Don't blame the weather for poor attendance at the Brit
SO, it wasn't to be. No stirring FA Cup triumph, upsetting the odds.
And not that many bums on seats either. That was the most disturbing thing about Saturday's cup tie.
Stoke fans truly voted with their wallets for the visit of the reigning Premier League champions, and a mega-bucks club who Stoke enjoy upsetting to the extent that Roberto Mancini's hadn't won at the Brit in the Premier League era.
So why were there so many gaps in the stands?
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First off, set aside any thought that the weather affected the attendance at all.
Stokies will not let a little bit of white stuff stop them getting to a game they want to see.
Despite a few inches of snow the night before, the game was on, keeping a proud record of only one postponement in 16 years of the Brit – and that for wind, not snow.
Stokies waded miles through drifts and pushed cars out of frozen drives to make it to the game.
No, there was actually a lack of interest in the tie as the crowd of just over 19,00 showed.
Was that because the game was televised?
Well, of course in January, with the post-Christmas blues setting in and wallets thinning shelling out even £20 for this FA Cup tie was a step too far for some.
And fair enough. That is why TV recompenses clubs so handsomely as live games, particularly one-off ties, often mean selling tickets is tougher.
But while all these were certainly contributory factors there are two key issues which are the main reasons behind the embarrassing gaps.
Firstly – and this is inescapable – there's the way Stoke have been playing since Boxing Day.
The 3-1 defeat of Liverpool was a season high, but the succession of fairly dismal showings since then has made the bounce we all felt in our stride leaving the Brit that night, full of Christmas cheer, seem like a distant echo of former glories.
It was actually only five weeks ago!
But that is indicative of a wider and far more worrying problem than a run of bad form in a succession of frankly difficult fixtures.
Year-five malaise has set in.
We've heard about it before from the fans of clubs like Leeds and Middlesbrough.
It's a combination of frustration at the glass ceiling which exists for any but the three or four biggest clubs, arrogance that things can't go wrong, irritation at the manager's tactics and a demand by fans to be entertained when previous only delight at over-achievement was necessary.
Remember that day back in January 2009 – just four years ago – when an inspired team of players arguably far less proficient than the current side reduced to 10 men in controversial first half circumstances defeated a Manchester City team thanks in no small part to a Brit packed to the rafters with vocal, passionate supporters.
It was incredible. An emotional experience which expressed the true soul of Stoke City.
And that spirit was why Stoke first survived and then prospered in the Premier League.
But now that unconditional passion is ebbing, with fans awaiting inspiration from the pitch from players both paid a lot more than those four years ago, and for whom the club have paid a lot more.
Saturday should have been another day when a packed Brit spurred Stoke to victory.
Instead it was another average performance which wasn't quite good enough.
And that has to change.
Whether it's a shake-up brought about by a couple of new faces, or some inspiration from the stands, the malaise needs to be brought up short before it sets in to become something more long-standing – and terminal.