Liverpool at home was likely the last game I will get to this season. I confess I have not been to a great deal of matches this term – student funds have meant it’s been nigh on impossible to afford to go. However, when I have been, I have of course loved it. A loss against Hull in the League Cup, a draw against Southampton with only ten men and a strangely hapless win against Watford at home, amongst a few others.
Being part of the faithful in this the first full season of the Wizards of Drivel podcast has felt extra special for me.
I’ve always felt part of the faithful on match day. Regardless of the southern accent that plagues me, and Dave is never found wanting to remind me of, I have never felt out of place or unwanted. That doesn’t mean I have always understood what is being said by others around me, mind. Over the years my ear for the Staffordshire accent has thankfully improved.
Now, having accepted my first proper job after a few years of full-time education, I look forward to spending more time than ever in the confines of the stadium plonked next to Stanley Matthews Way. My footballing home. I look forward to watching more Premier League football, meeting new people and generally integrating with the Stoke City community more than I have ever been able to before.
I started thinking about the adoptive nature I have always found in our stadium after a strange incident that occurred at a non-league game over the Easter weekend. It was between Stockport County and AFC Telford on Friday night. Hardly one to write a blog on the Wizards of Drivel website about, but for a tenner with some uni mates in a ground that has a decent atmosphere, it seemed like an alright idea at the time.
45 minutes of football and 0 goals later it was clear that I had got that all wrong.
The second half saw a slight improvement, on and off the field. My mate had put down a couple of quid on Stockport to win 5-0. Don’t ask me why. The other four of us were suggesting that it probably wasn’t going to come in. Hang about though. A neat strike from County’s Lewis Montrose meant we were on our way. 5-0 here we come.
Another friend leant over to say it might be time to ‘cash-out’ on the bet. If my memory serves me correctly, various expletives were offered in response.
Telford responded with a goal of their own. Bet finished.
Now, this is when the slightly strange/unwarranted/humorous moment occurred. The cheers of the opposition fans died down after their rather fortunate goal went in and my mate leant over again to remind my other mate how he should have ‘cashed out’.
This is a reminder to all casual football fans, when you are sitting in the home end of a football team that you don’t support it might not be the best idea for the five of you to heartily chuckle immediately after the home team has conceded. Well, unfortunately, this is what we did.
Cue the die-hard Stockport fan, sat alone with a County hat on his head, to turn around and ask us “Where are you lot from then?!”
Oh dear, we appear to have upset the locals. With one Mancunian sat in our ranks it might have been best if he had replied. Nope. Instead the gambler responded with “I’m from Reading personally.” You can’t knock his honesty.
The local proceeded to stare deep into the chasms of my mate’s soul as his face twisted in horror – presumably as he worked out in his hatted head if Reading was at all in the vicinity of Telford or summat. Dissatisfied with the response the local turned, drew out his phone from his pocket and started to text, who we can only presume to be, various members of the Stockport mafia.
Being the Southern Softies we are, we left the ground a few minutes early to avoid some sort of West Side Story-style bust-up.
I’ve lived in Manchester for a year now, supported Stoke for me whole life. It could be that the guy intended no wrong, but I have never been made to feel so uncomfortable thanks to the place where I was brought up. It seemed especially odd considering we had paid to see his beloved team, a healthy £50 from a few casuals can only be a good thing, no?
When we were clear of Edgeley Park, of course we laughed, laughed and laughed again about the incident. Speculating about the contents of the texts he urgently fired off after the rebuttal. But the little incident got me thinking, of two things in particular.
One, the thing I have mentioned, how glad I am to be welcomed as a Stokie throughout all of the years of my support. And now, finally, with money and closer location to Stoke, I will be able to make my way to the bet365 Stadium more often than not. Lucky Stoke.
Secondly, we had a great time at the game. Just five mates and a football match in the sixth tier of English football. 4261 fans were in attendance for a game that only really got going in the second half. We had a grand time. Thanks in part to the football, but more importantly thanks to the chatting, the chanting, the chastising off the field. It puts the Premier League football we are now enjoying into perspective, going to games like these. It reminds me that where ever Stoke end up we will have a grand time.
I’m not saying I won’t moan about the state of things in whatever place we find ourselves in years to come, but I will always remember that I’m welcome and I’m likely to have a grand time, despite where I’m from.