May 142011
 

The day has arrived. In a few hours, the outcome of the 130th FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Stoke City at Wembley will be known.

One of the teams will go down in the history books as the winner; the losing side will fade into obscurity.

As a Stoke City supporter for 51 years, you don’t need me to tell you who I want to win.

Stoke City 1972 League Cup Final shirt. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Manchester City are the obvious favourites with a team that cost in excess of £200 million, while Stoke’s was assembled for £26 million in transfer fees.

In their last Premier League games both teams faced north London opposition. Stoke City convincingly beat Arsenal 3-1 at the Britannia Stadium; Manchester City beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Eastlands to clinch a place in next season’s Champions League.

But the saying in football goes – you are only as good as your next game. And that game is the FA Cup Final.

The last time Manchester City won the cup was in 1969 thanks to a Neil Young goal. Sadly, Young died earlier this year and City fans believe the FA Cup will be one by them in memory of Young.

Bolton Wanderers fans believed they were destined to win the FA Cup in memory of Nat Lofthouse who died this year. But when Bolton met Stoke City in the FA Cup semi-final, they were thrashed 5-0 by the Potters.

Dead men do not win football matches.

In this David versus Goliath clash this afternoon, the TV pundits are going with Goliath. On paper that seems a sound assessment but football matches are not played on paper.

It is what happens on the Wembley turf this afternoon that counts, where 11 men wearing the sky blue shirts of Manchester City take on 11 others wearing the red and white stripes of Stoke City.

May the best team win. I just hope it is Stoke.

In the League Cup Final of 1972, Stoke City were the underdogs against Chelsea but won the game 2-1. A similar scoreline in Stoke’s favour this afternoon would suit me fine.

Apr 202011
 

Searching for video footage of Stoke City’s 5-0 triumph over Bolton Wanderers in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final, I came across a web site called The Original Winger.

Now as every self-respecting Stoke City fan and devotee of The Oatcake fanzine messageboard knows, the “original winger” is none other than acclaimed English author and bon viveur Stephen Foster.

Stephen is well known for his books charting the fortunes of Stoke City — She Stood There Laughing; …And She Laughed No More – as well as the best-selling Walking Ollie and Along Came Dylan.

His most recent work is the autobiographical From Working-class Hero to Absolute Disgrace.

Now if I was Stephen, and being in the litigious United States, I would be in touch with my lawyers regarding the use of the name The Original Winger.

I am joking of course. Stephen aka winger would approve of The Original Winger. It is an American web site based in Los Angeles and inspired by the lifestyle and culture of soccer. I do wish Americans would use football instead of soccer.

Stephen also runs a blog site – Stephen Foster’s Blog – and as enjoyable and entertaining as it is, especially the comments, he has not been able to come up with the five goals that saw Stoke City reach the FA Cup final for the first time in its 148-year history.

Apr 172011
 

In what was arguably Stoke City’s second greatest game in their 148-year history, the first being the League Cup final win in 1972, they made it to their first FA Cup final appearance after defeating Bolton Wanderers 5-0 in the semi-final at Wembley.

I doubt that any fan, even the most diehard, would have predicted such a victory. It was unbelievable. I am still pinching myself to make sure that it wasn’t a dream.

With the new Wembley stadium echoing to the strains of Delilah, the anthem of Stoke City’s fans, Stoke found themselves with an amazing three-goal lead after just 30 minutes.

Matthew Etherington seized on a sloppy pass just outside the Bolton penalty area to rifle in a sweet shot to put Stoke 1-0 up after 11 minutes.

Six minutes later, a poor clearance by the Bolton’s Cahill saw defender Robert Huth volley home from 20 yards to give the Potters a 2-0 lead.

Exactly on the stroke of half an hour, Jermaine Pennant robbed Bolton’s Martin Petrov and took the ball 70 yards up the field before laying off an inch-perfect pass to Kenwyne Jones who calmly sidefooted the ball past the despairing dive of Bolton goalkeeper Jaaskelainen.

Leading 3-0, it looked like game over.

But I remember Stoke taking a 2-0 lead against Arsenal in the 1971 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough. Arsenal came back in the second-half and scored a last-minute equaliser to a secure a replay and eventual victory.

At half-time, I pondered whether such a fate was once again in store for Stoke.

Bolton’s manager Owen Coyle made changes to his side for the second half. He had to. The changes gave them a little bit of impetus but not enough to threaten Stoke’s dominance and any hope of a comeback was dashed in the 68th minute when Jonathan Walters, whose career began at Bolton, latched on to the ball and left Bolton defenders in his wake before cutting inside and firing a perfect shot into the corner of the Bolton goal.

Football fans throughout the UK pillory Stoke City’s style of play, saying that it lacks quality. As the TV commentator said of Walters’ goal, “It was quality with a capital Q.”

In fact, all of Stoke’s goals were quality efforts and I should imagine a great many football fans throughout the country will have to change their opinion on Stoke’s style of play.

The lead and Stoke’s ascendancy took on the stuff of dreams 13 minutes later when Walters pounced again after good work by Jones. His cross was deflected by Wilkinson into the path of Walters who chipped the ball beyond Jaaskelainen into the net for his second goal of the game and Stoke’s fifth.

It was not a victory but a history-making rout that will see Stoke meet Manchester City in the FA Cup final at Wembley on May 14.

Stoke will again go into that match as underdogs but, as the saying goes, every dog has its day, and it could well be that Stoke may cause another upset next month to lift the FA Cup trophy.

Here’s hoping that they do.

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!