Archive for February, 2016


Giant Killed – Blyth Spartans 1978

Following relegation in 1977, Stoke City were finding life in the Second Division difficult. The 1977/78 season – our first outside the top flight for fifteen years – had started quite well, but by the turn of the year The Potters were on a slippery slope and manager George Eastham had paid the price for a string of poor results. His last game in charge though had been a resounding 4-0 defeat of Isthmian Leaguers Tilbury in a 3rd Round FA Cup tie and that set up a 4th Round date with Blyth Spartans, the last remaining non-league club left in the competition!


Stoke City’s first team squad, 1977/78

Blyth’s FA Cup adventure had started with a First Qualifying Round victory over fellow Northern League club Shildon back in September 1977 and their run also saw Crook Town, Consett, Bishop Auckland and Burscough despatched before they dumped Third Division Chesterfield out at home in the Second Round proper.

Their reward in the Third Round was another home tie, but with the big guns now entering the fray they must have been massively disappointed to have been paired with another non-league side, Enfield. A solitary goal from Alan Shoulder though was enough to send them through to the Fourth Round for the first time in their history and they were handed an away tie at the Victoria Ground!

A big following from the north east was expected for the game, scheduled to be played on 28th January 1978. A huge convoy of coaches set off from Blyth but their supporters were distraught when, upon arriving in the Potteries, they were told to turn back and head home. Torrential rain had put the game in doubt but the Stoke groundstaff had worked hard to clear the pitch of gallons of water.  The referee delayed his pitch inspection until 1.00pm on the day of the game, but a further downpour left him with little alternative other than to call the game off. Blyth weren’t happy though, reasoning that a pitch inspection should have been made the day before the game and an announcement made then to save their supporters the trouble of travelling. Their chairman publicly criticised Stoke for the way his club had been treated, vowing that it would spur his players on when the tie was eventually played…

The rain continued to fall unabated and the following Wednesday’s re-match also fell foul of the weather. With the 5th Round matches scheduled for February 18th and the possibility of a replay to consider, the tie had to be hastily rearranged for February 6th, a Monday evening.  By then, the 5th round draw had been made and the victors of our tie knew they would travel to either Third Division Wrexham or Newcastle United, struggling badly at the wrong end of the First Division; a dream draw for Blyth, and not a bad one for us either.

The Monday evening match meant that the following from Blyth wasn’t as large as the one for the original match, but nevertheless, a good number of Spartans fans turned up to swell the crowd to a healthy 18,765.

A sign of the calamity to come came when Stoke, inexplicably wearing their change yellow and blue kit, were booed onto the pitch by their own fans who mistook them for the visiting Blyth team! It wouldn’t be the only time that Stoke’s fans jeered their own team that night!

Blyth Spartans

Blyth Spartans, 1977/78

Spartans came into the game in great form with just one defeat in their previous 22 league and cup games and were pretty confident of pulling off an upset. Their confidence proved not to be unfounded when, on ten minutes they took a shock lead. A right wing corner was dropped by the Stoke ‘keeper Roger Jones at the feet of Blyth’s leading scorer Terry Johnson and he gleefully turned the ball home to leave the Boothen End stunned.

Blyth held on relatively comfortably until half time and with their noisy following on the Stoke End terrace right behind them, it was turning into a very uncomfortably evening indeed for us.

Caretaker manager Alan A’Court’s half time team talk seemed to have done the trick though when we came out in the second half and tore into Spartans. Viv Busby equalised and within minutes Garth Crooks’ diving header had turned the tie on its head. Surely we’d done enough? Surely there was no way back for the part-timers?

This is Stoke City we’re talking about though and in true Potters fashion we decided that we’d done enough and would stroll through the last half hour of the match. Unfortunately for us, Blyth Spartans had other ideas and were back on terms with ten minutes to go. Ron Guthrie – a cup winner with Sunderland in 1973 – smashed a free kick which cannoned off our wall and looped up into the air, the Stoke defence went AWOL and several Blyth forwards converged on our goal. Shoulder was first to the loose ball but his effort struck a post and Steve Carney hit the other post before smashing the ball home at the third time of asking. 2-2!

At that stage you’d have been forgiven for thinking that the plucky non-leaguers would have been delighted with a draw and the opportunity to take their Football League opponents back to their Croft Park home for a replay, but how wrong you would have been! Blyth gallantly went in search of a winning goal and two minutes from time the unthinkable happened when another free kick had our defence at sixes and sevens and Johnson pounced to volley home his second goal of the evening and send us crashing out of the cup!

Blyth Spartans2

Stoke fans were devastated and while the majority were magnanimous in defeat and applauded the Blyth Spartans players from the pitch, many vented their fury, with scarves and season tickets being tossed from the terraces and onto the cinder track.

We’ve been beaten by non-league teams since that night back in 1978, but this was different. It was in our own back yard, six years after our club had lifted the League Cup at Wembley and just three seasons after we’d almost been crowned League Champions and gone close to knocking Ajax out of the UEFA Cup. Our glory days were well and truly over! Defender Alan Bloor, playing his 388th game for The Potters in this match, wouldn’t pull on the red and white stripes again – a sad end to a distinguished career.

Blyth’s joy at beating Stoke was tempered ever so slightly by the news that their dream meeting with Newcastle wasn’t going to happen after Wrexham stuffed The Magpies 4-1 in their 4th Round replay on the same night. However when they drew 1-1 in their 5th Round tie at the Racecourse Ground, Spartans fans got the opportunity to see their team at St James’s Park when the replay was held there. The game attracted an astonishing crowd of 42,167 with estimates of between ten and fifteen thousand spectators locked out! There was to be no repeat of their heroics at the Victoria Ground though and, despite another Terry Johnson goal, Blyth Spartans’ magnificent run came to end as the Welshmen ran out 2-1 winners.

Stoke City: Jones, Marsh, Lindsay, Kendall, Dodd, Bloor, Waddington, Scott, Busby, Conroy, Crooks. Sub: Scott

Blyth Spartans: Clarke,  Waterson,  Guthrie, Alder, Scott, Dixon, Carney, Houghton, Carney, Shoulder, Johnson. Sub: Varty

This article originally appeared in Issue 434 of The Oatcake








The story of The Potters’ 1962/63 Second Division title winning campaign

STOKE CITY have suffered many periods in the doldrums during their 150 year history, and as the club embarked on the decade which would signal its 100th anniversary, a spell in the third tier of English football for just the second time appeared a strong possibility.

Tony Waddington had replaced Frank Taylor as manager in 1960 and was struggling to turn around the fortunes of a team which was nearing a decade outside the top flight following relegation in 1953. Crowds were dismally low – the final match of the 1960-61 season against Liverpool attracted a gate of just 4,463 to the Victoria Ground and the visit of Preston on 14th October 1961 saw just 8,409 hardy souls witness a 1-1 draw which saw Stoke slip to fourth bottom of Division Two.

Drastic action was needed and Tony Waddington swung into action, persuading Blackpool’s Stanley Matthews to return to the club he’d served so gloriously before the Second World War. That Stan was 46 years old mattered not, Waddo saw him as the catalyst to get the club moving forward.

Stan’s first game back, against Huddersfield, attracted an attendance of nearly 36,000, more than treble that Preston crowd and a 3-0 victory signalled the start of a march up the table that would end in The Potters finishing in a respectable 8th place in 1961/62. Stan’s return breathed fresh life into the Stoke team and the addition of the brilliant Manchester United striker Dennis Viollet – a survivor of the Munich Air Disaster just four years earlier – had further added to the supporters’ optimism.

Hopes were high then that the club’s centenary season would finally see a return to the First Division and Waddo continued to strengthen his team in the summer of 1962 by signing experienced defender Eddie Stuart from Wolves for £8,000.

An expectant crowd of over 27,000 assembled at the Victoria Ground for the 1962/63 season opener against Leeds United, but in true Stoke fashion, we were brought crashing down to earth with a 1-0 defeat. Stoke, in fact, would win none of their first half dozen games and by the time Charlton arrived in town for match number seven, The Potters found themselves fourth bottom of the Second Division table…familiar territory!

The disappointment amongst the Stoke support was palpable and just 11,596 fans turned up for the visit of The Addicks. However, four goals from Viollet helped Stoke to a 6-3 victory and the start of an unbeaten run of fifteen matches that would see The Potters climb to fourth in the league following a 2-1 Boxing Day win at Rotherham.

That triumph at Millmoor though was to be Stoke’s last action for over two months as a brutal winter set in that would decimate English football. Indeed, Stoke’s final home match of 1962 against Swansea Town had been abandoned just before half time due to frost and thick fog.

Clubs up and down the land saw matches called off on a weekly basis and days in advance as the winter tightened its grip, and with no gate receipts forthcoming many started feeling the pinch. The Football Pools Panel was formed after coupons were declared null and void on three consecutive weekends and the FA Cup Third Round took 66 days to complete. Stoke’s tie away at Leeds United took place on March 6th with the clubs already knowing who awaited them in the 4th and 5th Rounds of the competition!

Stoke managed to play three friendlies during the break, two in Ireland and an away match at First Division Sheffield United, while promotion rivals Chelsea kept their players’ fitness levels up by jetting off to Malta.

The Potters resumed league action on March 2nd with a Jackie Mudie hat-trick ensuring a comfortable 3-0 victory over struggling Walsall at the Victoria Ground, before setting off for Leeds to finally play their 3rd Round FA Cup tie four days later. Stoke didn’t seem unduly bothered by losing to Leeds for a third time that season and after the 3-1 defeat at Elland Road, chairman Gordon Taylor told goalkeeper Jimmy O’Neill “I’m glad you let that second goal in!” Promotion was the priority and with a heavy backlog of fixtures facing them, the FA Cup was, for once, seen as a hindrance.


Jimmy McIlroy

Waddo had further strengthened his team following the poor start to the season by signing defender Eddie Clamp from Arsenal, who quickly became Stanley Matthews’ self-appointed minder! The capture of Clamp – part of the great Wolves team of the 1950s with Eddie Stuart, and a member of England’s 1958 World Cup squad – was considered a coup for Tony Waddington but our manager topped even that when he managed to secure the services of Burnley’s Jimmy McIlroy in March 1963 for a fee of £25,000

McIlroy was a living legend at Turf Moor, scoring 116 goals in just over 400 appearances for the Clarets and the Burnley fans were at a loss to understand why their club would sell their best player to a Second Division club, less than two years after he’d helped them to the First Division title. Such was the feeling in East Lancashire that many Burnley fans vowed never to return to Turf Moor.

As it turned out, Burnley’s autocratic chairman Bob Lord had taken offence to McIlroy befriending a son of a director he didn’t like, so gave manager Harry Potts an ultimatum; sell McIlroy or lose his job!

Tony Waddington had now assembled a fearsome looking – if somewhat ageing – squad, with quality in abundance. With Clamp, Stuart, Allen, McIlroy, Viollet, Mudie and, of course, Matthews in their ranks, Stoke were undoubtedly one of the strongest in the league and the fans looked forward to the promotion run in, starting with a trip to Norwich for Jimmy McIlroy’s eagerly anticipated debut…

Well, actually, the promotion run in would start after that long trip to Norfolk, as The Potters went down to a humiliating 6-0 defeat at Carrow Road! McIlroy may well have wondered what he’d let himself in for, but he soon showed his class by playing his part in a run of six successive victories which saw Stoke claim top spot from a stuttering Chelsea side who on Boxing Day were 8 points ahead of The Potters but had lost 7 of 9 games since.

A busy Easter period saw Stoke play three matches in four days, including two games against Sunderland, the other team involved in the promotion mix. Sunderland had narrowly missed out on promotion in 1961/62 and had suffered a crushing blow on Boxing Day when their leading goalscorer Brian Clough picked up a serious knee injury in a collision with the Bury ‘keeper on the icy Roker Park pitch.

Those two Easter games, a 0-0 draw at Roker Park and a 2-1 victory at the Victoria Ground drew an astonishing combined attendance of 104,506 spectators!

Stoke now had a 3 point lead over Chelsea and were a further point clear of Sunderland with a game in hand. Things were looking very rosy indeed, but there was the small matter of the club’s centenary celebration match to fit in amongst the fixture chaos.

ProgrammeThe Potters had arranged a lucrative friendly against five-times European Cup winners Real Madrid, and on Wednesday 24th April 1963, 44,914 fans crammed in to the Victoria Ground to see a Real side featuring the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas held to a 2-2 draw by The Potters. It needed a Puskas penalty to earn the Spanish giants a draw after Dennis Viollet and Jimmy McIlroy had scored for Stoke.

The after-match celebrations went long into the night, and may well explain a sudden and alarming slump in form which saw Stoke lose three successive matches, including defeats at home to Middlesbrough and Scunthorpe.

That piled the pressure on The Potters and though they still topped the table, the lead was cut to just one point over both Chelsea and Sunderland with the next fixture being a crucial clash at Stamford Bridge.

Viollet and Matthews had both been missing for the previous two games but returned for what was undoubtedly Stoke’s biggest game for well over a decade. In the week leading up to the game, Stan was voted Footballer of the Year, and the young Chelsea defender Ron Harris boldly announced in the media that he would stop our wing wizard in his tracks by any method necessary!

In front of a crowd of over 66,000, Matthews (with a little help from Clamp!) turned in a stunning performance to humiliate “Chopper” Harris and help The Potters to a vital 1-0 victory. Chelsea had no answer to Jimmy McIlroy’s first half winner and Stoke were within touching distance of the First Division, especially since both Sunderland and Chelsea still had to meet.

Stoke now needed just two points from games against Bury, Luton and Southampton to guarantee promotion and a huge following of Stokies travelled to Gigg Lane in anticipation of a return to the First Division. Matthews was again missing after picking up an injury at Chelsea, but a scrambled Jackie Mudie goal put The Potters in front. Bury bounced back though to shock Stoke and a 2-1 defeat meant that the party was put on hold.

Tony Waddington was able to field a full strength team for the visit of relegation threatened Luton Town the following Saturday as 33,000 expectant Stokies descended on the Victoria Ground anticipating a return to the First Division at long last.

Stoke started tentatively on a bog of a pitch against a desperate Hatters side, but opened the scoring on the half hour mark when Mudie notched his 20th goal of the season. Then, a minute into the second half came the goal all the crowd had been praying for.

Jimmy McIlroy picked up the ball just inside his own half and when he dropped a delightful pass in behind the visitors’ defence, Stanley Matthews, showing pace which belied his 48 years, left the Luton back line in his wake before dummying the keeper and slotting the ball into an empty net to send the Victoria Ground wild with delight.

It was Stan’s first goal of the season and the perfect way to seal promotion for his home town club. At the final whistle the crowd flooded onto the pitch, with no-one minding the fact that they were ankle-deep in mud! News filtered through that Sunderland had beaten Chelsea at Roker Park meaning that The Potters were promoted as Second Division Champions and the triumphant Stoke City players took the acclaim of their supporters in the Directors’ Box of the new Boothen Stand.


Stans scores the clinching goal and Stoke fans invade the pitch at the final whistle

This article first appeared in Issue 537 of The Oatcake on 14th April 2013