Off to Bolton tomorrow, it will only take 5 hrs. Still what’s that after 23 years out of the Top Flight? Nothing. I’m imagining I’ll be doing a weekly post on this matter. The intro to And She Laughed No More opens with this passage.
Match report from the Sunday Mirror, March 30, 2008.
Stoke make Watford, who are also notoriously direct and have drawn their last seven matches, look like Barcelona.
Tony Pulis has come up with a version of the game that is not so much Route One, but Year Zero. Football has been stripped to its most basic components, and rebuilt as an endurance test that should be played on an assault course.
Pulis has a sergeant-major’s subtlety and attention to detail. He might have earned his UEFA A licence when he was 21, but his coaching philosophy accentuates the negative. His team is pre-programmed, regimented.
It’s all very well battering Championship opponents with the blunt instrument of free kicks and 40-yard throw-ins hurled in flat. They may bully the unwary with players who are prime physical specimens.
But if Stoke are not good enough to dispose of Blackpool, they won’t be good enough for Liverpool. The prospect of Fernando Torres meeting the likes of the musclebound Leon Cort is the stuff of comedy.
In a piece of copy almost certainly written before the 1-1 draw at home to Blackpool, this article gives the flavour of the sort of press Stoke City were receiving as the (long overdue and unexpected) prospect of promotion to the Premiership loomed into view. The match report is likely to be fair enough; I don’t know, I wasn’t there. In common with the reporter, I did not gain much pleasure from watching my team play football, so, as often as not, I avoided it. Also in common with the reporter, I regarded the manager in a less than favourable light. Though I’d have to concede that he had made a creditable attempt, this copy was an amateur effort when it came to the subject of abusing our manager; in the business of reviling Tony Pulis, it was me who was the professional.
When Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister it was a routine misery to be reminded of how much I loathed her. Thatcher was never far away; you would hear her awful voice on the radio or see her awful face in the newspapers or on television more or less every day. This was bad enough, but with Pulis it was worse: he never went away, he was always there, buggering about in my sub- and unconscious twenty-four-seven, twelve months out of twelve. The bastard would even turn up in my dreams, riding a bicycle the wrong way up a log-flume and shouting his catchphrases ‘Aard work,’ and ‘Triffic,’ through a megaphone. While I was boiling the kettle, or flicking through sports stations, I would absentmindedly send Pulis Out! texts to my fellow travellers, for what good it was worth; there was more chance of us signing Pelé than of Pulis being shown the door. The team were doing well, sitting high in the division, gaining a reputation for being combative, aard-working and difficult to break down, and remaining in the top six even when they lost, because all the top sides during this Championship season were in the habit of all losing simultaneously. On paper, judged by the League table, Pulis was a success. Further, he was the alter ego of the chairman. They are physically similar; both come from extended families of working-class background; there’s a shared Catholicism; and there’s a shared dourness: neither of them ever cracks a smile, neither of them ever cracks a joke. With all this ‘common bond’ to unite them the likelihood of seeing the headline ‘Pulis Receives P45!’ in the north Staffordshire Evening Sentinel was less than zero.
Stoke were doing great.
It was only, as the Mirror correspondent discovered, when you actually saw Pulis’ brand of football – Pulisball, as we called it – that the thing went wrong. For journalists working on national papers Pulisball was a sport they only encountered – that only disgusted them – once in a while, whereas for me it was my daily bread, should I wish to take it, which I frequently did not.
This, in part, explains the reason why, with the team sitting second in the Championship with only two matches left to play, and with the ‘Promised Land’ of the Premiership in touching distance, I was to be found in Belgium – where Stoke weren’t playing – with a group of like-minded supporters.