Michael Baggaley: Stars come out for the fans
T HEY'VE had dazzling winger Peter Hoekstra as their honorary president, and were once drunk under the table by defender John Clark, so the members of Knypersley and Biddulph Stoke City Supporters' club have enjoyed a few good nights.
They added another to that list on Tuesday when 250 supporters packed out Knypersley Cricket Club for a meet the players evening.
Ryan Shawcross and Michael Kightly joined Stoke chief executive Tony Scholes and technical director Mark Cartwright at the top table for an hour-long question and answer session.
They were following a tradition of Stoke City visits at a supporters' club which was formed in 1993 when a handful of Stoke fans got into conversation while watching a cricket match at Knypersley.
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Dave Regis was their first honorary president and was succeeded by Carl Muggleton. Then came Ian Clarkson and Hoekstra.
Muggleton remains a particular favourite because he used to drive to the meetings from Leicester, usually picking up a couple of his team-mates on the way.
He gave away a pair of signed gloves at one meeting, but noticed one youngster was crestfallen at not winning the prize.
Muggleton asked the kid where in the ground he watched Stoke games. Sure enough, at the next home match, he went across to the Boothen End 15 minutes before kick-off, found the youngster and gave him a pair of junior gloves.
The club now boast a membership of more than 300 fans, 250 of whom travel to every home game on the five coaches laid on by the club.
They only charge £4 adults for the journey, but have made enough from fund-raising activities to also donate money to charity.
The University Hospital of North Staffordshire were the latest to benefit, receiving a cheque for £500 on Tuesday towards a PET/CT scanner that will help doctors treat cancer patients.
Recent donations also include £1,000 to local schools for equipment.
In short, the supporters' club are doing a great job, as was obvious by the way they and Stoke City organised Tuesday's meeting.
The major points from the question and answer session have already been discussed in The Sentinel this week: Tony Scholes suggested the club was unlikely to fill in the corner of the Britannia Stadium this summer, and revealed the club would have their 150th anniversary celebrations around the final home game of this season, against Tottenham on May 12, rather than hold a "glamour" friendly against a Barcelona or Real Madrid.
Ryan Shawcross, meanwhile said he hasn't given up on a return to the England squad, but admitted Stoke have to be playing well – as they were before Christmas – for him to have a decent chance.
One question which didn't come up was about the future of Tony Pulis.
It's understandable that fans didn't put the players or Scholes on the spot with a question it would have been difficult for them to answer.
However, there's no doubt Pulis's future is a big talking point among the City faithful.
Allan Smith, chairman of the Knypersley and Biddulph Supporters' Club, doesn't pretend to speak for his entire membership.
But when asked for a flavour of the views of supporters on buses to games, and over their pints back at the club, he said there are major concerns.
Smith, who has been following Stoke since the mid-1950s, explained: "Being honest, it is a bit negative at the moment.
"We absolutely hammered Liverpool, but it seems a spark has gone since then.
"We have lots of people saying Tony needs to sort it out; the majority are not happy with the style of football.
"It is very good when we win with that style, but at the moment we are not even creating chances.
"There are people who want him to go, no question about that, but I think there are more who want him to change than want him to go."
Die-hard fan Jesse Doyle falls into that category.
He's been a regular at Stoke since their League Cup win in 1972.
He's followed them from Reggiana to Rotherham, and will be at Newcastle tomorrow as City try to improve on a run of one win in 23 away games.
As he explained after Tuesday's meeting, he remains in the "Pulis In" camp.
He said: "I was in the Glebe pub in Stoke after the game and people were saying 'get rid of the manager'.
"But if we did that, who would we have? A few people said Steve Bould, but he has no experience of being a manager.
"Whoever we get would have to play this style of football, otherwise we'd have to get rid of half the players."
However, Doyle is concerned the atmosphere at games is beginning to turn against the manager.
He said: "It is starting to split. I think some people are waiting in the wings and want him to fail, but I think there are quite a big percentage who do like him."
And the solution?
"The away games are getting a bit disheartening.
"I just want him to change a bit and be more positive in away games. Let's give the other team something to think about."