THE BEAUTIFUL GAME: IN DEFENCE OF STOKE CITY

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October 14, 2012 by mapperleystag1

Their football may not be pretty and their tactics may largely be based around intimidating opposition teams but criticisms of Stoke City by so-called “experts” and footballing purists are the very definition of double-standards.

In recent times, it has seemed fashionable to jump on the bandwagon of condemning Stoke City and their style of football. They have been portrayed by the footballing elite in various negative ways and described on numerous occasions as dirty, crude, overly physical, dangerous, intimidating, malicious and hoofball, to name but a few of the insults banded around. Indeed, the most popular stereotype of Stoke projected by these self-proclaimed “experts” of the game, and the core of their argument, is that they are anti-football, summarised by playing in a manner deliberately opposed to the core values of the sport. As I intend to highlight, this argument is fundamentally flawed and incorrect, not to mention incredibly hypocritical, as a significant proportion of these observers who judge Stoke City and their approach lose sight of the very aims and objectives of competitive football in the first place.

Rory Delap preparing to deliver one of his notorious long throws that have caused chaos in opposition defences for many years.

From an entertainment perspective, Stoke City’s brand of direct, physical football is not the most aesthetically pleasing. Potters’ fans would even admit that the repetitiveness of long balls up to either Peter Crouch or Kenwyne Jones from the back, completely bypassing the midfield becomes slightly monotonous. Due to the lack of inspiration in open play, supporters of Stoke often seem most excited and alive in anticipation of a set-piece, whether it is a missile long throw delivered by either Rory Delap or Ryan Shotton, or a corner or free-kick which can be delivered into the six-yard box, for players such as Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross to attack and impose themselves literally on opposition defenders and goalkeepers. Whilst this arguably constitutes inferior entertainment for fans in comparison with slick passing or a blistering shot, the effectiveness of such an approach is remarkably still underestimated by critics. For footballers and managers, their primary concern is not entertaining the fans; it is winning football matches by whatever means necessary broadly within the rules of the game. If Stoke are so one-dimensional, predictable, and by implication, easier to play against than more fluid sides as so many argue, then it is hard to understand how so many more technically proficient sides struggle against them. Already this season, they have matched much more illustrious opponents such as Liverpool and champions Manchester City over 90 minutes. In reality, the inconvenient truth that many wish to gloss over is that Stoke City are a formidable foe, especially with home advantage. Few teams have gone to the Britannia Stadium and walked away with three points since Stoke have been in the top flight, emphasising the validity of their unpopular approach.

Stoke’s centre backs Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth having a slight disagreement with the referee.

Therefore, manager Tony Pulis is justified to use whatever tactics he feels best suits his side. As Stoke have a significant number of tall, muscular players who perhaps lack technical ability in comparison with most other Premier League players, Pulis utilises a direct approach, where his players can most effectively gain advantage from their physical prowess. If Stoke changed their tactics to appease their critics who suggest they pass the ball shorter more, their effectiveness would be reduced and the intimidation factor at the Britannia Stadium would subsequently fade, meaning the Potters would find it hard to survive in such a competitive league. Therefore, this argument that Stoke City should play more “football” is counter-intuitive, as if they did, they would be easier to play against, suffer more defeats and be increasingly threatened by relegation, something they have comfortably steered clear of so far with their supposed anti-football approach. Whilst some commentators drone on pompously about right and wrong football philosophies, the reality is that football is a results based business, with other considerations of secondary importance. This is something that is clearly too complex for some to understand. Either that or its simplicity has been neglected by these pseudo-intellectual football observers who claim the moral high ground, speaking of correct and incorrect approaches to the game whilst completely forgetting that the whole point of the sport is to win. Stoke City, seemingly brought to trial for bringing the principles of “the beautiful game” into disrepute, have not forgotten the purpose of football when it appears that an increasing majority of the footballing community have done. As such, it is those who criticise the Potters who are committing acts of gross hypocrisy, not those who defend the Staffordshire side who rightly observe that the only football philosophy worth considering is a philosophy based around success.

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4 thoughts on “THE BEAUTIFUL GAME: IN DEFENCE OF STOKE CITY

  1. Socrates says:

    Is it not the case that football’s financial power as a sport is based on the fact that it is a spectator sport. For instance, cricket in India is financially powerful because it is watched by millions while cricket in England is not. Therefore, is entertainment not inextricably linked to spectactor sports? Wimbledon’s inability to generate sufficient crowds in the late 90s???

  2. mapperleystag1 says:

    Whilst this is a good observation, I am not sure that a comparison between Stoke and Wimbledon is totally accurate. There were many other circumstances which led to poor crowds at Selhurst Park, that being one of them (it not being Wimbledon’s own ground). By contrast, crowds at the Britannia Stadium are consistently high, indicating that Stoke supporters are suitably entertained by the product on the pitch which is what matters, not the opinions of those who seemingly have ulterior motives for their criticisms.

    • Socrates says:

      I agree that (somewhat bewilderingly) Stoke do get good support. However, all the hype around their style seems to confuse a simple point, which is how successful Stoke or indeed Tony Pulis have been. Their spending has been exceptionally high, and yet mid-table obscurity is often applauded as an overwhelming achievement by Pulis. The signing of Crouch for £12 million may be justified in his performances, but they purchased Jones for £8m, Jerome for £4m and Palacios for £6m, none of whom are having huge impacts. Owen looks to do a similar job as Upson and Woodgate did before him on good wages. In the summer of 2011, Stoke were aiming for a top six finish spending £22m. I’m sure the likes of Moyes, Lambert and co would be under much greater pressure than Puils has faced, had they spent similar sums with similar results.

  3. posh_hooligan says:

    In an ideal world Stoke will be relegated along with other substandard teams such as Villa and West Ham. West Ham played terrible football all last season, they must be laughing!

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