We are working our way through the alphabet, and have reached Stoke City…
Worst thing that other fans think of them
Stoke City have carved out a niche as a club that is disliked almost across the Premier League board. That reputation was established under the Tony Pulis regime, with their ‘rugby team’ moniker founded on accusations of long throws, long balls and physicality. In fact, there is an argument to label Stoke as the most disliked club without a true rival in the same division. Stoke are everyone’s second or third least favourite team.
Not that Stoke supporters mind that assessment; some indeed may embrace it. A section of the club’s fans revel in the siege mentality of ‘nobody likes us, we don’t care’, and there is no doubt that it assisted Stoke’s consolidation in the Premier League.
That reputation has diluted since Pulis’ departure, although Mark Hughes is also a difficult man and manager to warm to. Now, the most hurtful reputation Stoke have is for being in the middle of the top-flight road, a club neither in love or out of love with its manager and team, just bobbing along in the Premier League’s shallow end. In that sense Stoke are seen as indicative of a bottom-half malaise, although that is hardly their fault.
The elephant in the room here is the treatment of Aaron Ramsey, who is still booed by Stoke supporters six years after his career-threatening leg break at the hands – or leg – of Ryan Shawcross. They are angry that Ramsey rejected Shawcross’ apology, and that Stoke and Shawcross were made the victim of a concerted campaign, but it’s still quite something to abuse Ramsey in those circumstances.
“Aaron Ramsey, he walks with a limp,” a minority chant, and have been criticised for doing so by Stoke’s chairman Peter Coates. I honestly can’t imagine the mindset of someone partaking in that. It really does make you wonder about the hardwired tribalism that football attracts.
Worst thing about the ground
The Britannia (and it will always be called that to me) is a little soulless, lacking in atmosphere in the same way as countless other out-of-town Premier League stadia, but that is becoming something of a broken record. And the Britannia does have one feature that sets it aside from other grounds: Temperature.
It is not the fault of Stoke of course, but there is nothing quite like the cold you can experience at the top of the Britannia Stadium. You can walk comfortably in short sleeves along the canal to the stadium, with milky sunshine persuading you to slow down your pace and absorb the warmth. You can shield your eyes from the sun as you look up to take in the stadium’s full vista. But woe betide if you haven’t packed that coat, hat and gloves. In the West Stand Upper, the wind whips around your face like being repeatedly slapped by a frozen breaded fish fillet. Yes, even in May.
Dionatan Teixeira holds a special place in my heart for joining in 2014, playing 48 Premier League minutes and yet not leaving until January this year when he signed for Sheriff Tiraspol in Moldova. However, my man cost nothing and so can’t be included. Wilson Palacios also deserves credit for sticking around after signing for £6m.
Yet the winner has to be Dave Kitson, if only because he is happy to accept how badly it went: “I threw all of that away for what I thought was going to be a new challenge. I hold my hands up – it was my fault. I made the decision to go to Stoke, I didn’t have to, no-one forced me to go, and it was a bad decision. You do have some days at training when you go back in and wonder what you’re doing there.”
He should write a series of books under a pseudonym one day.
A kit that is hideous not just in comparison with the typical standard but with other garish shirts of the early 1990s. That was a time when clubs released the shackles of typical boundaries and embraced a race to see who could produce the most unpleasant, and thus (perhaps deliberately) eventually cult classic, kit design. Stoke did it better/worse than most.
Alas, the rumour that the shirt predicted the exact soundwaves of the conversation between James Beattie and a naked Tony Pulis before the latter headbutted the former seem to be false.
That’s the important stuff done. Now, how creepy is the mascot?
There has been a lot of important, critical analysis within the mascot sections of this feature, but hear this: Stoke have absolutely nailed it. A club known as The Potters and without an animal on their badge could easily have flunked their mascot choice by having an old man in a brown coat with a potter’s wheel, forcing youth-team players to recreate the scene from Ghost or forging some sort of J. K. Rowling deal.
But no. Stoke did not pack up early on a Friday afternoon, ask someone to get a dog or lion costume and put it on expenses and thus get stuck with another tedious mascot. Instead they took the meeting to the pub, got p*ssed and realised that there is an animal with ‘Potters’ in its name. Well, close enough.
And so ‘Pottermus’ was born, a Stoke City-themed hippo and the saviour of dull football mascots. Later, he was joined by Pottermiss, which makes me do a fist bump in celebration. Yes, Stoke. Bloody YES.
Pottermus also has a story behind him, having come seventh in the club’s Player of the Season award during his first season under the unsuccessful stewardship of Chris Kamara after being twice coming second in Man of the Match votes. He was also sent off by a referee in 2000 having distracted a linesman into giving an offside decision having mistaken a six-foot blue hippo for a Stoke player.
Finally, I don’t even want to tell you how many different scripts I’ve imagined up for this two-minute video featuring a pair of mating adults in the wild.
Worst celebrity fan
The correct answer when asked to name any Stoke City fan is Nick Hancock, host of They Think It’s All Over and star of various football gaffe VHSs. If you haven’t heard Hancock call Peter Devine a wazzock or a pillock while enjoying the saga of him repeatedly ending up in Stoke Poges then you simply haven’t lived.
There is actually no stand-out nomination in this category, so instead spend five minutes losing your faith in acceptance and humanity by reading comments on Stoke City forums on the subject of Julian Clary being rumoured to be a celebrity supporter.
‘Clary has obviously read about our “big boys”,’ says nott1 on the Oatcake Fanzine forum. ‘He was apparently over the moon to see us come from behind against Newcastle,’ thevoid replies. ‘Obviously likes our back to the wall defending and loves Shawcross for his tackle. In fact he loves ALL hard tackles,’ is the witty input from Byeee on another forum.
Honestly, why must so many people be absolute w*nkers?
Greatest own goal(s)
It can only be Jon Walters, whose own goal double against Chelsea is best summed up by the introduction to the video on Youtube. ‘Stoke City Striker Jonathan Walters who is supposed to score goals for his team, scored 2 goals but in his team !!!!’ Mostafa Haj Hassan says. Burn.
Weirdest club shop item?
Stoke has three nominations in this category, so let me bring you them in turn:
Dog jumper – A relatively rare item in the club megastore world, whose pet products usually stop at lead, collar, bowls and squeaky toy. Stoke offer a dog jumper that basically looks like a big snood. I’m going to assume that there are holes for the legs, or does this simply sit in between front and back leg? I’m showing my lack of canine expertise. Also, isn’t it weird that while wearing nothing a dog looks normal, but cover up only its middle and suddenly it looks like a trussed up floozy?
Greetings card – And not just any greetings card, but the worst card I think I’ve ever seen. With a ludicrously laboured joke about buying the beers and an entirely superfluous Stoke City logo, this is David “Quiz at seven, drinks at six” Brent in happy birthday form. Actually, no, it’s worse. It’s Chris Finch.
Remote control crest cushion – Every now and then you come across an item and wonder how it took so long to be invented, such is its simplicity and instant necessity. More often than that, you come across something and wonder if they have ever sold a single unit. This is the latter, a product that makes me think we might have run out of new ideas as a species, like when they made a second Deuce Bigalow film.
The obvious sell is the “Have you ever lost your remote control? Well we bet you’ve never lost a cushion” angle, but honestly. Would you pay £25 for an Infrared-powered, football club-branded cushion to turn the volume up on the TV? Oh god, you would. You monster.