Stoke City Who are You?: Denis Smith ‘proud to have managed SAFC’

Denis Smith: two Sunderland promotions cannot be bad
Denis Smith: two Sunderland promotions cannot be bad

Salut! Sunderland likes occasionally to pull an unexpected gem from the ‘Who are You?’ hat. The ‘ordinary’ fans are just as good, often better, but it’s heartening from time to time to have celeb supporters, former players, noted authors, church leaders, broadcasters and, of course, former managers. Denis Smith never played for Sunderland but he can look back with pride on his achievements as our manager. He’s also Stoke City through and through; we must thank John Ruggiero, secretary of SCOBA, the Stoke City former players’ association (find it at Twitter:, for persuading him to enter so gamely into the spirit of the series. Let’s hope his prediction of points plural for SAFC comes true. Pete Sixsmith joined M Salut in conjuring the questions …

Colin Randall: After the humiliation of Sunderland’s descent into Division Three, your first season as manager was in many ways exhilarating, top or near the top for all but a short early spell. What are your most prized memories of the season?

Denis: My most prized memory of my first season was the pairing of Gates and Gabbiadini and then winning the game at Port Vale which got us promotion and, as a Stoke City fan, winning at Port Vale is always a joy! Also it meant I didn’t have to pay York City £10k. which I would have had to do if we had not got promotion.

Pete Sixsmith: Given that Stoke City is the club you supported and played for, how do you explain their current situation as a comfortable, middle ranking Premier League club compared to Sunderland’s status as perpetual relegation candidates?

The reason I think is having a Chairman who understands the game inside out and makes good managerial appointments based on fact not what’s in the press.

Jake: 'here we go again'
Jake: ‘here we go again’

Sixer: In your time at Sunderland, who do you see as your best signing? (Marco for me).

Marco is the obvious answer as he and Gates were a great partnership. John McPhail didn’t do too bad!! Kevin Ball has been a great servant to Sunderland and it is good to see Paul Bracewell back at the club.

Sixer: What is your analysis of why Sunderland failed to build on the “gift” promotion of 1990?

I think it was down to the right decision by Bob Murray to build a new stadium therefore leaving less money to spend on players.

Sixer: You had a reputation as a hard tackling centre half. What do you think about the way that referees and football authorities judge tackles now? How long would you have lasted in the modern game?

I would have been sent off in the warm up!!!

CR (and all remaining questions):I believe you are Stoke born and bred. How much pleasure do you get from seeing them more than holding their own in the top flight and how big a regret is it that you never managed them?

I am delighted having watch Stoke City from being a boy to see them in the position they are today. I was offered the job of managing them in the past but my wife Kate talked me out of it because it would have been too painful when I was inevitably sacked.

What do you make of the current chairman/managership team of Peter Coates and Mark Hughes?

Peter Coates is the chairman every manager dreams about and Mark Hughes is repaying him for his faith in him.

You could be the next No 12. A Stoke winner would get a mug suited to his or her tastes
You could be the next No 12. A Stoke winner would get a mug suited to his or her tastes
Salut! Sunderland’s tireless and unpaid illustrator Jake was the winner of our ‘Who are You?’ Guess Who competition, correctly suggesting that Denis was the man with connection to both clubs chosen for this week’s interview. Guess the score at and – whoever you support – you may win one, too.

Who in the current squad impresses you most and where is there a serious need for strengthening?

I think Bojan has been a great signing it is a shame he is injured and will be out for the rest of the season. It is not my job to tell Mark where he needs to strengthen.

Name the best players you have seen or played with in Stoke colours (I imagine you must have seen Sir Stanley when you were a boy)?

I was in the crowd when Sir Stan came back and was fortunate to play with the likes of Banks, Greenhough and Hudson.

And putting diplomacy to one side, who should never have been allowed anywhere near the colours?

I am sorry I can’t answer this question.

Your own highs and lows as player, manager and – if you like – supporter?

The high as a player was winning the League Cup in 1972 beating Chelsea. As a manager winning promotion at York, Sunderland, Oxford and Wrexham. As a supporter Stoke’s promotion to the top division in 1962-63 and again in 2007-08.

We have campaigned relentlessly on these pages against diving and other forms of cheating. Do you feel too much is made of it or is it right to keep trying to stamp it out?

I think you are right to keep trying to stamp it out.

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What single step should Stoke City or the football authorities generally take to improve the game or the matchday experience of ordinary supporters?

Stoke do well in keeping the match day prices down and helping with the away travel. Keeping the cost down for supporters is important and so are away fans who add greatly to the atmosphere during games.

Harry Redknapp said recently Sunderland were the worst team in the Premier. Do you feel Dick Advocaat will steer us out of danger?

It is not going to be easy for Sunderland but I believe there are 3 teams who are in more danger so keep your fingers crossed.

Has the club acted unwisely with all the managerial changes of recent seasons?

I never like it when managers are continually sacked at a club if this is happening too often you need to look elsewhere for the reason.

Which of the Sunderland old boys impressed you after moving to Stoke (I am thinking of Sorensen, Lawrence, Higginbotham, Collins, Whitehead, Kenwyne, Delap, Bardsley)?

They have all played their part in helping establish Stoke in the Premier League. Rory Delap will go down in Stoke history not just for his long throws but also for his great work with local charities.

Do you look back on your time in the North East as a happy period of your life and career?

Yes I look back on my time in the North East with great fondness both for myself and my family. In my career I am extremely proud to have managed such a great club. The people of the North East made myself and my family feel at home.

Who do you consider the best and worst referees in the Premier at present?

As I work as a match delegate for the Premier League and have to report on the referees it is a question I think I should not answer.

Will you be at the Stoke vs SAFC game and what will be the score?

I am afraid I will not be at the game as I am the match delegate at West Brom v Liverpool on that afternoon, I am sorry to say. My prediction of the score is that Stoke have a habit this season of losing to teams who you don’t expect them to, so this is where Sunderland may pick up unexpected points.

Jake: 'welcome back. Denis'
Jake: ‘welcome back. Denis’
Denis Smith on himself: I am still very much involved in the game since I retired from management. I work for Stoke as a mentor to the young players in the Academy. As I have mentioned before I am a match delegate for the Premier League. I also work on the independent panel for the FA on disciplinary matters and works permits. I am president of SCOBA (Stoke City Old Boys, the former players’ association: you can find it on Twitter at and Facebook at So as you can see I am kept very busy.

Interview: Pete Sixsmith/Colin Randall

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6 thoughts on “Stoke City Who are You?: Denis Smith ‘proud to have managed SAFC’”

  1. Some very diplomatic answers but he hits the nail right on the head. Stoke have a chairman who understands football. We don’t .

  2. It takes something special to get a smile out of us, given our predicament but reading this WAY certainly got a grin on my old boat.

    Denis Smith; my favourite Sunderland manager of all time by a country mile and the rest. I’ve for a long while felt that Denis should have been employed as our Senior scout because of his ability to spot good players. I’m pleased to see that he is involved with the development of young players at Stoke though. I recently watched a youtube video of Kieron Brady”s display against West Ham in the 3-2 win which Denis introduced. Back then we all regarded Denis as the battle scarred no nonsense centre half that indeed he was. He looks just like a youngster on that clip!

    Thanks for coming on our site and brightening our day Denis. You were right about John McPhail as well. 15 goals in a season for a centre half. Are you reading this Fletcher? We all have wonderful memories of your time with us Denis. All the best to you and yours!

  3. I think Denis was the most approachable manager we’ve ever had, he was a perfect fit for us at our lowest point and we played some entertaining stuff under him.

    I would also like to add John Kay was one of his best buys, what a bargain.

    I would have loved to have seen Marco play alongside John Byrne.

  4. I met Denis and Marco at a York Supporters talk-in a good few years ago. A top-class bloke who had genuine affection for Sunderland.

  5. Oh for another Denis Smith to clear up this mess we seem to be perpetually in these days . Some insightful points here that are pertinent to our predicament .Stoke are doing well because they have a chairman who understands the game through and through and who makes sensible managerial appointments . Also when a team repeatedly sacks its managers , there are problems elsewhere in the club .Basically SAFC is getting it wrong from the top downwards .

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