LOOKING BACK IS HEALTHY
Tuesday 26 January 21: Had the strangest, weirdest, funniest day of any Lockdown yesterday which I will tell you about in a while but in the meantime I read a piece in the Sentinel dated Tuesday 29 January 2013 written by David Lee with the headlines STOKE CITY: 150 GLORIOUS YEARS OF THE POTTERS followed by: So near, but so far for Potters in bid for title.
As the 1974/75 season reached its climax, Stoke were on the brink of the unthinkable – finally winning the league title, David Lee reports on the Potters’ pursuit of the Holy Grail.
As Stoke fans began to dream that this could finally be their season, one match loomed on the horizon that was crucial to their title ambitions – the visit of Liverpool at the Victoria Ground on East Monday 1975. It was no surprise to find Bob Paisley’s Reds top of the pile, but they were only two points ahead of Stoke – and apparently not relishing their trip to the Potteries. But Tony Waddington had problems of his own – a chronic injury list, no money to replace his walking wounded and a huge segment of the Stoke crowd still on his back. It beggared belief.
From the criticism he was getting from some of his fans, anyone would have thought stoke were on the brink of relegation. In fact, they had one of their greatest squads playing some of the most stylish football at the top of the Division.
I must ask you to consider the day after the sacking of young Frank Lampard – as I call him having grown up playing with and against is father – the problems back in our day for a manager like Waddington, who had been through the mill since taking over this team going nowhere. The problem was that David Lee hasn’t explained that unlike London the Potteries as I have said since my arrival in the January of 1974 that Stoke-on-Trent was a fishbowl and the fans could tell you where Tony ( and his players) were 24/7 and he could only afford a chalet in nearby, an hour and a half drive to Abersoch, to get away from the place that had they loved him like he loved their Football Club this could be a dream that nearly came true story.
Had we won the title it might have gone down like in Leicester those 5,000/1 shots under Claudio Ranieri, but Claudio had the luxury of absolutely no pressure and replying to the locals in Italian. When Waddington bought me for a record £240,000 after years of heart warming memories playing for him, our friendship was the cornerstone of what made this the best football education of my life. And, being the man I know he was, he signed me because of that song, You Need a Friend by James Taylor and that was exactly what he got from Day One. Our friendship was so strong I hear of players today “putting in a shift” and can tell you that I would have run to Kingdom come: The Next World for the man called Waddo, who was always Tony to me.
David Lee carries on: John Ritchie broke his leg at Ipswich, Jimmy Robertson broke his leg at Coventry. Mick Pejic broke his leg at Wolves. Denis Smith broke his leg at Ipswich.
I now read on, by the way those broken legs were spread over a season when we had 15/16 players in our squad. Alan Bloor had been out all season with a cartilage injury and Terry Conroy whose long awaited comeback was given another setback when injured playing for the Republic of Ireland. It went on, Jimmy Greenhoff (broke nose), Jack Marsh (hip) Geoff Hurst (back) and Geoff Salmons (hamstring) while I was forever playing with this chronic ankle injury but that was okay because Tony had the Stoke-on-Trent Fire Brigade in his back pocket to water the pitch for me.
Worse still, Stoke had to play West Ham, Arsenal and Liverpool all within four days over the crucial Easter period.
Then Moores scored twice in a 4-0 defeat of Manchester City inspired by Alan Hudson, while in Kevin Lewis’s first game Stoke achieved a first – beating Spurs at White Hart Lane. Hudson’s one-two with Moores sealed a two-nil win. Stoke then came from behind to beat title rivals Derby County at the bog that was the Baseball Ground, with two great goals from Greenhoff. But when Lewis ended up with stitches in a head wound during a match against Ipswich, where Smith broke his leg, Waddington had to bring in young Danny Bowers. Down to his last few players, the manager had to take a gamble on the fitness of Conroy, who’d only played a couple of matches all season, and Bloor.
Somehow it all came together.
Conroy was on fire, putting away a hat-trick as Stoke beat Carlisle 5-2 and then scored twice in a 2-2 draw on Easter Friday at West Ham. He then helped gain Stoke a valuable point at HIghbury the following day.
Waddington gave his flagging players the Sunday off to prepare for the next leg of their Easter marathon – the visit of new leaders Liverpool. The Reds at the start of their 15 year domination of English football.
Their side included Ray Clemence, Emlyn Hughes, Tommy Smith, Phil Thompson, Ray Kennedy, John Toshack, Kevin Keegan, Terry McDermott and Steve Heighway, all European champions.
But there was 46,000 Stoke fans waiting for them – twice as many as their last home match. For their hard earned money those fans were to witness, according to the Sentinel, a “breathtaking” performance from their team.
Midfield maestro Hudson put in a powerful performance, Bowers kept Keegan quiet and Dodd dealt with Kennedy while Salmons dazzled despite his injury.
Man of the Match would usually be Hudson but John Mahoney stole the day with a stunning performance. It was is run to collect Hudson’s awesome pass on 20 minutes that resulted in Thompson hauling him down in the penalty box. Salmons had missed a penalty at Luton, so stepped aside for Conroy to send Clemence the wrong way. The Irishman then finished them off after a Salmons corner was headed on to him by Greenhoff. Even Waddington’s critics on the terraces were silenced by a masterful display. This was Paisley’s first season in charge and he was forced to watch his side being give a football lesson. And it wasn’t, like today, as if they had an excuse for being tired, whereas this Stoke’s third match in four days where Liverpool had Good Friday off.
“Magnificent” exclaimed Waddington. “Our football was out of this world”, but neither team would claim the title.
Our team read: Shilton, Marsh, Bowers, Mahoney, Dodd, Skeels, Conroy, Greenhoff, Hurst, Hudson and Salmons.
I didn’t know until finding this piece sent down to me eight years ago by my best mate in the Potteries Bryan Shenton, that it was Bob Paisley’s first match in charge and what a job he went on to do, but the thing is maybe that was how Bill Shankly got into our dressing room so quickly after that match because I thought he was still manager. But with all the commotion before hand when I turned p at the ground thinking that I was not going to play in this all-important match, Tony had that huge surprise for me, by watering the pitch through our local Fire Brigade, who I am forever grateful.
AND THEN THERE’S THOSE UNSUNG HEROES!
When Bill Shankly shook my hand after 90 minutes of sheer exhilarating football played by that team, who I am certain three or four names are never talked about. Eric Skeels at the heart of the defence that day alongside Smith stood 5″ 6′ in stocking feet and was incredible, a man who first marked me man-to-man at Stamford Bridge in my very first season and became a real good friend, Alan Dodd maybe the best central defender I have ever played with or against, if the kid had had my love and passion for this sport he would have been in the England team forever and young Danny Bowers would have went on to greater things had tat roof had not collapsed.
In a day when managers in this country are paying telephone numbers for foreign players it takes to read something like this to tell you where it all went wrong, yeah the rich get richer but as they get richer our game suffers.
It is now at 11.40am and I put that newspaper away and thank my little mate for sending it down to me, knowing there’s a lot to be learned from looking back – Frank