Archive Page 2

19
Feb
16

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!

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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!

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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!

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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11
Feb
16

Champions!

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.

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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.

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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

19
Feb
15

Stoke City Heroes – Peter Hoekstra

HE MAY have been with us for only three seasons at the very end of his career and at a time when his body was showing all of the debilitating signs of so many terrible injuries, but Peter Hoekstra left an indelible mark in the memories of all of those Stoke fans who were lucky enough to see him play. For those who simply weren’t old enough to have seen Alan Hudson in his prime, then Peter Hoekstra is often cited as the best player they’ve ever seen in a Stoke shirt.

It’s remarkable that he ever came to be at the Britannia Stadium in the first place. The story goes that Stoke were actually in desperate need of a striker and had one of their regular agents who was well known to John Rudge bring over somebody he was trying to get a club for. Stoke weren’t interested in that player but did mention that they were also searching for a left-sided midfielder. The agent said he had just the player for us and the next thing we knew we had the chance to sign Peter Hoekstra, a former Ajax player and Dutch international!

The question on the minds of many fans was how the hell we had managed to persuade him to come to the third tier of English football. The answer was that, despite a talent that most richly deserved to be on show in the Premier League, he was so injury prone that no one would take a chance on him. Stoke City was the best he could do in English football.

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We first saw him play in a pre-season tour of Austria and his talent smacked you in the face from the word go. Those Stokies who saw his debut on the opening day of the 2001/02 season at QPR were equally impressed at his amazing ball skills. It was often the case that his good work went undone because his team-mates were just not on the same page as he was. If he was frustrated by this he was a good enough team-mate not to show it.

Like all wingers, a game could sometimes pass him by, but when he was on song, oh my word, what a player he was. His dribbling skills, ball control and downright cheek were a joy to behold and even Soccer AM commented that they could do a whole ’Showboating’ segment dedicated to him. He was just brilliant.

His susceptibility to injuries was always there for everyone to see though and as Stoke went for promotion, via the play-offs, Hoekstra found himself missing the crucial run-in due to injury. Once he was fit he effortlessly made the transition to the Championship and though you could see that he was not a typical Tony Pulis player he was just too good not to be in the team.

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Peter bids farewell to the Stoke fans in May 2004

The most abiding memories of Hoekstra must be his stunning 30-yard goal at Watford, as we successfully fought tooth and nail to avoid relegation, and then the following season when he scored a brilliant hat-trick against Reading. His first in that game came when he danced around the keeper to score, the second was a ferocious angled drive and the third a cheekily chipped penalty that he himself had won. That treble can be viewed online on You Tube and every Stoke fan should treat themselves by watching it. It is the sight of an artist at work.

In all, Peter Hoekstra made 66 league appearances for The Potters in the three seasons he was in England, scoring 11 goals. Those stats though go no way at all towards telling the true story of his impact in The Potteries. He was the kind of player who has you frantically reaching into your pocket to pay entrance money into a football ground. When he had the ball you were on the edge of your seat.

Even though we only saw him during the last three years of an injury-ravaged career, and then not as often as we would have liked, the memories we have of him are all good. He deserved a shot at the Premier League and how we could do with him right now. Peter Hoekstra, a Stoke City hero.

Issue 454

07
Nov
14

Match to Remember – Spurs v Stoke City 2009/10

IT WAS  a day to remember for Stoke City in north London as The Potters secured their first away win of the season and recorded without doubt their best result since promotion to the Premier League, with this wonderful victory at White Hart Lane. The Potters were magnificent and thoroughly deserved their three points.

There was a big shock for the travelling Stokies as Steve Simonsen took his place between the sticks following Thomas Sorenson’s late withdrawal due to illness. Robert Huth’s three match ban meant a return to the side for Andy Wilkinson, but otherwise it was the same team which had overcome West Ham, with Salfi Diao and Dean Whitehead resuming their midfield partnership. Jermaine Defoe’s absence from the Tottenham team was certainly good news for us, but Harry Redknapp was still able to call on a team featuring a host of top class internationals for a game that would see them go to the top of the Premier League with a victory.

Memories of last season’s traumatic trip to Tottenham, when we found ourselves three goals down inside the first twenty minutes, were still very fresh, but The Potters almost made a dream start to the game when James Beattie was just inches away from meeting Matty Etherington’s cross-cum-shot, only to be denied at the last moment by a very brave piece of defending by Jonathon Woodgate.

The unfortunate Woodgate would soon be forced to leave the field, presumably suffering from concussion as a result of that incident, but it didn’t affect his team unduly and they hit back with a real purpose which suggested that we could be in for another uncomfortable afternoon in the capital. Simmo had to be at his best to deny both Crouch and Lennon, before the diminutive England winger teased Danny Collins before floating over a cross which Crouch met superbly to head what everybody inside White Hart Lane thought was the opening goal of the afternoon. Quite where James Beattie appeared from is anyone’s guess, but our striker somehow managed to miraculously clear the ball off the line with an unbelievable acrobatic clearance to keep the scores level.

Still Tottenham came back at us and were very close to taking the lead just seconds later when Nico Kranjcar played a one-two with Crouch before hammering a thumping right foot shot which clattered back off Simmo’s right hand post.

Stoke were finding it very difficult to repel the Tottenham assault, though Ricardo Fuller managed to find himself half a yard inside the Spurs area but could only volley his shot high and wide of Gomes’ goal.

The Potters were still on the defensive as the second half got underway and Whitehead and Shawcross combined brilliantly to deny Crouch a simple tap in after Simmo could only parry Keane’s shot.

Simmo was then relieved to gather the ball after being impeded by Beattie as he stopped another Crouch effort, before TP decided to change things, withdrawing a tired looking Rory Delap to bring on Glenn Whelan.

Whelan was soon in the action and received a yellow card for a foul on Lennon which saw the Spurs winger limp from the field and leave Spurs with just ten players having used all three substitutes. The Potters were gradually beginning to impose themselves on the game and Beattie headed just wide before being replaced by Tuncay who certainly added an extra dimension to our play.

The Turkish striker was soon into the action scuffing one shot straight at Gomes before side-stepping a Spurs defender and hitting a left foot shot just wide.

The home side were, by now, running out of ideas a little, and were incurring the wrath of the home supporters with their continual tactic of hitting the ball long for the giant Crouch. Stoke were dealing with it admirably though and with Matty Etherington in particular enjoying a second wind, we dared to dream that a shock win could actually be on the cards.

And sure enough the goal that would win us the game came with just four minutes left on the clock. A nice bout of passing saw the ball end up at the feet of Ricardo Fuller some fifty yards from goal. Ricardo worked his magic down the right wing, before bursting brilliantly past Assou-Ekotto on the byeline and laying the ball nicely into the path of Glenn Whelan who smashed a wonderful right foot shot past Gomes and in off the post.

Stoke’s team and supporters celebrated in some style, but we’ve been in this position before and knew full well that our job wasn’t done, especially when the fourth official held up his board to signal five minutes of injury time. Tuncay could have sealed the victory but annoyingly strayed offside as Etherington played in him, then we were forced to hold our breath as Salif Diao put in a challenge on Kranjcar in the penalty area deep into stoppage time. The Spurs fans bayed for a penalty, but referee Probert waved away the home team’s appeals and the three points were ours.

What better way to finish this match report than with the words of Alan Hansen on last week’s Match of the Day?

“Stoke gave an exhibition of togetherness, teamwork, team spirit, and a dogged determination and willingness to win that was absolutely sensational. Tony Pulis must be a proud manager tonight because that’s one of the great performances of the season”.

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves!

Stoke City Team: Simonsen, Wilkinson, Collins, Faye, Shawcross, Delap, Whitehead, Diao, Etherington, Fuller, Beattie. Subs: Whelan, Tuncay, Higginbotham.

This match report originally appeared in Issue 466 of The Oatcake

03
Oct
14

No Justice for Ryan

WHILE any England supporter will have been naturally delighted to see the 2-0 win against Switzerland during the week, the occasion was marred for many of us by the fact that our skipper Ryan Shawcross was again omitted from the squad for the national team.

The situation is becoming something of a joke now and defies any genuine or logical explanation. It seems as though, as far as defenders go, his selection policy is ‘ABS’ (anyone but Shawcross). Calum Chambers is not even mentioned as being a contender for the England team after just 22 appearances for Southampton but he signs for Arsenal and, bang, he’s straight into the squad! Everton concede TEN goals in their opening three games of the season but, boom, three of their back four are called into Roy Hodgson’s squad! Seriously, what the hell is going on here? Is this some sort of joke?

In his seven years as a defender for Stoke City Ryan Shawcross has been a model of consistency, a rock upon which our promotion and Premier League stability has been built and an inspirational presence to those around him. He is a leader who leads from the front and by example. And the stats back up his efforts too. Last season he was right up there in terms of minutes played, tackles and headers won and blocks made. He may not always be the most graceful and elegant player on the field but he defends like a demon.

In the wake of our fantastic win at Manchester City, where Ryan again marshalled the defence brilliantly and helped to keep the deadly Sergio Aguero almost silent throughout the game, the question did start to get asked by many a national journalist as to why he is not even making an England squad that is hardly chock full of quality performers at the moment.

We have been wondering that ourselves for several seasons now and the only logical conclusions we can draw are that he plays for an unfashionable club like Stoke and that there is still some residual fall-out from the Aaron Ramsey incident.  The ‘Stoke connection’ has been the curse of many a decent player (Jimmy Greenhoff being the most classic example) and it’s a fact that Roy Hodgson has not made even a single trip to the Britannia Stadium since becoming the England manager.

There is also the issue of his one England appearance in Sweden when he didn’t look too great against a blisteringly hot Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who managed to take England to the cleaners that night. The fact that our skipper only came on for the final 20 minutes and didn’t really do any worse than any other England player that night doesn’t seem to matter.

Neither does it seem to matter that plenty of other England players have looked shockingly bad in the repeated failures our national team has suffered in many recent major tournaments. Ryan can’t get a look in and they keep on getting picked, seemingly irrespective of how well they play.

The actual truth of the matter is that it does Stoke City a big favour that Ryan Shawcross keeps on getting overlooked for the England squad. It means that he doesn’t get dragged away to the far flung  corners of the globe whenever there’s an international break and doesn’t run the risk of getting injured while playing for someone other than The Potters. We pay his wages and we’re the only ones tapping into the deep reservoir of talent and commitment he has to offer. It’s win-win for Stoke.

However, we all know that it’s about fair play and someone like Ryan Shawcross getting his fair reward from the game.

Each player has only one career in which to make their mark on the game and to write their names into the history books. Ryan Shawcross is one of the best centre-backs we’ve had in our entire history and has been an integral part of the success story we’ve enjoyed since he came to the club. He deserves to be rewarded and recognised for what he is – one of the best defenders in the country. It is a stain against the character of Roy Hodgson that he should so casually overlook a player like Ryan, while handing our caps like confetti to other players who seems to have done very little to earn them or players whose form doesn’t warrant their continued selection.

You can’t help but feel sorry for our skipper. He may be a very well paid footballer but he’s a human being with dreams and ambitions in life and he’s getting the short end of the stick here. There is also a very real truth here that cannot be escaped. If Ryan Shawcross was signed by one of the top seven clubs in the Premier League he would be named in the very next England squad to be announced. That’s a nailed-on, inescapable fact and every single person in football knows it!

This article first appeared in Issue 560 of The Oatcake

22
Aug
14

Gazza: A nod to a flawed genius

WHEN nature bestows the gift of football ability upon a fortunate few, no consideration is given to character, class or creed.

So as humble devotees of the game, we can only accept the full spectrum of humanity that wear our sacred colours as they troop over the white line; from the honourable, honest family men to the criminal and immoral lowlifes- all walks of life can represent us on the pitch. There was certainly no rhyme, reason or logic when fate landed true greatness at the feet of a tragic and flawed character who would spend most of his life in the grip of addiction and mental illness.

At Stoke we only ever got to witness Paul Gascoigne tread our home turf during the latter stages of his career with Everton, when Gudjon Thordarson’s Potters were drawn against the Toffeemen in the FA Cup Third Round. Gazza was thirty-four at the time and experiencing a brief and tenuous spell of sobriety between a drink-sodden two-year stretch at Middlesborough and the lurching shambles that made up the dying embers of his playing career. Gascoigne was never free of his demons for long, but for ninety minutes he illuminated a cold January afternoon at the Britannia with an imperious display in the centre of the pitch – controlling the midfield at little more than walking pace.

Both the vulnerability and marketability of Gazza were obvious from the moment he burst onto the scene as a chubby young starlet on Tyneside, with a daft grin and the nervous energy of an excitable child. By the time he was 23, Gazza was a national icon following his tears in Turin, and a series of displays that already had him marked as the best English midfielder since Bobby Charlton. Dancing around on an open-top bus wearing plastic breasts and gurning at the cameras during the England team’s return from Italia 90, Gazza had single-handedly transformed English football from a dead horse way beyond its last flogging, to a marketable form of entertainment for a new breed of fan. The seminal seeds of SKY’s glossy Premiership product were arguably planted during those weeks, when a re-invigorated fervour for the national game was nurtured, with the tear-stained face of Gazza as its new figurehead.

The novelty pop single cash-ins, computer game endorsements and appearances on Wogan were all very well, but the doubts were already present as to whether Gascoigne was mentally robust enough to cope with the kind of attention and scrutiny that he was now under. There were a number of alleged off-field misdemeanours and constant issues with Gazza’s fluctuating weight, but a young footballer getting into scrapes and tucking into a sausage roll didn’t attract the interest that it would eventually garner in the age of the rolling news channel and ubiquitous gossip magazine.  The nervous tics and obsessions were present though, and could be traced back to Gascoigne’s childhood. In the Hunter Davis penned ‘autobiography’, Gazza recalls the moment when he witnessed the death of Stephen Spraggon- a younger friend who was knocked over by a car as the two boys were out playing in the street. Gascoigne stated that he felt responsible for the youngster’s death and was unable to ever come to terms with the resultant feelings of guilt.

The ugliness really began to take hold in the mid nineties, with the admission from Gascoigne that he had beaten his wife, Sheryl, and his battle with alcohol became a constant source of news for the Tabloid press. Around the time of Euro 96, he was often portrayed as the personification of the irresponsible footballer on yet another late-night bender; gulping back spirits while strapped into ‘the dentists chair’ in Singapore being a memorable indiscretion, immortalised during the celebration of Gazza’s stunning strike in the 2-0 victory over Scotland.

It doesn’t take a qualification in Psychiatry to conclude that football itself was the ultimate anti-depressant for Gazza, and as his ability to perform at the top level began to wane, the safety blanket that the sport provided began to slip away with it, exposing Gazza to his own demons. This couldn’t be more starkly illustrated than in the moments after Glenn Hoddle had denied Gazza a place in his England squad heading to France for the 1998 World Cup. When Gazza was summoned into the manager’s office to learn his fate, his reported reaction was a fit of uncontrollable rage that resulted in Hoddle’s room being trashed and Gazza being restrained by the coaching staff.

From that moment on, Gascoigne drifted through the remainder of his career like a man who knew his purpose in life was ebbing slowly away. Appearing bloated, but still fleetingly brilliant, Gazza combined his football with numerous stints in rehab, but by the time he had reached the lows of Boston United and his bizarre stint in the Chinese Second Division, the alcohol and illness had truly taken hold.

The years that followed Gazza’s retirement seemed only to be a heartbreaking prologue for a seemingly inevitable headline and obituary, announcing Gazza’s early demise. Clearly in the grip of chronic mental illness and alcoholism, Gascoigne cut a hopeless figure in ‘Surviving Gazza’, a TV documentary that chronicled the effect of his condition and behaviour on his ex-wife and her two children. He was eventually sectioned under the Mental health Act following an incident in a Newcastle hotel in 2008 and by the time of the infamous and awkwardly comical Raoul Moat incident in 2010, public opinion of Gascoigne was incredulous and increasingly unsympathetic.

At the time of writing, Gascoigne’s condition is much improved following a successful stint in the Providence Rehab Project in Bournemouth. (The fragility of his recovery from alcohol addiction and mental illness can not be emphasised any more than by my need to cautiously preface that previous sentence.) Thankfully, Gazza is once again being seen in a more positive light on television, appearing vulnerable but possessing a self-deprecating charm on Piers Morgan’s ‘Life Stories’ show, and once again being offered advertising work. The years of abuse that his brain and body have taken have aged Gazza beyond his years, his speech still occasionally slurred and uncertain, but he still possesses the faint aura of innocent likeability that captured the heart of a nation over twenty years ago.

Trouserdog 

This article appeared in Issue 526 of The Oatcake on 28th November 2012

 

15
May
14

The Pride of the Midlands, The Cock of the North

The true story of this iconic football song and its Stoke City roots

by Rob Cocker

THIS IS a true story which I have contemplated writing for many, many years, to lay down the facts about a particular Stoke City song which was stolen by a club from the North West. Let’s just call them “The Shit”.

I have followed Stoke City home and away for over 50 years and the event I want to talk about took place on 19th November 1974.

Under the management of Tony Waddington, Stoke City had signed the mercurial Alan Hudson and in the 73/74 season we had finished 5th in the top division. In the following season The Potters again started exceptionally well and were considered, throughout the country, to be a top side playing attractive football.

Anyway, I digress; back to 19th November 1974. Stoke were playing away at Deepdale in a testimonial for the long-serving Preston goalkeeper Alan Kelly.

Big Vigs (Peter Viggers) volunteered to drive his Vauxhall Viva up a foggy M6 with myself, Skid (Kev Skidmore) and Sev (Steve Viggers) in attendance.

We got to Preston, parked up and the fog and visibility began to get even worse.

As was the norm at the time our loyal band of followers, about 30 strong in all, ventured into ‘their end’. I didn’t think it was a great idea but some of our ‘lads’ were up for it and they enjoyed fending off the various advances of those Preston fans who fancied their chances against us.

I vividly remember a Preston fan running at our group and delivering a sneaky kick at one of our lads. The Preston fan ran off, only to be pursued by one irate Stoke fan who chased him out of the terraced end and through the Paddock.

I was told that he escaped by clambering over the wall and onto the running track. By then though they’d both disappeared into the dense night-time fog.

As for the game, well you couldn’t see more than 30 yards up the pitch. I only remember that at the final whistle we ran onto the pitch to embrace our heroes and congratulate them for gaining a creditable draw, only to be told that we had won! Incredible.

If it had been a competitive league or cup game there is no way it would have been allowed to go ahead.

On our way back to the car we met Frank Johnson who had thumbed his way up to Preston and was now looking for a lift back to The Potteries. So Frank joined our merry band.

The fog was still a real ‘pea-souper’ as we slowly made our way back down the M6 towards Stoke.

On the way back it was suggested that Stoke needed a new song and we decided to have a go at creating one.

It didn’t help that that Big Vigs’ Vauxhall Viva spluttered to a halt near Thelwall, with the police arriving to see what the problem was. Fortunately though the car soon restarted and we were back on our merry way.

It certainly wasn’t easy thinking of a new song and heads were scratched. First of all we needed a catchy tune and we came up with the tune to the popular advert at the time for Bex Bissell cleaner.

Brilliant. All we needed now were the lyrics.

Slowly but surely our group; me, Big Vigs, Sev, Skid and Frank came up with the words as everyone chipped in. Eventually we had something and, to be honest, we thought it sounded great. We really thought it could be mega.

Now of course most of us ’owd uns’ will remember the song which goes;

Stoke are just one of those teams that you get now and then,

We often score six but we seldom score ten,

We beat ’em at home and we beat ’em away,

We’ll kill any bastards that get in our way.

We are the Pride of the Midlands, The Cock of the North,

We all hate Scousers and Cockneys of course,

We are the Champions without any doubt,

Cause when City score six you’ll score nowt!

Our next game was four days later, on Saturday 23rd November 1974, away at Wolves. The Potters were on a massive high after signing England keeper Peter Shilton for a world record fee for a goalkeeper and he was making his debut.

A mate of ours Dave Clarke (Wigan) who was a printer, ran off a large number of word sheets of our brand new song which were then distributed to the thousands of Stoke fans who had assembled on the South Bank at Molineux.

The game itself went on to finish 2-2 with Salmons and Robertson scoring our goals to help keep us right up there in the title hunt.

Ultimately of course our title challenge fell away, as we failed to win any of our final three games that season and we finished 5th for a second successive year.

After that Wolves game though our song really took off and was sung with gusto by Stokies, home and away, up and down the country.

What happened next is enough to make you want to vomit. I was watching a match on TV, involving The Shit, and was aghast to hear them singing our Stoke song.

When Stoke visited Old Trafford in 1975/76 – a game remembered for Alan Bloor’s late winner which effectively killed off their title challenge – they announced in their programme that OUR SONG was to be their Wembley FA Cup Final song. Incredible. What a nerve!

For me, the 1976 FA Cup Final was a joyous occasion, as The Shit lost 1-0 to 2nd Division Southampton with the winning goal being scored by, aptly, Bobby Stokes!

The song which they had the audacity to put out as their own was on the Decca Label and actually reached No. 50 in the UK Singles Charts!

It still makes my blood boil to hear their fans continuing to sing our song and claim it as their own, despite it having been penned by Stoke lads on their way back from a testimonial match at Preston in 1974.

So the next time people talk about ‘The Shit’ and their original songs just remember that one of their best known ones is actually a Stoke City song… and always will be!

This article first appeared in Issue 537 of The Oatcake