Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Stoke City

Stoke City FC were formed in 1863 as Stoke Ramblers FC by pupils of Charterhouse School. The club are based in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, famous for its pottery heritage in Staffordshire. The city is made up of six old towns and nearby villages, which produced a large conurbation which became Stoke.

In 1878 the club merged with Stoke Victoria Cricket Club to become Stoke FC. They moved from their old ground at Sweetings Field to the Athletic Ground, which soon became known as the Victoria Ground. At this time they adopted red and white stripes as their colours for the first time and in 1885 they turned professional. 

In 1888 Stoke became founder members of the Football League. However, after two years they were not re-elected and they joined the Football Alliance. They won that league at the first attempt and they returned to the League. They suffered relegation in 1907 and then resigned from the League the following year amid financial troubles. Stoke played in the Southern and Birmingham & District Leagues' before returning to the League in 1919 after World War One.

In 1928 the club changed their name to Stoke City FC, three years after Stoke-on-Trent was awarded city status. The Victoria Ground was extended around the same time to a capacity of 50,000. In 1932 a local youngster called Stanley Matthews made his debut for the club in what would become an iconic career. 

In 1947 City came agonisingly close to being crowned League champions, but they lost their final game of the season as Liverpoool overtook them. Matthews had left to join Blackpool two games previously. 'The Potters' were relegated in 1953 and remained in Division Two for nine seasons. Tony Waddington had been appointed manager in 1960 and he enticed a forty six year old Matthews back to the club. His influence worked as he helped the team to promotion.

Matthews became the first ever 'knighted' footballer in the New Years Honours List of 1965, and a few months later he played his final top flight game at the age of fifty! Gordon Banks joined the club in 1967 for a record fee of the time of £52,000. In 1971 and 1972 City reached the FA Cup Semi Finals, losing to Arsenal on both occasions. However, the found consolation winning the League Cup in 1972 after beating Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley.

City's stars of the time included Banks, Jimmy Greenhoff, Terry Conroy, Denis Smith, John Ritchie and George Eastham. Not long after the victory Banks was forced to retire following a car crash where he lost an eye, although he was replacedproperly two years later by Peter Shilton. The team failed to push on, and when the Butler Street Stand roof blew off in 1976, the club hit financial troubles. Mike Pejic, Alan Hudson and Pejic were sold to pay for the repair work.

After Waddington's departure the teams performances declined with Eastham and Alan Durban being amongst the bosses trying to halt the slide. City were relegated in 1985 after collecting just three wins all season. The next dozen years were the worst in the clubs post war history as managers came and went. 

Names of the calibre of Mick Mills, Alan Ball, Lou Macari and Joe Jordon all had spells at the helm. During that time the club plummeted and spent two seasons in the third tier before being promoted. They did win the Football League Trophy in 1992 after defeating Stockport County at Wembley.

In 1997 City left the aging Victoria Ground to move to the Britannia Stadium. It didn't bring luck as three managers all failed in the inaugural stadium in their new surroundings as the club were relegated back to the third tier. The following year City were sold to an Icelandic consortium for £6.6M who appointed fellow countryman Gudjon Thordarson as boss. He led the team to another Football League Trophy triumph in 2000 and promotion in 2002.

Despite this Thordarson was sacked days after promotion to be replaced by Steve Cotterell. His appointment didn't work out as he was replaced by Tony Pulis within four months. However, after a disagreement with the club owners he was dismissed at the end of the 2004-05 season. Dutchman Johan Boskamp was appointed the following day!

In May 2006 former Chairman Peter Coates, a local businessman and lifelong fan who had previously been hounded out after fans protests, bought the club back from the Icelandic owners. He immediately re-appointed Pulis to run team affairs.

On the final day of the 2007-08 season City won automatic promotion to the Premier League. Coates invested heavily in the club and under Pulis' direct style the club consolidated. Big name signings such as Peter Crouch, Jonathan Woodgate and Jermaine Pennant joined up with the squad who had got them up there. City reached the FA Cup Final in 2011 but they were defeated by Manchester City. However, this led to a place in the Europa League for the following season.

The club continued to gradually build, but this was not enough for some fans, who were becoming disgruntled by the style of football offered up by Pulis' teams. After several weeks of murmuring Pulis left the club by mutual consent in May 2013, to be replaced by Mark Hughes.

Hughes gradually changed the playing squad and style of play, which brought in plenty of plaudits. New signings such as Marko Arnautović linked well with a sound line up to take The Potters to a fine ninth place finish at the end of the 2014-15 season. This was followed up with an identical finish in 2015-16.

Stoke City FC will play in the FA Premier League for the 2016-17 season.

My visits

Stoke City 0 Hull City 1 (Saturday 8th March 1986) Division Two (att 9,112)

I visited the Victoria Ground for the only time to watch The Tigers, although in truth I should never have made the match. I worked for Wallace Arnold at the time and they ran buses to every home match calling at Filey and Bridlington on the way. They were well used, so away games were covered. These too were popular for local matches. However, for the Stoke trip just six of us boarded the bus in Scarborough.

Our regular driver, the very rural Derek was a top lad and I reasoned that there was probably more to get on at the other stops. However, we left Brid with just the eight of us aboard. We should have turned back, but I was young and daft and Derek fancied the day out. There was plenty of room to stretch out!

We arrived very early on a lovely afternoon and parked up on the huge area near to the ground. There were some lads having impromptu kick abouts, but we headed for the away end. Stoke had a very rough reputation at the time, so finding a pub was definitely out of the question. We were the first ones inside our section!

The Victoria Ground was aging, but it was a traditional old ground. We were at the Stoke End. This stand had a terrace at the front with covered seats behind. This continued round the corner to the Butler Street Stand. The had a smaller terrace paddock and a large block of corporate boxes at the rear. Opposite behind the far goal was the large covered all terraced Boothen End. Finally to our right stood the Main Stand. This had a steep tier of seating with a small terraced paddock at the front.

It was a feisty atmosphere as we had anticipated. The home fans in the Main Stand paddock tried to intimidate the Tigers fans who weren't slow in coming forward. The regular larger than life face of Hull lad Wally pushed his luck too far. Derek said he had a good laugh with him by the coaches while he should have been watching the match. Stan McEwan sored the only goal with a bullet like diving header in front of us from a set piece. The 'Stokies' behind us were less than impressed. It led to an interesting time of watching our backs and the game at the same time, but there was at least an atmosphere. God, I miss days like that so much.

We got away easy enough in the customary police escort out of town and got back to Scarborough for 8.30pm. The following Monday morning was interesting for Derek and I as we explained to our boss what had happened to our supposed customers!

Stoke City 0 Valencia 1 (Thursday 16th February 2012) Europa League Round of 32 (att: 24,185)

As ever I was always on the look out to fit in a new ground when my work shift allowed. I was due to finish for the weekend on the Thursday lunchtime, and then meeting my pals and travelling to Dusseldorf on Friday afternoon. The Europa League draw offered opportunity for me, and I knew I'd see at least one team trying to play quality football!

I arrived at Euston with enough time for a beer in The Doric Arch to help me doze on my journey. I took a train with London Midland Trains. Their service was a lot slower with many stops, but their price reflected that. I wasn't in a huge rush so I sat back and relaxed.

I was to spend the evening at the Crown Hotel in Longton, a few miles from both Stoke town centre and the Britannia Stadium. It had some mixed reviews on the internet, but again it was cheap and it wasn't as though I was going to spend hours there. I caught a connecting train and then headed to the bus interchange over the road from the station. I asked a driver if there was a service to the stadium, but there wasn't. I was going to have to go into Stoke and then catch one of the special buses to and from the ground.

Longton really showed signs of neglect and the recession. It was an ugly place with a large indoor market and a depressing shopping precinct. Lots of shops were shut down. The distinctive shaped chimneys from the pottery works stood on the horizon. Youths sheltered in the interchange smoking weed and messing around on their BMX bikes, with a sense of submission. I checked out the bus timetable and it was obvious that they could spot a stranger.

I checked in at The Crown, which was friendly and warm, if basic. The floorboards all seemed to creek very loudly. It appeared that it was used as digs for travelling drivers judging by the clientele. After a short rest I decided I might as well make an effort to go to a decent pub. I went back over the road where the youths were showing each other their bike stunts and waited for a bus into town. This is where I had to be careful of where I was going.

If I'd got on a bus for the city centre, I'd have ended up in Hanley and not Stoke. Even though the railway station is called Stoke on Trent and the football club named Stoke City, it isn't where the city centre actually is! A bloke in a football hat got on board clutching a half bottle of whisky. At least I'd have a guide to where to get off. The helpful driver found out when I could get a return bus after the game.

I alighted near to Stoke town centre and then walked to Glebe Street. Club stewards in fluorescent jackets were on hand to hand out information regarding buses to The Brit. I continued up the road and into The Glebe pub. This was an inspired choice. The pub was a tied house for Joules Brewery of nearby Market Drayton. Their beers were lovely as was the pub. There was a good atmosphere inside. My only regret was not ordering one of the home made pork pies that came out on the table next to me just as I was about to leave. Instead I thought I'd get to the ground for a look around and then have a beer once I'd found my bearings.

The bus was to cost £3 return. I was impressed that there were lots of them lined up and they left at regular intervals and didn't wait until each one was full. I was outside The Brit at 7pm, still an hour before kick off. Badge and souvenir sellers were selling their goods, some at steep prices. I walked down the bank buying a £4 programme and the long lasting fanzine The Oatcake for £1.80. I then saw the shutters for Delilah's Bar were down and it dawned on me that no beer would be available because it was a UEFA controlled game.

I continued around the outside of the stadium and then used the maps app on my IPhone to establish where a sports centre was located that I'd read about. I was soon outside and joining the queue to get inside. The bouncers were only letting anyone in once someone left. Within ten minutes I was in and at the bar. It was busy inside but they were well organised. The reception desk and storeroom doors had been turned into bottle bars with draught available at the usual bar, where there was plenty of staff serving.

I got a pint of Tetley smoothflow and watched the Ajax v Manchester United clash on one of the many TVs. I was well aware of the reputation some Stoke fans had, but I found them to be warm and friendly. That said, I was one of them for the evening! It was certainly easier than my previous visit.

I walked back the same way I'd originally gone and found my turnstile. The concourse inside was busy, with not as much room as newer built stadiums. I bought a pie, chips and a bovril and went upstairs to my seat. I was located right at the end of the Boothen End. This continued round to the East Stand in one large tier of seating. The far South Stand was a separated structure. Again it was a single tier of seats with the control boxes at the rear. It also housed a section for the visiting fans. The dressing room clock was in the corner, next to the East Stand. This was the main stand at the ground housing most of the offices and facilities. It had a lower section, a block of corporate boxes and then an upper tier of seats. I quickly noticed that there wasn't much space between the seats and the legroom wasn't as large as I expected for a recently built arena.

Stoke were forced to enlarge the pitch to meet UEFA requirements.
It was made smaller for domestic games to enhance the advantage of long throws.
The atmosphere when the teams came out was electrifying. They were greeted by the song "We'll Be With You", which was released for the 1972 League Cup Final. My Dad bought it for me at the time and it sounded just as good all those years later. At least I knew the words! This was followed by a rousing rendition of "Delilah", which nearly took the roof off the place. The locals certainly knew how to get behind their team.

The Potters went at the Spanish opponents from the start, but couldn't carve out many clear but chances. Peter Crouch had a chance but he fluffed his lines, and Rory Delap's long throws caused plenty of concern in the Valencia box. They held out and gradually took control of possession. Their class began to tell. City's defence had some very nervous moments and in the thirty fifth minute the Turkish centre back Mehmet Topal strolled unchallenged and then let loose a thirty yard thunderbolt into the top corner of the Stoke net. It was a brilliant goal and I was pleased that many home fans applauded it. The fifty or so away fans were happy as well.

Stoke bounced back and could have had a penalty when Crouch was pushed in the area, but the Danish ref waved away their claims. The interval came and went and the game continued with the same pattern. Valencia had the majority of the ball, playing at a controlled pace. When Stoke got it, everything was at ninety miles and hour trying to pressure the visitors into errors. Valencia's keeper Vicente Guaita didn't really have to make any real saves.

I left when the board went up showing injury time was about to commence, popping back into the East Stand to take additional photos. I ran up the slope and was soon on board a bus. We were on our way as the final whistle blew and I was back in Stoke with five minutes to spare before a bus to Longton that I'd given up on when I saw the times. I thought I'd have time for a pint while waiting for the last service.

The bus took me back to Longton. I had a whisky nightcap in the very basic hotel bar and went upstairs. I was in bed and asleep by quarter to eleven. After a good nights sleep I was showered, dressed and on the bus to Stoke at 6.20am the following morning. I walked round to the station where I took up the rarest of offers; a good deal at the railway station buffet. A coffee and bacon sarnie set me back just £2.50!

I settled back in style on the way home. I'd bought a first class seat for a few quid more as I knew I would need some rest before my German adventure later in the day. By alighting at Watford Junction and using a local train and then a bus I was home a lot earlier.

It had been a great trip and I really warmed to the people of Stoke. I just wished their team would reward them by playing football in the fashion it was meant.

The old pictures of the Victoria Ground have been taken from the internet as I didn't have a camera with me on my visit there.

No comments:

Post a Comment