‘I never expected to be captain’ – Ryan Shawcross’s Stoke City footprint and the runners and riders to fill his boots


Ryan Shawcross only led Stoke City out as captain once this season.

In fact, there were 179 games after he was appointed skipper by Tony Pulis back in the summer of 2010 that another player wore the armband.

And yet, he is still probably in a minority of two with Denis Smith who will remain Stoke captain for the rest of their lives. It was more than an armband, it was everything.

There are some who go up for the toss and shake the referee’s hand but, as Michael O’Neill prepares to appoint a full-time successor, it is a rare breed that takes it way past the final whistle, beyond the training ground and is so in sync with club and city.

Shawcross is leaving the club for Inter Miami but, like with Smith, the club’s in him.

He said: “It’s hard for me to think about the perception of me or what might happen in the future but all I can say is that I’ve enjoyed every single minute. Even the last 18 months when I’ve not been playing, I’ve still loved coming to training and trying to do my best to get back into the team.

“The manager’s not an idiot and Harry Souttar has done brilliantly so I have to stick my hand up and say that’s the right decision.

“It’s been strange these last couple of months knowing that I’m probably going and you become more of a fan, still trying to do the captain’s jobs.”

Souttar is 22 now, the same age as Shawcross was when he was picked out by Tony Pulis to lead a changing room full of experience.

Joe Allen, John Obi Mikel, James Chester, Danny Batth and Sam Clucas have already had a go in Shawcross’s absence but Souttar and Nathan Collins might be the choices if, like when Pulis took the plunge, O’Neill wanted to lift the job beyond a match day to lead the club for a decade.

“I was never expecting to be captain,” said Shawcross.

“We had so many great leaders; Huth, Delap… and it gave me huge confidence to be given that role. At the start it was difficult because I was the youngest in the team yet I was the leader, it was a difficult transition.

“As I grew into it I felt more and more comfortable and now it feels like I’m captain and it is what it is.

“Those early years were a great time of my life when there were so many big decisions – like leaving Manchester United and choosing Stoke instead of Norwich – but it feels like I got them all right.”


Video Loading

Video Unavailable

A sign of Shawcross’s longevity

It says something about the length of time that Shawcross spent at Stoke that he can count teammates who are nearly 30 years apart in age.

He played alongside 126 different players in 453 games for the club – 344 as full-time captain – ranging from Russell Hoult, now aged 48, to Nathan Collins, still only 19.

He played against 69 different teams, including 16 he only faced once and none he took on more than West Bromwich Albion (21 times). There are 21 clubs he faced at least 10 times and there was only ever one team in the Premier League that he didn’t beat at least once, Bournemouth.

There were six wins over Arsenal, five over Spurs, four over Liverpool, Manchester City and Everton and two over Chelsea and Manchester United.

A captain’s responsibilities

When Ryan Shawcross broke his leg in pre-season 2019, he was taken to Royal Stoke hospital with a genuine fear that he might never play football again. Before he left he managed to get himself taken to the children’s ward to meet young Stoke fans.

He has been at the forefront when it has come to hospital visits and charity work and donations, he has visited a load of schools across Staffordshire, often dishing out Stoke shirts as part of the club’s City 7s campaign.

When the pandemic came, he was in a group who signed up to call around Stoke fans who were in self-isolation, particularly the over 70s. On one day he might record birthday messages, on another it might be talking to a supporter who is dying.

“It’s not just me,” he said. “The club do tremendous things and a lot that goes unnoticed in the community. Even the owners and bet365 staying in Stoke-on-Trent is so important for the place and everything about it.

“When you join a club you don’t really know what the fans are about but slowly when you do appearances and you meet supporters, you get a feeling and the football club is everything. When you understand that you want to give something back.

“There haven’t been many players while I’ve been here who haven’t been willing to do the appearances, the charity stuff. The lads love it and it’s great for us to have that connection because there are so many good causes.

“The community support centre go out and do incredible stuff. They are the ones who are important, the lads just go out and show their faces, try to engage. That’s the easy part.”

poll loading

Who should replace Ryan Shawcross as Stoke City captain?










The fans became like a family

Shawcross was last=surviving member of a Stoke team in his early years that was more than the sum of its parts and had a special relationship with fans.

When teams came to the Britannia Stadium just after Stoke were promoted, it often felt like they were taking on the whole city. It was a relationship which only deepened in the face of criticism from the likes of Arsene Wenger.

Shawcross might not have grown up on the Boothen End or come through the club’s own youth system but it didn’t take long for him to Stoke fans to consider him one of their own. He was the player who best epitomised the best of the DNA that Pulis used to talk about.

“From the first day I came I had a great connection and always got on well with our supporters,” said Shawcross.

“Towards the end, even when I probably wasn’t playing as well as they’d like, it was like they considered me more as a family member. They weren’t angry, they were disappointed. If I played badly, they were like, ‘Ryan, come on!’

“I can’t speak highly enough of our fans. They are the reason we got to the Premier League, they are the reason we stayed in the Premier League, they’re the reason we will hopefully get back to the Premier League.

“You can sense it in the area, we’re hard working people and when it comes to the game we want our players to work hard. When the players give that, they are fully behind them.

“There are not many grounds that I’ve been to where the stadium is roaring and everyone is onside.

“The amount of games, especially in the early years and we were maybe playing Arsenal or Man City and we’d win and it wouldn’t be because of how we played, it was because of a ferocious atmosphere. It would be quite scary for opposition players to play in that.

“They 100 per cent gave us help to stay in the league and stay in as long as we could.”



Ryan Shawcross on Stoke City captain’s duties, taking a training session at Sound and District Primary near Nantwich.



Ryan Shawcross holds a Q&A with supporters in Delilah’s bar at Stoke City in 2015.

The signing of the century – three times over

There have been key signings for Stoke since the Coates family retook control in 2006, from Abdoulaye Faye, Thomas Sorensen, Matty Etherington and James Beattie in the first year after promotion to Ricardo Fuller, Glenn Whelan, Liam Lawrence and Rory Delap to get up there in the first place.

Bojan and Marko Arnautovic provided some extraordinary moments under Mark Hughes while Pulis snapped up Jon Walters and Steven Nzonzi for under £5m combined.

Shawcross was a virtual unknown when he arrived on loan from Manchester United of 2007 – Pulis says he had watched him playing third team football that summer – but it was obvious how highly he was rated by Sir Alex Ferguson, who was furious when a long-term contract was turned down the following January.

Tony Scholes, Stoke’s chief executive, said: “I still vividly remember deadline day, January 2008, Ryan had been on loan here and I went up to Carrington, Man Utd’s training ground, to try to turn that into a permanent deal. We knew then –Tony (Pulis) had got him here on loan – and he had shown what an important player he was.

“Ryan was on the training pitch and David Gill’s secretary ran out to get him to come and sign before deadline. People have argued if it was pound for pound the best signing the club has ever made and I think it’s a fair argument to put forward.

“None of us could have foreseen back then just how long he would be here, what was in store, how many appearances he would make, the fact he would become captain, lead the team out at Wembley, lead the team into Europe, lead the team to successive top 10 finishes in the Premier League. Nobody could have foreseen that.

“He’s certainly up there with the best signings we’ve ever made. It turned out to be a £2m deal and I’m sure if you asked our owners they would happily spend that £2m many times over.

“He’s one of the very best, if not the very best, pound for pound signings in Stoke City history.”

If the signing him on loan and then permanently was important, so was holding onto Shawcross as the club established itself in the top flight after 23 years in exile.

He was one of the best defenders in the country, playing more Premier League minutes than any player at any team over a decade, and there was a time in his early 20s when he was regularly linked with clubs including Liverpool and a return to Man Utd.

Scholes said: “Through those Premier League years, Ryan was a mainstay of the team, an important part of everything we did and of course he attracted attention.

“It was important for us to keep the right people in the team throughout that period.

“We made some sales in hindsight which we wish we hadn’t but equally we kept some players and turned down potential suitors and we look back and we’re glad we did do that.”



Stoke City will wait until the summer before appointing a permanent successor as captain to Ryan Shawcross.

“It’s not something that I think has an urgency about it,” said O’Neill.

“When I look at our group, we have a number of players who are very experienced at the right time of their career who are capable of being captain.

“It’s been shared around; John Obi has had it, last season Sam Clucas, James Chester, Danny Batth and Joe Allen. I don’t think it’s something that’s going to affect us between now and the end of the season. We have a really good group of senior players who can manage the situation and adapt to the loss of Ryan

“Moving forward, we will probably look before the start of next season about the hierarchy within that situation.

“I do think at times that in English football we put a lot more emphasis on it than in European football, for example, but it is something which is important.”

A legacy – and a possible return?

It will be a big armband to fill.

“Ryan’s been club captain for more than 10 years. He took on that captaincy as a young man and grew with it,” said Scholes.

“His influence, his role, within the dressing room, within the team and across the whole club has been incredibly important, incredibly significant.

“He’s been that captain, that leader through one of the golden periods in the club’s history. That golden period has been in no small part down to him. He will be a huge miss.

“Look at the team now and look at how well Harry and Nathan are progressing, just to pick two of them. I have heard Harry speaking of Ryan – and not just Ryan, but James Chester and Danny Batth – but Ryan in particular, if I may say that, because of everything he’s achieved at the club, the way he has conducted himself and the way he has been so professional in his approach to everything.”

He added: “I don’t think we’ll see it again, no, but I don’t think I would have expected it 14 years ago.”

In terms of goodbyes, it is bad timing for Shawcross.

There were no supporters in for a presentation in the wind and rain against Luton last weekend.

A testimonial match is a non-starter during the pandemic and by the time restrictions are hopefully lifted, he will be in the thick of a new MLS season.

But there will come a time when he is back in the UK and it’s possible to do something.

And after two years in Miami as Shawcross finishes his coaching badges and looks to become a manager, what are the chances that journey takes in a stop back at the bet365?

“It’s a difficult one to answer because it wouldn’t be my decision,” said Shawcross.

“I’m pretty sure that my future after these two years will involve coaching and hopefully being a manager but ultimately there are a lot of things that will happen between then and now.

“I’m on the road to getting my Pro Licence, that will all be done this summer, and there are lots of things ready for me to go into when I finish.

“But it’s a big club, Stoke City, and to get an opportunity to come back in some role would be great – but they have aspirations to go a lot higher, so a lot of things would need to happen.

“But the connection will always be there and I will always want Stoke City to do well.”





Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *