Its that time of year again. Much drinking and games coming thick and fast. Ahead of United entertaining Mark Hughes’s Stoke City, our man, Guy Hannay-Wilson caught up with Bunny from Duck Magazine. Just into its 4th issue, its a damn fine read which goes into a bit more depth than just your standard football writing. Here’s the lowdown on Stoke City.
TF: SCFC’s start has been fairly unspectacular despite a good start. How much will the 3-2 win over Chelsea act as a catalyst?
Bunny, Duck Mag: We’re seven unbeaten in the league. That might be because this league is the most overrated in the world, but just over a month ago many Stokies were probably concerned about a real relegation battle. Whilst we’re not out of the woods yet, we went toe-to-tie with Chelsea during the second half and if that last minute pearler didn’t instil a bit of self-belief, what will?
TF: What has been the main change you noticed since Mark Hughes has come in? Is he a change for the better?
Bunny, DuckMag: Apparently, he allows players to have eggs on their pizzas. Great scenes at Frankie and Benny’s, by all accounts.
The main change is that we have totally changed how we play association football. That’s not a dig at Tony Pulis, more so at the nu-football, Soccer AM-loving whoppers who think that you have to play football in a certain style. We’ve found since our promotion in 2008, there’s a new phenomenon: the Football Snob.
When Stoke were really good at being Stoke, we were a thrilling rollercoaster ride of two wingers, the mercurial Ricardo Fuller, teams bricking it when we got a throw in and a crowd that was totally, directly involved in a game of football. Problem is, TP tried to change it slightly, but didn’t/couldn’t. He had no real need to, as teams were often beaten before they stepped on to the ST4 turf.
Hughes has us playing a far more patient, probing style of play that lacks one key ingredient – pace. Now, we can often overplay. Football, no matter the style, has to have purpose and tempo. There have been signs in recent times that Hughes’ team is progressing. We still lack that one magical player (like Fuller) who often turned a humdrum draw into a win, though. Perhaps in January, eh?
TF: The core of the team looks to have remained intact from last season. What would you do to change the squad in January, if any change is needed?
Bunny, Duck Mag: Get Ricardo back, arf. We have a decent back four; N’Zonzi can often be a class above anyone else in the squad; but we still lack real pace and we desperately need another centre forward. As a supporter, I always just want one player who gets me out of my seat when they receive the ball. A player who quickens your step as you walk to the ground.
One of them would do me.
TF: Who has been the stand out players for you so far and who are the biggest threat to NUFC?
Bunny, Duck Mag: We have arguably the best goalkeeper in Europe (kiss of death, right there). Geoff Cameron at right back is very decent going forward (stops typing to flick the V’s at telly as Robbie Williams comes on it) and has been our best outfield player this season. Indeed, it’s great to see us having players with names like ‘Geoff’ in the team. Proper footballer’s name that. Geoff’s are usually dependable.
As for a threat? You’ll look at our team and no one will scare you, but you will notice quite easily just how different we play the game this season.
TF: SCFC had a good run in Europe and were narrowly edged out by Valencia. Did the support really become engaged with the Europa League or did you find the 2nd tier competition in Europe a disappointment?
Bunny, Duck Mag: We last played in Europe almost three decades ago, so it was a magical, magical journey. I remember being huddled around a computer at work when the first draw was on. It was like the old days of the FA Cup third round draw. To get the mighty Hajduk Split (the biggest club in the prelim stage) was a dream/nightmare. The 500 they brought over to Stoke was the best away support I had ever seen. My lad watched the away end, not our win.
What was ace, was that we got some proper Euro aways and not the easy-to-reach places where thousands would go simply for a p*** up.
Our group consisted of visits to Tel Aviv, Istanbul and Kiev – the furthest mileage for a Europa group that any UK team had ever had. But these awaydays were adored by those that went, with absolutely zero mither or grief.
We then had the plum Med-away that everyone wanted – Valencia. Over 6500 made the trip (allocation 2,500). I didn’t/couldn’t. Forever gutted. Cathedral Square resonated to “Stoke is a sh**hole, I wanna stay here”. Would love to think my kids will see us in Europe again one day.
TF: How will Tony Pulis be remembered? Did Stoke make the change too late?
Bunny, Duck Mag: I think the timing was about right. We will be forever grateful to TP. He took a bottom 6 Championship ship to the Greed League, FA Cup Final and Europe. Anyone not forever grateful is very churlish indeed.
Many non-Stokies thought it was harsh, but we had spent a ton of money and had started to regress since the 2011 Cup Final. TP left as a legend, and I reckon that in this crappy day and age of want-it-now smacked-arseness, it means a lot for someone to go out with their reputation untarnished.
TF: Stoke’s style under Pulis was basic and physical and was not universally popular. Did Stoke as a team and support feed off a siege mentality. “No-one likes us we don’t care”?
Bunny, Duck Mag: Of course. Paddy Power paid up on us being relegated after our first game at Bolton. It was the best thing that could have happened to us. Whilst it sounds a bit Soccer AM, the crowd really did make a difference for the first two seasons. We rarely lost at home, and enjoyed kicking sand in big-boy faces. Great times, and I still think that secretly, many other club’s supporters were thinking “well in Stoke, give it to ‘em!”. Plus, we made the humble throw-in sexy.
TF: Duck Magazine is a great read and focuses on a civic pride in coming from Stoke-on-Trent and the Potteries generally. What is the common bond among Stokies apart from the club?
Bunny, Duck Mag: Probably the uniqueness of the city (a polycentric federation of six towns) and our geographical situation.
We are located virtually right in the centre of England, with several airports and motorways in close proximity, but it means we are not really seen as North/South, and not particularly Midlands either. Christ, I’m coming over a bit Leeds here, aren’t I?
Football is all about the bond you have with the football club from your city or town. You don’t choose your club, your club chooses you. Being a Stoke fan, and my kids supporting Stoke, means the world to me. I’d even have massive respect for my kids if they supported Port Vale. Anyone else though – meh!
TF: Five years ago Stoke fans were unlawfully detained in a Manchester pub before a Man Utd game and then bussed them back to Stoke. What did Stoke fans do to organise themselves and what would be your advice to other supporters on doing the same?
Bunny, Duck Mag: It’s easy to Google the results of that day.
Stokies are very proactive when it comes to wanting change or ensuring justice is served. Our parochialism and insularity is both a strength and weakness, but when it’s time to standing up and being counted we stand up and, er, are counted.
TF: What’s your impression of NUFC this season and of the management of Alan Pardew?
Bunny, Duck Mag: You can only say that you have had a brilliant start to the season. I have never taken to Pardew and probably never will. I’m sure that will bother him greatly.
TF: Outlook for both teams this season?
Bunny, Duck Mag: I’ll tell you on February 1st, 2014.
Bunny, Duck Mag: Predicting results is for Shoot, not true faith. We will either win, lose or draw and we will continue to support our respective clubs no matter what league we play in. That’s all that matters.
Thanks to Bunny of Duck Magazine for his time!