Tales From The Potteries, Duck

Stoke City vs. Chelsea : 27 September 2008.

This report is going to be rather self-indulgent, so I hope nobody minds too much. I spent three years in Stoke-On-Trent at North Staffs Poly from 1984 to 1987 and I had been looking forward to this away day ever since Stoke were promoted in May. With this in mind, I wanted to make a full day of it.

I left for Stoke at 6.30am. Really patchy fog all of the way up to Birmingham – if not fog, then bright sunshine. It was a rather tiring start to the day. I refuelled at Hilton Park services just to the north of Brum. Cocooned in my car, I tend to forget where I am. However, a few words from the petrol station attendant reminded me I was definitely in the Midlands – her horrible Brummie accent gave it away. As I am sure a lot of you are aware, the UK has many many accents…within a fifty mile radius of Stoke, there are many different accents…Birmingham to the south, Derby ( “Dah-beh “) to the east, Manchester and Liverpool to the north, Bolton above them…and then Stoke itself has its own particular accent, much lampooned by my mates and me in those college years. More of that later.

The last thirty minutes of the trip were spent thinking back to 1984, not to the football for a change, but to that drive up to Stoke on a Sunday in late September 1984. My father drove me up to Stoke and I will be honest; I was very nervous about how the next three years away from home would turn out. It was probably my least favourite journey ever! I needn’t have worried – had a great time in Sunny Stoke and I still keep in contact with five or six good mates to this day.

I pulled into Stoke at just after 9am, some 145 miles from home. It was a crisp, sunny Autumn morning. I sat myself down for a breakfast and a coffee, and texted a few ex-Stoke mates of my whereabouts. Now then, the city of Stoke-On-Trent is a funny old place. The city consists of the five former individual towns of Stoke, Hanley and Burslem ( home of Port Vale FC ) to the north and Fenton and Longton to the east. For many years, there was great inter-town rivalry (each town tried to out-do its neighbours with its town halls and other civic buildings for example) and the city of Stoke-On-Trent was only formed in around 1910. Since those days, the more central Hanley is basically the city centre, containing all of the major shops. In comparison, Stoke ( where I lived in those college years ) has a small and rather sad town centre…probably less shops than my home town of Frome to be honest. Of course, the area has been World famous for its pottery industry ( think Spode and Wedgewood ) and so the whole area is known as The Potteries. There is the odd reminder of the area’s industrial past – canals, railways, bottle kilns – but the industry has reduced in size, even since I left in 1987. To confuse things even more, the nicer, separate town of Newcastle Under Lyme abuts the western edge of Stoke. So, that sets the scene.

One more thing – the accent…very distinctive! The first thing to say is that, like in the East Midlands, everybody calls each other “duck” to the point of overkill. I went into a shop to buy some locally made “Wrights” pies and I was called duck about five times. The common greeting in Stoke is “ayaduck.” For the Expats, Garth Crooks is a Stokie…my mates can “do” this accent and its great fun.

I drove over to Newcastle and mooched around for half-an-hour. When I was at college, I often used to walk the two miles to ‘Castle and pop into a few nice shops…one of which was called “Review” and was the place ( along with “Matinique” in Hanley ) where all the football stuff was sold…back in those days, it was Kappa, Best Company, Emporio Armani. It has recently been re-opened as “Pockets” and I spent a good twenty minutes in there chatting to the owner about my time twenty years ago! One of the shop assistants was a United fan who had been in Moscow. We had a good old chat about that most momentous of games. “Pockets” sponsor Stoke – they provide the team suits…the shop is stocked full of Armani, CP, Boss, Paul Smith and Stone Island…not tempted though. Not this time!

I had agreed to meet Cathy and Dog off their 11.15am train back at Stoke station, so I retraced my tracks. The scene which greeted me was like something from the ‘eighties…there were about 30 Old Bill, police vans and police dogs swarming the station exit, awaiting the Chelsea train from Euston. I warned Cathy, who had come in via Derby, and she managed to “slip” them and I picked them up just as a mob of about 200 Chelsea were being marched from the station to The Fawn pub, where they would be kept until coaches would take them to the Brittannia Stadium. There were a few “faces” amongst this mob and the OB were filming them on hand-held cameras. There were no “scarfers” amongst this lot.

I gave Cathy and Dog a very quick tour of Stoke…past the deserted remains of the old Victoria Ground, where Stoke played until about 2001. For two years, I lived in a terraced house right next to the away end. This area of Stoke, rows upon rows of Victorian and Edwardian houses, houses the bed-rock of the club’s support. Formed as early as 1863, Stoke were one of the founder member of the original football league.

We headed for a small pub on the London Road called “O’Leary’s” where former Chelsea, Stoke and England mid-fielder Alan Hudson was gong to be doing a ( Stoke-based ) book signing. He played for us from 1969 to 1974 before signing for Stoke. He was a gifted player, but fell out of favour with most people at Chelsea after his often bitter attacks on the club. We ordered some beers and kept to ourselves – we didn’t go over and say “hi.” He then resigned for us in the summer of 1983 ( from an America team, I believe…) but never got himself fit enough to play a game in that momentous 1983-84 season. He actually resigned for Stoke later in that season. When I was at college there, he owned a wine bar in Newcastle, and has fought a battle with alcoholism ever since. He looked a rather sad figure to be honest.

My mate Simon and his son Milo were arriving on the club special at 12.30pm ( a subsidised price of £10! We later heard that the club is doing free train travel to Hull – fantastic! ). I parked up close to the station again…more heavy-handed police behaviour…but Simon and Milo slipped the escort. Back to the boozer for 1pm. Milo settled down in front of the Everton vs. Liverpool game, but was more content with the book he was reading.

Had two pints of Grolsch and had a good old natter with Simon and Cathy. It was soon time to set off for the stadium though. We left the pub at just before 2pm, just as a taxi arrived outside containing Mark, Lee and Jon. A quick “hello goodbye” and then the five minute drive to the ground. Stoke’s old ground was down in the valley, a mile away, under the ridge of high land called Penkhull, but the new place was on high land to the east, in a place called Sideway.

Managed to find a place to park…jeez, cars were parked everywhere…on grass verges, on pavements, on roundabouts, despite “Police Tow Away Zone” signs. I took a nice shot of Simon and Milo next to the Cauldon Canal, with the sleek stands of The Brittania way up on the hill behind.

There is a lovely statue of Stoke’s most famous son, Sir Stanley Matthews, behind the Boothen End…it shows the great player on a mazy dribble…first as a 16 year old Stoke debutant, then in his prime as a England and Blackpool player, then in his last years, as a 50 year old Stoke player, just about to shoot.

It’s a magnificent statue.

The scene under the Chelsea seats, once I had walked through the turnstiles, was one of noise and mayhem. About 200 beered-up Chelsea fans were doing the “Bouncy Bouncy” and some were throwing full bottles of Carslberg up in the air. It was mad. Saw a few friends as I made a bee-line for my seat up in row 26, alongside Alan and Gary.

The 3,000 away fans were in great voice in the first twenty minutes. Stoke’s song of choice is “Delilah” and that rocked the stadium on a few occasions.

We played well in the first-half, with Mikel strong and Frank probing us forward. What a lovely move down the right and a great strike from Bosingwa. Stoke made life hard for us though. We thought that Drogba still doesn’t look 100% match fit.

Alan Hudson did the draw at half-time.

We looked a bit laboured in the second-half to be honest, but once Anelka had scored a second, we came on strong again and played some nice stuff. It was great to hear a new song being aired…quite simple…”Juliano Belletti.” Did anyone hear this? Yep, we were in good voice…our away support is so much better than the home support. Everyone seems that more committed.

At the final whistle, I raced down to where my car was parked and – unbelievably – was on the M6 south by 5.15pm. I liked that!

Stopped for a coffee just south of Brum…and the last 90 minutes was spent listening to the commentary on the radio of Arsenal vs. Hull City. I don’t think anybody expected that result! Beth could hardly believe me when I told her the Goons were losing 2-1. It was a nervy last twenty minutes though, as I drove through Bristol…that Gallas header that hit the bar…ho ho.

A great day out ended with Chelsea top of the table… Arsenal losing at home…the weekend would end with Tottenham losing…Tottenham bottom of the table.

Happy days, duck.


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