Let’s be honest. We love Stoke City for beating the Mags this week, allowing us to start the weekend out of the bottom three. We haven’t always loved them. It had something to do with the way Stoke seemed to cling on to the hooligan age longer than most, the muscular nature of Tony Pulis’s approach to goalmouth tactics (at either end) and the neanderthal hounding of Aaron Ramsey. But Salut! Sunderland has broadly enjoyed excellent rapport with Stoke fans willing to answer our Who are You? questions and, lo and behold, City are all of a sudden a decent side playing good, winning football.
Pete Sixsmith was brilliant on BBC Radio Newcastle this week, hailing the virtues of Stoke and saying, more or less, how nice it must be to wake up as a Stoke supporter instead of enduring SAFC’S annual assault on our collective blood pressure. Here he explains why …
Oh to be a Potter.
A number of years ago, some of our less enlightened fans would serenade Stoke City fans with a charmless little ditty that went (to the tune of the refrain from Sloop John B);
Your club is a joke,
Your club is a joke,
All our cr** players,
We sell them to Stoke
When you consider that they had the likes of Dean Whitehead, Danny Collins, Danny Higginbotham and Rory Delap in their line up, they may have had a point.
But not now. The club that plays at the top of a hill next to the municipal incinerator is a fine example of how to be comfortable in your own skin and how to make a success of the Premier League.
While “bigger” clubs like ourselves, Aston Villa and them from up the road languish in the relegation places and desperately attempt to cling on to their place at the top table of English football, albeit as far away from the principal diners as it is possible to be, City are upwardly mobile and looking to eat with the big boys rather than accept the smaller portions at the far end of the table.
The players mentioned above gave Stoke sterling service but Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes have replaced them gradually, improving each transfer window.
Players like Matthew Etherington and Jonathan Walters, unheralded at their previous clubs, came in and did the business while we were frittering away huge sums of money on the likes of Danny Graham, Matt Kilgallon, Craig Gardener and Ji Dong-Won.
They are owned by Stoke supporters in the form of the Coates family, owners of Bet 365 – the ones that use Ray Winstone’s head and sometimes the rest of his body to literally shout the odds.
Peter Coates has invested a huge amount of money in the club he has always supported and is about to get most of it back, unless City lose all of their remaining games and plunge down the leagues. Even then, we would need to make up 15 points to catch them, so they look safe.
How is it that a club that for many years was thought of as one step away from kick and rush and which appeared to employ players based on size rather than quality, has become a middling member of the self-styled best league in the world?
The key word is stability. No regular managerial changes, an owner who backs rather than sacks his managers – at least this time round – and support that has no delusions of grandeur but who realise that progress is gradual not immediate.
How much of that applies to Sunderland AFC? We sack managers with regular monotony, make appointments which give us a quick fix but which have no real appearance of permanence and an owner who has no back story relating to Sunderland AFC. Add to that a feeling that we are really one of the big clubs in English football from many fans (including this one at times) and you have the antithesis of Stoke City.
I wish them well for the rest of the season (apart from when they play us of course).
They need to win one of the cups or take the league by storm as Leicester City have done.
I haven’t always spoken well of them previously, but they seem to have turned their backs on the immediate past and have moved on. Bojan, Shaqiri, Imbula, Arnautovic and Diouf look better signings than Matthews, Lens, Kaboul and Jones.
When we sacked Bruce, the job was between O’Neill and Hughes. My head said Hughes and my heart said O’Neill. Follow the brain rather than the emotions is the message here.