Result: Stoke City 2-2 Rotherham United (EFL Championship)
Venue: Britannia Stadium (Saturday 13th April 2019, 3pm)
A late, late decision allied with an overwhelming feeling of laziness led me to not truly fancying a trip to anywhere too long-winded and once I’d spied the chance to gain an unexpected “tick” towards my 92 tally, I swiftly took it. Booking tickets during the Saturday morning, I’d be off to my 60th league ground – namely the Britannia Stadium (no real/awful sponsor names here) as the Potters welcomed the Millers in what is, quite possibly, one of the most English nickname clashes you can get.
Setting off during the late morning, a delay for reasons unbeknownst to us train customers (clearly deemed not important enough to know) I arrived into a balmy Stoke-on-Trent at around midday and decided to head towards the ‘actual’ Stoke area of the city, rather than the Hanley area that seems to be termed as the city centre. Anyway, the first pub I came across was one by the name of the Ye Olde Bull and Bush which is yet another hostelry to add an unneeded ‘e’ onto ‘olde’, though they did have a nice mural depicting various historical images of Stoke which was cool. A pint of the self-badged Delilah’s Delight (of course) was had at £2.70, before I headed up the road a few doors to the Liquor Vaults. A big, sprawling bar, it was decent enough – especially as the Amstel came in at just the £2.80 and I could get some much-needed charging done too. A good start.
Stoke-on-Trent is a city in Staffordshire and together with the neighbouring boroughs of Newcastle-under-Lyme and the Staffordshire Moorlands, makes up the North of the county. It is a polycentric city, being made up of six separate towns, the federation coming together in 1910 and derives its name from the original town of Stoke-upon-Trent which was the site of the government facilities and railway station, whilst Hanley serves as the main commercial area. Tunstall, Burslem, Longton and Fenton complete the six. Historically known as the centre of English pottery, Stoke itself takes its name from the Old English word ‘stoc’ meaning “place” though it did go on to become more specific and with it being an ancient parish with a 7th century church possibly meant ‘place of worship’ or came from a crossing point of the Roman road from Derby to Chesterton. Later, with Stoke being a common settlement name, the distinguishing feature, the Trent, was added. When the borough of Stoke first applied for city status, it was denied by the Home Office, only for its appeal to reach royalty in the form of King George V, who agreed the borough should become a city in its own right.
Its 17th century onwards pottery industry grew up around the area’s canal network which allowed for easy access of china clay from Cornwall to be distributed, starting out as a small few businesses before becoming the major centre with the likes of Royal Doulton and Moorcroft making their base there after Wedgwood’s Etruria Works began the growth for the most part. The larger area was also a centre for coal mining, this beginning as far back as the 13th century, and it was here that the General Strike and associated pottery riots began in 1842. Though many mines set records, they would all close by 1994. Iron and Steel would also be an, admittedly minor, industry too as Stoke was the repair site for the North Staffs Railway whilst going on to be an important part of the WWII effort. Indeed the designer of the Supermarine Spitfire was born in the nearby village of Butt Lane and spent his apprenticeship in the town. Thomas Twyford of toilets fame also is part of the industrial part of Stoke’s history.
Many a famed person has come from the area, but maybe one of the more interesting ones is the late founder of Motörhead, Lemmy, which I had no idea about before writing this and is quite surprising, if I’m honest! Robbie Williams is another musical alumni to come from the area and Slash – of Guns N’ Roses fame – also lived in the town during some of his formative years. TV actors Neil Morrisey and Rachel Shenton also lay claim to being a local. The Staffordshire oatcake is the notable local delicacy.
Better was to come as I walked on over towards the Stoke Minster with the White Star just around the corner seeming to be some kind of ‘tap’ for the Titanic Brewery with all sorts of their ales on the go. I opted for a pint of Iceberg which was ok, though not completely my cup of tea if I’m honest but, at £3.30, I wasn’t going to complain all that much! I soon decided I’d leave the minster until after the game as it was on the route back to the station and so I instead back-tracked a little and instead went off in the direction of the ground, breaking up the walk with a visit to each of the Commercial Inn (Coors £3) and Sutherland Arms (Old Mout Passion Fruit £3.30) on the way before arriving at the closest pub to the ground (I think), the Gardeners’ Retreat. After assuring a few young lads outside I was not taking any pics of them(!), I grabbed a quick bottle of Sol with time at a premium.
From there, I continued on over the footbridge across the canal and to the Britannia where I would pick up my ticket from the “satellite” ticket office which was, handily, just next to my entrance and so I could spend a little time getting a few pics out and around the ground. Eventually it really was time to head in and after paying a visit to the food stalls for a pre-match pie (Steak if my memory serves me correct, this was a couple of weeks back as I write) I headed up into the seats to find my place in the corner of the ground, where I find you can usually get good views of the action, albeit a little further away at times.
In itself, the Britannia is a smart ground, all-seater of course and is rather symmetrical when it comes to stand size, with only the Main Stand being noticeably larger than its neighbours. The Main Stand houses most of the facilities with the boxes being located in between the two tiers of seating and the tunnel protruding from its side a little, down in the corner of the pitch between it and the Sharp Stand which was housing the Millers fans today. This is a single-tiered stand and is connected to the side-on stand opposite the Main Stand by a filled in corner, as is the Boothen End opposite – the corner where I was situated for the game today. A large TV stands in the other open corner between the Boothen and Main Stands, whilst the dugouts are also out front of the main, ensuring a short walk from the tunnel. That’s the Britannia and this is the story of the Potters….
Stoke City Football Club was founded in 1863 as Stoke Ramblers and is the second oldest professional club in the world behind Notts County alone. They changed their name to simply Stoke Football Club in 1878 before becoming Stoke City in 1925 upon Stoke being granted city status. They began life as the Ramblers via the pupils of Charterhouse school who were apprentices on the North Staffordshire Railway works in the town and their first recorded game was played at the Victoria Cricket Club ground against an E.W. May XV. They would move into Sweetings Field in 1875 as a result of rising attendances – not a bad reason for a ground move!
1878 saw the club merge with the cricket club and become Stoke F.C., moving to their long-term Victoria Ground home and took on their current colours around the same time. They turned professional in 1885 and went on to become a founding member of the Football League three years later though struggled there and weren’t re-elected in 1890 – thus joining the Football Alliance. However, this was won straight away and Stoke were re-elected and duly returned to the League once again. They went on to spend the next 15 years in the First Division and reached the FA Cup semi-final in 1899 before eventually being relegated to the Second Division in 1907. Soon after, the club went bankrupt and headed for the non-league ranks, competing with two sides for a time, in the Birmingham & District League (won in 1911) and the Southern League (won Division ‘2A’ in 1910 and promotion to Division 2, 1911 saw promotion to Division 1 as runners-up, relegated in 1913 & 1915 won the Division 2 title). They stayed in non-league until just after the outbreak of WWI, during which time Stoke competed in the Lancashire Primary and Secondary leagues.
Upon returning to the Football League as hostilities ceased, they took on their current name in 1925, though this didn’t help matters too much as the club was relegated to the Third Division North in 1926, though returned to Division 2 at the first attempt as champions. The 1930’s saw Stoke’s legendary player, Sir Stanley Matthews, make his bow and begin to make his mark on the footballing world. At 18, he helped the club to promotion from Division 2 in 1933 as champions and 1937 saw Stoke record two club records – a record 10-3 win over West Bromwich Albion and a record crowd of 51,373 vs Arsenal. However, their growth as a force was halted by WWII, though they would rekindle their run post-war and nearly clinched the League title in 1947 when they required a win from their final game to take it. However, they would go down 2-1 to Sheffield United, handing the league to Liverpool whilst Matthews headed to another ‘pool, Blackpool. This would be as good as it got for Stoke and they were back in Division 2 come the end of 1952-’53. Matthews returned to Stoke in 1961 and was still considered a coup at 46 years of age!
Stoke remained in the second tier for a decade, winning the title in 1963 to return to Division One once again and the club went on to reach the League Cup final he following year, but lost out to Leicester City over two legs. The late Gordon Banks joined the club during a year after winning the World Cup and played in the one-off United Soccer Association over in the States in 1967, competing as the Cleveland Stokers in the Eastern Division, finishing as runners-up. Back on home shores, Stoke finally lifted their first major trophy by winning the 1972 League Cup at Wembley – overcoming Chelsea 2-1, whilst semi-final appearances in the FA Cup were recorded in both 1971 and ’72, both seeing them vanquished by Arsenal. The club also appeared in the UEFA Cup in 1971 and ’72 as a result, losing out at the first fence to 1. F.C. Kaiserslautern and Ajax respectively. Stoke lifted the Watney Cup in 1973.
Relegated in 1977 back to Division 2, Stoke returned to the top-flight two years later and the club went on to remain there through to 1985 when they were relegated once more, having survived a brush with the drop the previous campaign. Things didn’t improve despite many a change of manager and the Potters were eventually relegated to Division 3 in 1990. The decade did see silverware arrive at the Victoria Ground in the form of the 1992 Football League Trophy, lifted at Wembley via a 1-0 win over Stockport County, whilst promotion was attained the next year. The club finished 4th and reached the 1996 Second Division play-offs, losing out to Leicester City in the semi-finals, prior to moving to their new Britannia Stadium home at the end of the following season, ending a 119-year stay at the Victoria Ground, but the change proved an unhappy one as relegation back to Division 2 (the third tier now the Premier League was in situ) was suffered at the end of the ground’s first season.
2000 saw Stoke win the Football League Trophy for a second time, this time via a 2-1 triumph over Bristol City at Wembley, and 2002 saw promotion attained once more as the club returned to the second-tier at the third straight attempt in the play-offs (having previously lost out to Gillingham and Walsall in the two years before) as the Millennium Stadium bore witness to their success over Brentford. After a five-year spell in the Championship, Stoke were promoted to the Premier League in 2008 for the first time after ending the season as runners-up. This is where my sort-of-soft-spot came for Stoke as I reckoned they’d stay up whilst the club was written off in many quarters – making me feel like I knew something, for once!
Anyway, the Potters would spend the next decade in the Premier League, largely as a solid mid-table outfit, and made the 2011 FA Cup Final, losing to Manchester City. They did qualify for the Europa League off the back of this though and after seeing off Hajduk Split, F.C. Thun and a group containing Besiktas, Dynamo Kyiv and Maccabi Tel Aviv, Stoke made the second round, eventually bowing out to Valencia. 9th place in 2014 meant the club’s best finish since 1975 and followed this up by finishing in the same position in both of the next two seasons, however things went awry last season and this resulted in Stoke’s eventual relegation and return to the Championship. This also saw the managerial roundabout begin once more as instability saw Mark Hughes, Paul Lambert and Gary Rowett come and go in quick succession, ending with current incumbent Nathan Jones taking the hot-seat in January after joining from Luton Town. However things haven’t improved and the club are stuck in a disappointing mid-table battle.
The game got underway somewhat slowly with little action during the first twenty-five minutes or so. For what there was, Anthony Forde drove an effort narrowly wide for the visiting Millers and Jon Taylor fired over, before Stoke would grab the opener with their first real sight of goal; Ashley Williams chipping a delivery into the box which Sam Vokes nodded home from close range and just two minutes later the Potters doubled their advantage with their very next attack – Vokes turning provider for namesake Sam Clucas and the latter smashed an effort high above Rotherham stopper Marek Rodak.
Despite being two down, it was the Millers who kept on looking more likely to find the net and Jon Taylor and Will Vaulks both went close in quick succession, before the Potters would end the half on the front-foot with Vokes being denied by Rodak but that would be that and the sides headed in with Stoke holding a two-goal advantage that only the most rose-tinted glasses-clad fan would claim they had truly earned.
Popping down into the concourse for half-time to catch up on the scores around the country courtesy of Soccer Saturday, we were soon back underway in the balmy Staffordshire sunshine. As in the first half, there was little to get the juices flowing early on as both sides struggled to gain the upper hand over the game as a whole. Clark Robertson forced Jack Butland into action to keep out his header before, just minutes later, they would grab a goal back through Michael Smith’s header after a corner hadn’t been fully cleared.
The ineffective Bojan Krkic, once hailed as the heir-apparent to Lionel Messi of course, was subbed off in the aftermath to be replaced by Benik Afobe but this only seemed to further hamper a Stoke side surprisingly desperately short of creativity and after Butland had pulled off a fine stop to deny Joe Newell’s stinging shot which seemed destined for the top corner, it would be another set-piece that would lead to Stoke’s further downfall. The ball would eventually fall at the feet of Matt Crooks just a few yards out and he duly forced the ball over the line to send the visiting Millers fans behind the goal into raptures. This also give Stoke a taste of their own medicine somewhat, the Potters having completed the same comeback at the New York Stadium earlier in the campaign.
The fans were, unsurprisingly, not too pleased with these happenings and their overall performance, as shown by the lack of argument as Butland was announced as man-of-the-match, especially as he’d pulled off another great stop high to his right to deny Crooks a second from close range. That was largely that and after the whistle, the players seemed to get away from the ire of those around me for the most part, but it was safe to say this wasn’t the case for boss Nathan Jones, whose applause was greeted with loud boos from those in the Boothen End. Safe to say, he has work to do to get them onside should he be given the time to do so.
Post-match I decided I’d let the crowds disperse a little, but I wouldn’t be waiting around inside the ground, oh no, sir! Beating a hasty exit, I was soon back crossing the footbridge, but instead of finding my way back to the roadways, I instead popped onto the canalways and to the small barge that serves as a can/bottle bar to enjoy a bit of time in the sun in some rather pleasant surroundings. The barge (named Barge-Inn Booze in a superb pun) served Dark Fruits in a can at just £2 which isn’t to be sniffed at whatsoever, and I spent a good half-hour watching the match-goers head off in their respective directions before continuing my own walk back to the town centre along the towpath.
After getting back to road level and paying my due visit to the minster, I popped into the Stoke Wetherspoons named The Wheatsheaf for a Punk IPA (£2.89) before finishing up in the Glebe Hotel, not too far from the station helpfully, where I saw that this looked to be another of a brewery taphouse, this time that of Joules’, though I could be mistaken. Whatever the case, I finished up my Stoke trip with a Joules Pale Ale which was my dearest drink of the day at £3.50(!), before catching the train back in good time, the remainder of the trip home going as smoothly as could be hoped for.
All in all, Stoke is nothing like as dreary as some people like to make out it is, with the old church, canal route and pubs all being pleasant affairs on the whole. The ground is smart with good views (just a shame the goals were right down the far end) and the food and programme were decent offerings too, though the pie was one of the standard offerings you get on the league ladder. So that’s another trip in the books as the season winds down to its conclusion and next up is the Easter weekend’s trio of matches which see visits to the exotic towns of Mansfield, Crewe and….Hanley! Don’t you just love it…..!
Value For Money: 8