Watching Stoke City this season will be a privilege – let’s back Michael O’Neill to the hilt



Returning to the bet365 Stadium is going to be very weird for all of us.

Even with many of the much-debated restrictions which were initially announced, such as the wearing of masks at all times, now being relaxed, there will be enough that’s different to make the experience a strange one.

At least compared to “normal” times.

The pre-season games at the ground have gone well, although the attendances have been fairly low compared to what you’d expect at an opening game of a league season.

Especially one following 17 months of hiatus when we have had to watch our team on a screen.

There will of course, completely understandably, be many who don’t feel comfortable or confident to return as yet, as well as those who have been hit by the financial outcomes of the pandemic and lockdowns who just cannot afford to.

And then those who are no longer with us because of the ravages of Covid, or other by-products such as missing out on treatment.

These are all the realities of the world in which we now live. A world which, arguably, can never return to what we believed was ‘normal’.

So, when you are walking up to the ground please do remember how fortunate we all are to be able to go for a pre-match pint or meal and then head to the game, sit with our family and friends, hug each other when (if) Stoke score and grumble when (not if) they concede.

It’s a privilege to be able to go back and one which we should cherish.

But within that there will still be those who feel nervous, so respect their feelings and choices to wear masks – which the club are strongly recommending but not making mandatory everywhere bar your seat – and please follow all the Covid protocols in place.

We all know that football crowds have been spreader events over the summer and, despite the amazing success of the vaccines, they are not 100 per cent effective.

So, I’ll be wearing my mask, just removing it to watch the game from my seat; to protect others, not myself.

Above all, though, revel in the freedom, the joy, the sheer normality of going to watch our team, despite the occasional deviation from the “norm”.

Cheer the new signings and enjoy the fact that the vast majority of the deadwood which has weighed the club down so badly over the past few years has been cut adrift to destinations such as Rapid Vienna, Aris Thessaloniki, FK Ufa and Wycombe Wanderers.

And, above all, let’s back this squad and manager Michael O’Neill to the hilt. Now is not a time to moan and gripe. Now is the time to enjoy ourselves and support, like we know when times are good.

And what better time is there than the day we return to watching our team in a competitive match at home for the first time in 17 months following a global pandemic?

Have a good one, see you there!

Simon Lowe’s new book Stoke City – Minute by Minute is out this week.

Do you want an exclusive pre-season Stoke City preview – both in your inbox and through your letterbox? Head over here to find out more and secure your copy.





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