The Green Un: Die-hard Stokies Lee Lycett, Rob Ledgar, Angela Smith and Paul Ruane share their thoughts ahead of the new Premier League season
FORGET the Euros, the proper football is getting closer with the new Premier League season now only seven weeks away.
We asked four leading fans to give us their thoughts. They wouldn't do it though, so die-hard Stokies Lee Lycett, Rob Ledgar, Angela Smith and Paul Ruane kindly stepped in.
Lee Lycett: Following the Potters proudly for the last 34 years. The season-ticket holder cheers Stoke on from the Seddon Stand, but has seen them everywhere from the grass bank at Wigan’s old Springfield Park ground to Valencia’s magnificent Mestalla stadium.
Rob Ledgar: Been watching the Potters for 40 years now, but Stokies may know him as the presenter of Saturday morning sports show Boots, Bats and Balls on Six Towns Radio as well as being the owner of popular tee-shirt producer stoketshirts.co.uk.
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Angela Smith: The former world squash champion has been following the Potters for 51 years and has been elected by fellow fans on to the Stoke City Supporters’ Council.
Paul Ruane: Paul has been following City for the last 40 years and has been a season ticket holder for the last 20. The dedicated fan supports City everywhere, including pre-season friendlies from Austria to Aldershot.
Between them, the quartet have spent 170 years watching Stoke, through thick and thin.
They tell us who they would buy and sell, and who would be in their starting line-up for the big kick-off at new boys Reading on August 18.
YOU ARE TONY PULIS, AND YOU HAVE £5m TO SPEND PLUS WHATEVER YOU CAN RAISE FROM PLAYER SALES. HOW WOULD YOU WHEEL AND DEAL THIS SUMMER?
Lee Lycett: I would go all out to sign a £10m striker like Jermain Defoe.
Kenwyne Jones can't be happy playing second fiddle to Peter Crouch, so with regret Kenwyne you're fired (sold for £5m).
I would be looking at a new left-back for around £2.5m to £3m. I would be happy with either Martin Olsson or Danny Rose, who can both double up as wingers if necessary.
I would love another winger like Adam Johnson or Matt Jarvis, but I've just blown a big hole in my budget with the striker.
I would add a couple of free transfers such as Carlos Cuellar, who can play anywhere across the back, and Hugo Rodallega, who can add competition to the strikers and cover the wing.
I would listen to offers for the following: Danny Collins, Diego Arismendi, Michael Tonge, Kenwyne Jones and, reluctantly, Cameron Jerome, Danny Higginbotham and Matthew Upson.
Rob Ledgar: I would bring in Matt Jarvis in for £5m and sell Kenwyne Jones for £4m, along with Danny Higginbotham and Danny Collins for a further £2m.
With what's left, I'd pull in a hardworking, ball-playing midfielder from the Championship and a full-back.
An international on a Bosman would add strength in depth at full-back or midfield, with Hugo Rodallega or Michael Owen to replace Ricardo Fuller (similar wages).
Salif Diao, Tom Soares, Michael Tonge and Jonathan Woodgate would all say their farewells.
Angela Smith: I'd look at getting in another forward and a full-back. I'd then push Marc Wilson back in midfield when I could or when it was needed.
I'd go for Jordan Rhodes up front and Joe Bennett from Middlesbrough as my defender. I'd also bring in Matt Jarvis if we could raise the money by selling Kenwyne Jones and Cameron Jerome.
Paul Ruane: No European games means we can get away with a smaller squad. Sell the older fringe players, and either Kenwyne or Cameron. Then buy a decent left-back and a creative midfielder, plus find a prolific striker from abroad.
WHAT ARE YOUR REASONS FOR OPTIMISM NEXT SEASON...
LL: Robert Huth signing a contract extension has been a big boost for the fans.
There is little wrong with our style of play, I just felt that for huge parts of last season we didn't reach the heights of the previous campaign when we played with a much higher tempo.
Our play relies a lot on our wingers and the striker who plays the withdrawn role.
All three have to cover a huge amount of work, both defending and attacking.
But all three had problems either with form, fitness or from being out of favour.
RL: No European distractions. No early season kick off.
Both Norwich City and Swansea City losing their managers, plus our experience.
Also, we have a great team spirit and Robert Huth has signed a new contract.
AS: No Europa League games. As much as we enjoyed the adventure, it took its toll. The staff and players will realise that the second half of the season was a disappointment and will want to ensure we improve and win a trophy hopefully.
PR: Fingers crossed that the wingers find consistent form, Wilson Palacios comes good at last and we get a new left-back who can get forward and deliver decent crosses. Also, Florent Cuvelier gets three months on loan with a Championship club and then gets a regular place on the Stoke subs' bench.
... AND YOUR CAUSES FOR CONCERN?
LL: Lack of goals scored. Our shots on target for last season was very disappointing.
RL: Our away performances.
AS: The difference in the standard of Premier League teams is getting closer all the time, particularly from eighth place downward.
A bad run can see any team getting involved in a relegation battle. We need to score more and keep injury free
PR: Square pegs in round holes. Not enough goals from the strikers. We don't have a bench with players who can change the game.
IT'S BEEN SUGGESTED THAT THE BRITANNIA STADIUM IS LOSING ITS BEAR-PIT ATMOSPHERE FOR SOME OF THE LESS GLAMOROUS FIXTURES. IS THAT FAIR?
LL: I think the Brit lost its atmosphere for the less glamorous fixtures after our very first season in the Premier League. That season was unique.
The good thing is we still get a good atmosphere for the big name clubs, and we still have 20,000 season ticket-holders after four years in the top flight.
RL: Very fair – it's a fact. That's what comes of being an established Premier League team.
As supporters we criticised teams that didn't raise their game in our first season in the Prem when we went away, but it seems it happens to the best of us.
AS: I think the lack of atmosphere on occasions was largely due to the lack of goals, although compared to Spain playing France at the Euros, we look flamboyant at times!
When the players need the extra support the fans always rally round, and they will do so again this season.
PR: Yes, unrealistic expectations lead to complacency. We need to help the players when things aren't going too well on the pitch. We must treat every visiting manager to the Arsene Wenger treatment.
WHERE DO YOU THINK STOKE WILL FINISH NEXT SEASON AND WHY?
LL: Anywhere between 10th and 14th. With no European football to worry about this year, I'll be brave and say 10th.
Winning one of the cups in our 150th year would be special.
RL: I'll go for 11th. We should be top 10 with no distractions and no excuses, but we always seem to tail off at the end of the season after safety has been reached.
AS:Top ten – because we'll continue our progress under TP and he'll drive the squad on to improve.
PR: Twelfth if we make a couple of decent signings before pre-season starts. Or, 16th if we don't and goals are hard to come by.
WHO ARE YOUR THREE TEAMS TO BE RELEGATED?
LL: Southampton, Swansea and Wigan.
RL: Reading, Wigan and West Brom.
AS: Southampton, QPR and West Brom.
PR: QPR, Southampton and Wigan.
WHAT, IF ANY, CHANGES WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE OFF THE FIELD?
LL: I would like to see the manager shake-up his backroom staff with the addition of a new coach. I thought Peter Reid was a breath of fresh air a couple of seasons ago.
RL: Free wi fi at the ground as my phone goes into the Brit "black hole" as soon as I enter the ground. And what about heated seats in the stands when the temperature hits five degrees!
AS: Mirrors in the ladies' loos, a better standard of catering on the concourse and, please, a quicker exit from the car parks after a game.
PR: Bring in a coach to work with the strikers and show them where the net is! Replace our scouts with those from Newcastle United.
WHICH GAME ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO MOST?
LL:Easy one, Arsenal. Need you ask why? "Arsene Wenger, I bet you saw that".
RL: Boring, boring Arsenal – "Let's All Do The Wenger". It's also about time we beat Manchester United at home, so those two.
AS: Arsenal at home to see the difference between Steve Bould's reception on his return and that of Arsene Wenger. I hope and expect there will be quite a contrast.
Also, Manchester City and United because they are class teams with great players and the atmosphere is always good.
PR:The one that gets us to the 50 point mark! It would be nice if it was on April 13 at home to Manchester United. I'm fed up of the team running out of steam after getting 40 points.
WHAT WOULD YOUR IDEAL STARTING XI BE FOR THE OPENING GAME AT READING?
LL: Begovic, Wilson, Shawcross, Huth, Olsson, Pennant, Cameron, Palacios, Etherington, Crouch, Defoe.
RL: Begovic, Shotton, Huth, Shawcross, new full-back, Etherington, Palacios, Whelan, Pennant, Crouch, Jerome.
AS: Messi, Iniesta ... Okay, seriously, either keeper, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, new full-back, Pennant, Palacios, Walters, Etherington, Crouch, Rhodes.
PR: Begovic, Wilson (right-back), Shawcross, Huth, new left-back, Pennant, Palacios, new creative midfielder, Etherington (or Matt Jarvis), Crouch, Jerome.
OK ENOUGH OF THE REALISTIC STUFF. IF YOU COULD PUT TWO STOKE CITY PLAYERS OF YESTERYEAR INTO THE CURRENT SIDE WHO WOULD THEY BE?
LL: Mark Stein to partner Crouch. He scored some great goals that will always be remembered, albeit in the second and third tiers.
He proved it at the higher level too with Chelsea – and on one memorable night at the Victoria Ground against Manchester United.
Lee Dixon would be my second pick. Composed on the ball, good defender and great going down the line on those surging runs.
RL: Peter Hoekstra for Etherington. He always got at least three goals against Reading (or is my memory going!)
Jimmy Greenhoff (for Jerome). Jimmy was always my favourite player. If I was being practical then it would be Jackie Marsh and Mike Pejic in the back four with Shawcross and Huth – No one would ever dare get past them!
AS: Of players that I have seen at the top of the game, it would be Gordon Banks and Denis Smith. Banks because he was simply the best keeper and Smithy because he lead by example and never gave up.
PR: Neil Franklin. I never saw him play but I would expect him to get his head on everything that comes into our box. And Freddie Steele – he knew where the net was. They both got picked for England as Stoke players.