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150 Memories - Chris Iwelumo

PUBLISHED

16:21 8th April 2013

by Richard Forrester

Part four of four exclusive interviews with SCFC stars

AS PART of the Football Club’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations, Staffordshire University student Richard Forrester has produced a series of exclusive interviews with Stoke City stars from yesteryear.

Following on from interviews with Terry Conroy, Peter Fox and Mark Stein over the last few weeks, Chris Iwelumo is the final player to appear here on stokecityfc.com.

Each of the Potters favourites has shared their fondest memories of the time they spent at the Club in fascinating detail, coming to a conclusion today with "Big Chris".

'ONE NIGHT IN CARDIFF'

Following Brian Little's solitary season in charge, Stoke were approaching the new millennium searching for a new manager for a third consecutive year.

With financial restraints following the move to the Britannia Stadium, chairman Keith Humphreys had missed out on first choice Tony Pulis so instead opted for Gary Megson. However by November, the Potters were under new ownership and had another new manager. It was the beginning of the Icelandic era.

It had been an impressive start to Megson's campaign too. By the end of October, City were sitting in the Play Offs following a nine match unbeaten run. During that period, small rumours emerged into bigger stories when Gunner Gislason headed up a consortium to complete a takeover and quickly made clear his intentions, appointing fellow countryman Gudjon Thordason in Megson's place. One of his first signings was centre-forward Chris Iwelumo, who recalls changes at the Club during that period.

He said: "It was going to be one of those things that did take time but it was a transitional period at the time. There was a lot of pressure on Gudjon until he finally achieved what he set out to do."

Peter Thorne was taking matters into his own hands, firing Stoke towards the Play Offs including four goals in a 5-1 win against Chesterfield - a fitting remembrance game for Stoke legend Sir Stanley Matthews.

Six wins from the final seven matches ensured Stoke had reached the Play Offs to set up a tie against Gillingham. After an enthralling 3-2 win in the first leg, the second was remembered for the controversial refereeing decisions of Rob Styles after sending both Graham Kavanagh and Clive Clarke off as City slipped to defeat. Iwelumo puffed out his cheeks as he remembers the decisions.

"At the time you couldn't believe it. It was such an important game in which he definitely got decisions wrong. I'm sure the fans are still holding a grudge against Rob Styles to this day.

"We managed to hold out until extra time but with nine men, it was a difficult task."

Disappointment was diluted somewhat though by the trip to Wembley that season, to compete against Bristol City for the Auto Windscreens Shield. The Potters won 2-1 on the day.

"What a day that was. It was between me and Paul Connor for the bench and he got told that he was left out and there were tears in his eyes because it’s such a big occasion for any player. I remember coming on but I don’t think I touched the ball.

"It was fantastic though. One of those memories that sticks with you."

The influx of ten Scandinavian players including manager’s son Bjarni Gudjonsson produced a highly entertaining season which included a Stefan Thordason thunderbolt in a 5-5 draw, knocking out Premier League Charlton Athletic on away goals. Stoke were soon hoping to erase some cup memories though after a 8-0 defeat to Liverpool and a 1-0 loss in dismal conditions at Nuneaton Borough.

It was a case of de-ja-vu after suffering heart-break in the Play Offs twelve months on, this time at the hands of Walsall after goalkeeper Gavin Ward dropped the ball into his net following an inswinging corner.

With that defeat meaning another season in the third tier of English football, Thordarson had a balancing act to perform and was forced to sell fan favourites Thorne and Graham Kavanagh to league rivals Cardiff City, although he did introduce defender Sergei Shtaniuk and Dutch wing wizard Peter Hoekstra to the squad.

A fifth place finish in 2002 conjured up a Play Off tie against Cardiff, incidentally, and Iwelumo recalls that magic night at Ninian Park for the second leg.

"Deon Burton had come off the bench in the first leg and scored which meant we went there still 2-1 down. But what a match that was down there. That last minute James O’Connor goal and then Oulare came on and scored off his backside in extra time.

"We were stuck in the dressing room for four hours after that game because of the trouble outside trying to reflect on what had just happened. It provided time for a lot of jokes, telling Oulare he had the most famous backside in Stoke!" he laughed.

"Then we got promoted beating Brentford at the Millennium Stadium. I think that was probably the proudest moment I had in a Stoke shirt. We were 2-0 up at half time and it was one of those where we just knew we were going up. There was an air of confidence in the way we played.

"It was great memories looking back now it’s making me smile thinking about it."

Although Stoke had achieved promotion for the first time in nine seasons, there was a growing tension between Thordason and chairman Gislason which led to his dismissal shortly after the Final to the shock of Iwelumo:

"I was away on holiday at the time and I couldn't believe he was leaving. The relationship wasn't really obvious at all for the players, but I love Gudjon to bits and he kept those issues between him and the owner."

Stoke were returning to the First Division and again were without a manager. Steve Cotterill was appointed, but ultimately departed after 13 games to welcome a second and ultimately successful attempt to sign Tony Pulis.

For Iwelumo, who stills lives in Stoke, he has nothing but fond memories from his time and is still the last Potters player to score in a Potteries Derby:

“I absolutely loved my time at Stoke it was a special time for me. I've met a lot of friends inside and outside the Club and that’s why I moved back.

“I didn't realise I was the last Stoke player to score against Vale. I have a picture of me going round my good friend and their centre-back Sagi Burton.

“Actually, I need to get that blown up and send it to him you've just reminded me of that!”

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