A moment in Stoke City history happened last week – and I’m glad it went unreported



With the new season now less than 10 days away Stoke City’s preparations continued with a fine 3-0 demolition of Leeds at the bet365 Stadium. Fair enough, you shouldn’t read too much into any pre-season games and it certainly wasn’t Leeds’ strongest side, but then it wasn’t our strongest side either.

It’s always better to win these games and to get something positive from them. You can be sure we’d all be fretting at least a little, either to ourselves or to anyone who’d listen, if we’d been beaten by a similar score line by the same opposition. What we got against Leeds was a cracking victory, some great forward play, three goals and several players reminding the manager that they’d like to be involved in the coming league season.

It’s either feast or famine with Michael O’Neill’s side at the moment. We saw The Potters struggling to get anything going in front of goal against both Burton and Blackpool, yet the games against Shrewsbury and Leeds have provided a hatful of goals. Well soon see which Stoke side is going to take to the field at Millwall!

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Going back to the friendly games though I was struck by a statistic which seems to have gone largely unnoticed and unreported after the 5-1 victory over Shrewsbury, and I believe it’s a very good thing that it did fly under everybody’s radar.

Stoke’s five goals were scored by Tashan Oakley-Boothe, John Obi Mikel, Tom Ince, Benin Afobe and Tyrese Campbell. Is that the first time that five different black players have scored in the same game for Stoke City?

At a time when the issue of black players in the game, most notably through the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, the representation of black men and women within the infrastructure of football, and throughout the media, I believe it is important to recognise what happened in that Shrewsbury game.

I say this mostly because the event was considered so unremarkable by Stoke supporters that nobody thought to mention it. And that has to be a good thing because it highlights how ‘colour blind’ the vast majority of Stoke supporters are to the issue of who plays for ‘The Potters’ – when you pull on a Stoke City shirt the only colours which matter are those red and white stripes!

Such a reaction now, or lack thereof, contrasts sharply to my own teenage years as a Stoke fan, when we had Garth Crooks coming through the ranks.

As our first black player for quite some time his progress was closely monitored, his goals were noted and his presence was reacted to.

Almost all Stoke fans were supportive and protective of Garth, and yet I well remember that opposing supporters were often not, and that plenty of Stoke fans around me would be gushing in their praise of ‘Crooksy’ but could then quickly switch to some out and out racist abuse of their own towards black players in opposing teams.

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It’s an issue which has always been close to my heart.

Coming as I did from a broken home I actually spent a good percentage of my younger years staying with my aunt and uncle in Kidsgrove. My aunt was my dad’s sister and she had married an Indian man back in the 1950s, when society still held some taboos about such things.

My uncle made something of himself in Stoke-on-Trent, owning and renting many properties, making himself available to the police and council as an interpreter for the growing Asian community, and then opening the first delicatessen in the area, near the bottom of Broad Street in Hanley.

That shop specialised in stocking good from the Indian sub-continent and Caribbean, and people came from miles around to use it, including Garth Crooks’ mother. I spent some time helping out there and what with that experience, and life back at my uncle’s house, where regular visitors would include people of Indian, Pakistani, Caribbean, Vietnamese and Polish descent, I was lucky to be surrounded and influenced by a wide variety of culture and ideas.

One of my cousins embarked on his Stoke City supporting career at the same time as me. We went to the games together and fell in love with the club and players. It’s a love we still both share to this day and still converse about.

Being at the games with somebody who was half Indian, and having met so many people from so many different backgrounds has resulted in me being acutely aware and extra sensitive concerning issues of race. I’m therefore genuinely happy to say that at least 95 per cent of the Stoke fans I’ve met are decent human beings who judge others by the content of their character and not by their ethnicity or background. They speak as they find.

I should also relate this short tale. About a year ago, as The Oatcake fanzine was wrapping up after 31 years of existence, I got a call from BBC Midlands. They were doing a radio programme on black and Asian football supporters and wondered if I knew anyone they could talk to. Did I ever!

My cousin agreed to meet them at the bet365 Stadium and during the interview the presenter asked him about any racist abuse he had suffered as a Stoke supporter. They could scarcely believe it when he said he had no stories to tell them. Any racist abuse he had suffered in his life had NOT been at Stoke City games. I’m not sure that’s what they wanted to hear, but it was the truth.

That’s not to say it doesn’t or has never existed at Stoke because it does and I’ve heard it – on occasion it’s been shocking and appalling. As I said earlier though, the vast majority of Stoke supporters have shown themselves to be ordinary, decent people.

These are changing times.

Black players are a huge part of the modern game and while attitudes have taken their time in catching up to the new reality, I do believe it’s getting there. Representation and awareness is catching up and while some people seem to almost deliberately misunderstood what the ‘Black Lives Matter’ message actually means, I feel confident we’ll get there in the near future.

I can’t remember the last time I heard any racist chants or abuse at a game. That doesn’t mean that the problem has gone away or that the people likely to spout such vile abuse have gone away. They just know that the vast majority won’t tolerate their hateful bile and that they’ll get called out for it.

As I said near the beginning of this article, it’s a good thing when five different black players score for Stoke in the same game and nobody considers it at all remarkable. It is a very good thing. Most supporters these days are ‘colour blind’ and when they go to cheer on their team the only colours which matter are red and white, and that Stoke City crest on their shirt.





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