Date: 23rd July 2006 at 1:16pm
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With the new season only two weeks away, our website editor Jon Owen decided to grab a word with a handful of Stoke fans ahead of the big kick-off. Gary Owen, Mark Mothershaw, Andy Thorley, John Paterson and Tom Read were put on the spot ahead of the Southend game.

1) What was your first reaction to Peter Coates’ return to power?

Gary Owen: Unlike the majority of Stoke fans I felt quite pleased. The Icelanders had gone as far as they were going to go with the club and I could only see things getting worse under their ownership. I dread to think what sort of future the club would have had if the Icelanders had stayed in charge. Peter Coates is now far wealthier than when he was previously in charge and now seems a lot more upbeat than he used to be. Of course, only time will tell if his return to the club is a good thing.

Mark Mothershaw: I wasn`t sure to be honest, I am only 21 so I only have vague memories of Mr Coates` previous reign at the club, and I can remember the entire anti-Coates brigade at the old Victoria Ground. At the end of the day he is Stoke through and through, he wants the club to succeed and he has saved the club from a massive amount of debt. He is a very brave man to come back after his past record and I think he deserves a massive amount of credit for doing this.

Andy Thorley: Gutted. I remember what he did to our club the first time he was in charge. It`s been argued that he was our only option. But might it have been those “Golden Shares” that put prospective buyers off?

John Paterson: Positive. Not because I like the bloke but because the Icelanders were taking us nowhere (apart from ever higher debts) after missing the chance to strenghten after TP’s second season. And no one else wanted to take over. Coates is the only hope at the moment of moving the club forward.

Tom Read: It didn’t really affect me that much having only been a kid the last time he was in charge. I suppose I was actually quite pleased though, going with my
theory that he’ll be willing to splash the cash to some degree, in an
attempt to get the fans against his takeover, off his back a little.

2) And Tony Pulis’?

GO: Again I was pleased. I had no great faith in Johan Boskamp`s managerial ability and I could never forgive him for making the club a laughing stock over the Rudge/De Koning note passing incident. Tony Pulis has proven he can do a decent job at Championship level on limited resources. He seems to know the type of player the club need to make progress. Hopefully the board will provide him with sufficient investment to sign the players we need to get to the play-offs at least.

MM: Not too sure at the beginning simply because the massive divide between supporters once again, however at the end of the day the guy was employed, wasn`t under any pressure, the chairman (Paul Stapleton) liked him and he decided to return to Stoke to finish off some unfinished business. In my opinion Pulis did a very good job when here last time, I understand the football wasn`t brilliant, but he had very limited resources and the friction behind the scenes, well I think everyone knows about it. A fresh start with a chairman who is totally behind him WILL bring success to us all eventually.

AT: Same as I feel about Coates really. I accept he wants the best for Stoke City, but I will not accept how he goes about it. I would have loved us to look at a progressive type of manager like Paul Simpson, for example, than taking the retrograde step of TP. But clearly once Coates came back he was the only choice.

JP: I wasn’t his biggest critic when he was here before but I thought/think it was a divisive move to reappoint him.

TR: I’ve witnessed the good and the bad sides of Tony Pulis’ previous reign, but
he knows there’s a pressure not to have a repeat of the mind numbing crap
from his last season at the helm. As much as people don’t like him he’s no
fool and I firmly believe he can do a job for us.

3) Do you think the initial criticism of Pulis is fair or misguided, taking into consideration the constraints he had to work with last time around?

GO: Overall I think the criticism is a little harsh. Ok the team put in some pretty miserable performances towards the end of his previous time in charge, but don`t let us forget he never spent a lot in the transfer market and was responsible for bringing players like De Goey, Halls, Taggart and Akinbiyi to the club.

MM: Definitely misguided, we have to remember that when he was here before players didn`t see Stoke as a mid table team, we were probably on par with a lot of the less known clubs. However he stabilised us as a good solid mid table team, bought in some good players and missed out on players who have since become Premiership players, Francis and Sidwell are probably two of the most recognisable.

AT: Entirely fair. I think Pulis got away very lightly last time around- I understand it wasn`t easy for him, but those performances, particularly away from home, in his last year were disgraceful. We didn’t even try to score at Ipswich when a goal down and that position GNW was played in? Those things cannot be excused as the fault of the board. I am sceptical that he can ever take us forward- I hope he proves me wrong. .

JP: It was certainly inevitable that he would get a more than normal amount of flack. It is misguided – as whether his critics are right or wrong about him, he deserves his chance on a level playing field for the club’s sake as much as his own.

TR: Very very misguided! He took us, a club with a bottom 6 budget, to a mid
table finish. If we’d have played the entertaining football people yearned
for we would’ve been exposed in defence, and then our finishing position
would’ve reflected our financial position at the time!

4) Johan Boskamp: Big mistake or worthwhile gamble?

GO: Big mistake. I felt the club became a soft touch under Boskamp and there were quite a few humiliating home defeats when the football we played left a lot to be desired. Also Boskamp proved his temperament was suspect especially with the complete over-reaction to the Coventry away incident.

MM: On record I think it will go down as a massive mistake but he was a breath of fresh air to have him here for the 10 months he was here. To play his style of football it is massively important to have a striker capable of 20 – 25 goals a season, sadly we didn`t have one. Loved his style of clothing though and his interviews at times were fantastic, also bought in Hoefkens who could become a great at the club. My memories of Big Johan are all good.

AT: Worthwhile gamble at the time, mistake with hindsight. I am not sure he realised the enormity of the task at hand and I don`t think his heart was in it once he did. The row with Rudge made everyone at the club look daft. I have to say I was happy when he left.

JP: A mistake as things turned out. However, I can see why the Icelanders, having sacked TP, made the mistake. Bozzie looked good on paper and was, I think, a good coach. He was, however, far too stubborn on and off the field. Ironic, considering that it was probably stubbornness which cost TP his job.

TR: Big mistake considering the Icelanders did one after he’d spent nine months
in charge. He would’ve needed a couple of seasons at the helm for the gamble
to have payed off in my opinion.

5) Have you got a message to The Icelanders?

GO: I think we should be grateful to the Icelanders for their investment in our beloved club. The aim of Premiership football never looked realistic but at least we managed to get out of League One, and at the moment we look well capable of holding our own in the Championship despite the misguided appointment of Boskamp.

MM: “Thank You” that`s the message I have for them, they took over a sinking ship, stabilised it and tried their best and put money into the club. At times the PR was poor but you can not argue that they didn`t tell the truth. They started to lose the plot with some amazing decisions i.e. suspending Rudge and De Koning and leaving it to wreck last season, but overall they were good for the club.

AT: Thanks for everything. You ultimately failed but it wasn`t for the want of trying. Your PR was awful, but if the fans had backed you better, then maybe, just maybe.

JP: Thanks for stabilising the club when you bought it. Thanks for improving many of the off the field aspects of the club and for getting us promoted – eventually. You deserve criticism for paying too much, for accepting a deal which involved Golden Shares and for not realising that getting a club promoted to the Premiership involved more committment than you were able to give. If you had gone at the end of TP’s first full season when you failed to take the chance to invest in what was a decent team with potential, I’d have no criticism now.

TR: You left us in a better position than we were in when you took over, and for
that I’m thankful.

6) What are you hoping for next season?

GO: Realistically I just hope TP can gradually improve the team in 2006/07 in readiness for a sustained push for the play-offs in 07/08. I would also like us to become a hard to beat team on our own patch. I think we will need to be patient with TP. As long as there is a gradual improvement I will be satisfied.

MM: Normality would be a start, nothing stupid happening like previous years, some new signings, a bit of quality and lets see some good football and a solid defence, its not too much to ask is it?

AT: I hope for a better season than I`m expecting. Id like us to buy one player of genuine quality so that we can see Coates is serious this time. We`ve heard his rhetoric and promises before.

JP: I’m still hoping that the playing staff will be considerably strengthened by the close of the August window. If it is then I hope for top ten – and top six if luck is on our side.

TR: I’m hoping for us to storm the division and win every game, but
realistically, a top ten finish and a few matches to be remembered fondly in
years to come would be a successful season in my eyes. It’d also be nice to
see Carl Dickinson to progress further. He looks very capable at this level
and if used properly is definitely a promotion for the continuation of the
youth academy.

7) What areas of the team do you think remain a priority to strengthen?

GO: As I see it we need a back up goalkeeper to Simo, a strong central defender, a creative midfielder (unless Eustace can prove his fitness), a left sided midfielder and two new strikers. Not much to ask for then!!!

MM: With the Sammy situation a good quality striker or two is a must, we need to have goals in the team and history proves that to get to the Premiership you need a striker who will get at least 20 goals a season. Maybe another centre back, left back and a central midfielder, however a fully fit John Eustace would be like a new £1m signing.

AT: Midfield. Even allowing for the return of Eustace we look very, very weak in the middle. Brammer I don`t rate, Russell can run and as for our wingers? Chadwick`s the best, but he doesn`t provide enough for the amount of ball he gets.

JP: We need a good striker – possibly two (I assume Sam Bang will not return). We need a creative central midfielder and we need a left back although I am sure Dicko will make the grade. Obviously we need a keeper if Duggan is not to be risked as back up yet.

TR: The midfield is priority for me. A couple of pacey wingers can transform a
squad from defensive hoofers into goal scoring wonders! And, although
hopefully Eustace can have a good season, we really need to have another
good playmaker.

8) Who would be your captain for next season?

GO: I would appoint Clint Hill. I just feel his attitude on the pitch sets the right example.

MM: Well definitely not Dubes, I think the extra responsibility took a lot off his performances last season, the only player I think could cope with it would be Clint Hill, and it wouldn`t surprise me in the slightest if he was to wear the armband on August 5th.

AT: Clint Hill. The only choice for me.

JP: The captain has to be sure of his place as well as being a leader. Hill just shades it over Hoof in my opinion.

TR: If fit Jon Eustace. If not then I’d go for Hoefkens or Simmo.

9) What does your heart and head say for next season?

GO: My heart says we`ll sneak into the play-offs in 6th place but my head says we`ll remain a mid-table side (11th) next season.

MM: My heart says top, 100 points, 100 goals and 28,000 at the Brit every week, but my head tells me different. Anywhere above 10th would be a good season for us and possibly with one or two good additions the play-offs is a good shout.

AT: 12th. That`s what my head says. My heart says we win the league, but my heart makes bad choices!

JP: Heart – 6th. Head 10th.

TR: Maybe my optimism shows the foolishness of youth, but I’m under the
impression that with two or three more good signings we can make an impact
on this division and maybe finish top ten. Pulis will do a good job for us
in my opinion!

10) Sammy Bangoura – Your opinion?

GO: We could do with tracking him down so that hopefully we can then off load him to someone else and at the same time recoup some of our £900,000 outlay. Personally I feel his behaviour is disgraceful. We`ve paid the best part of £1million for him, given him a good contract and presumably have been paying him a substantial wage. Despite all this he can`t be bothered to turn up on time for training and let`s not forget about him going AWOL after the African Nations Cup. His attitude and behaviour is a disgrace – let`s hope we can get rid of Bangoura.

MM: I don`t think I can really type without swearing so I think we should sell the guy and recoup as much money as possible on him. Players like that are not welcome to me and I`m sure Pulis and the rest of the squad feel the same, give me Mama any day of the week.

AT: I would never let him wear our shirt again. There is no excuse. His performances after Christmas were a joke and his commitment is laughable. He epitomises all I despise about modern football.

JP: Great player when he wants to be. Unfortunately, with us, he no longer wants to be. Could prove to be a VERY expensive poison chalice bequeathed by Bozzie.

TR: 10k a week and he can’t even be arsed to turn up for work after two months
off. What a tosspot!

11) And finally, your three for promotion and three for relegation?

GO: Promotion: 1) West Brom 2) Southampton 3) Norwich
Relegation: 1) Barnsley 2) Colchester 3) Plymouth

MM: Promotion: 1) Birmingham 2) Southampton 3) Stoke
Relegation: 1) Colchester 2) Barnsley 3) QPR

AT: Promotion: 1) Birmingham 2) Leeds 3) Norwich
Relegation: 1) Colchester 2) Barnsley 3) Southend

JP: Promotion: 1) Southampton 2) West Brom 3) Preston
Relegation: 1) Colchester 2) Barnsley 3) QPR

TR: Promotion: 1) Birmingham 2) Crystal Palace 3) Leeds
Relegation: 1) Colchester 2) QPR 3) Barnsley


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