Feb 022011

I may as well come clean now as later. I am a Stoke City fan. I attended my first game as a boy in 1959. For the next few years I saw a handful of games but, in 1963, I was allowed to go to matches on my own and attended every home game for the next 14 years.

Even when Stoke were languishing in the lower divisions of the Football League and I could no longer attend because of work commitments, their result was always the first one I looked for on a Saturday evening. And on Sunday mornings, the first items I read in the Sunday newspapers were the Stoke City match reports.

Stoke City have never won the Championship or FA Cup. For a club that has been in existence since 1863, the only major trophy they have won is the League Cup in 1972.

But with a football club there can be no divorce, your support cannot be annulled. Unlike marriage, it truly is until death do us part.

Since Stoke City returned to the top flight of English League football, I have been able to watch their games via the Internet. This afternoon, they played Liverpool at Anfield and I arranged my day so that I would be free to watch the game.

My usual source of livestream is ATDHE.net. I clicked on the Web site and was greeted by the following message by AOL: “This domain has been seized by ICE — Homeland Security Investigations.” I wonder what that is all about.

Just as any assignment photographer has a back-up camera in case of mishaps, I have a back-up Web site. I clicked on fromsport.com but the coverage was diabolical, the action kept freezing every two seconds. Matters improved a little after 20 minutes but it was still not an enjoyable experience.

The coverage of the game matched Stoke’s performance. With one man up front, and with a side that is basically devoid of skill, class and guile, it was pretty clear from the start that Stoke were hardly likely to threaten the Liverpool goal.

The team selection by Stoke manager Tony Pulis almost defied belief.

There comes a point in a footballer’s career when they become an embarrassment to not only themselves but also the fans, the club and football in general. That point has been reached by Salif Diao who was later substituted by a player of similar standing — Rory Delap.

Manager Pulis selects Delap week in and week out. One can only assume that Delap holds some incriminating digital photo files on the hard drive of his laptop. He certainly does not justify a regular place in the team based on ability. Even in his cameo appearance this afternoon, Delap was woeful but he will probably be the first name on the team sheet for Saturday’s encounter with Sunderland.

Stoke went into half-time with the score at 0-0 but goalkeeper Begovic’s two outstanding saves were warning of what was likely to happen in the second half.

Liverpool struck early, taking the lead in the 47th minute. A ball into the penalty area was not cleared and Raul Meireles drove the ball home from eight yards out. As far as Stoke were concerned it was game over.

And yet with the introduction of Ricardo Fuller and the ball being played to feet rather than in the air, a better footballing side than Stoke may have scored an equalizer, which would have made for an interesting final 15 minutes.

Liverpool took control when their midweek signing, Uruguay international striker Luis Suarez, came on as a substitute. Suarez, who impressed me during the World Cup, soon latched on to a through ball from Kuyt, rounded the onrushing Begovic and stroked the ball towards the unguarded goal. Stoke’s Andy Wilkinson raced back to make a valiant effort to clear the ball and should have but somehow managed to send it against the upright. The ball flew across the face of the goal and spun into the back of the net.

It was not a happy afternoon from a Stoke fan’s point of view. The only consolation is that Liverpool spared us a goal onslaught. Before the match I believed we were in for a hammering, 4-0 or 5-0.

I don’t mind Stoke losing, but I do mind the manner in which they lose. Like the game at Fulham two weeks ago, they were dire and dismal and made no impact whatsoever. If Pulis presides over more inept performances like today’s I honestly fear for Stoke’s continued presence in the Premier League.