Archive for December, 2011

Stoke City – Our Best Year Ever and Best Ever Manager

December 24th, 2011 No comments

It’s Christmas Eve 2011 and Stoke City have arguably had their best ever year. It’s something that I believe to be true, especially when comparing it to what we sometimes consider being halycon days of 1972, days of The League Cup Victory, European Football and a league finishing position of 17th out of 22 clubs. Hang on a minute, 17th!!! How memory distorts the thruth! Looking at the table back then I was surprised to discover that we only had 6 home and 4 away victories! (It was 2 points for a win and 1 for a draw back then).
Brian Clough’s Derby County had won the title with 58 points, one point more than Leeds United, Liverpool and Manchester City. United finished eighth while Huddersfield Town were relegated.

The main point of difference between now and then is the money that the club generates and how it compares to others. Back in the 70’s Stoke City shared gate receipts with other clubs both home and away.
Our average home attendance was 24,204, which was ranked 19th in the pre Premier League days of Division One. Even Leicester had the 15th highest average attendance with 28,536. So If we were playing the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and the other clubs in the league, then we would take half of the gate money from the away fixture and give them half of the cash from our home games. This meant that clubs back then had a more evenly split balance on revenue raised and money they could spend as gate receipts were the primary source of income, meaning that the league was being played from a more even starting point in terms of finance. I know that the argument about the periphery sales of food, programmes, etc could make a difference but back then, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a major factor.
Now in 2011 every club keeps it’s own gate money and the divide between the big and not so big clubs continues to grow. Last season we had an average gate of 26,858 which ranked 13th. highest in the Premier League. However, gate receipts are no longer the primary source of income for most clubs as television monies and off the field activities generate more money than attendances.

Whilst recognising the amount of investment that the Coates family have put into Stoke City I feel that the achievements of a F.A. Cup Final runners up place behind the richest team in the world, a final finishing position of 13th in the Premier League (and being on course to better that this season) and the achievement of a final 32 place in the Europa League put’s the managerial skills of Tony Pulis in a higher regard than those of Tony Waddington, given the difference in the landscape of football between 1972 and 2011.
This in my eyes makes Tony Pulis the best manager that Stoke City have ever had.
What do you think?


12 Days ‘fore Christmas

Bless me, Father – A Stoke City Christmas Blog by Bunny

December 20th, 2011 No comments

Bless me, Father

The festive period is a time of extremes. Extreme happiness and extreme sadness. A time for thinking of those less fortunate than yourselves: like turkeys.

I hate ‘Fairytale of New York’. Really detest it. Beloved of students, clueless tipsy office girls at Chrimbo parties and anyone else who wears dreadful jumpers or eats Pot Noodles. I also hate New Years Eve. “It’s the most maw-aw-kish time of the year” – that’s what Andy Williams should have sung. Unless you are royally trolleyed, you simply sit watching garbage telly and feel sad. And hope the next year is a darn sight better!

‘Auld lang syne’ is another dreadful song, too, a simply tuneless dirge even Coldplay couldn’t replicate. I don’t want to cross arms with some whopper I don’t know and pretending that
I’m happy, thanks. And no one knows any words other than the title too, but still pretend that they do. Baffled, here, as to why folk do that.

Cheery kinda bloke at Christmas, aren’t I?

Christmas is about the two F’s – Family and Football. Always has been and always should be.
8pm kick offs on Boxing Day ? The work of satan. Winter break? Shove it, as there’s nowt so character building than going to Leyton Orient on New Year’s Day on a coach where the smell of freshly sicked-up ‘Peddy’ hangs in the air like Big Bren, and watching us secure
three points, in front of a few hundred fellow souls with nowt better to do than go to East London on the first day of the year.

As much as I moan, sometimes life as a Stoke isn’t that bad you know. But first let’s make like that plum Craig David and re-re-wind (and the crowd say Bo, Ray E-vans). Ok?

Unlike most nogger fans, I can’t remember my first Stoke game. My first memories of watching us were against Middlesbrough at Vale Park and then having a season ticket in 1977 in the Butler Street Stand. Relegation inevitably soon followed.

So, basically, I was introduced to the Potters after a visit to Vale and then being forced to sit in probably the only roofless stand in Britain at that time, and watch us go down. Perhaps instead of now thanking my dad in this article I should be phoning Social Services instead?

But am I grateful that my old man grasped my 8 year old hand all those years ago and walked me to those Victoria Ground turnstiles? Daft, rhetorical question. And isn’t ‘rhetorical’ an ace word?

If you are thinking of being all sentimental and schmaltzy this Christmas, then surely a bit
of an effort could and should be made to treat that person who first introduced you to Stoke City Football Club? A lifetime of mainly struggle and heartache has turned us into the folk we are today, and should make us so, so appreciative of the status we have in English

We have a right to moan and we certainly have the right to voice our concerns about our beloved club, but that only means we care, we love. It’s when people don’t have their say – that is the time to start worrying, for the opposite of love isn’t hate, its apathy.

So I’m going to put a bit more effort into selecting my Chrimbo presents this year, and showing my caring-alpha-male side, by actually telling my old man how much I, gulp, love him and thank him for taking me to Stoke.

And why shouldn’t we thank the people who have ensured that we have grown up following the most just and righteous cause? I wouldn’t swap my soaking at the Abbey Stadium and
subsequent topless huddling on the coach back with my old fella for United’s European Cups; I wouldn’t swap sliding down the grass bank at Wigan for any number of trophies.

Because what we have one is what makes us what we are. And it makes any special moment to be even more special.

The look on his face at the end of the beamback Cardiff game at the Brit meant everything.
A craggy, weather-worn and Stoke-weary face that had witnessed the best part of six decades of mediocrity, lit up by a goal off someone’s bum. That is football. That is Stoke City. That’s my dad. Someone who would do anything for his family and Stoke City. No-one
can take away the great times we’ve had watching Stoke City. No-one.

Watching Stoke and the morsels of success we’ve had is akin to that rocket-fit blonde in The Place coming over to you after months of quarter-to-two dances with assorted livestock; It’s when the dj drops the seven minute version of Eric B’s “Paid in full” after listening to Olly Murs, JLS and any other X Factor clown all night. It’s the diamond in the rough, the needle in the haystack, the treasure in the trash etc.

Two and a half year ago my father-in-law unfortunately passed away. He was from Vale stock, and was a proper, good, kind and gentle man. A man who loved nothing more than his family, his sport, and a pint of mild in his hand, whilst listening to any football match that
happened to be on the radio. A man who I have never, ever heard say anything bad about anybody, and whom I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about.

If Stoke had lost he wouldn’t have a dig at me. He wanted all local clubs to do well. My own dad’s a little different: if Stoke lost he’d mope about on a Saturday night and only really be happy once again the next time we’d won. I suppose I’m like that – indeed, as Vince
Lombardi once said, “if sport isn’t about winning, then why do we keep score?”

A different generation, my old man and John. A better generation? Dunno, but I’m reminded of the responsibility I have as a parent (and football supporter) to do the right thing. We have to cherish our families, and we should cherish the path that they’ve chosen
for us, be it in life or football, and we should simply give eternal thanks that we have been chosen to support Stoke City Football Club.

“Football isn’t life or death, it’s more important than that”. Sorry Shanks, that’s rubbish, absolute rubbish. Football changes lives and it would be a sad, sad life if you didn’t worship your local team.

Do you still think that the Stoke coat your dad would love as a Chrimbo present is too expensive? Buy it, just buy it. And thank him.

Dad’s are ace. Tell yours that he is.

Stoketshirt Euro Tour Ad

A pleasant surprise, England’s challenge, Jose’s silence, RIP Socrates

December 8th, 2011 No comments

Our victory at Goodison Park was as rugged as it was unexpected.  Everton were optimistic having  found form by winning two in a row.  Stoke were coming off the back of the Europa league tie against Dynamo Kyiv.  Although the previous weeks win  had lifted some of the gloom, we were also aware that Blackburn had been so poor it was hard to assess if the corner had been well and truly turned. 

Taking an early lead we expected to be under intense pressure for the remainder of the game.  While Everton dominated possession we handled their threat in relative comfort.  Shawcross and Huth were colossal in central defence…. our finest defenders  back to their unflappable best!  The midfield also stayed on task which proved an impenetrable barrier.

The biggest factor in this victory is that we defended collectively.  Recently we had situations where there were plenty of Stoke players behind the ball but without anyone actually defending.  At Everton everyone applied themselves with admirable discipline.  This led to a priceless clean sheet.  There is still much to improve in our team.  We are still seemingly unable to retain possession in the attacking third and our forward play is generally ad hoc and lacking precision.  However, if we can keep the resilience we’ve re-discovered, there is a huge foundation to work from. 

It’s surprising that much of the media seems to regard England’s qualification for the quarter finals of Euro 2012 as a formality.  Every side you face in a tournament will cause you problems.  The opening game against a resurgent France will shape the group.  While lacking the style and panache of the 98 and 2000 sides, France have improved greatly since last years catastrophic World Cup campaign.  By June they could be dark horses to win the competition.  When England beat Sweden in a friendly last month it was the first time they had defeated them since 1968.  If anyone becomes complacent and believes a corner has been turned, bear in mind that England have never beaten Sweden in a competitive match.  Ukraine are the final opponents and facing the hosts always provides an extra challenge.  The notion that England will easily reach the quarter final is naive.   Will the media again be  generating ludicrous levels of expectation?

While Ireland’s task is difficult it isn’t insurmountable.  They have the advantage of knowing a holding game will be essential against Spain and Italy.  Their defensive record suggests they have the focus and discipline to do so successfully.  If they can beat Croatia in their first game they will still be in contention by the time they reach the third against Italy.  Of course they go into the group as underdogs but Ireland could surprise a few people in June.

This weekend sees Real Madrid face Barcelona at the Bernebeu.  At the moment this is the biggest club game in world football.  The whole notion that political issues should be kept separate from sport is hopeless idealism.  Barcelona’s feeling that their team represents an entire people adds a dimension to the intensity of this fixture.  The ongoing dominance of the big two has undoubtedly stifled the appeal of the Spanish league, but for all that, when they meet there is always potential for a footballing classic.  Heading into the game Real Madrid are three points clear at the top of the table.  So far in the build up Jose Mournho has been reserved and avoided controversy which isn’t a good sign for Barcelona.  He usually seems to stir trouble when he’s under pressure. 

On Sunday the magnificent Brazilian Socrates passed away.  Socrates was an amazing footballer.  Despite being 6ft 4 his graceful elegance was the hallmark of this distinctive enigmatic man .  However a match was poised he always had space and time on the ball to dictate the play.  He is best known for being the captain of Brazil’s marvellous 1982 side… considered by many to be the best team ever not to win the trophy.  Being the days before wall to wall TV the World Cup was the first time we’d seen many of the players on show and Socrates and his friends captivated the world.   He was a qualified doctor and deeply involved in politics, often with a quirky perspective on life and sometimes controversial opinions.   RIP Socrates.