13. Jun, 2022


In the dim and distant past I was a student at Staffordshire University. It was the mid 00s and I lived and studied in the city of Stoke-On-Trent

Aside from the odd problem, a rather splendid time was had. My active social life was underpinned by three venues. The Roebuck Pub near the railway station, Burslem Phab Club (a club for able bodied and physically disabled people) and fortnightly visits to The Britannia Stadium, home to Stoke City Football Club. I also went to a few Port Vale games, but Vale was on the other side of town.

Stoke were then managed by Tony Pulis and were a mid table Championship club. TP was at the beginning of a journey that would bring Premier League Football, European Football and an FA Cup Final appearance to The red and white half of The Potteries. You may expect Pulis to be regarded as a local hero in North Staffordshire.

But the Welshman always received mixed notices from the fervent Potters fans. The second most successful manager in Stoke City history was always unfavorably compared with Sir Stanley Matthews and Tony Waddington. Our Stan, the Son of a Hanley boxer, the wizard of the dribble, the first footballer to be knighted and the winger who donned the red and white striped shirt of Stoke City at the age of 50.

Tony Waddington, the greatest manager in Stoke City history, Was the man who brought Matthews back to The Victoria Ground (Stoke's home until 1998). Matthews returned in 1961, nearly thirty years after his Stoke debut. The return turned into a fairytale when a Stanley Matthews goal clinched promotion to the First Division in 1964. Waddington was also the manager who masterminded League Cup glory in 1972. The only major trophy in the clubs history. With kinder luck the FA Cup (1971 or 1972) and the First Division Championship (1975) might have been added to the trophy cabinet. A lethal cocktail of dubious refereeing and crippling injuries proving fatel

Waddo signed Gordon Banks, the best goalkeeper in the World. He lured Chelsea's talented midfielder Alan Hudson to the land of master potter Josiah Wedgewood and Spitfire godfather Reginald Mitchell. Hudson was the catalyst, a wonderfully gifted footballer whose artistry mirrored the region's World famous Ceramic craftsman. Households around the planet making great use of cups and plates produced by the good people of Stoke-On-Trent.

Early Seventies Stoke City were a delight. Just witness Hudson's spell blinding goal against Manchester City in February 1975. A slight figure skins across the Victoria Ground mud whilst alluding the challenges of City defenders, before placing a shot in the bottom corner.

Sadly for Pulis, Rory Delap' long throw headed in by Jon Walters was never going to receive similar Boothen End approval.. Richie Barker was another Stoke manager to fall short on artistic impression. Barker was appointed Potters manager in 1981. Alan Durban had defected to Sunderland and his assistant stepped into the breach.

At first it appeared that the new man got it. Barker signed Sammy Mcilroy and Mickey Thomas from Manchester United. The ball playing midfielders encompassing the Waddington way. Up front young Lee Chapman was making his mark, Chapman had formed a useful spearhead with Brenden O'Callaghan while goalkeeper Peter Fox was a solid last line of defence.

But a local lad was dominating the headlines. Winger Mark Chamberlin was the hottest property around, inevitably drawing comparisons to Stanley Matthews. Opposing full backs were again left floundering by a Potters wide man. Like Stanley, Chamberlain (pictured above) was a Stokie. Born in Burslem, he made his debut for Port Vale in 1978. He crossed the Potteries divide four years later. Chamberlin made a dream debut as Arsenal were beaten 2-1 at The Vic. The new boy ran Gunners full back Kenny Sansom ragged, at the time Sansom was regarded as the best left back in the World. A fortnight later the Potters put Birmingham City to the sword, Barker's boys won 4-1 at St Andrews.

The 4-4 home draw with Luton was another early highlight. City trailed 4-3 before O'Callaghan rescued a late point. A highly praiseworthy effort considering Peter Fox's early dismissal. The goalkeeper was sent off after he handled the ball outside his penalty area. Initially Paul Bracewell took over between the sticks before Barker decided Derek Parkin was a more able custodian. Indeed Bracewell's scrambled effort gave the home side a 3 -2 lead. The Hatters restored their advantage through Brian Stein and Mal Donaghy, before O'Callaghan's late strike. The drama wasn't over as Stein's late penalty cannoned off a post and rebounded to safety. More encouraging results followed.

A stunning Mickey Thomas volley earned a home point against Liverpool. Once again a successful Stoke side was pleasing on the eye. In the Spring of 1983 the Potters were 5th in the First Division and Mark Chamberlin was an England International.

But with European football a distinct possibility, City buckled .They lost 3 of their 4 league games to finish a disappointing 13th.

The alarming collapse was still troubling Richie Barker when he undertook a close season coaching course. The event was hosted by Charles Hughes, the Football Associations' head of coaching. Hughes introduced Barker to the POMO approach.

POMO stands for Position Of Maximum Opportunity. In layman's terms this required defenders to launch 60 yards passes into the opposing penalty area. Your big centre forward had two options. head the ball into the net or nod it into the path of a onrushing forward. It was crude percentage football. Hughes reasoned that the more time the ball spent in the box, the greater the chance of a goal been scored. In all fairness Watford had enjoyed great success employing similar methods. Graham Taylor's Hornets had finished First Division Runners Up in 1983. Five years earlier the Vicarage Road outfit were playing in the Fourth Division.

Wimbledon were another club to benefit from route one tactics. The self styled crazy gang had emulated Watford's rise in the tail end of the decade. For good measure the Dons won the FA Cup in 1988.

Armed with the blueprint Barker returned to The Potteries. Would the new look Stoke City be challenging for Europe? The new style literally went over the heads of Thomas and MclIroy. Rendered redundant the pair swiftly exited The Victoria Ground. George Berry and his fellow defenders were now the creative spark. Chamberlin was now a virtual passenger, he was probably tempted to spend his Saturday afternoons shopping in Hanley.

As Christmas approached Stoke's next port of call appeared more Blackburn then Barcelona. The Potters won 2 games between August and December, Hay, they didn't even look like Stoke City. The traditional shirt of broad red and white stripe was replaced by a pin stripe design. Sunderland and Notts County had also opted to turn out in pin stripes. I liked the new kit, but the new attire was not to everyone's taste.

But poor results were the main reason for terrace discontent. Richie Barker was sacked and replaced by assistant Bill Asprey. Faced with a relegation battle the new gaffer sought the council of Tony Waddington. The advice was simple "RE-SIGN ALAN HUDSON."

Like Matthews, Huddy couldn't resist a return to his spiritual home. A Cockney playing for a Staffordshire club may appear an odd formula for success but it had worked a decade earlier, Hudson had arguably played the best football of his career. The signing proved a masterstroke. Replacing Mickey Thomas in the engine room, Hudson sparked The Great Escape of 1984. His vision and skill galvanised the Potters, Stoke won 9 out of their last 17 games.

The highlight was April's 2-0 win over Liverpool on Easter Monday. A defeat which prompted Reds skipper Greame Souness put his fist through a dressing room panel. Souey had no reason to worry as Liverpool cruised to another title. Birmingham City were the real fall guys. Their end of season slump coincided with the resurgence of Stoke and the rise of an equally invigorated Coventry City. The Blues were consigned to the drop as both of their Midland neighbours completed final day victories.

In the Potters case the reprieve was short lived. The 1984-85 campaigned saw City win 3 games all season. They finished bottom with the paltry total of 17 points, 23 points adrift of 21st place Sunderland. The Black Cats and Norwich City joining them in Division Two.

Mark Chamberlin signed for Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke spent 23 years in the wilderness. Their returned to the big time under a certain Tony Pulis.