Archive for May, 2019

10
May
19

An Unforgettable Afternoon in Nottingham

Alan Durban

BACK at the start of the season, it didn’t escape our attention that the final game of this campaign would fall, to the exact day, on the 40th anniversary of one of the most memorable and dramatic days in the club’s history – when we won promotion after a last-gasp victory at Meadow Lane.

We had hoped it would be a good omen for this season but, alas, it’s another team celebrating having made it to the Premier League and not us. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t have one more look back to that most wonderful day, on May 5th 1979, when The Potters won promotion back to the top flight after an unforgettable afternoon in Nottingham.

The 1978/79 season was a good one for Stoke but one which almost came unstuck for us right at the very end. We won our first three games of the season to get ourselves into the top places and then spent practically the entire campaign in the top three promotion places (there were no play-offs back then).

Having been first, second or third in the table for almost the whole season we hiccupped a little with back to back home defeats at the end of March and allowed Sunderland to slip in ahead of us, along with Brighton and Crystal Palace.

In our final home match of the season we stumbled again, only drawing 0-0 with Newcastle, and it seemed as though we might  have blown our promotion chances.

Incredibly though, on the same afternoon, up at Roker Park, Sunderland actually lost 1-2 to mid-table Cardiff City and everything fell back into place for us.
The situation was straight forward as we went into the final game. We were travelling to Notts County and Sunderland were away at Wrexham. As long as did at least as well as Sunderland we would be promoted back to the top division. It was wholly in our own hands.

In the week leading up to the game at Meadow Lane the city pretty much caught promotion fever. Everybody said they were going to the game and it turned out that they weren’t lying either.

The club laid on coaches, British Rail laid on a fleet of train ‘specials’ , at 40p per return ticket, and many more planned their journeys by bus and car.
On the day of the game the roads out of Stoke were jammed with people on their way to Nottingham and fans were being crammed onto a succession of trains in a fashion befitting the Tokyo underground.

Paul Richardson

The atmosphere was incredible and when we got to Notts County’s ground it was an absolute sea of red and white everywhere. In the years since that day I’ve heard some guffaw at the suggestion that there were some 15,000 Stoke fans at the game and yet the stats don’t lie. The game had no meaning at all to Notts County and their last four home fixtures before this one drew attendances of 7,023 against Oldham, then 7,009 against Preston, followed by 8,702 against near neighbours Leicester and then just 4,374 for the visit of Wrexham.

The crowd for this crucial match against The Potters was a very healthy  21,571. It was apparent that there really were about 15,000 Stoke fans at the game and while the majority were behind one goal there were Stoke fans on all four sides of the ground.

It was all about the game and with many ears fastened to small transistor radios the action began. From the very first minute the tension was almost unbearable. Alan Durban was a naturally cautious manager at the best of times, with many attributes that you’d recognise in Tony Pulis, and he didn’t want to us to commit too much forward while we were in the driving seat. So long as Sunderland weren’t winning then a draw was good enough for us.

And so the minutes ticked away in largely uneventful fashion and we made it to half-time with the score at 0-0. That matched the score at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground and so we were all good.

In the second half we had a mighty let-off when Geoff Scott somehow cleared a shot off the line in a rare Notts County attack but our nerves were soothed by the news that Wrexham were winning. A cheer went up as those with the radios passed on the news and it looked like we were home and dry.

With about 15 minutes to go though word went around that Sunderland had equalised. We were still in the box seat but everything was on a knife edge again. As the game went into the last ten minutes the agonising news came through that Sunderland were now 2-1 up at Wrexham. As things stood we would not be getting promoted.The news quickly got to the Stoke bench, which was overcome with a flurry of activity and you could see the players being told that we HAD to score.

Richardson stoops to head Stoke’s winner

Suddenly Stoke stepped it up a gear and started to throw everything forward. The tension was simply unbearable and many of us started to ponder the possibility of failure. This was some Stoke team though and they came through in the most dramatic fashion. In the 88th minute Garth Crooks got to the byline and swung over a cross to the far post, where Brendan O’Callaghan climbed highest to knock the ball back into the middle. Arriving right on cue was Paul Richardson, who contorted himself to send a diving header past the County keeper and into the roof of the net.

Meadow Lane exploded and I really do mean exploded. It was a mental to end all mentals and hundreds of fans spilled onto the pitch in celebration. It took a few minutes to restore order before the game could be restarted and the last couple of minutes played out. The final whistle was the signal for the fans to swarm onto the pitch again and you began to see that there really were 15,000 Stokies there that day.
Over at the Racecourse Ground the Sunderland fans were on the pitch too, thinking they’d won promotion, only for the news to filter through to them about our late goal and to stop their celebrations dead in their tracks. Wild rumours later went around Wearside that our game had been fixed and that proof of the fact could be found in the fact that the cover of the matchday programme (below) for our game had seen Notts County congratulating Stoke!

Stokies invade the pitch

The journey back to North Staffordshire was a raucous celebration of all things Stoke City as everybody savoured the occasion and the incredible drama. We had looked so certain to be promoted for almost the entire season, only to almost blow it at the death.  It all only added to the incredible story though and those Stokies who were there on May 5th 1979 will always remember the day. It was truly unforgettable.

Stoke City Team: Jones, Dodd, Scott, Smith, Doyle, Kendall, Irvine, Richardson, Crooks, O’Callaghan, Randall.
This article appeared in Issue 652 of The Oatcake