Archive for May, 2016

16
May
16

Andy Wilkinson – Stoke City Hero

This tribute to Andy Wilkinson appeared in Issue 590 of The Oatcake…

new-1HAVING said a fond farewell to Andy Wilkinson at the end of last season, and wished him every success in finding a new club and continuing his career for another few years, it is with considerable sadness that we heard last week of his enforced retirement from the game.

Due to the concussion injury he picked up at Blackburn last season, he has been advised to retire and at the age of 31 he now finds himself out of the game and looking forward to the next stage of his life.

The best thing we can find to say about Andy Wilkinson is that he played for Stoke City in the same way that any supporter thinks they would. Whenever he pulled on the club’s colours he never gave anything less than 100% and he was clearly prepared to run through the proverbial brick wall for the team.

We can’t think of any higher praise we can heap upon the shoulders of any footballer. Some spend a career working on their skills, a few were blessed with extraordinary ability and there are those who manage to bluff their way through what is nothing more than a living to them without ever truly committing to the game and what it stands for.

Andy though played with spirit and heart. He played with courage and he’s truly earned every last penny that’s come his way. The way he approached the game is the way every single player – regardless of their ability – should approach it. He stuck his head where many would be afraid to dip a toe and there was no drama and no diving. Show us another player, just one, in this day and age who would get straight up to their feet after the crude and savage tackle which Wilko took from Sunderland’s Craig Gardner a few seasons ago.

And that’s why, more than any other player, Stoke supporters respected what Andy brought to the team. That’s why everybody wanted him to score; because if he scored then we knew he’d feel and celebrate in the same way we feel we would if we’d ever been blessed with the opportunity to play for Stoke City.

We’re glad that our wonderful club did the most decent thing of all and gave Wilko a temporary contract when it became apparent that he had a problem and we’re pleased that a testimonial game has been granted. We can think of no other player from the past 20 years more deserving of that type of recognition.

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10
May
16

Stoke City and the Boleyn Ground

This article appeared in Issue 585 following Stoke’s away match at Upton Park last December.

BARRING the two teams being paired together in this season’s FA Cup, last Saturday’s trip to London was the final time Stoke City will ever face West Ham United at the Boleyn Ground.

From the start of next season, The Hammers will play at the Olympic Stadium, bringing to an end a one hundred and eleven year stay at their famous old ground. And it’s a ground on which Stoke have forged quite a few memories down the years.

Our first game at Upton Park was a 1-1 draw back in 1919 with both sides in the Second Division. It might surprise you to learn that the first top flight meeting between the clubs didn’t come until the 1963/64 season when we were thumped 4-1 in a Good Friday clash. We didn’t have to wait long until we got our revenge though, with Stoke settling the scores in a 3-0 victory at the Victoria Ground just four days later!

Two of the most memorable games between the clubs at the Boleyn Ground came in the late sixties.  Our trip there in 1967/68 saw World Cup heroes Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters put the home team into a seemingly unassailable three goal half time lead, but a marvellous second half come back saw Stoke win 4-3, courtesy of a brace each from Peter Dobing and Harry Burrows.

Two seasons later, Stoke again went in 3-0 down at half time as Clyde Best, Trevor Brooking and John Sissons put a young West Ham side, this time without  Peters and Hurst as well as England skipper Bobby Moore, well into the ascendancy. The Potters hit back though and claimed a point in the last twenty minutes as Burrows (again) and two Denis Smith headers sealed another amazing comeback.

It was little wonder then that Hammers manager Ron Greenwood publicly warned his team that despite their 2-1 victory in the 1972 League Cup Semi-Final first leg at the Victoria Ground the tie was far from over. The return leg at the Boleyn a week later stands out as our most memorable game at the ground as a battling Stoke side dug in to take the tie to extra time after John Ritchie’s late goal had brought the teams level on aggregate.

With the match deep into extra time though, it looked as though it was going to be heartbreak for The Potters when Gordon Banks and Mike Pejic got into a tangle and Banksy hauled Hammers winger Harry Redknapp to the turf. Despite our protests, the referee pointed to the spot and it was left to Geoff Hurst to send West Ham through to the final…

What followed was one of the most iconic moments in our history as Banksy atoned for his mistake with a quite breathtaking save to deny his England team mate and give Stoke the opportunity to go on and take their place at Wembley for the very first time after another couple of replays.

Games between the two teams yielded little for Stoke between that semi-final and our relegation from the First Division in the Holocaust season.  We won just once in 1973/74 and drew three times (74/75, 78/79 and 82/83) before a 5-1 thumping in what would be our last top flight away fixture for 23 years in May 1985. That 1982/83 clash was most memorable for Steve Bould’s comical own goal when he lobbed ’keeper Peter Fox from 25 yards!

Peter Fox3Foxy has better memories of his trip to West Ham in 1989/90. Though The Potters would eventually be relegated at the end of the season, his fabulous save from a Julian Dicks penalty earned us a credible 0-0 draw against Lou Macari’s Hammers.

A 3-0 drubbing in the League Cup the following season would be the last time we’d visit the Boleyn for 13 years and by that time the ground had been redeveloped on three sides and the famous ‘Chicken Run’ terracing was now an all-seated stand.

With Stoke struggling at the wrong end of the Championship in 2003/04, Gerry Taggart was brought in to shore up a leaky defence and he made an instant impact, proving to be an impregnable force at the back as The Potters shocked the home team with a 1-0 victory courtesy of full back Frazer Richardson’s first half winner.

A forgettable 2-0 Championship defeat in 2004/05 in which 38 year-old Teddy Sheringham proved too good for us would be the last time the two teams would meet until The Potters clinched promotion in 2008.

Our first Premier League visit to the Boleyn Ground will be remembered for all the wrong reasons though. An early Abdoulaye Faye header had put The Potters ahead but when Carlton Cole equalised for the home team early in the second half, Ricardo Fuller was shown a straight red card when an argument ensued and he slapped his captain Andy Griffin!  An 88th minute Diego Tristan winner left The Potters in the relegation zone and Fuller’s Stoke career in doubt.

The Potters stayed up and Ricardo remained at the Britannia Stadium, totally redeeming himself on the same ground fifteen months later with a magnificent solo winner, leaving several West Ham defenders in his wake before smashing the ball past Robert Green in front of an ecstatic Stoke following.

Two defeats in 2010/11 – 3-1 in the League Cup and a dog of a performance in a 3-0 Premier League drubbing – have been followed by an unbeaten run at the Boleyn Ground with three draws and a victory in 2013/14 thanks to a stunning Jermaine Pennant free kick. Marco Arnautovic’s injury time equaliser last season was a truly magical moment on this ground, but sadly Mame Diouf couldn’t put away his 89th minute chance last week and leave us with one last great memory of the famous Boleyn Ground.

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