A victory for Stoke City against Bolton on 17th April 2011 would not only propel the club to their first FA Cup final appearance, but it would also wipe away some of the stigma attached to one of the country’s oldest football clubs.
In Stoke’s 128 year history, the club have never competed in an FA Cup Final. The only other Premier League club not to do this is Wigan Athletic, a club not exactly steeped in history.
Stoke had edged an FA Cup quarter final clash against West Ham with a magnificent 2-1 victory at the Britannia Stadium that was renowned more for its controversy surrounding the referee Mike Jones than the actual result to some neutrals.
But dodgy refereeing decisions aside, that result not only put Stoke back into the media spotlight, but the televised cup tie also showed Stoke playing some good passing football. A style completely opposite the long-ball game the national media had stereotypically tacked onto the club’s image.
Stoke City’s recent form will also serve as a morale booster ahead of the cup tie. The 4-0 thrashing over Newcastle United helped to keep the Potters away from the bottom three, as well as their hard-fought 1-1 draw against Premier League holders Chelsea. Stoke City supporter Paul Johnson believes that his club’s good form will improve the club’s chances against Bolton.
“I think we [Stoke City] are playing good football. Tony [Pulis] has improved our club season on season since we got promoted.
After our good form of late, I am quietly confident about the FA Cup semi-final and of course I am aware that the club could make history. But my most immediate concern is the parking at Wembley.”
The feeling around Stoke is decidedly optimistic. The draw against Bolton is, on paper, the more favourable compared to the two Manchester clubs that are in the Premier League’s top four. An FA Cup Final appearance would bolster Pulis’s already strong reputation in Staffordshire, and gift the man the opportunity to match one of his predecessors.
Tony Waddington is a name that enraptures the older generation of Stoke supporters. As manager from 1960 until 1977, Waddington had dragged Stoke into the top division and then established the club in that division whilst bringing in big names like the former England internationals Stanley Matthews, Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton. For Derek Barker, a man in his 70s, there is no doubt Waddington is Stoke’s greatest manager.
“We played great football back then and the teams he [Waddington] built and the fact we were in Division One for so long is testament to his managerial ability.
We had players like Matthews, Jimmy Greenhoff, Alan Hudson and Banks and Shilton over his tenure. We won the League Cup in ’72.
I think Pulis is a great manager, don’t get me wrong, and it would be amazing if we won the FA Cup, I cannot imagine the scenes around Hanley. But Bolton are a good team.”
Indeed Bolton are a good team. They have only lost two of their last nine games and are challenging for a Europa League place. Currently eighth in the table, Owen Coyle’s men had become media darlings for their attractive style of play and many neutrals would not begrudge the club some success this season.
But Bolton are also looking to win their first FA Cup in 53 years, having last won the competition in 1958.
Whilst the Trotters are ahead of Stoke in the table, they only lead by five points in what has been a closely-competed Premier League campaign. But Lou Macari, a former Stoke manager and columnist to the Sentinel, thinks Bolton’s style of play has been exaggerated by the press.
“The media has been falling at the feet of Bolton for some time now because they’re apparently having such a brilliant season.” Macari wrote in a recent Sentinel article.
“Many reporters have also fallen into the trap of going overboard about Bolton’s supposedly new style of play.
Well, when I see Bolton, I see a team that can play a bit, is prepared to work hard and can dig deep when the occasion demands it. Sounds like the Bolton side that did so well under Sam Allardyce to me.”
Nadiya Kadam, a female student in the Staffordshire area, disagrees with Macari’s statements. A Bolton supporter herself, she thinks Bolton’s style has “become considerably more attractive” and that her family “actually enjoy going to Bolton’s games compared to the boring football played under Allardyce.”
Both clubs are desperate to end decades of missing out on winning the FA Cup, but for Stoke it is also a question of eradicating the stigma of failing to make an FA Cup Final appearance. Actually winning the trophy that has evaded their clutches throughout their esteemed history would be a bonus.