It’s been a while since we heard from Richard Hulme*, on his own account a veteran of more than half a century as a Stoke City supporter. The wait was worth it. These are cracking replies, rich in insight, history and anecdote – even if he does think our number may be up. He could even be a Potteries incarnation of own Pete Sixsmith, Malcolm Dawson or John McCormick. Richard’s seen and heard it all – Sir Stan, stories of a young Shilton stretching himself from the banister when he feared he’d be too short for a goalie .. even an angelic side to Ryan Shawcross. But if you ever rated Kenwyne or Phil Bardsley, you might want to skip the references to them …
Salut! Sunderland: which is this season’s real Stoke City? The one that beat Chelsea and grabbed a good draw at Spurs or the one that suffered home defeats to WBA and Watford?
Richard Hulme: probably a bit of both. Our style of play is now best suited for counter attacking and we have struggled to break down packed defences, and yes, despite having 11 men against our 9, WBA were generally defensive (and pretty clueless). Watford really “did a job” on us and deserved the win. Our new players have taken some time to bed in and I doubt anyone, including the manager, knows our best starting 11.
We haven’t yet strung two halves together. We were awesome in the second half at Spurs and mullered Leicester in the first half at the Brit. Yet ended up with two 2-2 draws. Somebody is going to catch it soon, I’m sure, and our away form has been better than our home form so far. Mmm
Mark Hughes has given you two creditable ninth place finishes. What is your assessment of him and the role played by the chairman Peter Coates and the owners Bet365 and how far can Stoke realistically be taken?
There can be no doubt that Messrs Hughes and Coates have struck up a great relationship and that Sparky is doing a really good job. He has brought a massive improvement in style, and when he also ensures that there is real “energy” in the side, then we are a match for pretty much anyone. We just need to avoid the “tippy tappy” stuff!
There have been odd times when we doubted our boss, mainly every time he was linked with making an offer for Lee Cattermole! It is no secret that I, and many others, were not enamoured of Peter Coates returning to the club but over the years he has silenced even the most ardent of doubters. Maybe the extra wealth from Bet 365 (as opposed to Stadia Catering) has helped loosen the purse strings. Looking at the coming and goings of some other clubs makes us really appreciate what we have got at the moment.
I don’t think we are about to break into the Top Four any time soon but, equally, I can’t see either Mr Coates or the manager, settling for mid table security every season. With our resources, and the steady progress being shown, a European spot is, I am certain, the target for this, or next, season.
Jack Butland is an excellent keeper and you have some impressive talent throughout the squad. I could mention Shawcross, Adam, Krkic, Arnautovic and Walters but who do you feel has been doing the business?
Week in, week out, a certain Glen Whelan has been immense in our midfield. Now very much one of the senior pros at the club our Irish gem has really stepped up to the plate. Losing Steven N’Zonzi was a major blow, and we are still searching for his replacement with the likes of Adam, van Ginkel and Affelay all being tried in that role. Throughout this Whelan has been Mr Reliable, covering the park, breaking up attacks and pushing the team forward. His passing has been a revelation…we just need a couple of goals from him now. It’s no real surprise that the ROI have done so well with Glen in midfield and “Super Jonny” Walters up front!
Is Shawcross a bit of a liability or do you feel he is given an unjustly bad name?
Is this a serious question? Ryan Shawcross is probably THE best defensive centre back in England and his return recently seemed like he had never been away, just ask Diego Costa. His organisational skills bring out the best in his fellow defenders. I doubt he will add to his one England cap because he doesn’t go on 50 yard runs out of defence, but England’s loss is undoubtedly Stoke City’s gain. Any “bad name” he may have is purely down to the rantings of a sad Frenchman in N London. Even the referee on that day has now come out and admitted he only sent Ryan off because of the emotion in the game, not for anything wrong with his challenge.
A solid midfield position but as many draws and defeats as wins. Where are your remaining weaknesses?
A quick look at the table shows that we still don’t score enough goals. Playing just one up front does limit scoring opportunities I feel and if I was to have one general criticism of the players it is that they still tend to be a bit shot shy. You don’t win a raffle if you don’t buy a ticket and our stats show that we don’t but too many tickets!
Personally I hate seeing a starting 11 without Jon Walters, he gives us so much drive and energy, and defenders hate playing against him, but Diouf brings much needed pace and Bojan is a class act. So, the dilemma: can we play Arnautovic and Shaqiri together? I think Mr Hughes is still trying to work that out himself. Both like to cut in off their wings and that squeezes Bojan out. Oh the joy of having so much talent to choose from.
Also, as mentioned at the start, new players are taking time to gel. We saw that with Bojan last season, and he still isn’t fully fit, and now we have van Ginkel, Shaqiri, Joselu and Affelay all trying to acclimatise to the Premier League. I don’t really expect major activity in the transfer window as long as we can get the best from the players we have. Too many options can create its own problems.
Remind us of your highs and lows of supporting Stoke?
Working in Blyth when Spartans knocked us out of the cup was pretty low! Losing to Port Vale came pretty close too, but the capitulation to Birmingham (0-7) in our new “home”, which led to a mass pitch invasion, was probably the most upsetting. To see clearly that your footballing heroes just didn’t care…heart-breaking.
Beating Bolton 5-0 at Wembley and Liverpool 6-1 at the end of last season were both brilliant, as was the trip to Valencia in the Europa League (but not the match or result!). Having said that, celebrating on the pitch after we secured promotion to the Premier League (against Leicester ha ha) will take some beating. We had been away from the top flight too long and only we “more mature” fans could really remember when we were a fixture at that level.
And who are the greatest players you have seen – or wish you’d seen in Stoke colours?
Being an old git I have been lucky enough to see the likes of Sir Stan, Gordon Banks, Jimmy Greenhoff and Alan Hudson all wearing the famous Red & White Stripes. One thing you learn though, is that players come and go, but the club goes on. That being the case I can also claim to have seen Denis Smith, Dave Watson (you’ll remember him fondly too) Mark Stein, Mike Sheron, Rory Delap (a lovely man), Andy Wilkinson (from my home village) and now the likes of Ryan Shawcross, Jack Butland and Arnie. Naturally the real star of all of this is Neil “Nello” Baldwin, and if you haven’t yet seen Marvellous you really should.
Are there others who should have been allowed nowhere near your red and white stripes?
Plenty! Several Scottish goalkeepers, a number of “journeymen” looking for a last pay cheque (yes, Simon Stainrod, I mean you!!). The offspring of at least three managers, proving that nepotism really is blind: messrs Waddington, Macari and Pulis have all employed at least one of their sons as professional players for SCFC, none of them really deserved it.
You can add to this list a series of Icelandic internationals of dubious ability, including one who was foisted on the manager by the directors, and actually never made a start! Kenwyne Jones (hopefully the last of the series of Sunderland castoffs coming our way!) ,,, oops I forgot Phil Bardsley, but then I think Hughesy has too.
Oh, and Zay Angola, aka Jose Andrade, aka who the ******* hell are you!?
Possibly THE worst though was Vincent Pericard. Here was a man with Juventus on his CV! It turned out that Vincent was to Juventus just as Robbie Savage was to Manchester United, at least Sav. made a half decent fist of being a pro footballer, sadly Pericard did not.
In your list of greats, Sir Stanley Matthews and Peter Shilton are certain to have figured. Any first-hand or handed-down memories of their Stoke careers?
Stanley Matthews ran the line when my dad had trials for Stoke back in 1936. Sir Stan also had a hotel in Blackpool where my parents spent their honeymoon in 1949. Playing wise I only really remember his testimonial match, when he still had a spring in his step at the age of 52!
Peter Shilton never really reached the heights as a Stoke City player and it was probably a relief all round when Cloughie took him off to Forest. I used to use his dad’s transport company and got to hear about how, as a youngster, he was seen as being too short for a goalie, so he would spend hours hanging from the stair rails at home trying to “stretch” himself. Such dedication at an early age! He’s a bit boring though, isn’t he? Ironically we play Southampton next [and beat ’em – Ed], scene of Peter’s most famous indiscretion…I wonder what happened to Mary? There is another story regarding his dad’s appearance with him on This is your Life but I can’t be sure it isn’t libellous.
— Jack (@coxaathfc) November 26, 2015
Sunderland: surprised at our woeful form or did you reckon our luck had probably run out?
To be honest I’m surprised you are doing as well as you are! It must be galling for you to see the club in such a position, again. Listening to 606 on a Saturday certainly gives the impression that you Sunderland fans are not a happy bunch.
The general feeling around here is that this is going to be your season, your season to be relegated.
What are your impressions of the club – the fans, the city and region and – if not already dealt with – do you think big Sam can get us out of trouble?
Sunderland IS a big club, but maybe not as big as many of its fans would like us to believe. You have certainly under achieved for quite some time now…not unlike your “friends” from alongside the Tyne!
Could this be a double whammy for the North East? Your saving grace could just be the arrival of Big Sam. He may not be Red Adair, or even Tony Pulis, but he might just get you organised enough to beat the drop. The Stadium of Light may be a somewhat pretentious name but it IS a great ground, possibly the best of all the ‘new’ builds and so much better than our own new(ish) home.
I don’t really know the town that well, but I do have a soft spot for the region in general and have always found the people very warm and good humoured. I just try and avoid Stockton and Middlesbrough.
href=”https://safc.blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/rhulme.jpg”> Wishful thinking: Richard has a nightmare after watching SAFC 3-0 SCFC on MOTD[/caption]
Any special memories, good or bad, of games between us?
Most of my memories are of you winning, or the odd bore draw, so nothing very joyous from my point of view. I did get to see Paul Bracewell playing for you at Wembley…you lost…it was an awful game.
Even when we beat you it was marred by seeing Rory stretchered off with a broken leg (good job it wasn’t his arm!!). I would add, no blame attached to your player, just one of those things.
I also remember driving back from Sunderland after one night game (1-1) and having to stop on the A1 near Catterick so that my son could throw up…the effects of some very strong lager.
All in all, not many positives…but I live in hope.
Top four and bottom three this season? Where will our clubs finish if not mentioned?
At the top it may be interesting, for a change, as Chelsea have a mountain to climb to get back on terms. That probably leaves: Man City; Arsenal; Man Utd and mmm, a bit of a poser. I will stick my neck out and say Spurs as they seem to have sorted out their defence.
Bottom 3: Quite possibly the North East two plus Villa. If you are looking for any comfort it is that the likes of Bournemouth and Norwich just might not have the resources to get through a tough season.
As for Stoke, anything above ninth will be seen as progress, but if Sparky can find his best starting eleven then a Europa league spot, or a good cup run, or both would not be out of reach. This is the Premier League though, and Chelsea are in a relegation battle, so is anyone safe?
Diving is alive and well along with all the other forms of cheating. Is it time to stop bothering, accept it won’t go away and train our players to do it better – or should we continue to try to stamp it out?
Ah, my hobby horse! Tough retrospective punishments would make players (and managers) think twice and give refs a half decent chance of making the right decisions. MOtD can spend hours showing us how the ref got a big decision wrong yet the pundits very rarely point the finger at the real culprits…the diving cheats! I am convinced that they practise for hours in training, so why not have officials there to watch and put a stop to it?
Whilst I am in my pulpit can we have tough punishments for players who surround the ref at every
opportunity…and sanctions for the refs who don’t immediately flash yellow cards at all of them!
Just look at how the can of spray has made such a difference at free kicks to see that positive action
CAN make a difference to player behaviour. Give the ref some pepper spray or a tazer and even John Terry might think twice ?
Best ref, worst ref in the Premier?
The best ref is Mark Clattenburg who really does appear to have parked his ego at last.
Strangely I am starting to have more sympathy for refs, maybe driven by my total contempt for the antics of certain players, so for the title of worst ref I will plump for Andre Marriner who still seems to think it’s all about him. Most of the others I can forgive as, for a lot of the time, they have to try and decide between a genuine foul and a dive. Even Rowan (Martin) Atkinson seems to have improved this season.
Anyone who has to sit within 30 feet of me will tell you the above is all rubbish and I spend all the game ranting at the officials for being totally inept…but I’m trying to change.
One step the authorities should take to improve the lot of ordinary fans?
The current “issue” is “twenty’s plenty” and it’s hard not to support this bearing in mind the amount of money coming into the game, at the same time lower league clubs are facing oblivion, so why not some sort of levy on TV income and transfers that can be filtered down the pyramid?
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
Sadly I shall be missing his one due to a family engagement. As usual I expect Sunderland to win it as the Potters still have quite a charitable side to our nature and you will certainly need the points. Having said that, our counter attacking style might…might…just cause you a problem or two. Inevitably then: Score prediction (I know I said I don’t do them): SAFC 0 – 0 SCFC
* Richard Hulme on himself: Coming up to 60, I have been going to games for 52 years and was already a fan well before that. Probably explains the grey hair. Born and bred in N Staffs, I have lived in Leicestershire for the best part of 30 years so every home game is bit of a trip!
I have been a bad influence on my two children, as both are Stoke fans, and my son has had a season ticket since the age of eight (he’s nearly 30). We travel home and away, even managing the odd weekend, although we haven’t managed a weekend in Sunderland yet…maybe one day. I now have a one-year-old grand-daughter who already has her first Potters top! I have worked in sales most of my life and the company car comes in useful as 5 of us travel from Leicester for most matches.
Interview: Colin Randall