Thursday, 1 September 2011

Stoke. What the hell?

I've developed a grudging respect for Stoke City, even if they do cause me to giggle. A few curious thoughts on the latest chapter in their recent history...

As I was walking to work this morning, the absurdity of Stoke City's new-found abilities in the transfer market – the most recent of which being the ability to successfully sign Peter Crouch – was churning around in my head.

How had Stoke City - STOKE CITY - managed to sign a player with such an excellent international goalscoring record? A player who acquitted himself very well in the Champions League last season. For twelve million actual English poundlings. How had this come to be?

I can only assume that some sort of kidnap-style siege took place, with Crouch told in no uncertain terms that if he wanted to be enjoying Abbey Clancy's wobbly bits again any time soon, he'd better chuffing well sign the bit of paper.

As I lost myself in these stupid thoughts, I wondered what Pulis might have said to Crouch the moment the ink was dry. I imagine it was something along the lines of "Aha! There's no going back now, lad. It's too late. You're mine, all mine."

I don't know what was on my Cornflakes this morning, but I ended up picturing Pulis as the sinister, wife-collecting circus master Pappa Lazarou from The League of Gentlemen. A disturbing image and one you'll doubtless not want to visualise if you can help it...

Peter Crouch pictured at his unveiling with Stoke boss Tony Pulis
Oops. Sorry.

(That's the Photoshopper Of The Year 2011 award in the bag, I'd say)

I genuinely laughed out loud when I saw the news of Crouch's signing. I don't know why it tickled me so, but it did. There's just something very funny about Stoke and when they sign really famous players, as they seem to be doing with increasing regularity, it provokes an involuntary response from me along the lines of "Haha, him? Stoke? Really? What's he doing joining them, the silly clot!"

But then this is Stoke's fourth season in the Premier League. Those multiple millions in TV rights start to stack up after a while, until eventually a chairman realises – to quote the Blur song – "Whoops, I've got a lot of money" and starts wondering how he might spend it. (Everton fans, I know you're scratching your heads at this juncture. We don't quite understand it either.)

So having stockpiled cash for a while, suddenly Stoke have splurged on Crouch, Wilson Palacios, Cameron Jerome, Matthew Upson and Jonathan Woodgate. All of a sudden, a squad already containing some very good players starts to look something of a menace. Add in the Premier League's noisiest fans, gleefully singing themselves hoarse to the tune of 'Delilah' for reasons unknown, and you've got one heck of a tricky away day on your hands.

You sense Pulis has long fantasised at the prospect of having someone as tall as Crouch for Rory Delap to aim his Exocet long-throws towards. How many teams will crumble as Delap launches repeated missiles towards Crouch, Kenwyne Jones, Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross? How high could Stoke finish in the Premier League this season? Fourth? It is a terrifying prospect. Yet, if they managed it, I'd fall about laughing. It's just funny.

Since Stoke qualified for the Europa League by reaching the FA Cup final, a lot of the cynicism towards them has turned into good will. It's as if people are thinking, "Well, I don't like what you do, but I have to take my hat off and admire what you've been able to achieve."

Even I've softened. I've never had any beef with the club, but I've spent two-thirds of my life not being able to stand Tony Pulis. He was a pretty terrible manager of my team (Bournemouth) in the 1990s and tried to get us playing physical, long ball football too. As a team with strong passing traditions, we never took to it and were glad when he was gone. But he's built on his philosophy as he's gone along, learning from his mistakes and turning Stoke into a formidable opponent for any team. Perhaps the most commonly cited cliché in football last season was the one that goes "Yeah, Messi's good, but could he do it on a wet Wednesday night at the Brittannia?" The humour's worn thin now but, still, praise indeed.

I have to admit that I have a certain amount of admiration for Tony Pulis now. I'll never entirely like him, but I can't help but admire him a bit. Lots of us support sides that play pretty football, but would we swap it all for the season those noisy boys at the Britannia will enjoy this season with the squad they've assembled? Not all of us would, but there'd certainly be a good few takers.


mike said...

Pulis does seem to be a bit of a master of stockpiling players that other clubs don't want anymore. Besides Kenwyne Jones, can't really remember the last time Stoke signed someone who the other club were desperate to keep.

Good article, though I wasn't sure about Cameron Jerome and Matthew Upson being included in a list of good players!

And Messi is fine on Wednesday nights at Stoke, it's Tuesdays that he struggles with :)

Gag said...

Upson has looked good for Stoke so I guess we'll have to give Jerome the benefit of the doubt, as much as it pains me!

Anonymous said...

It must be so funny for you that a club that are one of the founder members of the football league, the second oldest in England and spent most of their near 150 year history in the top flight with players such as Matthews, Greenhoff, Hudson, Banks, Shilton, etc. Stoke are simply getting back to where they belong. It might have taken a 30 year exile, but they are back. I dont find it funny at all, merely redressing the balance.

Stokie_Rich said...

Sounds like good business sense to me, it's a lot more costly to sign a player if the other team are desparate to keep him, just ask Chelsea about what they were reported to be willing to pay for Modric!

I for one am a Stoke fan that's really looking forward to the season ahead.

We came up thinking we'd enjoy our one season in the top flight and the dream has just kept on going. I had to pinch myself before celebrating with my dad as the fifth goal went in at Wembley last year, what a day!

Long may it be before I wake up!

Anonymous said...

Cracking praise for us there.

Don't worry we're still laughing too.

Laughing at the thought of Wengers face as Huth, Shawcross, Kenwyne and Crouch march up for a throw-in.

Anonymous said...

Erm, Anonymous, I beg to correct you - but I do it with affection as I am also a Stokie. Stoke haven't spent "most" of their history as a top flight club. It's about 50/50 I believe - with a slight majority being spent outside the top flight. But we are doing our best to address that statistic each season that passes!

Anonymous said...

A patronising article. This guy finds Stoke 'funny' because they attract major players. He then says they have the noisiest fans in the Prem. So maybe they are not such a joke, maybe there is a passion in Stoke unrivalled at any other club....and he is surprised we sign major players. Add in a history that includes being the second oldest football club on the planet and the first in the world to wear red and white stripes...and maybe - just maybe this is a decent and impressive club. A sleeping giant has truly woken up. Stoke City not Joke City.

Danny said...

A lot of stokies, myself included, we're happy when Pulis was sacked by the Icelandic board after the season he served up for us. I think it was 16+ games that ended either 1-0, 0-0 or 1-1. We dubbed it the binary season. He then went to Plymouth, did more of the same and then when the icelandics left and coates re-took charge of the club, he bought tony straight back. I was gutted, but soon grew fond of him and his football. For me, winning football is sexy football. I want Stoke goals, not tippy-tappy football. Thing is, we started playing mostly nice football, with the odd hoof thrown in for good measure. It seems all Tony needed was a bit of cash and he could buy some players who could play. Plymouth fans came down the brit and were singing to us "how'd you watch this every week?" Well, now, quite easily. Well done Tony Pulis, you've turned my club around and tipped my opinion of you upside down. I hope you stay at the club for as long as possible and keep doing what you are doing. Pulis is King.

Narrow The Angle said...

Some of these comments are excellent, thank-you.

I don't know why I find Stoke funny - it's a weird reflex. I'm sure the longer you keep doing so well, the more normal and natural it will seem. I was born in 1980 so I don't remember the heyday, though I'm aware you have more history than most.

And it is good to see a club with such passionate fans get rewarded with some exciting seasons.

Anonymous said...

I liked the article. It is actually quite fitting as it is the start of Delilah - our song (and also what I was doing at Wembley as the fifth goal went in against Bolton).

She stood there laughing, ha ha ha ha, I put my.....etc etc. Go on Stoke!!!

Anonymous said...

I'd genuinely laugh out load if someone mentioned Bournemouth to me. But then again no one ever mentions Bournemouth do they? Probably because they are that insignificant no one actually cares.

Personally I find it hiliarious that someone who supports a club which is currently sitting 4th from bottom in League 1 and will probably get relegated this season has the nerve to laugh at a club who, so far, has had 3 successful seasons in the Premiership, an FA Cup Final and now European football.

You say you were glad when Pulis left Bournemouth because of the style of football his teams play. However, look where your "team of strong passing traditions" (hahaha) has got you.. nowhere!

I've got a deal for you pal, only when Bournemouth have been successful in the Premiership, beat a good Premiership team 5-0 in an FA Cup semi final at Wembley, are playing European football and averaging attendances of 27,000, along with having the loadest supporters in England, will we accept your patronising comments and laughter towards Stoke City FC. Otherwise you should stick to watching your "flowing football" (lol) in the depths of League 1 with your average attendance of 7,000 and shut the hell up. Retard.

Narrow The Angle said...

Oh for flip's sake, I finally manage to stop laughing and then commentor above sets me off again.

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