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.
During the course of the month, four separate interviews with Terry Conroy, Peter Fox, Mark Stein and Chris Iwelumo will appear here on stokecityfc.com.
Each of the Potters favourites share their fondest memories of the time they spent at the Club in fascinating detail, continuing today with Mark Stein.
'THIS MAN'S MAGIC'
ANY renewed hope approaching the new decade was quickly diminished when Stoke finished in the bottom half of the old division three.
Chairman Peter Coates had to act quickly and appointed Lou Macari to be Alan Ball’s successor. Being the supporters’ choice, Macari quickly acknowledged the task on hand and wasted no time bringing in new faces, including Steve Foley and Vince Overson.
Stoke went on to enjoy much welcomed success under Macari including a title, Wembley final and witnessing the magic of Mark Stein. It was also an era where Stoke would move from the historic Victoria Ground into a new full-seater Britannia Stadium.
Macari’s objectives were simple: promotion was the aim and the Potters were involved in a title battle all season. Biggins had scored ten in the first nine games and began to form a formidable partnership with Stoke’s new number nine in which Stein recalls his first season playing alongside Biggins:
“We seemed to have that telepathy that is rare with strikers molding together. From the first game, I instinctively knew what he was going to do. Biggins notched up 22 league goals that season which was a huge influence to the team’s performance.”
After failing to win any of the last three games of the season, Stoke had slipped away from automatic promotion. A grueling play-off tie against Stockport, which saw Carl Beeston get controversially sent off,
ended in despair.
However, Stoke had the chance to get retribution over Stockport with their first Wembley appearance since 1972.
A game which Stein fondly remembers: “Just playing at Wembley in itself was huge. I remember that day there was about 45,000 Stoke supporters and I think Stockport took about 10,000. When we were driving down to Wembley that day all the cars and vans you saw were Stoke supporters.
“I was ecstatic that I scored but after all the hard work we had done that season, if eventually it ended up with us not winning anything, I think it would have been a travesty.”
The formation of the Premier League meant Stoke began the 1992 campaign in Division Two. After agonizingly missing out the season before, Macari was determined the same mistakes weren’t made. After
beating Blackpool in November, Stoke went top. It was a position they made their own for the rest of the season and a campaign where Stein was in his element, scoring 33 goals.
He said: “I remember that season. Every game we went out and it wasn’t so much about Lou’s team talks, we had that inner strength to protect your mate and every time we played that year we knew we were
always going to be in the game.”
With ‘Carling’ printed on the red and white stripes, Stoke began their adventure into Division One. Toddy Orlygsson and Gary Bannister joined and Stein was carrying on his goal-scoring form, most notably his
famous double against Premier League giants Manchester United.
“I remember Lou’s team talk before the game. He said you needed to work harder than you’ve ever worked because basically they’re better than you and the only thing that we can equal them is work and effort.”
Ferguson sent out a strong team which included Lee Sharp and Peter Schmeichel; he knew playing at the Vic would be a challenge and one which was justified to a vintage Stein performance as he recalls his first
“Orlygsson slipped me the ball and my only intention was to shoot. I took it to the side of Gary Pallister and just hit it as hard as I could. All I saw was it fly into the roof of the net.
“I couldn’t tell you which of the two goals I preferred. They were both special because we had beaten Manchester United.” He smiled.
With Stein’s consistent performances and goal-scoring form, it was inevitable that he would eventually be head-hunted and eventually moved to Chelsea for £1.6 million. It was a bitter pill to swallow for supporters
and one that was difficult for Stein himself:
“We had gotten into Division One and Lou had gone to Celtic but I mean for me it was the hardest thing in the world.
“I had a great affinity with the fans but when it comes to work, you want to become the best that you can be.”
It wasn’t long before Macari had returned to Stoke from Celtic and the Potters were able to stabilise as a secure first division side. After a playoff defeat to Leicester in 1996, the club braced themselves for what
was an emotional final season playing at the Victoria. Stein remembers his favourite moments scoring in the Boothen End:
“It was a fortress. The pitch was tight and the fans were right up close so it was very intimidating.
“I remember the fact that they used to bang on the windows, it was crazy. The night games were the best because the atmosphere felt like there were 100,000 people there.”
Stein believes the noise in the League Cup win against Manchester United epitomized the atmosphere at the Vic.
“Throughout my Stoke time, probably my whole career the atmosphere that night was the best it’s ever been. I think there were about 20,000 that night and it was a really special night.”
Stoke ended the Victoria campaign with a 2-1 victory of West Bromwich Albion which, coincidentally, were Stoke’s first ever competitive opponents back in 1888.
After 119 years of highs and lows at the Vic, it was the end of an era and the start of an age at the Britannia Stadium.