Keele Icons – Stoke City in the 1970s
Stoke City – the Potters – are the second oldest professional football club in the world, after Notts County, and are one of the founding members of the Football League
Founded as Stoke Ramblers in 1863 the club changed its name to Stoke City in 1925 after Stoke-on-Trent was granted city status
In their illustrious, some might say chequered, history, they have only ever won one major trophy; the League Cup in 1971-72, my first year at Keele
That team pulled off a huge upset by beating Chelsea, then, as now, the self styled glamour boys of London football. The swaggering King’s Road crew included star names such as Peter Osgood, Alan Hudson, Charlie Cooke and Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris. By contrast, Stoke were a workmanlike outfit, assembled at minimal cost by their canny manager Tony Waddington. While possessing possibly the most feared back four in post-war history; Jackie Marsh, Alan Bloor, Dennis Smith and Mike Pejic, Stoke also had star quality in their veteran midfielders Peter Dobing (33) and George Eastham (35). The biggest start of them all, though, was goalkeeper Gordon Banks
It took Stoke four games to overcome West Ham in the semi-final, and Banks’ penalty save in the dying moments of extra-time in the second leg at Upton Park was crucial. West Ham had won the first leg at the Victoria Ground 2-1, but Stoke were leading 1-0 in the return before the penalty was awarded
And then who should step up to take the penalty? None other than Banks’ 1966 World Cup-winning colleague Geoff Hurst. The penalty was blasted high to his right and would have left mere mortals floundering, but Banks beat the ball away to save his side
It was the first penalty Hurst had ever missed
In the Final itself, Stoke took the game to Chelsea, with Conroy scoring after 5 minutes. Stoke were well on top before a Bloor mistake allowed Osgood to equalise just before half time. Stoke were not to be denied, and it was fitting that Eastham, the oldest man on the pitch, should score the winner after 73 minutes
Just a few days later, Eastham lifted a second trophy, leading Finch’s 5 to the Keele five-a-side championship! Yes, amazing as it now seems in these days of Premier League footballers who are completely detached from real life, quite a few of the Stoke lads, including Eastham, Dobing, Banks, Jackie Mudie and Terry Lees (others?), played for local teams against we students. Eastham, in particular, was unplayable. If you tried to kick him, he’d already laid the ball off and moved to take up a more threatening position. If you didn’t, he’d turn and murder you!
Waddington himself was a regular at the Sneyd, where he’d get his pint and tuck himself into the corner at the back to read the Evening Sentinel. He was approachable if you were respectful of his privacy and often happy to chat. He was also a very generous man. Barman and Keele stalwart ‘Roker’ Ron Graham, tells of chatting to him a few days before the Sunderland v Leeds FA Cup Final of 1973, bemoaning the impossibility of getting tickets. The next day there were two waiting for him, courtesy of Waddington!
Good as that 1971-72 team were, many, including me, feel that Waddington’s second great team of the seventies was even better. With a good end to the season, Stoke finished 5th in 1973-74. They were in the bottom six in January, but Waddington pulled off a coup in signing Alan Hudson. Geoff Hurst had also joined in 1972. The puzzle was completed by the signings of Geoff Salmons and, above all, Peter Shilton, in 1974-75. With the same formidable defence, with the great midfield trio of Hudson, Salmons and Mahoney plus enforcer Mick Bernard, and with Jimmy Greenhoff at approaching his peak, Stoke led the league at the end of February 1975
Sadly, an unprecedented injury crisis put paid to their chances. Alan Bloor (back), John Ritchie, Jimmy Robertson, Mike Pejic and Denis Smith (all broken legs) and Jimmy Greenhoff (broken nose) all missed vital matches. Yet Stoke still lay in third with three games remaining. If they’d won all three they would have been champions of England for the first time. As it happened they failed to win any, drawing twice and losing at Sheffield United, and had to settle for fifth, four points behind champions Derby County. They’ve never been as close since
Stoke often used to train at Keele and it wasn’t unusual to bump into the likes of Peter Shilton at the reception desk. We also had the ‘pleasure’ of playing their youth team in the local league. One year Garth Crookes, Lee Chapman and Kevin Sheldon played, then next it was the turn of Adrian Heath and Ian Moores
Another link between Keele and Stoke was forged when Geoff Hurst agreed to coach the football team in 1974-75. He also bought the Sheet Anchor in Baldwin’s Gate, and, along with his wife Judith, was a genial mine host on (obviously well attended) Sunday lunchtimes. Imagine a World Cup winner doing that nowadays!