‘Only the bravest’ – Stoke City’s unwanted record vs Wycombe as fans got angry


Wycombe return to Stoke City for the first time in 20 years this weekend – and yet they were record holders at this stadium up until last summer.

It was the visit of Wycombe in the death throes of Brian Little’s time as Stoke manager in April 1999 that is still the lowest attendance for any league match at Stoke’s home of nearly 24 years, at least for a game when fans were allowed in.

As Ryan Giggs was scoring that FA Cup solo goal for Manchester United against Arsenal, only 6,569 hardy souls were at the Brit. It is the only time the crowd has ducked until 7,000 – and it’s only been under 8,000 twice. The other was against Millwall (7,054) in August 1999.

It was no surprise that it was hard to drum up enthusiasm.

Stoke had been top of the table on December 12 but were ninth by the end of February on the back of seven defeats in nine. Wins away at Blackpool and Luton were sandwiched by awful losses on their own turf against Wrexham, Reading, Fulham and Notts County, which featured a pitch invasion.

A 2-0 win over a Lincoln side doomed to relegation mercifully ended a run of five straight home defeats but that fixture was more like the backdrop to a 2,000-strong march from the Victoria Ground to demonstrate against a lack of investment.


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It is fair to say that those angry Potters did not take kindly to the message from chief executive Jez Moxey on the scoreboard then encouraging them to “get behind the team because nothing else matters”.

And it was followed up by a dreadful 4-1 Jamie Cureton-inspired right royal hammering by Bristol Rovers, watched by 17,823 due to a £5 ticket offer. The discount wasn’t extended to the visitors so vice-chairman Geoff Dunford and his father chairman Denis were among eight Bristol officials who spurned Stoke’s boardroom hospitality to sit among their own fans.

Stoke supporters started to drift demoralised away in droves before the finish. There was another pitch invasion, striker Kyle Lightbourne was punched and Little dodged the post-match press conference.

“Too much more of this and the Britannia Stadium will have to be renamed The Haunted House on the Hill,” wrote Ian Bayley in the Sentinel. “Only the bravest will want to go near.”

The visit of third-bottom Wycombe came on the Wednesday just four days later. Their new £200,000 signing Sean Devine gave them the lead but Ray Wallace scored a well-taken equaliser and David Oldfield turned in Dean Crowe’s pass to make it 2-1.



Ray Wallace who goes for goal against Wycombe.

Stoke, however, retreated into their own third, invited pressure and allowed Devine to sink a deflected leveller past Carl Muggleton at his near post just three minutes from time.

“Stoke are in a bit of turmoil,” said Wycombe boss Lawrie Sanchez. “And we thought we could come up here and take advantage of that.”

The Britannia Stadium’s break even attendance figure was 14,000.

“We were expecting our lowest crowd and we got it,” said Moxey. “We can look at other attractions for the reason like Manchester United’s FA Cup replay with Arsenal being on television, but it really boils down to how we have been playing.”

Ironically, in 2020/21 a trip to Wycombe has been Stoke’s second highest attendance of the season. There were 1,000 allowed in last night due to the Covid tier system, watching Nick Powell secure a 1-0 away win.

There were 2,000 at a 0-0 draw with QPR too but the other 38 have been closed behind doors. In fact, it is 12 months ago on Sunday that Stoke supporters were last allowed through the turnstiles.

Wycombe, in their first ever season at this level, only managed two matches with fans. There were 2,000 in for a 2-1 defeat to Coventry.

They are bottom and 12 points adrift of safety with 13 games to play following a mid-week loss at Watford, who won 2-0 with a brace from Andre Gray.

Manager Gareth Ainsworth, the Port Vale hero, said: “The likes of Andre Gray coming is phenomenal. They can put in him just from the reserves.

“It shows the strength and depth in this league. It shows the gulf especially at the top end of the table.

“We will be fighting again on Saturday.”

Stoke 2 Wycombe 2: Division Two, April 14, 1999

Stoke: Muggleton, Robinson, Small, Sigurdsson, Mohan, Strong (Oldfield, 56), Keen, G Kavanagh, Crowe, Forsyth, Wallace. Not used: Lightbourne, J Kavanagh.

Wycombe: Taylor, Lawrence, Vinnicombe, McCarthy, Bates, Ryan, Carroll (Brown, 42), Simpson, Emblen (McSporran, 74), Devine, Baird. Not used: Westhead.

Referee: R Pearson

Attendance: 6,569

From the Sentinel archives

Stoke City’s fading promotion dream all but ebbed away last night – although pitifully few watched it happen.

Fans finally turned their backs with conviction on an increasingly disappointing campaign as City stumbled at home again, and the lowest league gate in the Britannia Stadium’s short history witnessed what, sadly, has become an all-too-familiar story.

Wycombe were merely the latest in a long string of beneficiaries to be handed more than they might reasonably have expected as Stoke’s home jitters struck again.

This time it was striker Sean Devine profiting with two goals – his second a late equaliser – to set the seal on his £200,000 move from Barnet and leave Brian Little to ponder on just what has gone wrong.

The City boss, who missed the press debriefing after Saturday’s 4-1 home drubbing by Bristol Rovers, this time appeared to reflect on the malaise which has been more responsible than any other factor for ruining the promise of early season.

“We have an away record which is second to none in this division,” he mused. “But if we don’t achieve anything it is because our home form simply has not been anywhere near good enough.

“All our problems have been at home and the debate as to why that should be will go on and on.

“We have dropped too many points and now put ourselves in a position where, even if we won all of our remaining games, it probably would not be enough to get us into the play-offs.

“It’s disappointing, because we all liked to think that maybe we could have done it in my first year here and it looks increasingly like it will be a two-year job now. But given that extra time we can learn a lot from what has gone on here this season.”



Graham Kavanagh in action for Stoke against Wycombe.

City’s last two home games, against Burnley and Walsall, are not likely to be any easier.

Word, it seems, has spread around the Second Division that Stoke have become something of a nervous, if not soft, touch at home, and if proof of that were needed Lawrie Sanchez provided it.

The Wanderers’ boss is fighting a desperate rearguard action against relegation, but one sensed there was almost a degree of disappointment at not clinching a fifth win in six games.

“Stoke are in a bit of turmoil,” he said. “And we thought we could come up here and take advantage of that.

“We let them off the hook after we went one up and ought to have punished them further in the first half especially.

“We needed Sean’s second goal to get us out of jail. But there is plenty of fight left in this team. We are not down yet.”

Sanchez at least has the consolation of knowing Devine intervention is with him for the remainder of the task. Once valued at £1m, his loan move is due to be made permanent today with the Bucks club investing a six-figure sum to try and protect their Second Division status.



Dean Crowe (left) and Graham Kavanagh try to find a way through against Wycombe.

A club who earlier this year were said to be so hard up they were forced to allow Nicky Mohan and Jason Kavanagh to sign for Stoke on frees in order to cut their wage bill appear to have come into money.

Devine has probably already repaid a generous slice of the investment and Wycombe will consider it a return with interest if he can keep them away from Division Three.

His first goal last night had more than an element of fortune about it in both conception and execution as he fired his side into a 29th minute lead.

Paul Emblen’s mis-hit shot from the edge of the 18-yard box twisted its way through to the striker, with the aid of a deflection, on the far post and though his first header was parried by Carl Muggleton he stabbed the rebound into the roof of the net.

His second three minutes from time also appeared to take a helpful deflection as the ball fell into his path to beat Muggleton on his near post from a 10-yard angle.

That could have been Devine’s hat-trick, and spelled even more misery for home fans, had he accepted the clearest chance of all when put clear by substitute Steve Brown on 57 minutes only to blaze over from 12 yards.

Ray Wallace heaved Stoke back into the game with a superbly-taken 37th minute equaliser after being given a rare opportunity in midfield, breaking forward on to Richard Forsyth’s pass and steering his lob over the advancing Martin Taylor from 15 yards.



Ray Wallace who celebrates a goal with Dean Crowe.

They looked in control after David Oldfield came on as a 55th minute substitute for the injured Greg Strong to convert from Dean Crowe’s cross five minutes later with Graham Kavanagh already in the back of the next after a spectacular somersault over Taylor.

Kavanagh could have made his mark when Crowe put him clear, but shot straight at Taylor, while a first-half Crowe header hit the bar.

But City went into mysterious retreat in the last ten minutes, inviting pressure with inevitable consequences.

Said Little: “I don’t understand why we did that. We gave Wycombe too much encouragement at the end and made them believe they could get a draw.

“I always felt we might make a mistake or two and cause ourselves problems and in the end we made one mistake too many.

“Really, we had to win these two home games to give ourselves a chance with the play-offs. That would have given us hope, but we got only one point and it is going to be very difficult now.”





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