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May 13, 2011

Stoke aim to defy the odds

Posted by Jon Champion on 13/05/2011

Tony Pulis faces the biggest day of his career in football. © Getty Images

Stoke approach their first ever FA Cup final as definite underdogs. Who says so? Well, their chairman, Peter Coates, whose online betting company has been offering odds as generous as 9/2 against the Potters lifting the cup.

To be unfancied suits Stoke perfectly well. Manager Tony Pulis has also sought to emphasise what he calls the “void” between the two clubs. He knows full well that his team lack the pedigree and poise of their opponents. What he doesn’t say but knows to be true is that Stoke’s boundless passion and persistence is often enough to bridge any gap in quality. Just look at last weekend’s victory over Arsenal.

I must confess that I am delighted to see a club like Stoke in the final. My ears have only just stopped ringing after the decibel-fuelled choruses of ‘Delilah’ that provided a raucous backdrop to the most one-sided semi-final in more than a century.

In this age of foreign ownership and style over substance, Stoke City stand out. They are the only surviving founder members of the Football League never to have won the FA Cup. Image concerns them not one jot.

Times are hard in the Potteries, and ever since Coates returned to the club in 2006, buying out a misguided group of Icelandic investors, the club has done its best to put a smile on the face of a city that has had more than its share of economic setbacks.

The chairman’s first act was to re-appoint Pulis as manager. To say his return was greeted with scepticism would be an understatement: 90% of the club’s fans suggested they would have preferred someone - anyone - else. Ask them now and you would get a very different response.

Pulis and his team have guaranteed a fourth consecutive season in the Premier League, they will play in Europe for the first time since 1974, and the biggest day in the club’s 148-year history is now upon them.

Many of Stoke’s finest former players will be in attendance. Gordon Banks, Denis Smith and Terry Conroy have places in the Royal Box. Conroy scored when Stoke won the 1972 League Cup - their only major honour. Eight weeks ago, he collapsed with an aortic aneurism and was told he had just a 10% chance of surviving the surgery that followed. Happily, he has defied the odds and the thought of being at Wembley has sustained him through the dark days of post-operative recovery.

All of the above mentioned players represented clubs other than Stoke, yet all have gravitated back to watch them on a regular basis. That says a great deal about a club that has a genuine heart. From chairman via manager through an honest group of players to the officials and staff, it’s an organisation that knows its place in the grander scheme of things. That’s why the 28,000 with final tickets are so lucky and why exiled Potters from across the world are scrambling back to savour an occasion many thought Stoke would never be part of.

An internet campaign has been launched encouraging Stoke fans to stay on at the final whistle even if Manchester City have won the cup. The aim: to ensure that a Mancunian moment of celebration has a Potteries backdrop to it. If the worst comes to the worst and their team is second best, they are determined that ‘Delilah’ will be louder than ‘Blue Moon’ when the cup is raised.

Stoke are set on making the most of their biggest day - come what may.

Comments

Posted by Edward Chelangat on 13/05/2011

I do admit that so many people believe stoke are the under-dogs but as a man united fan, am fully for stoke city this time. If they were able to come all the way to this point then that means that they can take the FA CUP TROPHY.

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