On the 1st of January 2011, Stoke sat 8th in the Premier League, on the 1st of January 2012, Stoke sat 8th in the Premier League also, but whats happened in the last 12 months will never be forgotten by those Stokies who stayed sober enough at the key moments (and yes I know of people who regret getting so drunk they have nothing but the DVDs to remember it by).
So a quick history lesson for any non Stoke City fans who might be reading, or new Stoke fans who have decided to follow the Rip Roaring Potters. Stoke City FC is the 2nd oldest league team in the world (the oldest is Notts County who are 150 this year). In those 149 years, we have to be frank, been one of the least successful teams given the size of our support. We’ve never finished higher than 4th in the top division, and only achieved a top 6 finish on a handful of occasions. Before 2011, we had reached just 3 FA Cup Semi Finals (1899,1971,1972), not winning through to the final in any of them, we had also reached the Final of the League Cup just twice, losing over 2 legs in 1964, and winning our one and only major trophy in 1972 at Wembley. That League Cup win, and a 5th place finish in 1974 led to our 2 previous excursions to the continent, where each time we were eliminated in the 1st tie. But all of this was before my time, i wasn’t even born then.
When I started following the Potters (first game was 24 years ago v Birmingham City), Stoke were what is called a “Sleeping Giant” a term probably better used on bigger teams than us, but there is no well known phrase “Sleeping quite tall person, but not quite a Giant” We had “History”, but had fallen on hard times, and as some visiting teams liked to sing “You’re not famous any more” (yes i’m looking at you Stockport County fans), and this is pretty much how is stayed for the next 20 years, we had a few flirts with “success”, occasional cup runs, victories etc, an unsuccessful play off campaign in ’96. But for those 20 years, they were all false dawns, and we worshiped for want of a better phrase “false idols”, don’t get me wrong they were good or great players for us, but not good or great players in the wider footballing world.
And then a miracle happened, our once hated ex-chairman Peter Coates came back, but richer, far far richer, richer beyond his, and our wildest dreams. He’d taken his share of the sale of the club to an Icelandic consortium, invested it in his aptly named “Provincial Racing” and turned them into Bet365, one of Britain’s biggest online bookmakers. He also brought back our ex-manager, a man who split opinion not quite 50/50 down our support, probably more like 75/25, with the smaller figure being those who liked him. However Tony Pulis and Peter Coates turned into the dream team, and in 2008, after a 23 year absence, returned to the top flight of English Football, and not only did we not get relegated, we consolidated, and consolidated. And we kept upsetting the so called big boys, playing a brand of football that annoyed the “purists”, but we kept getting the wins we needed, and getting a little stronger each season. and then BLAM 2011 happened.
So we started 2011, in 8th place, with an FA Cup tie at home against our favorite Welsh side, Cardiff City (we have history with them stretching back at least a decade) to look forward to. It had banana skin written all over it, but we sneak through in the replay in extra time. The story of our FA cup run has been written about enough in other places, suffice to say i doubt any Stokie watching the semi final either at Wembley or any where else on the planet had any different reaction at half time, to the one I and every one I saw had, which was … WHAT THE F***
When we walked out of wembley after the semi final, we knew one thing for sure, we were going on a European Tour, no matter what happened in the final.
And so 37 years after our last trip into Europe (excluding the Anglo-Italian Trophy), we were literally just happy to be there, and the 2011 Vintage Stoke City did something that the 1972-75 Vintage Stoke City couldn’t do, not only did they get to an FA Cup Final, but they Won a European Tie, and not just once, they won 2 qualifying rounds, and finished 2nd in their Group, and qualified for the last 32, being paired with Valencia to be played in February 2012. Those Stokies that went to Europe, the rest of us are jealous, but please keep sharing the memories with us.
Sitting here, typing this in January 2012, i still can’t quite believe the year we’ve just had, So here’s to 2011, what a F***ing year, If its a rare vintage, so be it, if its not, bring it on.
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