Pinch, punch…remember our school days saying?
Well today l felt like a young boy as l agreed to help Jono Baker a long time fantastic Stoke City fan, which seems from more of the time l was there – although it was just this was the period of “what might have been?”
A period where all of their many happy memories of that 1972 League Cup success over our dipping Chelsea team, so glorious in 70 and 71, would have taken backseat to what we almost achieved.
Having said that this was not sad or sob story it was, and will always be, what one man did against all the odds, something in the modern game that would even outweigh the Leicester City 5000/1 shot as we fought and played superbly through a season of four broken legs – talk about against adversity?
Say it quickly and it is simply unbelievable but look at it realistically and it would have made the Impossible Dream sound like a song?
Jono is writing a new book about that time when we both agreed it was although unthinkable to the world outside of the Potteries, it was most definitely a season, where this little old backstreet football club were not only so very close to making the unthinkable much more than just winning the championship when you look at where Stoke City were when he took over.
Managers today like Jose and Pepe wouldn’t go near the little club on the backwaters of the Trent, trust me, they would have said, “Are you kidding me, I only manage Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Manchester City, the richest clubs on earth.”.
We was also the ‘Team of the Season’ for the way Tony Waddington put his mark on bunch of lads who with a squad of seventeen names to be chosen only to suffer four broken legs along the way and despite that with three matches still to play were still very much in the hunt – the amazing story about this was l never realized this until quite some time after Jimmy Greenhoff and l were looked at as two blokes who’d pay for the roof being blown off, because of their incompetence.
You know of my dislike of the ‘suits’ well this was just another reason why, only my being right wasn’t worth the three year contract, if not for the manager, it would have been worthless?
Today we are reminded by today’s millionaire managers paid a weekly wage that could have bought half of our team, those who let us know repeatedly that they are not at full strength and have to go to their 40 something man roster to replace them.
Excuses, excuses, excuses!
I’m afraid these excuses don’t wash with me, never have, never will, for they have enough players to cover each position.
Anyhow, like l said, talking about playing for Waddington in this team was much the same as playing for my father’s Chelsea Boys Club team when we won the National Federation of Boys Clubs final Under 14s at Craven Cottage and that’s because like Tony we could just go out and enjoy ourselves and play the game as we saw it played like those before us.
We wasn’t short of talent with Charlie Cooke, Peter Osgood and the rest of our Chelsea team, but it was players like Haynes, Eastham, White and across the border slim Jim Baxter, yeah we all needed someone to emulate which was far superior than listening to some nobody coaching or telling you how to play a game that they didn’t know how to play.
The proof is in the eating as to if they knew how to play, why weren’t they playing at the top level themselves?
Anyhow, we learned our trade in the streets by throwing any clothing items down as goals and played in stop with no referee, no whistle and most definitely no VAR.
And more important no stoppages for tugging a shirt, mainly because we couldn’t because they were our goalposts.
Jono was very surprised as to how l not only remembered certain matches but remembered those that followed the and the importance of them.
In twenty of years of playing it was the only time l was not only a part of the best football team in the country but one that sat both proudly and deservedly top of the old First Division. And that was when it was a far better League than today, full of great British players, where if you picked a club they’d have an outstanding individual from Huddersfield Town with Frank Worthington to Sheffield United and Tony Currie – although Tony and I still argue who was the superior. We remain great friends with great respect for one another and I recall me and him torturing the Scottish (in an Under 23 match) at the Baseball Ground one midweek afternoon, which left Steve Perryman telling me years later “Alan, it was such a pleasure playing alongside you two,” and Stevie knew because he played with Hoddle, Ardiles and Hazard – not Eden.
I explained to Jono that my family, who travelled 150 miles for a home match all agreed it was the best football team l had ever played in and my father was the main reason I signed as he knew Waddington was MY kind of manager, one who loved inside-forwards as Tony himself told me on that park bench across from the Russell Hotel on that night of our first meeting, not talking money but Number 10s like Vernon, Viollet, Dobing and Eastham to name just four, then I was to find out Greenhoff needed a Number 10 to bring out the best of him, which so happened we both benefited from. I also mentioned to Jono that had Gordon (Banks) had not been in that tragic car smash, losing an eye, and Terry Conroy would not have been plagued by injury and played week-in-week out I would now have a championship medal around my neck instead of a European Cup Winners Cup one, and wore it with so much pride as our football and manager were so very special, something that still inspires me – especially the MAN – today.
Don’t get me wrong, I wear this medal today, which I exchanged for a crucifix which was put on me in that coma, and it is for me and that great team spirit shared by our 1970 and 1971 team, where apart from one or two, we were family. I suppose all families get split up, but not for the reasons that they split this one up, it was those ‘suits’ again.
I joke when doing my Audience with Alan Hudson that “After winning those two big trophies at Chelsea against Leeds United and Real Madrid we let Stoke win in 1972 because they had never tasted anything like this, but it wasn’t until a month or two in at Stoke City, after getting to know Tony I was so very happy that they did beat us – as I would have never have ended up with Waddington.