What is it about Stoke City fans? Suffering from altitude sickness on reaching the Premier? Worried that putting head above parapet will finally get that door broken down so they can be arrested for murdering poor Delilah? Hate any other team that plays in red and white stripes? Just hate everyone?
Whatever the reason, they show little interest in engaging in friendly banter with Salut! Sunderland. The response to our approaches varies:
* I’m off on a cruise and far, far too busy anyway
* Yeah ok. How much you going to pay me. My paypal address is available to you for a tenna
* F*** off you twat
We are being unfair, but only just. Julian Boodell wrote a long, detailed and much appreciated preview of the game at the Britannia earlier in the season. The cruiser was instrumental in getting him to do it, though the tone of the latest rejection suggests she wishes to receive no further approaches should we still be playing each other next season.
But then Stoke City have a long history of stonewalling. They invented the boring, defensive, all we want is a point game – or so it seemed to Pete and me back in 1963, when they came to Roker Park for a draw and got it (our dropped point making them Division 2 champions and keeping us down).
So yes, that was the long way of saying we could entice no Stoke fan to preview the game at the SoL on Saturday. Julian and the cruiser did try to find us one fellow fan apiece, without luck, and Julian offered this cheering thought: “Happy to do it next season if our paths cross! I think we will both be in the Prem. West Brom Pompey and The Bar codes to go down.”
Deprived of a preview for the first time since this series was launched in the middle of last season, Salut! Sunderland has chosen to wind the clock back to 2001. Below you will find a little of the excellent article Stephen Foster, author of She Stood There Laughing and pictured above, wrote in The Guardian about his lifelong support of what were then a bunch of hopeless losers:
In the premier league of parental fears – activities you hope your child won’t get involved in – there’s the top-of-the-table stuff: crack-dealing, for example, or forming an internet relationship with someone called Danny from California. Next come the first division dreads: finding them buying Hear’Say records (what is that apostrophe for?), or dressing like H from Steps. Bookable offences, both. And then there is the second division: supporting a second division football team. Especially a second division football team whose home ground is 200 miles from your son’s home ground in Norwich. Especially if this second (old third) division team is Stoke City.
It’s possible that there’s a worse professional football team to support, but I doubt there is. At Stoke, they excel in the art of underachievement. One of the founding members of the football league, they’ve won a major title (if you can call the League Cup major) once in their entire history.
I’ve carefully monitored Jack’s drug habits (an addiction to Ribena and a strange, new, Italian-sounding supersweet) and his internet usage (exclusively skateboarding sites), and, to his credit, he laughed his head off at Popstars, but I was completely unprepared for the red-card offence which he was about to commit – and ashamed that it happened with help from his dad.
I own up: I started it. I took him to Stoke’s new Britannia Stadium for the Worthington Cup game against Liverpool. It was the first match we went to this season, just making the kick off after the 200 miles, racing from the new Britannia wasteland car park to the new ground past the new municipal incinerator. We watched (Jack watched; I cried into my shirt) the worst home defeat Stoke has suffered in 137 years.
It might have put some boys off. Not Jack. While I was sulking in the club shop at the end of the game, Jack made an astonishing request: “I want the away strip, dad, it’s lush, isn’t it?”
“Well,” I said, drying my eyes, “It’s an unusual shade of purple, I suppose.”
What logic might he be employing here, I was thinking – that they must play better when they play away?
Perhaps it was the effect of the dye they put in the mushy peas; or the way the scoreboard refused to give up (even though the Stoke players clearly had), displaying 9-0, when everyone in the crowd knew it should have been only eight. (Liverpool just walked the goals in, and they didn’t even bother playing Heskey or Owen.) Whatever effect the Britannia Stadium had on Jack, it was the exact opposite to the effect it had on me.
A long time ago, when we played at the old Victoria Ground, we used to be good. I lived my first 18 years in Stoke: my blood runs in red and white stripes; I support Stoke City despite everything they haven’t managed to achieve since I was less than Jack’s age, despite the disappointments and the interminable prayers to St Jude to get them in the play-offs. Not automatic promotion, you understand, just the play-offs. Never in my wildest dreams (the ones where I score the winner in the FA Cup Final, for Stoke) did I think it would happen to my own son. I pleaded.
“Jack, you’re young. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. Think about your future. Think about your children’s future. Oh, if only that one had been put to me. Don’t do it, my son. Just don’t do it.”
In fact, this isn’t the worst of it: Jack’s mate, Other Jack, has been to a game with us (1-1 vs Port Vale) and now he is a supporter, too. I’ve corrupted a complete innocent who doesn’t even belong to me. It’s all my fault. Well, mine and Tom Jones’s. Delilah is the song we Stoke fans sing to cheer ourselves up, and to celebrate goals (so it’s more or less exclusively used for cheering ourselves up): “She stood there laughing …” It’s either that or crying, isn’t it? Which is something I do plenty of.
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