The Stoke City ‘Who are You?’: a certain swagger

This week’s “Who are You?” is dedicated to the memory of Stephen Foster (pictured), whose books on supporting Stoke City –
She Stood There Laughing and And She Laughed No More** – are seen by many as being among the finest written about football. Tragically, having been the subject of one “Who Are You?” interview and offered to make it an annual event as long as our clubs remained in the same division, he died in June, aged just 48. RIP Stephen.

Richard Hulme* was one of the Stoke City supporters who left comments here after we published a tribute to Stephen. The son of a man who nearly played for City, he readily agreed to try to fill Stephen’s giant-sized boots – and has done a grand job. It is a long read, displaying all the new-found swagger of the Stoke fan, but well worth the effort ahead of a night when we must hope Dynamo Kiev leave his team too shattered to threaten at the SoL on Sunday …

Right, tell us what Abbey Clancy will find to like about Stoke given how resistant she allegedly is to letting Peter Crouch anywhere near Sunderland

I guess it’s nearer to Liverpool than Sunderland is! They will no doubt find a suitable mansion somewhere in leafy Cheshire, maybe with Roy Keane for a neighbour.
Probably the most important thing for Abbey to learn is that Stoke is NOT the city centre, and Stoke TOWN centre is a bit grim! She needs to get “up ‘anley duck” for all the shops. (Hanley is the City Centre of Stoke on Trent, as I am sure you know. It’s a bit like Newcastle being the City Centre of the North East…oops!) Just north of Hanley is our own Newcastle (under Lyme) so she might actually think that she IS in Sunderland!?
Local attractions include Alton Towers (world famous), Trentham Gardens, Water World, Mow Cop (not really sure what that is!) and numerous Oatcake shops. Sadly, with Abbey being such a skinny bint I can’t see her queuing up for Bacon ‘n’ Cheese Oatcakes on a Saturday morning; she may never know what she is missing!

By common consent, Stoke had a good transfer window. What were the key purchases and did Tony Pulis get anything wrong?

Tony Pulis was like the M&S shopper waiting for the end of day markdowns, and he got some real bargains. Many suspect that the two freebies will prove the best buys, but I think Crouch is very under rated and will do us a good job. This policy does sometimes mean you miss out on some of the tastier morsels and I would suggest that paying full marked price for Scott Parker, or someone similar, would have been a decent piece of business. Our midfield options remain pretty limited with like-for-like being the order of the day.
It has to be said that Pulis has got more “game time” out of Woodgate in the first month than ‘arry managed in over 2 years! So the early signs are promising. I write this and “Woody” misses the Liverpool game, doh!
In contrast, Steve Bruce brought to mind the Co-Op shopper who has heard it’s going to snow and feels the need to stock up on all the essentials (bread, milk, soup etc.) and even though the snow didn’t arrive he couldn’t help but stop off at Aldi on the way home and pick up another loaf (Bendtner). Where will he fit them all in? Still, after Saturday’s shenanigans there is now one extra first team spot. Where has Gyan gan?

How does that leave your various Sunderland exiles – still room for Kenwyne, I imagine, but what of all the others?

Looking at the 25 man squad that has been named there is no place for your former “Player of the Season” Danny Collins and few Stoke fans will be shedding tears. It is a commonly held belief in these parts that Sunderland fans contrived this award just to get him off the books; we certainly haven’t seen anything to convince us otherwise. Shame really ‘cos I always want our players to do well and Danny has never “hidden” on the field, his only absence being from the flank as his winger takes advantage of his penchant for playing “narrow”. Still, if you put centre backs at full back….

Danny Higginbotham IS in the 25 man squad despite still being out injured and Rory was always a shoe-in. No, NOT just because of that throw, he is also regularly voted the player with the nicest legs! To be fair, he is also one of the fittest in the squad, except at the moment he is injured, but, well, you know what I mean.
Dean Whiteheads’ position hasn’t been 100% assured for a while now, and the presence of Palacios will undoubtedly add to the competition. However, Dean’s energy is sure to see him make his share of starts.
Liam Lawrence is long gone, but not forgotten, and Thomas Sorensen has stayed with us despite many rumours to the contrary. All teams need two top keepers but how do you keep them happy? Hopefully he will get his chance in the cup competitions and Europe as he is still a top keeper and top bloke.

Pulis is generally credited with doing a fine job at Stoke, but non Stoke supporters – ours included, thinking back to the game at the Britannia last season – complain about the muscular approach to games. Is the criticism at least partly fair and do you seen your style evolving?

Sorry, were you at a different game!? Personally I DON’T think the criticism is fair. Stoke players TACKLE whereas teams like Arsenal don’t know how to and end up stamping and going over the top.
The introduction of Etherington and Pennant, plus the new signings, I believe IS a sign that our team, and game plan, is moving forward and, in any case, you don’t score 5 goals in a Wembley semi without having a bit of ability, do you?
Anyway, “we’re Stoke City; we’ll play how we want”. A purist might prefer us to lose 3-2 in a ‘classic’ but I am quite happy to go to Spurs and see us nick it in the 93rd minute having been outplayed for the previous 92.

What does it mean to you to have not only established yourselves in the Premier, so far as clubs outside the Big Four/Five/Six can do so, but also won a trophy and got into Europe?

Winning the trophy was amazing, sadly it didn’t quite happen, although morally we won the FA Cup as Man City fielded players who cost many more millions than most clubs can afford. (This was an inexplicable slip, somehow thinking of the 5-0 vs Bolton as the final not the semi – ed)

Getting into Europe was a “magnificent achievement for this football club” (copyright A Pulis esquire) but, for me, and I guess many Stokies the worry is that all these extra games will create their own problems. At West Brom the team looked tired, and it was only our 3rd league game of the season! I keep thinking back to how it affected Fulham and, like us, they had a pretty small squad. Still, 4 matches played, 4 wins and the prospect of at least 6 more Europa League games certainly seems to have caught the imagination of the Stoke support with near sell-out crowds for the home legs and very creditable away followings.

And what, hand on heart, is the limit of your realistic ambitions for the club?

Champions League (well we are 4th!… at the moment)…oh, sorry, you want an honest answer. Well, first port of call would be to stop looking over our shoulders to see how close we are to the bottom 3. I know the pundits have stopped tipping us for relegation but as a football fan (especially a Stoke fan) it is always getting to those 40 points that are our primary target each and every season. Maybe we have been listening to our manager too much.
A decent run in the Europa League, but not at the expense of Premier League “comfort” and maybe go one step beyond last term and actually collect the trophy you inadvertently attributed to us in the previous question (unless you have edited the question of course!!). FA Cup or Carling Cup, I don’t mind. Just to return to Wembley and come out as winners would be a great feeling. Have you been to the new Wembley with Sunderland? No? Oh well.
Progress in the top flight would see us finish in the top 10 and maybe, just maybe, our football would get the credit it deserves rather than being “labelled” as long ball and strong arm. Granted we may have to improve just a tad too, but that is mainly to stop the whining from some of our OWN fans!

What have been the high and lows of supporting the club so far?

You’re a cruel man! Making me think about all the “lows”, and there have been so many. My personal low was watching the team “give up” against Birmingham City in our early days at the Brittania. It wasn’t the losing, or even the score-line (Blues got 7), not even the fact that it was against the hated Blue noses. No, it was the manner of the capitulation and the obvious lack of pride from so many of the players. Whilst many fans ran on to the pitch at the end, and even tried to storm the boardroom, I sat quietly in my seat, near to tears at having watched my heroes seemingly tell me I wasn’t “worth the effort”. That would never have happened under Tony Waddington or Lou Macari, and certainly not under Tony Pulis.
There have been a few highs too; promotion back to the top flight and two trips to Wembley last season (not that semis should be played there!). Winning the League Cup in ’72 is another obvious choice but I guess my own personal highs would be a) taking my (then) 8 year old son to his first match at the old Victoria Ground, b) going with my late father to see Santos at Stoke, Pele and all, and c) the debut of Mark Chamberlain versus Arsenal where he left the then England left back, Kenny Sansom, sprawled on his ample backside as Stoke beat the Gunners 2-0. A display of wing craft that Sir Stan himself would have been proud of, and yes, I am old enough, just, to have seen Stanley Matthews play, albeit in his testimonial game.

Who will be this season’s top four, in order, and who will go down. Where will our two clubs finish?

This is the order I gave my daughter for her sweepstake at work: Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool. Blackburn, QPR and Norwich. You can work out which are top and bottom yourself.
Stoke 10th
Sunderland 12th

Name the greatest player/s you have seen in Stoke colours – and anyone who should have been allowed nowhere near them.

Stanley Matthews (just the once), Jimmy Greenhoff, Alan Hudson, Mark Chamberlain, Mark Stein, Peter Thorne, Eric Skeels, Peter Hoekstra, Denis Smith (well there has to be at least one giant centre half in there!), Gordon Banks, John Ritchie, George Eastham, Peter Dobing, Terry Conroy, Mike Pejic, Jackie Marsh, Mike Bernard, Alan Bloor…ok you got me, this is the ’72 line up from Wembley!! I could go on (and often do) by listing all the greats that Tony Waddington picked up towards the end of their careers and got a last hurrah from, such as Dennis Violett, Jimmy McIllroy, Maurice Setters, Geoff Hurst, Jimmy Robertson…..
As for the Donkeys: Billy Whitehurst, John Tudor (ex-magpie of course!), Derek Statham, numerous loanees and a couple of dodgy Scottish goalkeepers (are there any other kind?).

I realise only older fans, maybe including your own family or circle of friends, talk about having Sir Stanley play for you regularly. Do any anecdotes stick out?

I like this one: “older fans”! You may already have noticed that I am almost(?) in that category already. Most people wax on about how Stan would glide over the glue pot surfaces, and would thrive on todays’ snooker table pitches. Others recall how certain team mates would see themselves as his “minder” should any opponent try to get too physical. My Dad recalled how he (my dad not Stan) had a trial for Stoke and Stan was “running the line” as the game was a Midland Floodlit League match against Port Vale, and the sight of a player from either side acting as liners was apparently quite common.
I met Stan a couple of times and he was always charming and friendly, with a deep seated love of Stoke City, but he did have a “darker” side which included managing the great unwashed (Port Vale). He also told Ray Kennedy he would “never make a professional footballer” so his judgement wasn’t flawless!
I started reading his autobiography (about 2 years ago) and am ashamed to say I still haven’t finished it! I blame the co-author.

What do think of Sunderland: the club, the supporters, the city, the region?

It’s a long trip but we always enjoy it, without too much success on the park.
I tend to find Sunderland fans a bit less “aggressive” and “emotional” than their more northerly brethren. A case in point was the return to Tyneside of “King Kev” prior to our FA cup replay up there a couple of years ago. A game that was attracting very little local interest suddenly became a pilgrimage and, naturally, Stoke were swept away in the euphoria…didn’t last long though did it!?
Most of my fellow Potters agree that the Stadium of Light is the best of all the “new” grounds, especially for atmosphere, and, personally, I have always loved the North East of England.

And Newcastle? Are any of your Midlands rivalries on a par with the Wear-Tyne one?

Ah, the great football derbies. United – City, Liverpool – Everton, Rangers – Celtic, Stoke – Vale (!?)
No, we have our moments, but most of our ‘local’ rivals seem to have other ‘more local’ rivals of their own. Probably the Wolves game is the tensest affair, Wolverhampton used to be in Staffordshire before the invention of the “Black Country”, and I have had to dodge many a brick outside that ground, whilst most of our vitriol is saved for the Blue noses of Birmingham where ‘70’s violence between the two sides seems to hold many memories.
Some would have you believe that Man Utd are our real rivals, but I doubt the inhabitants of Old Trafford see it that way.
Obviously I have never personally experienced a Tyne-Wear derby but judging by the reaction of my Geordie colleague it must really hurt when you lose one.

The Barton Question: what form of cheating do you most dislike, who are the worst culprits and what would you do about it – unless you feel it has become so commonplace that we have to accept it as part of the modern game?

Diving, feigning injury, snide stamping and surrounding the referee are all things that make me seethe. Culprits – Arsenal, Chelsea and Man Utd spring to mind, but no sides are truly blameless, us and you included. The sight of a referee “running away” from a horde of Chelsea (or Liverpool on Saturday) players really makes my blood boil! Stand still and wave a red card at ‘em!!
The only answer I can see would be for the FA, FIFA and UEFA “to grow a pair” and stand up to the big clubs and money men (TV) by backing the refs. I refuse to accept that it cannot be changed, but I do despair that it is not going to get better without some really serious action.

You came to this site after our tribute to the much-respected, Stoke-supporting writer Stephen Foster. Have you read his books on Stoke and, if so, what is your assessment of them?

Yes, I read them with relish. Even got a mention in “She stood there laughing” so am obviously biased. For Stoke fans they are a ‘must read’ as they evoke all the emotions associated with these shared experiences, even if not all of us shared Stephens’ views on the manager, staff and players.
It is impossible for me to review them dispassionately, being so close to everything that Stephen wrote about, but I think it is a fantastic tribute to his ability as a wordsmith that so many supporters of other teams have enjoyed them too.

What one move by the FA or Stoke City would improve the lot of the ordinary fan?

Sorting out the financial regulations. No fan wants to see his or her club go bust due to some ‘ego trip’ from a wanton chairman. At Stoke we are financially sound, but if the Coates family sold up, who knows?

Will you be at your game and what will be the score?

Yes, I shall be there, trying hard not to resent the 1pm kick off on a Sunday. OK, we are victims of our own success, but why not 3pm? Stop press: it WILL now be 3pm, so I can stop moaning.
As for the score, well, after each of our Europa group games we are away from home in our next Premier League game, 5 of these on a Sunday, starting with this one. I guess the team will fly straight to the North East from Kiev. So, with tired players, horrendous travelling across eastern Europe and not being very good away from the Brit anyway, I predict 2-0 to the home side. Failing that we could always do a “West Brom” and steal it 1-0 at the death…but I doubt it. As I say at every away game “we come more in hope than expectation”.
Oh, by the way, don’t expect a classic. As if! I fully expect our manager to set his stall out for 0-0 and, if that fails, to at least keep the score down. In that respect Stephen Foster and I would almost certainly be in agreement.

Richard Hulme on Richard Hulme: Who am I? Well, I was born to support Stoke City. Father was a tenant farmer near Leek in North Staffordshire and had been close to becoming a professional footballer having had trials both at Stoke City and Bury, but alas that dream never materialised. Leek is a hot bed of Stoke support so it was never going to be any other club for me.
My youngest was born in Cambridge but he never really stood a chance of following any other team, despite our lower league status by the time he first visited to the Victoria Ground. He assures me I am forgiven!
Most of my early years were with Stoke in the old First Division, so it is great to share this now with my son, who for so many years could only dream of what it might be like to support a top flight club.
… 47 years of watching probably explain the grey hair and cautious approach to match predictions! Whilst I hail from North Staffs, I live in Leicestershire, and work from an office near Huddersfield. I have to split my time between home and a rented cottage in the dales. What do I do? Well, it sounds quite grand, I am managing director of the UK arm of Vitakraft. In reality I am the general manager of a pet supplies business. If you have a Rabbit, Guniea Pig or Budgie, we are the people to see!!
Here’s hoping Sunday will be a good day

** Buy Stephen Foster’s books at this Amazon link.

Interview: Colin Randall

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15 thoughts on “The Stoke City ‘Who are You?’: a certain swagger”

  1. To be fair mate I have no strong opinions on it either way. It’s up to Sunderland and the FA. What I am fed up though is listening to daft accusations about my club of premeditated thuggery when the facts suggest otherwise and when we can all point at other teams’ players and say ‘look at that!’. We’ve had 4 yellow cards so far this season. We didn’t have a single player booked for dissent in the whole of last season. Other teams may not like the way we play but on the whole we do it fairly.

    I sincerely hope there are no contentious incidents at all on Sunday and we can all look back on a game in which the best team won.

  2. Jeremy

    Have a look at the disciplinary table. And point out one incident in our game last season comparable to Bardsley’s stamp. Now that’s thuggery.

    That’s all I ask, as you might say.

  3. Jeremy, I admit to being somewhat “myopic” about my own team, always have been, but I really don’t think they go out to harm the opposition. Last night we saw, predictably, Salif Diao get a yellow card after just 15 minutes (late, but not dangerous) followed by all 3 central defenders, none of the challenges were vicious, all the cards merited. Kiev also got 4 yellows yet at NO TIME did either trainer have to come on to the field. A tough game, but nowt nasty. Both sides finished the game with 11 men and, you will be happy with this, the Stoke players did a hell of a lot of running about!
    BTW guys, your kind comments have made me blush, cheers

  4. I don’t like American football, therefore Stoke don’t do it for me either. Having said that, the ends, at the moment, are justifying the means.

  5. I agree with the rest of our noble contributors here Salut. Not even a hint of swagger or arrogance. Quite the contrary, I’d say. An exceptionally good article.

    Rather predictably our visiting Potter showed signs of the hump that got Mark Eltringham flamed after his “Who are you” last season, at the mere mention that Stoke are a rather physical side,….. well actually complete bloody thugs as our game down there last year showed. I would be less critical of their violent nature if the Potters fans would just be honest enough to say. “Yep. We are, and I don’t give a shit!.” That’s all I ask.

  6. Bill Taylor says:
    September 15, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    “Really? Even on books? Ouch!! Okay, dislike on that one…”


    You must have been referring to my comment, rather than yours, because you cannot score your own.

    Thanks for that!

  7. Bill Taylor says:
    Bill Taylor says:

    September 15, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    “Possibly not as expensive as you might think. “She Stood There Laughing” seems to be out of print but you can get a good used copy from a dealer through for 15 quid and the airmail postage usually isn’t too bad.”

    I agree until you add on the Thai Import Duty (284% of original value)!!

  8. Possibly not as expensive as you might think. “She Stood There Laughing” seems to be out of print but you can get a good used copy from a dealer through for 15 quid and the airmail postage usually isn’t too bad.
    As for “And She Laughed No More,” has it (new, in stock) for just over £7 and their airmail rates aren’t bad either. See:
    Both are really good reads

  9. Bill Taylor says:
    September 15, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    “I loved Stephen Foster’s books but Richard Hulme is a very worthy successor here.”

    I must confess to not having read them but, from what I now understand, I wished I had – Obtaining them in Thailand would be difficult & ridiculously expensive!

    The latter part of your comment I, obviously, could not disagree with!

  10. I loved Stephen Foster’s books but Richard Hulme is a very worthy successor here. He might well try his hand at a book himself. No sign of cockiness; a man with his feet on the ground and a pretty realistic sense both of his club and the Premiership. I just hope his 2-0 to Sunderland forecast is equally realistic!

  11. I think “swagger” is the wrong word because it implies a certain arrogance and I read nothing that suggested that.

    He just seems like a very level headed guy who, quite rightly, is proud of what his team have achieved recently, after the dross that he has been used to watching for so many years, but still sees things objectively.

    Certainly appears that he would be a good guy to have a pint with.

    • Take the point, but swagger does not have to imply arrogance. the definition allows for a milder form, ie just being dashing and confident, not held back by timidity or hesitancy. That was how Richard came across, give or take a couple of hedged bets, and I regret we can’t exude the same confidence. But I do agree his answers have pride and wit in abundance.

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