Stoke City fans repeatedly turn up here and tell me I need to ‘get over’ my dislike of their club. Betraying their age, the root cause is deemed to be Ryan Shawcross. I detest the defender, of course, and yes, I bear a grudge for the disgusting tackle. I also dislike the way he hawked himself around the international scene but that behaviour leaves me uncomfortable across all sports. But football wasn’t invented in 1992 when Sky burst onto the scene; my feelings about Stoke have been around for nearly half-a-century.
Back in the 1970s, we were told that Daz got your “white’s whiter”, to try to snaffle market share from Fairy, Persil and Omo, among others. Not in Stoke it didn’t. Maybe it was the red stripes which stopped the whites getting whiter but my mind’s eye tells me not of Jimmy Greenhoff, John Ritchie or George Eastman. No, it was Terry Conroy; it’s always Terry Conroy. I think the image comes from 1971’s League Cup final; flame-haired, socks heading toward his ankle in Nora Batty wrinkles. His mouth is in mid-cry, capturing his frustration in that moment.
But it’s the top. Sweat and rain-drenched, his shirt has a grey tinge or maybe the red stripes ran in the wash. At the time, it was one of – no, the – most horrifying image this then-young mind had seen. The bogeyman incarnate. Just as future generations had the Candyman or Freddie Kruger, I had Terry Conroy. Or Terry ‘Bloody’ Conroy as he would come to be known.
That initial base has been built on down the years. Red and white stripes don’t seem right to me when paired with white shorts. It’s a bit like us using white shorts with yellow tops; the Establishment club was too penny-pinching to buy matching shorts for trips to Roker Park, The Dell and Bramall Lane. Quite why Stoke City’s colour combination brings such distaste, I’m not sure. After all, it’s been around a long time; 1883 if my research is correct, twenty years after the club was initially formed. There’s a bit of history which outweighs my personal feelings, some might rightly argue.
Then there’s 1985. One of the worst top-flight team’s in history, Stoke were relegated with what was at the time, the lowest points total in modern football. They won three games all season: Sheffield Wednesday, Manchester United and yes, Arsenal. It’s match indelibly stained in my mind, seared into my psyche. 2 – 0 to a diabolical side. This was a Stoke side which in a run of thirteen games, lost twelve and won one. We went into that game fourth; eight points behind Everton and Spurs at the top, four behind United. And lost.
But I was happy, I suppose, when they disappeared from view for twenty-odd years. I didn’t even mind them returning in 2008 but since 2010, this has been a massive pain in the arse fixture. In this decade, eight visits to Stoke yielded just one victory and three draws. That leaves three defeats plus an embarrassing FA Cup exit. I suspect that we only have a worse record at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford. And the nauseating crowing which follows just rubs salt into wound.
The Impossible Idea
I can rationalise that though; I despise our spinelessness in this fixture. We’re weak and given the turnover of players, that stems predominantly from the manager’s psyche. He hates Stoke. Disgustingly abused at Stoke station, wasn’t this the one where he went base over apex with a case? A moment Sky caught in its full glory.
There is no reason for Stoke to be a problem fixture; there never has been. We dealt with Hughes at ‘Blackeye Rovers’ and Bolton, despite their reputation, didn’t take many points off us. Stoke? That’s a different matter. They’ve got under Wenger’s skin and know which buttons to press, elbows to throw and boots to leave in. I’d expect Charlie Adam to appear today, just to make sure he has his full quota of red meat although ours may prove a little off-grey; it’s still fresh though. He’s the football equivalent of Mr Burns unleashing the hounds and we’re the ones who get caught.
Anyway, we’ve got through today without discussing the manager’s future. Instead, once he has finished hoisting the white flag, Ivan is heading off to the MLS so Arsène gets to choose a new boss once again.
I’d expect the starting line-up to be more in line with the one which finished at St Mary’s as well as resembling jellyfish:
Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny, Holding; Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Monreal; Özil, Sanchez; Welbeck
Personally, I’d say there’s a strong argument for Giroud starting, shuffling Alexis off to the right and Welbeck on the left. It’s an away game and I don’t have high expectations of a strong performance from Mesut in this game. I doubt that will happen though.
Win today and the Great Escape is on. You get the feeling that we’ve run out of games though. West Ham pulled their rabbit out of the hat in beating Spurs, while Middlesbrough won’t do anything other than fold at Anfield; Liverpool will get their six points, no doubt. Three points will no doubt prove our great mental strength and character. Or they will in the manager’s mind anyway.
Finally, there’s a review of Paul Weller’s A Kind Revolution at Dad’s Jukebox, with a playlist of the deluxe edition.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.