So, here we are then. After one of the strangest weeks in my life as a Stoke fan we find ourselves with manager once more.
With manager that we maybe didn’t hope for. Probably didn’t expect. But one we certainly now have.
For the first time in recent memory my football club were searching for a manager in the middle of a season. At first I was excited by the prospect. Gary Rowett seemed the likeliest at first – seemed a good idea to slip a fiver on him to be our man. Fiver wasted, dreams crushed for the first of a few times this week.
Going through Quique Sanchez Flores – another fiver wasted – a manager that I didn’t even know I wanted until I was told I did by the Stoke board and Wikipedia, and another manager to cross off the list, in more than slightly embarrassing circumstances at that.
The Irish ‘dinosaurs’ next. Having spoken to pundits on RTE earlier in the week about him I was certain we didn’t want them. And despite laughter from mates, the embarrassment of yet another rejection clear for all to see, but it was worth it to avoid those two, in my very humble opinion.
What next? An acceptance that Mark Hughes’ rather paltry seeming claim that no one else could do the job was true? Weeks and weeks of managerless football in one of the most important periods of the season, of the post-Pulis era, as a better man than me in the form of Bunny from Duck put it, one of the most important periods of our entire history. Scholes and Coates and whoever else makes the decisions in our club had a distinctly different idea.
Post-appointment madness saw many questioning the ambition (a word that hopefully won’t come to cruelly define our season) of the football club. A man that had the Premier League experience that the board required. But he has experience at doing okay. Lower mid table finishes at best.
Paul will reportedly get a million quid if he can keep us up this year, which is essentially what we all want. But a completely different message to the one we were delivered upon the appointment of the late Lesley Hughes. We were promised a change in style, a push up the table, and maybe a bit of youth injected into the squad. The former two promises came good for a time at least, the latter less so – before the few months that preceded his decline anyway.
This time we have no promises. Just hope I suppose.
In a World Cup year, being an England fan, hope is always a funny old thing. I’ll always hope that England do well, maybe at some stage I’ll believe we could do it, I’ll never expect.
This week was my first trip to Old Trafford, and to be part of that amazing away crowd, regardless of the negative views I’d held, and many of the people besides me had held, earlier that day after ‘the appointment’, was something I’ll remember for a while to come.
I’d gone into the day fearing for the result, and that had worsened upon ‘the announcement’, but, as will no doubt happen with England this summer, through the day, as 20:00 approached. I started to hope, maybe even started to believe, that Stoke could do it.
I didn’t expect anything, just hoped.
And that got me and my non-Stoke-supporting flatmate (Pompey) thinking on our thirty minute walk back home, via the pub. The mice that are currently residing in the space between my ceiling and the floor above make more noise than them lot. And it’s because they expect.
They wake up on the morning of the game, they expect a win. They eat their lunch whilst their thumb flicks through Twitter, they’re thinking about expecting a win. They get to the turnstile, expecting a win. It’s all so bloody expectant.
The joy of supporting Stoke, and any other club like it, in my eyes anyway, is the beauty of not knowing what will happen in the 90. Hoping for the best, moaning about the worst. It’s why fans put rose-tinted glasses on our stint in the unpredictably unpredictable Championship. It’s why I spent some mornings of the Festive period in front of the telly until 03:00 in the morning, in the hope that England can pull of a miracle. And it’s what most of us will be doing this summer, as we cheer on the overpaid knobheads that probably won’t do as well in an England shirt.
It’s the hope that kills you. But it’s also the hope that spurs you on. And I think it’s the hope that we lost.
For whatever reason, things had become all too predictable under Hughes. There were victories that were hollow like never before. The only expected outcome was a 5-0 loss against Tottenham. And it led to many of us baying for the blood of our man in charge like never before.
But now, on Monday, amongst thousands of expectant football fans, out of nowhere, we had our hope back. Who cares if that was quelled by Antonio Valencia somehow discovering his left foot for the first time, leaving young Tymon gawking on the edge of the box. We didn’t. We were the barmy/red and white army, and we had that hope back.
And that’s all we can do really. We’ll all analyse, criticise, cajole, cheer this season no doubt. But now, for the first time in a long time we can hope for more. I’m not too sure where that hope has come from. It feels like we’re the underdog again, probably thanks in part to Paddy ‘sticks his nose in where it’s not needed’ Power paying off on us getting relegated again. (Dickheads).
But who cares about that? I don’t. I care about Stoke City. I care about hoping. I care about believing. And on Monday night I got those feelings back. And now I hope and believe that I can continue to hope and believe that Stoke will be alright this season, and then we can see where we go from there.