It is 10 years this month that Andy Gray made a throwaway line about Stoke City during Sky Sports’ broadcast of Everton’s 2-1 win at Manchester City.
Gray’s time at Sky was up a few weeks later but that quote is still being repeated, a part of accepted world football language – even if sometimes it is said with tongue firmly in cheek.
He was looking at the list of nominees for the Ballon d’Or and wondered if Lionel Messi could be considered one of the world’s best ever if he wasn’t tested at club level outside of Spain.
He suggested that Cristiano Ronaldo “would not be the player that he is today had he not played in English football” and questioned how Messi would fare on “a cold night at the Britannia Stadium”.
“Barcelona have never played at the likes of Stoke and Blackburn,” he said.
Stoke had been a physical test for some of the world’s best teams in the Premier League for two-and-a-half seasons by that point – and, yes, the wind did whistle and rain, hail and snow did bluster through the open corners of the then-Britannia Stadium.
There had been six evening kick-offs on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Stoke in that time and Stoke had won five and drawn one.
Still, it wasn’t a view that was universally accepted.
Spanish football expert Sid Lowe Tweeted: “Andy Gray said what?! Jesus wept. What a cliche-ridden, blind, idiotic tool.”
To be fair, Gray might have popularised that quote but he shouldn’t get all the credit.
The hypothetical line about a cold and sometimes wet and often windy Tuesday or Wednesday night at Stoke had been doing the rounds before that show.
Sometimes it was used by football snobs who gave it the feeling of a stereotypical “wet Wednesday” – a bore or chore. And yes, some of those moaning have Gooner in their Twitter handle.
But mostly it stands for the ultimate test of a player or team’s character.
And while there are only two mentions on Twitter of a specifically “wet and windy night in Stoke” before Gray’s monologue – there are thousands afterwards from all corners of the planet.
It can be a cold night or a wet night or a windy night or – as plenty of us could testify – all three at once, on a Tuesday or a Wednesday.
Messi was even asked by Guillem Balague if he could settle the debate about whether he could do it up on Trentham Lakes.
It came up during an interview with Bojan, the former Barca playmaker and Stoke favourite who had once been tipped to follow in Messi’s footsteps.
Bojan laughed back in January 2016: “Messi can do it! I understand that teams don’t like to come to the Britannia Stadium, especially in winter with the wind, the cold … and we’re a strong team. It’s not easy. But I try to enjoy it and I try to improve my football in that situation.”
So Balague tells Bojan: “I asked Messi about that.
“He said, ‘Those people that say that should realise I played in awful conditions in Rosario when I was 11 years old, with glass on the pitch, with holes and everything,’ … And he also played good.”
Bojan said: “Of course. If he came to the Britannia he will also play good.”
Thomas Muller used the reference for when Bayern Munich came from behind to win at Stuttgart in November.
He said: “How do the British people say, ‘You have to show it on a windy night in Stoke’?
“It was not windy and Stuttgart is not Stoke but I think Stuttgart are a team that played very well in the last few weeks.
“We knew that today it could be tough. We didn’t have a good start in the first half, we hit the post and then we (conceded) the goal.
“But we turned it around, put everything in that we had and we won.
“It’s ok that we won but you are right when you say it was tough. It was not our best performance and not our easiest style of football.
“But in the end it was three points in the pocket and the show must go on.”
Unfortunately for Stoke, from late 2016 to the late summer of 2018, they only won one out of eight mid-week home games and they lost their place in the Premier League.
That was capped by a Nick Powell-inspired Wigan ripping them to shreds in a 3-0 home defeat as the rain poured.
Michael O’Neill has set upon trying to turn that around – and living up to the reputation.