My 82-year-old dad got a phone call from Stoke City coach – what a club



In case you hadn’t heard, football clubs aren’t exactly flavour of the month right now.

On Thursday, Matt Hancock, Heath Secretary, had a pop at the Premier League players during the government’s daily press conference from Downing Street. Hancock was keen to bring the focus onto the fact that players had not taken a pay cut, while clubs were choosing to furlough or even lay off non-playing staff during the Coronavirus pandemic.

It caused quite a stir, with some siding with Hancock (among them luminaries such as Katie Hopkins), while others pointed out that it is in fact the clubs’ decision, not the players, who gets laid off.

It certainly got James Chester’s goat. The on-loan Stoke City centre-half took aim at Hancock saying it, “was a politically easy option given justified attention on low testing levels and paucity of PPE for doctors and nurses.”

Erudite and political… a footballer? How times are changing for us all…

On Friday the players hit back en masse, stating that they may well take a 30 per cent pay cut, while a group of senior Premier League players, led by Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson, founded a crisis fund to help the NHS keyworkers who are being so heroic currently.

As Chester said, they are the heroes for whom we rightly clap each and every Thursday, but they do need testing and PPE…

Certainly, though, Hancock’s point was not without some foundation, if his aim was a tad off beam.

Some clubs have not exactly covered themselves with glory. Tottenham Hotspur decided to give pay cuts to 550 non-playing staff (except chairman Daniel Levy himself, apparently) and also encouraged them to take annual leave while on furlough, according to the Daily Mail (so it must be true).

Meanwhile every Stokie’s favourite club to hate at the moment, Bournemouth, told the people who host their young players they would not get paid at all for doing so during the crisis. They then realised what a monumental PR gaffe it had been and got their manager Eddie Howe and a couple of other senior coaching staff to announce they were taking voluntary pay cuts to try to fend off the barrage of criticism which headed their way.

As per usual it’s all the bad stuff which makes the headlines and which Hancock therefore focused on.

No one is that bothered about clubs or players that are doing the right thing.

And so, it’s quite possible that what has been happening at Stoke City Football Club has gone quite under the radar.

Because it is all good news.

Initially, almost as soon as the seriousness of the situation was realised, the club announced they would be keeping all staff on, without exception, at full wages; even those who are matchday only.

Eat your heart out Spurs and Bournemouth.

Then, even before the announcement on Friday that football would be suspended indefinitely, the club announced that season ticket sales would be suspended and then restarted once we had confirmation of when the new season would start and what shape it would take – at the same Early Bird prices.

A superb gesture and the right thing to be doing by their supporters in these scary and uncertain times.

As if that all wasn’t good enough, then people started getting phone calls. Phone calls from club employees checking that elderly season ticket holders, or those supporters they know have some form of health problem, are OK, to see if they need any assistance.

In the calls, the club offered help such as collection medication or doing the weekly shop, giving peace of mind to thousands of people who are searching for just about anything they can to hold onto some kind of normality, compassion and assistance right now.

In our family’s case, my 82-year-old father was called by one of the Academy coaches, currently without youngsters to train. A lovely chat ensued. No assistance happened to be necessary in our case, but it really made me feel good to think that if it had been needed then it would have been provided. No problem.

What a great move by the club.

Other lucky people have had the legend that is Denis Smith phone them up – a real treat! While assistant manager Billy McKinlay has also been on the blower for some. Well, he is at a loose end…

Fantastic stuff, Stoke City. Well done.

Meanwhile, Chester’s central defensive partner, Danny Batth, did great work of his very own this week. Batth delivered over 300 food parcels to NHS workers at the hospital in which he was born in Dudley. Batth had bought the food himself from a nearby Sainsbury’s, where his mum happens to work, and packaged it all up with the help of his wife, Natalie.

Brilliant work, Danny. We salute you.

James McClean has also got in on the act. This week, last week’s villain has turned things around as it came out that he had selflessly bought PPE and hand sanitisers for healthcare workers in his hometown of Derry.

This was not publicised by McClean, but by a doctor at the hospital concerned.

All of these fantastic things should make us proud to be Stokies and proud to be part of this wonderful club and community.

Thank you all for your efforts. Not just the club and players, but also those amongst you reading this who have done your own bit in the national effort to beat this dreadful disease and its implications.

If you aren’t involved directly, but have been doing your bit by staying in, avoiding contact and washing your hands, then when you are applauding our NHS heroes this coming Thursday evening at 8pm, please do keep a couple of extra claps aside for those at Stoke City who are doing their bit to keep us all safe, appreciated and fed.

They thoroughly deserve it.





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