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OFFICIAL club website of stoke city

1990-1999 Two Relegations, A Trophy, A Promotion, A New Stadium and A Takeover

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EVERYTHING conceivable happens in the turbulent final decade of the Twentieth Century.

It first began with Alan Ball being given the task was to prevent Third Division football for the first time in 63 years. He failed. His next task was to deliver promotion back to Division Two. He failed.

The former England captain thus departed in February 1991 in the middle of an indifferent season which saw City finish in a lowest-ever league position of 15th in Division Three. Ball's former assistant Graham Paddon held the reins for the last two-and-a-half months of the season while the Board thought long and hard about the best man for the job.

They chose Lou Macari, the ex-Celtic, Manchester United and Scotland striker who had enjoyed great success in his first management job at Swindon, steering them from the Fourth to the brink of the First Division. His expertise was what the directors felt was needed - and they were proved right. Macari spent wisely but built a side which narrowly missed promotion in his first year in charge. He took the club back to Wembley, winning the Autoglass Trophy with a Mark Stein goal against Stockport, and the following season City won the championship of the new Second Division following the re-structuring of the Football League after the formation of the Premiership. Stein, a bargain £100,000 buy from Oxford, became the new terrace hero with 26 goals as City won the title with a Club Record 93 points and set a club record of 25 league games without defeat between September and February.

Many thought Macari capable of leading resurgent City straight through into the Premiership in 1993/94. He might have done, had he not answered the cry of help from his first love, Celtic, in October 1993. The Club's best manager since Tony Waddington left, and his successor Joe Jordan lasted less than a year. Stein left, too, in a Club Record £1,500,000 move to Chelsea on the day that Macari quit.

It was to be three years before Stein pulled on a red-and-white striped shirt again - but Macari was back in the hot seat within 12 months. His return in October 1994 was greeted with fervour. But there was only a mid-table finish that season and when 1995/96 began with four defeats from the opening six games, and 21st place by mid-September, anxious doubts began to creep in. Macari, though, had the solution. He snapped up former England under-21 striker Mike Sheron from Norwich and he fired the Club into the First Division Play-Offs, only for them to be defeated by Leicester.

The Premiership had never been so close, and many expected City to make a big push in 1996/97. With relocation from the Victoria Ground into a new 28,000-seater stadium at nearby Trentham Lakes due in August the timing would have been perfect. Fourth at Christmas, and with Stein back on loan from Chelsea, suggested it could all fall neatly into place but a poor second-half of the campaign meant 12th place and Macari ended his second spell by leaving at the end of the season.

His final game was an emotional occasion. West Brom, fittingly, were the last club to play a league game at the Victoria Ground, just as they had been the first club to play on the opening day of the inaugural 1888/89 season. Graham Kavanagh went down in history as the last City player to score a league goal at the ground. The honour of being the very last player to score a league goal at the Vic, though, went to Albion's Andy Hunt.

Everything was a new for 1997/98. A new home, a new kit, and a new manager - Macari's former assistant Chic Bates. Sheron's departure to QPR for £2,500,000 was a new Club Record transfer. Expectations were high, but the season did not go as planned. Bates stepped aside in January and former midfield favourite Chris Kamara, who had enjoyed success as boss at Bradford City, took over. He failed to effect an improvement and left in April with Bates' previous assistant, Alan Durban, taking over as caretaker. Durban was City manager again nearly two decades after leaving for Sunderland. He almost staved off the drop, but defeat at home to Manchester City, also relegated, on the final day, meant a return to Division Two.

Brian Little was appointed manager for the 1998/99 season and the former Leicester and Aston Villa boss made a good start, leading the team to the top of the table after six straight wins and holding the position until December. But results deteriorated and a final place of eighth preceded Little's departure after less than a year in charge. Next in the hot seat was Gary Megson, who lasted four months before making way for the Club's first overseas manager, Gudjon Thordarson, in November 1999, following the takeover at the Britannia Stadium by an Icelandic business group.

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