Who are you? We’re Stoke

Doesn’t the bonding between fellow football fans, whichever team they support, warm the cockles of the heart? And how much nicer still when you establish a warm rapport with fans of a team that plays in colours a little like your own.
That’s the theory. But when Salut! Sunderland posted a friendly plea at the Oatcake website for a Stoke City fan to write about Wednesday evening’s game, the response could best be summed up as “f*** off you twat”.
It was the first such rebuff since the launch of our Who Are They? series last season.
Luckily, a direct appeal to a prominent City fan who is also an acquaintance of Ian Todd (founder of the SAFCSA London and SE branch) led in turn to Julian Boodell*, a true Stoke stalwart and highly knowledgeable football man. He readily agreed to dip into his fund of memories. Thanks, Julian, for the comprehensive history – and also for restoring faith in your club’s fans……

My earliest memory of Stoke v Sunderland was 1975-76 with the Potters managing to get through to the Fifth round of the FA Cup before losing away at Roker Park (which for Stoke fans is as far as we get.)

We’ve only made the fifth round twice since then! With a miserable record of only one away win against league opposition (at Reading 1-0) since 1971 and very few home wins to cheer about.

There’s something about poor cup results in the Potteries as Port Vale our local neighbours, have the same pathetic standard in the League Cup, only managing to make the 3rd round once since the cup’s inception.

Still at least Stoke have won the League Cup – in 1972 when it was worth winning 2-1 v Chelsea, the year before Second Division Sunderland beat First Division Leeds in the FA Cup (you wont be surprised to know that Stoke have never won the FA Cup and as the league’s second oldest club we neatly pair this with the fact we’ve never won the league either.

Fourth is the best we’ve done, either side of World War Two; we had a great team full of local lads (all XI were Stoke on Trent based). Sadly Hitler prevented them from playing for the team at a time when it mattered. The 1946-47 season saw Stoke going into their last game of the season needing a win, we lost 1-2 at Sheff Utd and Stan Matthews had been sold three week’s previously – genius decision. The defeat saw Stoke finish fourth.

Alan Durban caused heartache for the Mackems in 1979, when his Stoke team secured an 88th minute winner at Notts County, the 1-0 win took Stoke into third spot and
Sunderland were in fourth with their fans on the pitch at Wrexham after winning at the Racecourse they awaited news of Stoke’s result at Meadow Lane, the 14,000 Stokies in the 21,000 crowd enjoying their time on the pitch as victors.

Durban was the first of Stoke’s managers to migrate to the Black Cats feeling he had taken Stoke as far as he could. In the three years he was at the helm he got Stoke out of the Second Division (old money) and into a decent first division side.

It didn’t go down too well with the Stoke faithful he left behind but at least it wasn’t as bad as Quiterill who left after only a few matches in 2005 chasing the riches that Sunderland offered, and the chance to succeed Howard Wilkinson, which he duly did as both were sacked poetic justice. Steve should have served his time with Stoke before moving on so quickly, a fact the ex Cheltenham manager has duly acknowledged.

My second ever visit to Roker Park was a night match (we always seem to play you guys at home in the evening too) in 1981-82, Sammy McIlroy made his debut for Stoke and scored in the 2-0 win, I remember clearly Sammy looking round to see where the Stoke fans were to run to them to celebrate and as we only had one coachload he struggled to find us!

Games between the two sides seem to be low scoring apart from recent results 2-1 at home when Rory Delap had his leg broken in two places against the Rokerites at home, this only two matches in, to his loan deal from Sunderland to Stoke.

Stoke stayed loyal with the throw-in king, with both Tony Pulis (manager) and Peter Coates (chairman) visiting the player in hopsital, stating they would remain loyal to him and honour his deal – the player duly converting to a full time employee before the seaosn ended. Two quick goals gave Stoke all three points in the last fixture at the Brit between the sides, and Stoke nearly completed the double going 2-1 up at the SOL before a late equaliser gave the home side a share of the spoils in the Black Cats promotion winning season.

Sunderland’s third choice keeper Fulup nearly became a Stoke player in the summer, but his agent going for broke on the wages seemingly scuppered the deal; he would have been first choice, many Stoke fans liked the sound of this starpping six footer and were disappointed it didn’t go through.

Roy Keane blamed both Stoke and the player for the failure in the deal before then blaming Stoke as he no doubt realised he was going to get the player back full time.

We don’t really share that much in common – red and white striped shirts but we are the only league club with white shorts, Sunderland “share” their kit with Sheff Utd, Southampton, Lincoln City – nothing like being unique.

Stoke need the points, and will be looking at their home games as being winnable, defeats of Villa (3-2) and Spurs (2-1) giving the Potters two wins from four at home – Chelsea winning 2-0 and Everton 3-2 – so let’s see if we can take three very valuable points from an impressive Sunderland side.

And now to your questions….

What did you make of Stoke’s prospects before the season started? Have the first few games altered your thoughts?

I thought it would be tough and so it has proved we haven’t as yet been turned over and the games have been close, however we need to start winning. If we can garner enough points to be within shouting distance of fourth bottom come the transfer window then I am confident that we will buy again and I feel we can do it but it will be a close run thing.

When did it dawn on you that you were in with an excellent chance of promotion last season?

Certainly not in the first half of the season, and it was strange gradual realisation that Stoke could actually make the top flight. The fact that we broke our transfer record twice in a month by signing our first £1m plus players – two centre halves – made me realise we were serious about going up. The injury in the first half to Andy Griffin resulted in him not playing again for Stoke that season (his lack of pace exposed the defence) and our season turned around – winning the second half 2-1 (Lawrence netting a sublime winner) then a good run in and I was convinced going in to the last two games that we were going up.
The club hasn’t got star players and makes no bones about the fact that it’s a team effort that got us up and it’s a team effort that will keep us there. Our entire side costs less than quite a few sides have spent on one player, but stay up this year and another £35-50m will be added to the coffers.

What about the signings each club have made?

We were late coming into the transfer market, mainly because were are not a pull. Like Sunderland the area isn’t popluar with multi millionaire signings so we have to make do with players that are happy with £15-25k a week. How do they manage? The six footers we have signed (all of the summer signings) have added to the Championship side that started the first game of the season. The better quality is coming through. Abdy Faye from Newcastle (sorry) has been excellent, Danny Higginbottom back from you guys is performing well enough as a centre half playing left back, Dave Kitson is playing too deep for us to take advantage of his talent and the wide players we tried to sign in the summer, Pennant and Ledley, didn’t come which leaves Kitson marooned and he has yet to score.
But patience and a couple of signings will see Kitson, previously a goal every other game player, come good. If not our record signing – £4.75m plus £750k if we stay up – will be leaving. Amdy Faye, Sonko, and Olafinjana have played their parts. Thomas Sorensen has added experience, but this scribe would have liked to have seen Fulop in between the sticks for the Potters. Roy Keane on the other hand has been splashing the cash: Cisse and Malbranque appear good signings – and maybe a few years in the top flight will enable Stoke to buy such players. However the sum of the Stoke team is far greater than the sum of its parts.

What is your best memory as a Stoke supporter?

Notts County away in 78-79 an 88th minute winner seeing Stoke promoted in third spot. A memorable pitch invasion. 84-85 Stoke twice went 10 straight defeats and only managed three wins out of 42 all season. Having beaten Sheff Weds in the second match we went three months without a win, and were 0-1 down at home to Man Utd on Boxing Day, we won 2-1 – imagine Sunderland beating Newcastle in such circumstances and you’ll know how I feel.
More recently we were 1-2 down from the home leg in the semi final play offs v Cardiff City in 01-02, and having lost the previous four semi final play-offs, the omens didn’t look good. Stoke were 0-0 at Ninian Park, and the Cardiff pa announcer asked everyone to stay off the pitch as the Cardiff team would come round to do a lap of honour after the game! Cue Stoke’s first goal – the 665 fans went mental – and when I’d been peeled off the roof of the stand, I couldn’t speak, extra time could only go one way and the winner went in off Soulymane’s backside between the legs of ex Stokie Graham Kavangh, I am still emotional about it now, football doesn’t get much better. Stoke’s 93rd minute winer in their opening home game v Aston Villa in the Premiership was pretty damn good too.

Do you regard Leicester, Derby or anyone else much as we regard Newcastle? Or are you more grown-up about such things?

Anyone under 30 hates the [Port] Vale, anyone over 35 hates Man Utd the same way as you hate the Geordies, sadly being 23 years away has meant this bigotry has been allowed to wane and not be passed on. Still Mark Stein’s double in the League Cup 2-1 win over Man Utd in 93 still lives on in the memory. Leicester and Derby are not on the radar.

What memories or thought do you have about players and/or management linked to both clubs?

Durban great, Quiterall just that, Liam has the potential to be a premiership star, Higginbottom very welcome back at the club, Rory what a great throw in – four assists so far this season (from the touchline) and he netted the winner last Saturday v Spurs, Kenwyne Jones was loaned but didn’t really impress at Stoke but he looks good now though, Wright wasn’t good enough (where is he now).
The other link with out clubs is that every time we have been relegated since 1953 from the top flight, Sunderland have come down with us – 76-77 and 84-85. Interestingly Spurs also joined Stoke and Sunderland in being relegated in 1977. So you Mackems should hope we don’t go down.

Are you old enough to have seen Sir Stanley play, for Stoke or afterwards?

Never saw Stan play but did meet him once – he gave me a badge! I was at his funeral; 100,000 turned out in Stoke to see off the man never booked in his entire career, a true great.

What do you make of the poor reputation of (some) Stoke supporters? Justified or utterly exaggerated?

I assume you are referring to our hooligan problem, sadly we are much maligned, but since the introduction of our ID scheme five or six years ago the problem has largely gone away. The club has announced this is to be suspended, and the first game where unvetted supportors can attend will be Newcastle Utd away in December; hopefully the lessons will have been learned by our support. It will give us back more fans who will vocally back their team though.

What do you make of the big takeovers, such as Man City and, before them, Chelsea, Man Utd, Fulham and QPR? Would you have liked the Abu Dhabi deal for Stoke?

No, happy not to leverage debt to buy our club or be taken over by others who want profit. Our much pilloried chairman Peter Coates is a man reborn after 20 years of underinvesting; the man who owns Bet365 is now 70 and genuinely seems to want to spend his money on the team, and is backing Tony Pulis, so long may it last. Good luck to Man City, and if helps put one over Man Utd then all well and good.

Club vs country. Who wins for you?

I am a regular traveller to watch England, having seen them away over 40-50 times and every home game since they moved back to Wembley. Tricky one because I have missed a league game in the past, Bournemouth at home, when England were losing in Sweden. But now I would also take Stoke over England – the problem doesn’t arise these days as I can do both. A few years back, 92-93, a few Stoke fans missed our promotion clinching game v Plymouth (1-0 win, Gleghorn) as England faced Holland in a World Cup match. But I would never miss an important Stoke match for any England game.

Will you be there on Wednesday?

Yes I’ll be there – I am a season ticket holder now residing in the Cotswolds, we (the family) are going the the Lake District for the week so I will be travelling to the game from the NorthWest.

Julian Boodell on Julian Boodell:

I am 45, a recruitment consultant and still manage to go to most home games (I should be able to do them all this season and all but one or two away – my six-year-old son has started travelling with me and my five-year-old daughter also comes occasionally. I once went 16 years without missing a home game and five without missing a home or away game (sadly for me that included watching all 42 games in 84-85 (three wins five draws and 35 defeats!). Gloryhunting is obviously my life. The kids are aware we “always beat West Brom” and we have a good friend who is a London based Mackem who brings tales of Sunderland on a regular basis.

My first game was in 1967, a 3-2 win over Leicester City with Terry Conroy making his debut. I’ve been a season ticket holder since 1977 and seen Stoke on over a 100 different league grounds – a real gloryhunter whose watched Stoke through thin and thinner. Now based in the Cotswolds having moved from Kent via London to be closer to what really matters. We now have a burgeoning Supporters’ Club in the South West so if you would like to join us to follow Stoke home and away just click on the South West Stokies website.

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