Sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and give credit where credit is due. Sunday was such a day.
What I am about to write will see me slated in certain quarters – possibly even excommunicated.
Giving succour or praise to ‘the enemy’, as one Port Vale fan termed it in the wake of Stoke City’s FA Cup Semi-final heroics against Bolton, is considered by some in the wilder parts of Boslem to be an act of high treason.
They are no different to some Stoke fans who won’t rest until Vale Park is a car park.
Nonetheless, even I must take my black and white hat off to the red and white half of the city for a magnificent victory.
Well done Stoke City on reaching the final. I hope you now go on and win the Cup.
There. I’ve written it. That wasn’t so bad, actually.
You see, I can adopt this stance because I have plenty of mates who are genuine, long-suffering Stoke supporters and I wouldn’t dream of begrudging them their moment in the sun.
After all, I’m sure I can’t be the only Vale fan who fondly recalls passing under a bridge on the D-road on the way to the Autoglass Trophy Final at Wembley and spotting a group of Stoke fans with a banner wishing us all the best.
How times – and both clubs – have changed.
Certainly part of the reason I’m able to view Stoke’s achievement philosophically is that, as a middle-aged hack, I recognise it for what it is: a truly remarkable story.
In 1997, starved – as the club was – of success, you would have struggled to find many Potters fans who had a good word to say about the then chairman Peter Coates.
He stepped down with great dignity amid supporter protests and few would have dared predict him returning to the club he had supported since he was a boy.
However, having made a mint – and, no doubt, against the advice of some – he again invested in Stoke City and appointed a manager whom very few fans actually wanted.
Promotion to the top flight of English football ensued and now a place in the final of football’s oldest and grandest Cup competition.
A European adventure may follow.
What a tale. You couldn’t make it up. It’s Boy’s Own stuff, it really is.
Another reason that a Valeite like me can view Sunday’s result with a degree of objectivity is that I know that at least one of the teams that will contest the final won’t be from the ‘big four’.
I can’t abide the hype that surrounds our national game – particularly the big-money teams with their bone-head players who are fêted like rock stars.
Thus I take a crumb of comfort from knowing that, for once, average Joes from Stoke-on-Trent will be enjoying the Cup Final – rather than viewing it, as fans of some teams do, as a divine right and an annual day out.
Yes. I’ve heard all the well-rehearsed criticisms levelled at Stoke City by Vale fans jealous of the both the investment the club has enjoyed and the success it has bought. Criticisms such as:
- Half the people who now go to the Britannia Stadium are ‘glory-hunters’ who only started supporting Stoke City when they made it into the Premier League.
(What did we expect? That’s the nature of sport – success attracts fresh interest)
- Stoke have had an easy route to the final.
(Well, you can only beat the team put out in front of you)
The bottom line is that Stoke supporters are now reaping the benefits of a substantial cash investment by a bloke from Goldenhill who was prepared to stick his head in to the lion’s mouth for a second time.
A rare man indeed, Peter Coates brought in a good management team, enjoyed a slice or two of luck – which any team needs if they wish to ascend to the dizzy heights of regular Sky TV coverage – and the rest, as they say, is history.
The contrast with my own club couldn’t be more stark.
While Stoke have ascended, Vale have fallen and stagnated and I predict that the next three or four months will be crucial to my club’s very survival.
Yes, it really is that serious.
I have no problem congratulating Stoke because they are not Stevenage, Morecambe or Barnet – i.e. they no longer have a bearing on us.
The truth is it’s pretty grim being a Vale fan at the moment.
Through thick and thin, they say. Well this is decidedly anorexic, I can tell you.
Thus, I wish the Potters well.
Unless, of course, we draw Stoke City in the cup next season – in which case I will, of course, be hoping we stuff them.