It is rare to find something in football that hasn’t happened before and, sure enough, the clash with Blackpool this weekend will be Stoke City’s second League Cup game on a Saturday.
The club was instrumental in the Football League setting up this cup as a mid-week competition back in 1960, when influential FA secretary Stanley Rous and league secretary Alan Hardaker banging the drum for a new tournament to be launched.
Stoke chairman Charles Salmon had taken on “missionary zeal” a couple of years previously to convince clubs on his proposal for a floodlit cup competition.
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He made a speech at a League Management Committee meeting in Liverpool in 1958 and appeared on BBC’s Sports Round-up to try to gain support, as well as inviting backing and suggestions from other clubs around the country.
League games were almost exclusively played at weekends at that time and clubs had been holding mid-week friendlies – Stoke attracted First Vienna to the Victoria Ground mid-way through that season – to raise funds as floodlights gained in popularity over the previous few years.
The Sentinel reported at the time: “One opponent of the idea said it would lead to too much football but Mr Salmon disagrees. It would not necessarily mean more on average than recently friendly matches but it could mean football of a more interesting character.”
The germ of the idea involved a localised eight-team knock-out format before the winners progressed to a national draw on a one-tie basis until the final “to be played at Wembley or some other big ground”.
Stoke would indeed go on to win the League Cup – against Chelsea at Wembley, March 4, 1972; a Saturday.
Stoke fans burst into rendition of Walk On after Wembley win
There are big and small statuettes and shields in the Stoke City trophy cabinet but there is no doubt about what takes pride of place. Sitting right in the middle is the three-handled silver urn the Potters won with a win over Chelsea on March 4, 1972.
The League Cup is 27cm tall, about 6lb 8oz heavy – and absolutely priceless.
It is 48 years now since Tony Waddington and Co went to London for the most famous afternoon in the club’s history. Preparations featured an evening with Danny La Rou and a changing room welcome from a mysterious Irishman called Seamus.
“How he got there I’ll never know, but there he was,” said Willie Stevenson. “After the game we returned to the dressing room and lo and behold there he was supping champagne with Tony and toasting each one of us as we walked in the room.”
TV presenter Jimmy Hill was also in there for interviews, having seen a rare Terry Conroy header and strike from George Eastham secure a 2-1 victory. Hill had tipped Chelsea to win so Stoke players tried to dunk him in the team bath.
By that point captain Peter Dobing had climbed the old 39 steps to collect the cup from Dr Gustav Wiederkehr, president of Uefa. In the days before Delilah, supporters burst into a rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone.
“I have always been a person who has shrugged away from the limelight,” said Dobing, “so it was difficult for me to go up for the cup. However, it was a very proud moment.”
The night went on with a gala dinner at the Russell Hotel, in Bloomsbury. The menu was a story in itself. There was Coupe de melon au Porto Banko; Creme Ritchie; Supreme de turbot Dobing; Filet de boeuf Bluto; Petit pois Greenhoff; Haricots verts Eastham; Pommes Bernardo; Pommes Smith; Pejic trianon; Marsh mallows; Cafe Conroy. Burrows montrachet; Chateau Stevenson; Moet Farmer; Haslegrave brandy; and Skeels liqueurs.
Entertainment was provided by Jackie Trent and Tony Hatch, the duo behind We’ll Be With You, which reached number 34 in the charts without the vocals of ‘tone deaf’ Jackie Marsh and Terry Lees, who were ordered out of the squad chorus.
Trent and Hatch changed the lyrics to one of their other hits, singing: “The other man’s grass is always Greenhoff.”
Champagne was flowing but Denis Smith really wanted to toast the occasion with a bitter.
He said: “Most of the younger lads decided to continue the celebrations out on the town, but my ankle had swollen after being stepped on by Peter Osgood during the final so by 11pm I was tucked up in bed, where I did manage to order a pint – of milk.”