I like the feeling of being in the enemy camp

FAN'S EYE VIEW; No 142 Stoke City Brian Wraight
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The Independent Online
Stoke City fans like nothing better than to see their neighbours, Port Vale, soundly beaten. Defeated 2-0 by Leeds at home in the fifth round of the FA Cup and last Sunday thrashed 5-2 by Genoa in the "Mickey Mouse" Anglo-Italian Cup final at Wembley, that's Vale's season over. Now they can concentrate on relegation.

To be truthful, nothing irks Stoke fans more than to be overshadowed by their less illustrious neighbours. Time was when Vale were in the old Fourth Division and we were in the First Division. So for Vale players like Ian Bogie and Steve Guppy and their manager, John Rudge, to become household names as a result of their recent cup runs is hard to come to terms with. Didn't we once have Dennis Viollet, Jimmy McIlroy, Roy Vernon, Alan Hudson, Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton playing for us?

But if Vale's season is over, ours is still very much alive. Currently fifth in the First Division, we have a chance of making the play-offs though, with Charlton, Derby and Sunderland still to play away from home, it won't be easy.

One thing that worries me, though, is that if we do get promotion to the Premier League, will Lou Macari, the manager, pack his suitcase and head for South America in search of a Juninho, Asprilla or Branco or two? With pockets stuffed with oatcakes rather than cash, he hasn't much of a chance.

Or will he, like the former manager, Tony Waddington, trawl the Premier League for what his long-serving predecessor once called "thoroughbreds" - players long in the tooth who could still turn it on a bit. Where would Macari find a Peter Dobing, Geoff Hurst or George Eastham at a knock-down price today? Would the likes of Peter Beardsley, Ian Rush or Chris Waddle be prepared to end their careers playing where Stanley Matthews began and finished his?

All this begs the question: Do we want to be in the Premier League? The last time Stoke were in the old First Division was in 1985 and we were relegated with the lowest number of points ever recorded. We could do without that humiliation again.

lt is here that I must confess that I am an exiled Stoke fan living in West Yorkshire, who hasn't seen a match at the Victoria Ground since April 1973. (The match was against Manchester United - Best, Charlton, Law et al - and for those like John Motson who enjoy a footballing irony United had recently signed what the programme described as "the spectacular Scottish striker" Lou Macari).

My reasons for wishing that Stoke should remain in the First Division are purely selfish. lt would mean that I could continue to watch Stoke playing at Oakwell, the new McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield, Bramall Lane, Blundell Park and, if Leeds United got relegated next season, Elland Road.

I like the feeling of being in the enemy camp when Stoke are playing away, though I'm not always brave enough to go with the away fans and I'm wary of being too demonstrative when the home team concede a goal.

I must also confess to enjoying what might be described as the kudos of supporting an unfashionable club - though I have discovered that it is not possible to share this indulgence with members of my family.

Above all, my reasons for wishing that Stoke remain in the First Division are practical and I hope largely unselfish. The Premier League is a different place to the old First Division of 10 years ago and Stoke simply haven't the resources to survive there for very long though, ironically, they probably have the support.

If we do make the play-offs and get to Wembley, I would, of course, want Stoke to win and I'd expect them to take their chances in the Premier League. Though I'd hate to see them end up like Oldham, Leicester, lpswich or Bolton.

And woe betide us if we do get to Wembley and lose, because there's nothing Port Vale fans like better than to see their neighbours soundly beaten. But we could console ourselves... we did win the Autoglass Trophy in 1992.

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