Derek Hodgson packed in a whole load of ideas into just two seasons at Stoke City.
He was officially Tony Waddington’s assistant manager from 1967 to 1969 but the actual football was not really on his remit. The journalist was tasked with dragging the Potters into the modern world … and some of his plans would involve more kicking and screaming than others.
When Hodgson died at the age of 87 in 2017, we went back through the archives to dust off the Sentinel’s Stoke correspondent Peter Hewitt’s original reports.
Most of the ambitious blueprint hit the cutting room floor, not helped by major struggles against relegation in both of those campaigns. Some have proved ahead of their time while others, well, seem definitely of their time.
What is certain is that there have not been many Stoke assistant managers like Derek Hodgson.
A FIRST CLUB SHOP, SCOREBOARD AND RADIO STATION – October 1967
Hodgson revealed how
for the Potteries could make Stoke “the first motorway soccer club”.
“Motorists will be able to speed off the M6, down the slip road and straight on to the car park behind the Butler Street Stand without any traffic hold ups,” wrote an optimistic Hewitt.
Hodgson had just been appointed and he was said to be bristling with ideas to bring the club closer to supporters, who he wanted to refer to Stoke “as ‘us’ and ‘we’ instead of ‘them’ and ‘that lot’.”
He launched Radio Victoria, offering a results service and team news and a scoreboard was proposed for the Stoke End terraces. Chairman Albert Henshall suggested a time reducing clock to check the minutes remaining.
Stoke were also looking for a selling point for “junior soccer kits, duffle bags, ties, pennants, autograph books, tea towels, address books and more specially designed for the club.”
A breathless Hewitt summed up: “It’s all happening. The league championship my not be quite immediate but I think it is on the pending file!”
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A FIRST MASCOT, 30 YEARS BEFORE POTTERMUS – November 1967
THE success of World Cup Willie meant Stoke were on the hunt for their own cuddly talisman.
Pete Potter, presumably not Graham’s dad, was the first to be mooted while the door was not closed to a break from the world of pottery.
Hewitt explained: “A London design expert has been consulted following his efforts for Birmingham with Beau Brummie and Sheffield Wednesday with Ozzie Owl.”
A couple of weeks later it was added: “Toby Jug is the odds-on favourite for the name of Stoke’s new mascot.
“Derek Hodgson has been wading through suggestions from supporters, pottery manufacturers and artists.”
It all went quiet, however, until 1997 when a move to a new ground was marked with the introduction of a blue hippo.
NEW ENTRANCE MUSIC … AND A NEW CLUB SONG – November 1967
RADIO Victoria was a hit – apart from “one misjudged Beethoven recording” – and Stoke fans were quickly getting in touch about what they wanted played over the loud speaker on a match day.
“Stoke are endeavouring to play every request,” wrote Hewitt, “but modern jazz enthusiasts asking for Gerry Mulligan may have to wait, for the record has had to be ordered from London.”
Eclectic Boothen Enders had demanded everything from an operatic recital and Strauss to the latest pop tunes and Hodgson had to warn that “only one classical record” could be played in the build up to kick-off.
In the mean time, Hodgson’s used his own collection of marching records to choose the signature tune for Stoke as they came out of the tunnel – a Napoleonic march called The Batteries of Austerlitz.
The club was missing an anthem of its own, however.
Hewitt explained: “Sing along with Stoke! That’s the latest idea from Derek Hodgson, who invites budding composers around the Potteries to submit a song for Stoke with words and music.”
The wouldn’t come to pass until Hodgson had left and Stoke won the League Cup – but We’ll Be With You did happen and it spent one week in the Top 40, reaching number 34 in April 1972.
NEW CHEERLEADERS … AND CHEERLEADER RIVALS – December 1967
STOKE were eager to share some of the glamour of the new age of jet travel – but they had rivals in high heels.
Hewitt blasted: “Keep out of the Potteries! That was Stoke City’s message to West Bromwich Albion as the attractive ‘Throstles Girls’ campaigned in the area.”
The Throstles had been spotted giving Baggies “lectures” in factory canteens from Newcastle to Market Drayton and Stone, as well as in the city.
Hodgson said: “We don’t mind them coming into fringe areas like Stafford but we take a dim view of the Albion girls going round the factories in the Potteries.”
To counter, Stoke were setting up their own “eight-strong girl brigade” called the Jet Sets.
Hewitt wrote: “Applications have been received from an all-England beauty finalist. Qualifications are: over 18, good personality and soccer interest. The eight Jets will receive attractive red and white outfits and generally act in the manner of airline stewardesses.
“So it’s the Jets against the Throstles. Sounds like a track from West Side Story.”
The Jet Sets made their debut in a 1-0 home defeat to Arsenal and were warmly received.
Hewitt said: “The bright-eyed Jet leader, watched approvingly by a healthy-looking boyfriend, paused in her hostess duties as I asked: ‘What sort of reception did you all get from the fans?’ She replied: ‘I actually think they accepted us more readily than the players. They never stopped moaning at them.'”
A NEW ALL-IVY GREEN STRIP – January 1968
FOUR months into Hodgson’s reign and he had taken to marketing Stoke as “The Thinking Man’s Club”.
The latest big think was a new colour strip, all ivy green to be precise, to be as different as possible to other Football League clubs. Stoke were apparently fed up of having to change into their second strip of blue and white to avoid clashes.
Hewitt announced the news but added: “I’m keeping out of the arguments. If supporters have any views on the colour subjects, direct them to Mr Hodgson.”
Get in touch they did in droves – and feedback was surprisingly positive.
“Letters have poured into the Victoria Ground, with 10 in favour to every one against,” said Hewitt.
Stoke considered testing the water by fielding a reserve side in ivy green but in the end they remained and remain in red and white.
A NEW NAME FOR STOKE CITY: KNYPE
Stafford-based journalist Phil Shaw, who later worked alongside Hodgson at the Independent, admitted that this idea was not one that was ever likely to get too far off the ground – but that might not have been its real purpose.
He said: “Derek tried to provoke a then apathetic public (gates were dipping sharply) by proposing a name change from Stoke City to Knype, as Arnold Bennett had re-branded Stoke, … and even a nickname change to the Peacocks!
“When he and I became colleagues he told me he had done it to stir up debate.”
What a card. Ahem.
By the end of the 1968/69 season, after two draining but successful relegation battles, Hodgson decided to head back to the sportdesk, although he remained good friends and drinking partner for Waddington.
Some of the outlandish ideas had not stuck but he had also established successful supporters’ club branches including Stoke and Tean and Cheadle. He had revolutionised the programme, which had been rebranded as the Ceramic City Clipper.
And he had negotiated the appointment of North East-based scout Jack Hixon, who was leaving Burnley despite unearthing “£1m of talent”.
Stoke didn’t keep hold of Hixon either, however, so it was Southampton who benefited when he discovered a certain 13-year-old called Alan Shearer.