Stoke City’s 2007/08 promotion season was a rollercoaster and that was encapsulated in two games against the same team.
Stoke won 3-2 away at Scunthorpe having been 2-1 down with five minutes to go – and they won the reverse fixture 3-2 after being 2-0 down at half-time.
It was the second of those games, in the February as Stoke were really gearing up for the tense run-in, that featured a half-time team talk that will live long in the memory of key man Ricardo Fuller.
All season, all through his decade at Stoke City, manager Tony Pulis had tried to build a bond between fans and players – but this private foul-mouthed, high volume dressing room rallying cry was something quite different.
Fuller says it “was genius and my eyes were burning bright red I was so pumped up” in an interview with Duck magazine, which is being sent out digitally for free to Stoke fans during the UK lockdown.
“The Scunthorpe games sum up that season for me,” said Fuller, who was interviewed alongside old strike partner Mama Sidibe.
“In both games home and away, we put ourselves in trouble but just kept going and found a way to win when we had already lost the game really. Liam Lawrence scored a late winner at their place after we didn’t play very well again.
“But that home game was something else. We’d been on a really good run before they came to the Brit for that night match – I’m sure we’d only lost one of the last 15 games or something like that.
“But we were slow out of the blocks and had a nightmare start, going in to half-time two-nil down. The fans were not happy and they let us know about it. They were just so desperate to stay in the promotion race I suppose, but their reaction was frustrating for the players.
“Games come thick and fast in that league and at times we were just knackered, you know!
“Anyway, at half-time, Tony Pulis worked his magic.
“He came in and did this speech. Always different things you didn’t see coming.
“It shocked us, really.
“The gaffer did some clever psychology at times. He knew how to motivate us. That night, he fired us up by creating this siege mentality… against our supporters!
“He basically said, ‘Forget that lot out there we don’t need them tonight. It’s about you – the squad and the players on the pitch. Go out here and do it for yourselves and each other – it just you against the world because no one, not even our fans expect us to do anything. Go out there and show them what you are all about.’
“He used plenty of other swear words, believe me!
“It was genius and my eyes were burning bright red I was so pumped up!
“He obviously didn’t mean what he said, but it did the trick – we were itching for the whistle and went out second half and battered them to win 3-2.
“After games like that, you just knew we had a chance. It was about taking the pressure we all felt and channelling it into something we could all focus on and believe in.”
Sidibe valued Pulis’s motivational skills too.
“They give you that five per cent boost that makes you a better player,” he said.
“I remember once before a match against Sheffield United, Pulis called me in to chat, which was a bit unusual. He told me that one of their lads had been speaking out against me – telling the media that I was really easy to mark – one of the easiest jobs of his season.
“I was ordered to go out there and show him who the hell I was – stuff those words right back in his mouth. I was fired up and I played really well.
“I don’t even know for sure if their lad actually said anything about me but it worked!”
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Editor Ant Bunn added: “In two weeks’ time we are bringing out a digital-only charity issue. All profits will go to the Dougie Mac and the University Hospitals North Midlands Charity – so your money will be going directly to where it is needed at this dreadful time.
“It will be available to pre-order next weekend, and we want to raise as much as possible for two amazing charities – so please spread the word if you can.
“We are doing this purely because we really want to, we need to do something for some great people, and we are in a position to do so.
“We can’t get a print issue out for obvious reasons, but technology obviously means we can produce a PDF, and because we have an online shop we can sell it and send it from there!
“We don’t want any publicity for the mag from it – although we do want publicity for this issue so we raise more money! – and there’s no agenda. Me and Orfy (Lee Hawthorne) won’t earn a penny from it – we just want to do something for those that deserve it.”