Deepdale, 1998

Last year the Wizards did an interview with Joe Barbieri discussing his favourite Stoke City matches. As I’m sure other listeners did I started thinking about what my favourite games were. Now obviously number 1 is the FA Cup Semi Final, I’m not an idiot, that was honestly the best day of my life. But if I were to pick my second favourite it would have to be Preston 3 – Stoke 4 in 1998.

That was the day I properly fell in love with Stoke. My Dad had done a pretty decent job of indoctrinating me but like many kids I was still dabbling in some light glory hunting. Man Utd, Newcastle, that kind of thing. But after being at Deepdale when Stoke beat Preston on that glorious August afternoon that was it, I was Stoke for life.

The game took place on 22nd August, almost exactly 20 years to the day of our upcoming encounter with Preston. I was 11 years old and as it was during the summer school holidays my family and I were actually on holiday in Blackpool. For anyone with a passing knowledge of North West England geography you’ll realise that this was a stroke of scheduling genius by my father and meant that it was very easy for him to argue for going to the game. It felt totally incongruous for my father and I to be ditching my mother and younger brother on holiday to go and see Stoke, it felt like we’d gone rogue.

Stoke went in to the game in an incredibly similar situation to the one we find ourselves in now. Three games in to a post-relegation season and there was hope that we could turn things around. Contrary to this season however we were smashing seven shades of shit out of absolutely everybody we played. New manager Brian Little still had Peter Thorne, Graham Kavanagh, Ray Wallace, Kevin Keen and Larus Sigurdson from the previous season and we’d hit the ground running. We’d beaten Northampton 3-1 and Macclesfield 2-0 and there was palpable excitement about being a Stoke fan, even though we’d been relegated to the third tier and were in considerable debt.

Imagine the surprise then when at 60 minutes we were 3-1 down with Preston schooling us. This was not what I’d left the Pleasure Beach for. Then it all started to change. On 69 minutes Kavanagh scored and then 3 minutes later we won a penalty. Obviously Kavanagh scored again and we were level – that guy didn’t miss penalties. 3-3 and the Stoke end was bouncing. Preston were pressing for a winner though until Justin Whittle punts a ball from defence to the centre circle which finds Peter Thorne. Thorne immediately knocks the ball through past the last defender and oh my God Dean Crowe is steaming through and he’s bloody well going to reach it.

If I close my eyes I can still see him running. It honestly felt like he was running forever. The crowd stood and froze with anticipation. It was the feeling of utter inevitability that something incredible was going to happen but not quite believing it. That he was going to score, that nothing was going to stop him and that we were somehow going to win this game. After a few seconds that felt like lifetimes Crowe latches on to the ball, took a touch that moves him agonizingly close to the Preston goalkeeper but manages to squeeze the ball under him. The away end erupts.

I managed to find video of the incredible moment on YouTube here

The video’s got 112 views right now and I reckon that about 100 of them are from me.

I can’t think of any similar moments in recent Stoke history where you just knew 100% that the thing you wanted to happen was actually about to, we don’t tend to have that kind of luck. We’ve had the inverse of late, Crystal Palace at the end of last season were clearly going to come back in to that game, it was soul crushingly obvious.

Stoke won their first 6 matches of that season with Thorne and Crowe sharing most of the goals. The team totally capitulated at Christmas though and never recovered, eventually finishing 8th. Thorne and Crowe form part of what I see as two distinct Stoke striker lineages. Thorne shares a place in the list of striking legends with Stein, Sheron and later Fuller (more about that here . Crowe however never regained his early season form and headed to the pile of young strikers Stoke would discard arguably earlier than they should have. Adam Rooney and Chris Iwelumo would later join him on the pile and I fear the likes of Ngoy and Campbell will go the same way.

That day at Preston was truly great and if this seasons game gets anywhere close to the excitement of that game we’re in for a treat. I’ll be heading there for the first time in 20 years and I can’t wait.

Ben Taylor

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