I’ve always loved and been proud of Stoke City and I’ve always loved and been equally proud of Stoke-on-Trent.
Nobody ever told me I had to feel this way about either.
My love of the football club was bon from the first moment my father started taking me to the games, and I witnessed the passion, the commitment, the excitement and the felt the intensity of a shared experience with fellow supporters.
As for the city, I became aware of my attachment as soon as I left it, to begin a seven-year stint in the Royal Navy. Before that it had always just been somewhere that I lived.
After I moved away, to serve my country, I realised how precious it, its biggest football team and its people were to me.
Down the years I’ve had several opportunities to move and live away from the city on a more permanent basis but I was never able to bring myself to do it. And on the occasions I was forced to be away from Stoke-on-Trent the longing to return was always there.
Of course, in any love story, there’s the occasional bump in the road.
There have been times I have wanted to bang my head against the wall in frustration at the fortunes of the football team, and some of the players and managers who have represented it, and likewise with my city; there have been times when I’ve been exasperated by it and some of my fellow citizens.
All in all though, the passion I feel for the club and my city, and the sense of belonging to both is as great now as it has always been. I have a genuine pride in both and not without good reason.
The current health crisis we’re enduring and particularly the response to it by my football club and the people who run it has been truly inspiring.
I know I banged this drum just a couple of weeks ago but as the situation develop I’m going to keep on banging it loudly.
At a time when Liverpool FC, usually (to be fair to them) a club that does the right thing by its own people, have been publicly shamed into rolling back a decision to furlough many of the people who work for them, we have the continued example of our own club and the people who run it.
Far from taking the easy, government facilitated, route to an easier path through this epidemic the Coates family immediately, and without any public or media pressure, reassured everybody at Stoke City that their positions were safe, for the foreseeable future at least, and even went to so as to let those employees who usually only work on matchdays that they would still be paid for the remaining matches of the season.
That in itself is a stunning gesture and puts to shame many of the Premier League clubs, Liverpool and Tottenham included, who have not been so quick to use their massive annual income from Sky to offer the same levels of reassurance to their employees.
That Liverpool should now be getting credit from rolling back their shoddy decision, while Stoke City have been barely mentioned in the national media for their more genuine and humane response, lamentably reflects the state of our press today!
As if their actions concerning the football club were not worthy enough of high praise, bet365, the largest private employers in the city, have also made a massive commitment to their own staff, assuring them of full pay and bonuses until at August at the very least.
And then most recently, we have the news that Denise Coates has now made a £10m grant to the Royal Stoke hospital in Hartshill and the County Hospital in Stafford.
And let’s not forget that it is people born of this city, not some London financiers and bankers, who are currently the largest taxpayers in Great Britain!
I have said in recent times, and it’s something to which I have stuck doggedly, that Stoke City became the sort of club I had always dreamed of supporting, and it’s a position from which I cannot be shifted. Sure, I’ve had my battles in the past and I feel I have been both right and wrong in some of past arguments.
The sign however, that things were changing was the famous Rory Delap incident. We had him on loan, said we were going to sign him permanently and then went through with that pledge even after he suffered a terrible broken leg. That one incident displayed to so many of us how things were going to be at Stoke City and it’s no surprise that such an amazing decade quickly followed.
During the past 10-12 years we have enjoyed some wonderful seasons of top flight football, a cup final, trips to Europe, static season tickets prices for more than a decade and even free away travel to league games for many of our supporters.
This is a club worthy of our support and we should never lose sight of that.
To have heard people referring to the club as being “rotten to the core” during the past few years is something which has troubled me deeply. I honestly feel some of my fellow Stokies have confused the natural ups and downs of fortunes of the field of play with the genuine commitment shown by those running the club.
You’d have to be mad to try to claim that mistakes haven’t been made, some of them bad ones for sure, but they were not done with any malice of forethought or the same kind of uncaring indifference we see at somewhere like Hull City.
Our club is in safe hands and I only hope that if any good can come of this current coronavirus crisis it’s that the light of truth and reality shines on all those who deserve it, for good and bad reasons.
In these troubled times I feel prouder than ever to support Stoke City and to come from Stoke-on-Trent.
When all of this is over I won’t forget those who stood tallest when it was most needed.