Peter Thorne’s form caught fire at Stoke City – and leaving for Cardiff left him gutted.
The striker has recalled the unwanted final chapter of his life in the Potteries in an interview for Duck magazine, which is being delivered in digital format for free to Stoke fans during the lockdown.
Yet there is no denying it had been a difficult start for Thorne at Stoke, brought in from Swindon Town to replace Mike Sheron as the club upped sticks from the Victoria Ground to the Britannia Stadium, suffering relegation in their first season.
It didn’t get any easier under Brian Little, then came an Icelandic takeover and by the early spring Thorne, then aged 26, had fallen down the pecking order.
He had scored 10 times in 38 games so far that season and had only been used from the bench in four of the previous five games by the time Chesterfield came to town. And he only got the call this time because Kyle Lightbourne had been called up to play for Bermuda and Paul Connor was suffering with a thigh strain.
But, lined up next to Arnar Gunnlaugsson, he scored four.
In fact, he ended up scoring 20 in the final 17 games of the season, including hat-tricks against Bristol Rovers and Bury and the winner at Wembley Stadium against Bristol City to win the Auto Windscreens Shield.
There would be play-off heart-break against Gillingham but Thorne led from the front again in 2000/01, scoring 19 times – and naming him on the bench in a play-off second leg at Walsall remains one of the most baffling decisions in Gudjon Thordarson’s reign as manager.
So he was gearing up for another push at promotion that summer and had scored four times in his first five games when everything would change.
“That was the best I had ever felt,” he said. “Great pre-season and I was scoring from the off.
“My agent was onto me about interest from Cardiff but I wasn’t interested. I mean that. I was happy and I was desperate for my life to stay as it was.
“I remember scoring at Cambridge on a sunny day and then in what turned out to be my last home game for the club, I scored a volley against Huddersfield. I think I’d got four in five and I fully expected to score loads more and finally get us up.
“The speculation lasted ages but I was ignoring it.
“It all came to a head when I was called to a meeting with John Rudge. It was just us two in a room. He basically told me the club had to sell me because they needed the money.
“I was gutted. I did everything to stay but from that moment, I had little choice.
“£1.7 million was a lot of cash back then. I’m not driven massively by money, being happy meant a lot to me and I was scared I would regret changing anything.
“Looking back now, I have to say I’m grateful for the money I made from it for my family.
“It was massive wage increase and with bonuses involved, I knew it would set me up for life. I’m retired at 46 because of that move.
“At the time though, all I felt was pressure. We weren’t ones for the high life – we’ve never lived in a typical footballer’s big house. I just felt tense, knowing I would be expected to repay the club with constant goals.”
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