In this blog series, we pay tribute to the people who write about our club, whether in print or online. If you want to suggest a great Stoke writer from the world of books, journalism, fanzines, blogs or more, let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The final season of The Oatcake has caused me to reflect on the phenomenon of ‘Stoke fan media’, and despite the declining standards on the pitch, the off-the-pitch conversation remains in rude health with a variety of outlets available. One of the reasons The Oatcake will be a miss though, is that we will no longer be reading Neil ‘Trouserdog’ James’ regular Oatcake column.
What do we expect from the people who write about our club? Opinions, sure. Honesty is pretty essential, and being able to write entertainingly is a bonus. Trouserdog has all three in spades, but he has also harnessed something that separates great writers from ordinary ones: authenticity.
When you read Trouserdog’s stuff, you feel like you’ve been his mate and you’ve had a rip-roaring session in the pub. In The Oatcake, Duck Magazine, on Twitter and in his book Stoke and I: The Nineties his Stoke writing is not only sharp, well-observed and sizzling with an acerbic wit – it’s fundamentally honest. He’s not writing to be agreed with, he’s writing from a place of genuine love for his club. Sometimes though, he’s writing just to make you crease up laughing – whether it’s writing erotic fiction about Tony Pulis or imagining Michael Owen’s Christmas diary.
I refer you to Orfy’s review in the latest Duck for a much fuller, glowing review of TD’s first book, but as a lad who never got to see Stein and Sheron in their pomp, his recounting of life as a Stokie in the nineties brought me into the world of a club I didn’t know, whilst reminding me why I love the club I do know.
It’s probably a compliment that until I started to prepare this article I hadn’t considered where the name ‘Trouserdog’ came from. It’s just been “Have you read Trouserdog’s column?” in the pub (how sound we must strange to away fans). He tells us it comes from an old Sunday Sport headline – “Dog undid my Trousers”. There, too is an example of what also makes his pieces sing – a great sense of humour that can be either silly or serious but still very much ‘Trouserdog’. The quotes below are from a random selection of back Oatcake issues, underlining his brilliant consistency when it comes to causing us laugh at the game.
If you’ve read a fanzine on a train or away from the Stoke bubble, it can be hard to explain why it’s so good. Non-Stoke, non-football fans wouldn’t get it. You’re just a weirdo cackling away because someone’s written about how only true fans have Lewis Buxton chained up in their cellar.
I hope The Oatcake’s curtain call doesn’t cause TD to relax his quill hand, as he’s been a “go-to” writer for years. Whether it’s more columns or if he has another book in mind, I can’t wait to read what’s next.
“Thinking about it, has anybody seen Bruce’s former defensive partner Fary Pallister since the pair retired? I’m beginning to wonder whether Bruce ate him like some sort of human spider. I know I’m resorting to cruel mockery here, but I do feel genuine concern for Bruce every time his teams score, as even the act of raising his arms aloft looks like it could trigger some sort of health emergency.
“One day I think we may reach the point where Bruce becomes too fat for normal human clothes and he has to just sit naked on the touchline atop a mountain of his own flab like some sort of Jabba the Hut type figure, slithering around the technical area leaving a trail of slime that the linesman has to keep stepping over.”
‘Fifty Shades of Pulis’
“Fuelled by the swirling cauldron of sexual energy that was building up inside my loins, I smashed my foot through the ball, sending it flying into the other half of the pitch where it sailed over Peter Crouch’s 6 foot 7 inch frame. I smiled as I looked towards Tony, who was standing open-mouthed on the touchline. I could tell my hoofed clearance had made him ‘aaard.”
(as John Terry) avoiding being racist
“We were down the local boozer enjoying a pint and putting the world to rights when Gary Cahill said “Do you mind if two of my coloured friends joined us?
“I tutted and shook my head, informing Gary that the word ‘coloured’ was no longer considered acceptable, as it derives from the idea that white is the norm and starting point, whilst all other ethnicities should be lumped in together under a patronising umbrella term.
“Imagine what a prick I felt when Gary’s mates turned up, and he introduce me to Mr Rainbow from the Men Men series and one of the smurfs.”
What others have said about Trouserdog…
“There’s no doubt whatsoever that TD has been penning some of the very best written work about Stoke City for a number of years now and we considered it essential to bring him into The Oatcake fold if we wanted to keep the fanzine as a serious player in an expanding arena of SCFC comment and opinions. He has an almost unique ability to combine a genuine heart-tugging love of the club with a biting sense of humour, without ever sounding like a grief junkie or someone who is flippant about something which is so special to so many of us. It’s a genuine delight at Oatcake HQ when his articles arrive before the deadline for each issue.” – Martin Smith, The Oatcake
“I wish I’d written that” is as good an accolade as you can get for your writing. Plus money, of course. But praise is a big turn on for those who create. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve thought that after reading Trouserdog’s stuff. Comforting yet cutting, contemporary yet classic, we’re lucky as Stokies that we have a lad of this calibre writing about our club. His recent book saw page after page of me nodding along to it. And laughing. He makes you laugh, does Trouserdog. I was transported back to some of the best years of my life – it’s a great read, and should be on the Christmas wish list of every Stoke fan. Lovely bloke, top writer. – Bunny, Duck Magazine
Trouserdog is no more and no less than the most unique Stoke City writer around. One minute he’ll be taking you through what isn’t working in Stoke’s 4-3-3, the next he’ll be invoking Lion-O from Thundercats. This, lest we forget, is the diseased brain that brought us ‘Joe Jordan’s World of Sharks’, possibly my favourite ever Oatcake article. His tactical analysis is sharp but always framed in the tragicomic slapstick of growing up a Stoke City fan. Getting to grips with one’s obsession with football as a reluctant adult is another relatable strand of his writing. Versatile, distinctive and wholly ridiculous, I hope there’s a lot more to come from him. – Rob Doolan