South West Stokies can talk for England. Before the league cup game, we had Mike Alderson, the branch chairman, with some fascinating thoughts on all matters Stoke City that brought him a mixed response on a Potters’ message board (see below). The lines will be buzzing again when they see that our volunteer for the Premier game, Dave Shenton*, the branch travel officer, largely shares Mike’s views on Tony Pulis’s reign. Maybe one of the Oatcake critics will offer to chip in for the return league game (last time I tried to find a candidate there, I was invited to eff off). But let’s hear from Dave. Prepare for another great read with passing digs at Joey Barton, the Mags and Jack Wilshere …
Salut! Sunderland: Your victory in the Capital One Cup game divided our fans between those who felt we were unlucky and others who saw it coming and now resign themselves to another long, tough season. Or could it be Stoke have just improved a lot and should no longer be considered “a club in or around our zone” as one pal put it. You tell me
Dave: I’m not going to comment on the individual game as I neither attended nor saw significant highlights. Anyway it’s hard to judge the implications of a single match in which both sides made substantial changes to their teams. Stoke did improve last campaign, particularly post January, whereas Sunderland seem to have been hovering in or around the bottom three for two seasons now. We finished a sizeable 12 points clear of the Mackems last season and three the season before which is the evidence to back up the divergence of the two clubs in recent years. At the minute we’re better than Sunderland overall. I’d say we’re towards the top of the middle zone of the division and Sunderland are towards the top of the bottom zone. In summary, I certainly don’t think Sunderland fans should assume that they’ll beat Stoke so I guess to a certain extent your pal is right.
Your friend Mike Alderson, who took this hot seat for that game, got a lot of flak at the Oatcake Stoke fan site for criticising Pulis while praising Hughes. Are you relieved, too, to have moved on from Pulis’s effective but hard-on-the-eye style?
Yes I am. Our games are more entertaining and we’re still getting good results with some classy players on show. In particular we are miles more adventurous in away games. I differ from Mike though in that I will heap credit on what Tony Pulis achieved for Stoke City. Under his guidance, I saw my club promoted to the Premier League, establish ourselves there, reach an FA Cup final for the first time ever and watch it play in Europe. I honestly thought I’d never see any of these things happen in my lifetime. He is arguably the most successful manager in the club’s history though certainly not the most popular. Having said all that I was pleased he went – in fact I thought he should have gone a season earlier. I felt he had taken the club as far as he could (which was a hell of a long way). The club owners had stated they wanted to see the team change the style of play and become self-sustainable. Pulis didn’t seem to buy into this strategy evidenced by his seemingly total disdain for the Academy and the purchase of expensive players with little or no resale value. He is an old-school manager who wants total control of all player development and purchasing. Nothing in particular wrong with that ethos but it just doesn’t fit in with modern cash-dominated football.
Stoke did have a reputation for intimidatory, negative football and it wasn’t just the supposed purists among Arsenal fans doing the criticising. Wholly unfair or a germ of truth?
Negative? In away games yes. It frustrated the hell out of me how we played away and didn’t look to win games. Acceptable in the first two or three seasons but we never seemed to look to change our strategy. Some of our home performances were great though, full of energy, attacking wingers, all backed up by a partisan home crowd. We played to our strengths and reaped the rewards.
Intimidatory? If by this you mean strong and aggressive within the laws of the game with a hostile home crowd then yes I’m inclined to agree. If you mean dirty, cheating hatchet men which we were often accused of, then absolute rubbish.
Some of the stuff said about Stoke is evidence that if a lie is told enough times then it becomes a truth such as “Chris Smalling deserves an England call up” or “Jack Wilshere is a world class player” or “Joey Barton is intelligent” or “Newcastle are a big club”. The myth that we were a vicious, brutal side was perpetuated mainly by the managers and fans of sides we’d beaten. Chief protagonist was Arsene Wenger, who regularly blarted about beatings at the Britannia Stadium, claiming we were a rugby team and quite pathetically suggesting throw-ins should be banned as his defenders couldn’t deal with them. Someone should remind Wenger that when his club was successful, and by successful I mean winning League Titles and not finishing fourth, his side was full of aggressive hard-tackling players such as Viera, Grimandi, Bergkamp, Adams, Petit etc. His ramblings are just plain old-fashioned sour grapes. If you want to see a genuinely viscious tackle, watch the one Fabregas commited on Danny Pugh towards the end of the game where Ramsey broke his leg.
One of my favourite things to read at the time on messageboards was “They won but how can they watch this every week?”. Well quite easily lads, if we did actually win every week. Often these comments would come from fans of such bastions of total football as West Ham, Wigan and dare I say it Sunderland.
And now you’ve made quite a bright start to the season. Has Hughes got the right mix or do you still see it as a work in progress?
The start is much brighter now we’ve beaten Newcastle (Monday night). God knows what would have happened on the messageboards if we’d lost that one. We’re still a work in progress. Hughes has not worked out the relative strengths and weaknesses of his players yet and how individuals gel together. These days I think changing the matchday squad depending on the opposition is imperative. Look how Mourinho does it. We are not scoring enough goals, though we are creating decent chances, so the conversion ratio needs improvement. The defence has looked a little disorganised, though we haven’t conceded too many goals. We are, I feel though, headed in the right direction.
See also: Guess the Score as Sunderland seek to make up for that league cup defeat by Stoke City: https://safc.blog/2014/10/sunderland-vs-stoke-city-guess-the-score-rollover-making-amends/
You got some decent service out of some of our former players – Sorensen, Whitehead, Jones off and on, Delap, Lawrence and Higginbotham though Collins wasn’t a hit and Bardo has just arrived. Any special thoughts on any of them?
Sorensen – Was a rock in our first couple of seasons in the Premier League. His experience and skill were a key part of the team. He’s still at the club but rarely gets seen any more as he’s been usurped by Jack Butland as second choice.
Whitehead: I liked Deano. He never did anything spectacular but did what he was told and did it well more often than not. A typical Tony Pulis player who worked very hard with unquestionable commitment to the cause.
Jones: One of the most frustrating players I’ve ever seen. He has all the attributes to be a top striker at a top club i.e. strength, skill and he can finish. Problem is he just doesn’t want it. A terrible waste of talent.
Delap: A club hero. Everyone knows about his throw-ins which were absolutely priceless in keeping us up that first season. Rory offered so much more though in his general midfield play. He was a leader by example on the park. Did (and still does) loads of work for the community. A model pro which unfortunately is all to rare these days.
Lawrence: Instrumental in our promotion season, weighing in with fifteen goals – none more important than a winner at Coventry at a time when our promotion campaign was heading straight for the rocks. Played well in our first season in the Premier League too but swiftly fell out of favour with the manager. Some incident with a dog allegedly contributed to this. Nevertheless, one of my favourite players.
Higginbotham: Another great signing (why did Sunderland get rid of all these players??). Dependable and experienced, whose leadership abilities on the pitch were hugely important. Scored the goal that took us to the FA Cup semi-final. Always seems to have something good to say about us on his radio shows these days.
Collins: Much maligned but was regularly played out of position. Personally I have no beef with him but he certainly wasn’t a success.
Bardsley: Has started well. Seems solid. Would think he will keep his place when Geoff Cameron regains fitness.
Sir Stanley Matthews and Gordon Banks are obvious contenders but who are the greatest players you have seen or wish you’d been around to see for Stoke?
Nearly all the players we’ve got are amongst the best we’ve had at the club in my days supporting them. My favourites though are:
Mark Stein – Scored loads of goals in our Auto Windscreens trophy winning season (1991/92) and our Third Division title winning team the following year. Continued the trick at a higher level before inevitably getting sold.
Wayne Biggins – Ably assisted Stein before inexplicably moving to Barnsley. Was one of my early heroes. I’ll never forgive him.
Ricardo Fuller – My favourite player to date. Could (and often did) win a game through pure natural skill. The standout player in our promotion season and early years in the Premier League. The first time I saw him was at Deepdale playing against us for Preston in a 4-3 defeat. He bossed us that day and I was delighted when Pulis signed him. He never let me down.
As most people do, I’ve picked goalscorers but notable mentions go to Vince Overson, Nigel Gleghorn, Peter Fox, Ray Wallace, John Eustace and the aformentioned Liam Lawrence. My current favourite is Peter Crouch who took about two-and-a-half years to grow on me.
Can you think of any who should have been allowed nowhere near your shirt (I fear Danny C may get a mention here)?
Dozens and dozens. Danny Collins isn’t one of them. I can put up with bad players, they don’t sign or pick themselves, but what I can’t stand is players who don’t try. I could write a book on poor players. The one I’d plump for is Keith Scott though who really couldn’t give a toss and was awful to boot. A dishonourable mention to Sammy Bangoura who played for us under Johann Boskamp. He was actually an excellent goal-scorer but had a habit of not turning up after retunring to Africa. A total waste of space and another waste of talent. Pulis off loaded him for a substantial loss when he was finally found.
Vote for Salut! Sunderland in the Football Blogging Awards: see https://safc.blog/2014/09/football-blogging-awards-make-your-yes-vote-count-for-salut-sunderland/for details
And what have been your personal highs and lows as a supporter?
Highs – The 1992/93 Division 3 Championship. Best games were a 2-1 victory at the Hawthorns in front of just under 30,000, including 9,000 Stoke fans and a sublime 2-0 away win at Rotherham on Easter Monday that put us within touching distance of the trophy. My old man wouldn’t let me go to the 2-0 win at Vale Park (never forgiven him) and I couldn’t attend the championship clinching victory v Plymouth.
The 2007/08 season of course when we got promoted to the Premier League. It was a crazy season with the lead changing hands constantly. We looked to have thrown it all away after a horror 2-1 home defeat to Palace with four games left. We were trailing 1-0 at Coventry next game at HT and should have been down further. Liam Lawrence and Ricardo Fuller inspired us to victory though and we went on to secure 7 points from out last 3 games, including a pivotal victory against Bristol City, giving us second place and promotion.
In the Prem years, the first ever win against Villa was brilliant. Beating Arsenal with two long throws was memorable, as were our first victories against Liverpool and Man Utd. The recent away win at Man City takes some beating.
The best ever moment though was the win at Ninian Park on May 1st 2002 to secure our place in the Divison 3 play-off final. We’d lost the first leg 2-1 at home and were in the dying moments of normal time. The Cardiff fans had been warned to stay off the pitch for the team’s lap of honour. However, James O’Connor scored and me and the other 650 travelling fans went absolutely mental. I was delirious through sheer ecstacy for several moments. We went on to win in extra-time and the rest is history.
The lowest point is 1998 and the first half of 1999. 1998 started with a 7-0 home reverse at home against Birmingham City after the players had all been put up for sale. Chris Kamara was bought in and oversaw a devastating fourteen game spell that yielded only one win and included horrendous defeats at Oxford and Reading (who finished bottom losing 12 of their last 13 games). Former manager Alan Durban was bought in to rescue us but we went down with a whimper in a shambolic 5-2 home defeat to also relagated Manchester City. The following season started well enough under Brian Little and we amassed 24 points from the first 9 games. The wheels fell off in spectacular fashion though and we succumbed to numerous heavy home defeats to clubs including Wrexham, Bristol Rovers and Burnley. There was an open revolt against the owners (Peter Coates in a previous tenure) and the future of the club was distinctly unsure.
Tell me about your work as travel officer of the SW Stokies. How many do you get transport to games, home or way, and from how far afield do they come?
Normally my work involves organising car shares for games and occasionally train travel. In the early Premier League days we used to regularly take a minibus to away games but ticket prices and poor form put paid to this. We did manage to take a full 50 seater coach to both the FA Cup Semi-Final and Final itself though.
Any views on Sunderland: the club the fans, the city, the region, Poyet?
I’ve only spent time in Sunderland once and it was one of the happiest places I’ve ever visited. Then again you had just beaten us to win the league and promotion to the Premier League. I’m not sure many would agree but I think our clubs, fans and cities are fairly similar. Old traditional clubs who’ve not achieved anything in decades. Sunderland and Stoke-on-Trent are both working class areas that have fallen on hard times in recent years through lack of investment and lack of ambition. I think both sets of fans are passionate about their clubs and take massive pride when they are doing well. It’s a big part of many people’s lives in both areas.
I have visited the North East and it does feel very isolated from the rest of the country, and not just because it’s miles away. The people who live up there seem to be very proud of their area and I’ve always found it a welcoming place to visit. I know a little further away there’s a lot of picturesque countryside as my aunt live in Teesdale in County Durham.
Gus Poyet did a remarkable job to keep you up in those last few games last season though he had to take some responsibility for you being there in the first place after the Di Canio debacle. I’m not convinced by him. There was talk of us getting him to replace Pulis and as it stands I’m pleased we got Hughes instead.
Give us this season’s top four in order and the bottom three.
Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool
Villa, QPR, Burnley
If not mentioned where will our club/s finish?
I think Stoke will finish top 10 again but no higher than 8th.
Sunderland will finish lower but safe from relegation. I think they’ll have an easier time than last season.
And do you envisage a good cup run or two?
I genuinely hope so. We have the player to beat any club on our day so it’s a possibility. Clubs like ours should take the cup competitions very seriously as realistically it’s our only chance of silverware.
What single step would improve the matchday experience of ordinary fans?
I would reduce ticket prices for away fans. It’s a tiny part of the home club’s turnover so would not impact them financially at all. Some of the prices out there are just exploitation.
Are diving and playacting now so commonplace that we may as well give up and write them up in the coaching manuals?
They are commonplace but we should not give up. The powers that be could reduce the problem very quickly by bringing in retrospective bans for clear acts of blatant diving and play acting. Managers would soon force players to cut it out. The governing bodies in this country would seem to prefer to deduct 20 points from a lowly non-league team for filling a form in wrong than dealing with problems at the top of the game. Swearing at the ref is another one they cut nip in the bud. Unfortunately though are greedy and spineless.
Brazil 2014: great memories or already forgotten?
Great memories, particularly of the group stages where teams played with little inhibition and many games were really competitive. The tournament got less memorable as it went on though the evisceration of Brazil by Germany is unforgettable and felt like the end of a long era. I also managed to complete my Panini sticker album. Unfortunately I think FIFA greed and the whole Qatar affair could be the beginning of the end of the World Cup and indeed international football as we know it.
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
Probably not. I may still fly up though. I think it will be tight and would be happy enough with a draw. We’re on a bit of a run though so I’ll go for a 2-1 away win.
* Dave Shenton on himself:
I was born in 1977 in Stoke and spent my first twenty or so years growing up in a town called Biddulph, just to the north of the city. Biddulph incidentally has or at least had a large contingent of Sunderland fans who moved down from the North East to work in the mines in North Staffordshire. My dad, who has supported them since 1950, took me to my first Stoke game when I was about 5. The first I definitely remember was a 2-1 victory, against Sunderland coincidentally, in 1983. I’ve been hooked ever since and continued to attend regularly while I went to university in Birmingham. I moved to Bristol in 2000 and still have a season ticket and attend most away games. In total I’ve seen the Potters play on just over 100 different grounds.
I joined the South West Supporters club back in 2002, on the coach back from THAT Ninian Park game. We organise match tickets and travel for our members and regular social gatherings – our next will be at the Southampton away game on October 25th. We have about 40 members at the moment, most of whom have some connection to S-O-T but some have none whatsoever and support the club for a variety of reasons. I often find it mind-boggling that someone would choose to support Stoke!
Interview: Colin Randall