May 092011
 

The spontaneity of British wit is unsurpassed. Well I would say that, wouldn’t I? But while watching Stoke City play Arsenal yesterday, the Stoke City fans provided a brilliant example.

There has been little love lost between these two teams since Stoke City won promotion to the Premier League three seasons ago. Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger has accused Stoke of playing rugby rather than football. Wenger a football purist poured scorn on Stoke and their prolific use of long balls played out of defence, Rory Delap’s long throw-ins and the team’s kind of aggressiveness that is usually associated with prop forwards.

Yesterday, Stoke City simply outplayed Arsenal with flashes of fast-flowing football and individual skill from the likes of Jermaine Pennant and Jon Walters. And Stoke supporters were certainly going to take Wenger to task for his slur.

With Stoke leading 3-1, the crowd at the Britannia Stadium suddenly burst into a rendition of Swing Low Sweet Chariot, the song sung by England rugby fans. The commentators on the Fox Channel did not pick up on the humour  associated with that song but it was not lost on the football correspondents of The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.

Watching sporting events in the USA, the Dallas Cowboys when I lived in Texas and now the Jacksonville Jaguars, I miss the songs and humorous chants of English crowds. American fans do not go in for chants or singing of any description. In fact, they don’t even bother to sing their national anthem, which is played just before the start of any sporting event, leaving it to some C&W singer or winner of the America’s Got Talent TV show.

What is the point of having a national anthem if the nation cannot be bothered to sing it? And, sadly, I am afraid the American approach appears to be spreading beyond its shores. What America does today, Britain does tomorrow and the rest of the world a few days later.

The only crowd participation I have witnessed in America was at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, home of the Dallas Stars NHL team. When said pop singer or whoever was trotted out to sing The Star-Spangled Banner and reached the line – Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight — the crowd to a man/woman would shout “stars”. That has all the sophistication of an eighth-grader.

Similarly, NFL crowds will chant “Defense” at the behest of electronic signs flashing round the stadium. But songs about players, chants to urge their team on, forget it. All you get during the course of a game is a cacophony of general noise; in other words one unholy din designed to drown out the opposing quarterback’s instructions to the rest of his team.

The nearest  I ever got to experiencing the kind of support British fans display was when the Jaguars beat the Indianapolis Colts last season with the last kick of the game. As the crowd left Everbank Field, the walkways from the stands echoed with the repeated chant of “We are —  Jaguars!” For a short time, I thought I had been transported back to England.

Oh to be at Wembley stadium on Saturday.

Apr 172011
 

Today is an important day for the city of Stoke-on-Trent and its premier football club, Stoke City.

The team takes on Bolton Wanderers in the semi-final of the FA Cup and is just 90 minutes away from a first appearance in the FA Cup final. Stoke City was founded in 1863. The club has never won the First Division/Premier League championship and its appearance in an FA Cup final is long overdue.

The last time Stoke City reached the FA Cup semi-finals was 39 years ago, when they lost to Arsenal, 2-1 in a replay at Goodison Park, after a 1-1 draw at Villa Park. I attended both those games.

So I proudly display the coat of arms of the City of Stoke-on-Trent, with its motto Vis unita fortior — United Strength Is Stronger.

Stoke-on-Trent, England. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Stoke-on-Trent came into being when the six towns of the Potteries — Stoke-upon-Trent, Hanley, Burslem, Tunstall, Longton and Fenton — federated in 1910. Various elements of each town’s coat of arms were incorporated into the Stoke-on-Trent arms.

The boar’s head comes from the Stoke-upon-Trent coat of arms and that of the Copeland Family, while the Staffordshire Knot either side was part of Tunstall’s coat of arms.

The Portland vase is part of Burslem’s coat of arms; the camel comes from Hanley’s coat of arms.

Longton’s coat of arms provided the eagle and the scythe was taken from Burslem and Tunstall’s coat of arms.

The Fetty Cross is part of Fenton’s coat of arms.

The Egyptian potter at his wheel symbolizes the city’s once illustrious pottery industry.

Stoke-on-Trent was granted city status in 1925 after a direct appeal to King George V who thought the centre of the pottery industry should be a city. The elevation to city status was announced by the King during a visit to Stoke on 4 June 1925.

Stoke lost its county borough status in 1974 under the local government reorganisation but its status as a unitary authority was restored as Stoke-on-Trent City Council on 1 April 1997.

I will be rooted in front of my computer screen at 11:00 am EST and just hope that I can get a decent livestream of the match. What I would give to be at Wembley.

Borrowing the words of William Shakespeare:

And gentlemen in America now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks
That went to see Stoke play on FA Cup semi-final day.

Mar 132011
 

Stoke City did it. Don’t ask me how but they managed to defeat West Ham United 2-1 and secure a place in the FA Cup semi-finals where they will meet Bolton Wanderers.

Stoke are now just one game away from an historic appearance in the FA Cup Final Despite the club’s long history, it was founded in 1863, an appearance in an FA Cup final has eluded them. The nearest they came was in the early 1970s when in successive seasons they met Arsenal at the semi-final stage of the competition and lost on both occasions following a replay.

I well remember the agony of those encounters and for that reason have little time for Arsenal. I was so pleased when Barcelona dumped them out of the Champions League and even more delighted when Manchester United knocked them out of the FA Cup yesterday.

As for today’s game, it was a close run thing and the last 10 minutes were tense as Stoke reverted to their characteristic sitting back when in the lead thus allowing West Ham to launch attack after attack. But Stoke’s defence held firm.

In fact, you could say the entire victory was down to the defence. Stoke’s attacking players have lost the plot when it comes to scoring goals. Even Matthew Etherington managed to miss a penalty. Both of Stoke’s goals came from set pieces, it’s the only way they know how to find the back of the net.

German central defender Robert Huth, one of manager Tony Pulis’s better signings, converted a long throw from Rory Delap to give Stoke the lead. That was cancelled out by a goal from West Ham’s Frederic Piquionne who blatantly handled the ball before chipping a shot over the advancing Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.

It took a thundering free kick from full back Danny Higginbotham, driven at pace about six inches above the ground and through the defensive wall, to ensure that Stoke reached the FA Cup semi-final stage for the the first time in 39 years.

In an all-round battling performance by Stoke, the only disappointment was the woeful and inept performance of record signing Kenwynne Jones, perhaps one of Pulis’s worst ever signings in view of the amount of money spent — £8 million.

Sunderland were laughing all the way to the bank on that deal. I doubt Stoke could get £80,000 for Jones if they wanted to sell him. His first touch is woeful, he lacks power in the air, is too easily knocked off the ball and seems to be on a different wavelength to the rest of his team mates.

The only time Jones should be allowed on the pitch of the Britannia Stadium is when the grass needs cutting. On second thoughts, I doubt he has the application and concentration to perform that task.

I hope Jones proves me wrong in the semi-final but I have a feeling it will take hypnosis to turn him into a footballer of merit.

Personal problems — a messy divorce — have been cited as the reasons for Jones’s drop in form, just one goal in his last 16 outings. If that is the case, why is manager Pulis picking him week in, week out?

Still, today is not a time to dwell on the shortcomings of Jones, Stoke City and manager Tony Pulis. The team won and stand poised to make history for the club.

Wembley here we come!