 7th January 1976 the roof of the Butler Street Stand came down during a fierce gale. Unfortunately Stoke did not have sufficient insurance to cover the cost of the repairs and so began to sell off the best players to bring in the necessary money. In no time at all we were saying goodbye to the likes of Greenhoff, Hudson and Pejic. Indeed it was the sale of Mike Pejic that played a big part in Tony Waddington’s decision to quit.
Results on the field were poor and relegation (only two seasons after nearly winning the championship) began to look more and more likely. Fans started to call for Waddo’s head and that, coupled with the forced sale of Pejic to Everton led to Tony Waddington terminating his 17 year reign as manager and his 25 year association with Stoke City.
And so he was gone; after bringing so much to the club and overcoming so many obstacles over the years Waldo was unable to compensate for the set-back of the Butler Street roof and could do nothing to turn about Stokes rapidly deteriorating fortunes. Even his knack of picking up an experienced player for a bargain seemed to desert him and his gambles on John Tudor and Alan Suddick turned out be the act of a desperate manager. All good things will eventually come to an end, though it is sad that Tony’s glittering time at Stoke should end on such a low note; he deserved better than that.
However, to dwell on one bad season out of 17 would do no justice to the memory of a man who brought such prestige, honour and success to both Stoke City and the City of Stoke-on-Trent. His sporting contribution to the Potteries area is unsurpassed and he deserves formal recognition for his achievements.
A gentleman in every sense of the word, Tony Waddington neither sought the limelight nor craved attention. He remained modest throughout his career, allowing his players to do most of the talking on the pitch, and how they talked! His passing fills us all with sorrow that we will never again have the chance to listen to his words, wise words from a man who knew just how football was supposed to be played. He was one of the most influential characters in the history of our club, and much of the fame and honour that has come our way is entirely down to his work during 17 eventful years.
Stoke City owes Tony Waddington a debt of gratitude so great that it could never be repaid, but that should not stop us from honouring the memory of such a great man. With major stadium re-developments in the offing at the Victoria Ground we do not think any Stoke supporter would object to the re-naming of one of the proposed new stands to honour Tony Waddington. It would be a fitting tribute and the least we could do for a man who was, and probably always will be “Mr Stoke City”.
Farewell Tony and many thanks for all the wonderful memories.
This article first appeared in Issue 93 of The Oatcake on February 5th 1994