Thursday, August 09, 2007

Come On You Potters

The football season is upon us and so with great excitement I had the opportunity to take a small crew to watch a pre-season friendly at the Britannia Stadium last Wednesday between Championship side Stoke City and Premier League side Aston Villa.

It’s a good time to introduce you to some of the people that play a part in da man cd’s world. First and foremost is my partner in crime in the work I do at the YMCA – Ray Feeney. I came across this dude a year ago through a Friday night community prayer meeting at the COG Centre. This guy’s love for God and devotion to Him remains an inspiration to anyone who meets him. Among other things he’s devoted to is the city of Stoke-on-Trent and so as a result, being a keen football fan, he’s a devoted Stoke City fan. As opposed to the God issue, his devotion to Stoke City can at times be somewhat misguided. Yet it is infectious and so as a result of that and our blossoming friendship I have allowed the Potters to be team in the Championship. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I won’t be critical, but I do want the team to do well this season.

On the basis of the friendly though that might mean attaining mid-table mediocrity. Aston Villa are hardly world-beaters and despite having a charismatic, effective and motivational genius in Martin O’Neill they are headed for mid-table misery themselves – albeit in a division higher than Stoke. That showed on tonight’s performance.

Sure it’s only a friendly, but for a side like Stoke City who need to be up for it and ready for the season ahead, it was somewhat frustrating. The first half was dire in terms of Stoke’s performance. Villa looked to be taking it as a training session strolling around the pitch without a care in the world or a decent challenge coming in from their opponents. And in the unlikely circumstance that Stoke ever had the ball the Villains could shut their eyes and guarantee that the spherical object would return to them in a matter of seconds. City were truly shocking with possession. The only reason why they were not battered was their opponents were not clinical up front and truly could not be bothered to play attacking penetrative football to test the keeper more than they did. Yet their first half domination was reflected in a one goal lead after Patrick Berger – who was on loan at the Potters last season – came back to score a sweet goal in the top left hand corner.

I had the honour of giving commentary to Ray on the game (maybe not as exubrant as this but still quality commentary), which is a good thing as if I was left to actually endure the game either on my own or without doing the commentary it may have threatened to have turned me off the Potters.

The second half was decidedly different. Tony Pulis – the boss of the Potters – may have informed his team that it was a friendly match and not a training session of attack versus defence. (Although he perhaps should have also informed his team that perhaps to actually keep the ball in the opponents' half requires maintaining possession and playing a formation a bit more optimistic than this one.)

As a result of this and helpful substitutions by the opponents who virtually had a second team out for the second half, the Potters enjoyed a period of sustained pressure on their opponents. For the best part of twenty minutes they kept the ball in the Villa half and created a few opportunities though the cutting edge was somewhat blunt.

Then just when you thought it was safe to hope for an equaliser, with 13 minutes remaining Villa made the home side pay for not scoring and against the run of play on the break the man Gabriel Agbonlahor sweetly finished past Simonsen to make it 2-0 to the team in claret and blue. That effectively ended the match as was witnessed in the home fans making their way to the exit. The team may as well have followed as the game was as good as done.

It was a good night out because of the crew I was with. It’s good to be out doing stuff like that with class people like Ray. Alongside Mr. Feeney is a good family friend Miss Deon Wynter. Despite being from Jamaica she’s actually a good laugh and knows enough about football to help make the evening the success it was. This was down to her appropriate reprimands for the mediocrity and then remarkable turnaround of fanaticism when the Potters were doing well. Great young lady she be! Indeed it was her mobile phone that has produced these photos which she’s given me permission to use, so she must be alright! The lad who makes up the crew is the newest member of the team. I’ve known of Deon for the best part of four or five years.

Steve Alleyne (far right) is a guy who lives at the YMCA and I’ve only got to know a bit more about him over the last few months. What I have learnt about the guy is enough for me to have a great deal of respect for him, the challenges he’s overcoming by faith and his heart’s desperate desire to follow Christ – that in itself remains humbling for me. He’s also proven to be something of a handy man for the folks at church doing stuff from helping with house moves to being the walking A-Team by finding making enough tools out of nothing to virtually landscape a garden! (OK he was cleaning it and weeding it, but it sounds even grander if I say landscaping doesn’t it? Sounds as if I know what landscaping is – let’s not reveal the truth of that situation, eh?) As well as that Steve is a nominal Arsenal fan but on the night was a die-hard Stoke City fan raising his voice in support of the lads at any opportunity – which of course meant a quiet first half, but still good entertainment all the same. And he pities the fool that thinks otherwise.

In terms of atmosphere at the stadium well one side of the ground was closed but there was a fair turnout and the away end was a good turn-out for the Brummies seeing as though it was a friendly. Understandably with such a team it was hard to muster the groundswell of noise you’re looking for to keep the lads going, but they did their best and it was something when there was delirium by the fans when they earned a corner! (A bit like this actually.)

Still, with such a motley crew a good time was always assured and big thanks to Steve, Deon and Ray for a great night out, which I hope we’ll be able to do again. Perhaps with a better quality of football, but in despite that – and you read me right when I type – come on you Potters.

For His Name’s Sake
da man cd

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