It all started with Peter Thorne.
My earliest football memories are very fuzzy. I know that aged four, my first Stoke game was a 4-1 home defeat to Bristol Rovers, but I couldn’t tell you anything about the game, or even where I sat or who I went with – though I assume dad was there and I didn’t catch a train to Stoke-on-Trent by myself.
I do know that Peter Thorne, ‘Thorney’, scored for Stoke. He always scored for Stoke.
Another fuzzy memory is being sat upstairs in my grandparent’s house, Grandad showing me pages of The Green Un or The Sentinel, telling me about how Thorne was our best player. Wiry and slight, Thorne often wore a look of a man who was keeping an eye on his pint from the other side of the pub. Having done a quick Google image search, he appears in some pictures to look like the actor Kevin Eldon.
In my formative Stoke years, Thorne was my hero. The 1999-2001 shirt was my first shirt, and it had ‘Thorne 9’ on the back. This is where the lifelong devotion began. I wanted Thorne on my shirt, I wanted a small number nine on my shorts (and was devastated to learn the club shop didn’t do them), I wanted all possible combinations of the kit, I wanted Peter Thorne to score every time Saturday came around, and when I’d go out in the garden and boot flyaways in every direction, I wanted to be Peter Thorne. Of course football is a team game, and devotion to clubs comes to outweigh devotion to individuals, but our first football heroes get us hooked on the game.
There is a beautiful, hilarious phone-in clip of a Newcastle fan starting to cry when talking about Micky Quinn. His blubbering ‘he scored so many goals’, made even funnier by the strength of his Geordie accent, is daft but endearing.
It’s football down to its purest. Goals are the best thing in football, and if you have a guy who does goals a lot, he’s the best. Sure, Graham Kavanagh was a top player for us, and James O’Connor was ace, but for a beautiful time Thorne just always seemed to put the ball in the back of the net. If I were to check his stats, I’d only be disappointed, as in my head he’s got a 100% ratio (more if we played Bristol Rovers).
Wembley Stadium, my first away match. Not bad. If my parents brought me to teach me about the inherent unfairness of football, they were disappointed. I hadn’t quite learned it yet. There was no doubt Stoke were going to win that game in my young mind, and no doubt that Thorne would score. Lo and behold, at the age of six, I saw my hero win my team a trophy at Wembley. It may have been one of the best days of my life, but I cried when Stoke lost the pre-match celebrity charity game – to this day I’ve never forgiven Chris Evans.
Thorne was a proper poacher, a kind of footballer that’s become increasingly rare. I don’t remember what he was like in terms of hold up play, or tracking back, it was all about goals. Goals from about two yards, five if he was feeling adventurous. Ball is loose in the six-yard-area? Bang, there’s Thorne. He’s punished ya. Take it. Oh, he’s got time and space in front of goal, why’d you let him have that? Bang, there’s another. A Nationwide League Division Two Van Nistelrooy. Sending a 1/3rd full Britannia Stadium wild every other week.
You can’t underestimate the love you feel for your heroes at that age. I would have other favourites after, some even surpassing Thorne as my Stoke ‘GOAT’. Too young for Stein, Hudson, Greenhoff or Matthews, this lad from Greater Manchester wearing a shirt too big for him helped foster a Lytham lad’s relationship with Stoke that’s never gone away. Travelling all across the country with Stoke, talking endlessly about Stoke, writing about Stoke, doing a bloody podcast about Stoke. It all started with Peter Thorne. Walking down another Wembley way, beating Liverpool 6-1, going on the pitch in 2008. It all started with Peter Thorne.
In March 2000, he scored FOUR GOALS IN ONE GAME against Chesterfield. I have never seen another Stoke player do that in my lifetime, and chances are neither have you (last one prior to Thorne was John Ritchie in 1966). On our way to play-off heartbreak at the hands of Rob Styles, he scored thirty goals in a season. Since he left, we’ve never had a finisher like Thorney. Better strikers, sure, but none who just seemed to live to score goals.
He helped teach me to love football, but also to hate it. I don’t think there’s anything that could happen on any deadline day that could match the devastation I felt learning that Peter Thorne would join third-tier moneybags Cardiff City. No pain like losing your first love, is there? Off he went to South Wales, joining his former teammate Graham Kavanagh. At the time I felt like I could never hate Thorne, sad as I was, as Kavanagh in the eyes of many was the judas, though revisionist interpretations of that time cast a different view.
We got over it, the Thorne and Kavanagh money financed a final crack at the second tier, and thanks to a night at Ninian Park that defied all logic, we knocked Cardiff out the play-offs, and sealed promotion at another Cardiff ground a few days later.
Thorne would return to The Brit, and how, as his hat-trick in the 03/04 season gave Cardiff a 3-2 win. Thorney scoring goals in front of The Boothen (though it may still have been ‘The North Stand’ at that point) was now viewed through a whole different, heartbreaking context. A lot is made of players not celebrating against their former teams, but Thorney solemly raising one arm in celebration (three tiems), softened the blow of his devastating finishes. So this is what Chesterfield fans felt like. He was applauded off the pitch.
From Cardiff, he went to Norwich and then Bradford before retiring. His will not be a career that gets written into general football folklore, but those who watched us in the late nineties/early 00’s will remember him very fondly indeed, especially those who started their Stoke journey at that time.
Thanks Thorney, this is partly your fault.
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