Dave's Progress. Chapter 122: A Tale of Two Cities.

And so it came. The big day. May 14th, 2011. There were two teams. There was one football. But was there, ladies and gentlemen, a level playing field?
I am, of course, talking about yesterday's F.A. Cup final between Stoke City and Manchester City. Pre-match hype in Stoke reached such a fever pitch yesterday that the entire day's airtime on our local radio station was dedicated to coverage of the game. And, when the game began, Stoke itself seemed to transform into a ghost town. Only the pubs and bars which showed the game on television were filled with ardent supporters. The rest of the town was deserted, with people either being actually at Wembley to watch the game or at home watching on their TVs. The night before, most of our local news coverage (TV, radio and print media) had been about the match, with many local luminaries turning up to extol the virtues of both the football team and our city. "How great this will be not just for football in Stoke but for Stoke itself", seemed to be the general response. Many felt that the game would finally put Stoke on the map, bringing much needed inward investment to the area.
So, as the starting whistle blew, the majority of Stokies sat rapt in eager anticipation, salivating over the possibility of us bringing home the cup for the first time in the club's 148 year history.
Then, of course, things began to go wrong. Stoke seemed to lack the previous vigour in their play which had brought them a 5-0 victory in the semi-final. It has to be said that they looked out-classed by the superior movement and on-the-ball skills of Manchester. And, in the second half, Stoke's worst fears were finally realised as Manchester scored. Stoke seemed to rally late in the game and had two corners in the final minute, but to no avail. Manchester came away the victors with the only goal of the game.
Then, as harsh reality began to sink in, the disappointment of the Stoke players, manager Tony Pulis,  their many fans (27,000 had travelled to Wembley to see the game) and indeed, the inhabitants of our much maligned city, became palpable. Stoke had lost. At the semi-finals grown men had cried with joy, now it was with utter sorrow and desolation.
But, when one begins to think about it, was Manchester's victory such a surprise? They had been favourites to win from the outset, and when I suggested at the beginning of this post that the game may not have been a meeting of equals, I think one can make the argument that Stoke were doomed before the whistle even blew. And why is this? The simple answer lies in one word- money. It could be said that Manchester City essentially bought themselves this victory. With new owners with a reputed fortune of £15 billion, Manchester can easily afford to buy and pay the very best players around. Indeed, I believe their highest paid player earns the disgustingly obscene amount of £220,000 a week. Compare this to Stoke, whose owner has a relatively modest (in footballing terms) fortune of £500 million.
Despite this, though, Stoke have ended up eighth in the Premiere League, which qualifies them to play in Europe next season. And, at the end of the day, they did reach the final of the F.A. Cup even though they didn't win. So, hopefully, Stoke City F.C. and Stoke-on-Trent itself can retain some pride in the achievements of the club and perhaps an invigorated sense of pride in our locality has indeed come to pass. It's just a shame that in football as in life, and as we know all too well in Stoke, there's rarely such a thing as a level playing field.       


GEM said…
Hi Dave

Stoke should be really proud at their achievement. And yes Man City may be able to buy the better skilled players but that's not all that counts. Heart, dedication, team loyalty and deterination also are a key ingredient in any worthy player of any sport, hence why Stoke reached the Semi Finals with less talented players! Now they can build on their success next season! Of course had Leeds Utd made it to the play off and had a chance of moving up to the Premiership, I would perhaps not be so generous with my comments about Stoke!! ;)
David said…
Hi Gem,
Yes, despite losing, I think we can still be proud of what Stoke have achieved this season. Hopefully this will have the effect that many have predicted, and bring a ray of hope and increased opportunity to the whole city.
Thanks for your generous remarks and good luck to Leeds next season.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
THE SNEE said…
Hi Dave,

We have futbol on the brain here....uh like, maybe twenty four seven. In fact, we are supposed to see a Manchester United game(friendly fire variety) in Boston this summer.

As for level playing fields...Sigh...if only it were so. Great insightful post. I always enjoy reading what you write.
David said…
Dear SNEE,
Thanks for your comment and I'm glad that you enjoyed this post.
I know not all of us are football crazy, as it were, it's just that this was a particularly big event for not just Stoke City FC, but our entire area.
So, I hope you are not affected by too much "football on the brain". Afer all, sounds nasty!
Yours with Very Best Wishes,

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