Michael Baggaley: This team of tough nuts would take some cracking
ROBERT Huth showed he’s as tough as old boots last weekend by scoring for Stoke with a bullet header – even though he was in pain every time the ball struck the 28 stitches he’s got in his bonce after a gruesome injury.
But who are the toughest players ever to play football in the Potteries?
Here is my team of tough nuts, with groveling apologies to those left out.
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DENNIS HEROD (Stoke City 1946-53)
A fine keeper whose heroics 61 years ago today became the stuff of Stoke City legend.
On February 16, 1952 he broke his arm at Aston Villa.
There were no substitutes in those days, so Herod went on the wing with his arm in a sling while Sammy Smyth went in goal.
Early in the second half, Herod raced through on goal, rounded Villa keeper Con Martin and slotted home as Stoke won 3-2.
Maybe this was nothing special for Basford-born Herod who served in World War II and survived being blown up in a tank just after the Normandy landings.
AT THE BACK
STAN TURNER (Port Vale 1949-57)
“Players like Tommy Cheadle and Reg Potts were tough,” recalls Vale winger Colin Askey, “but Stan Turner was something else.”
Right winger Askey formed a terrific partnership with right-back Turner in the Port Vale side who won the Third Division (North) title and reached the FA Cup semi-finals in 1954.
Askey recalls opposition wingers never wanted to face Turner.
“They used to ask me ‘what are you feeding him on, raw meat?’
“Stan was a nice man and a good player. The fact he was so tough means people can forget just what a good footballer he was.
“The toughest defenders I knew at that time were Stan and John McCue at Stoke City.
“We used to play Stoke in those days. I remember Stan Turner shouting to John McCue ‘You leave Colin alone today’.
“John McCue shouted back, ‘I will Stan, so long as you lay off Harry Oscroft’ (the Stoke winger).
“Harry and I were listening to this conversation going on over our heads, just hoping they sorted something out!”
DENIS SMITH (Stoke City 1968-82)
His exploits in the red and white shirt could have filled a whole series of Casualty.
Smith’s time with his home town club included five broken legs, breaking his nose four times, a cracked ankle, broken collar bone, chipped spine, breaking most of his fingers and toes and needing more than 100 stitches.
He never so much as winced.
ALAN BLOOR (Stoke City 1961-78)
The entire Stoke back four from the early 1970s – Jackie Marsh, Denis Smith, Alan Bloor and Mike Pejic could get into this team.
As Terry Conroy once said: “Every team had an assassin, but we had four.”
BOB HAZELL (Port Vale 1986-89)
Thanks to Vale historian Phil Sherwin for reminding us that, in the opening stages of Vale’s FA Cup win over Spurs in 1988, giant defender Hazell trod Clive Allen into the turf and told him there was more to come.
As John Rudge once said: “If Bob says it’s Tuesday, it’s Tuesday.”
MIKE PEJIC (Stoke City 1969-77)
Hard-as-nails left-back who, at the age of 63, is now a British martial arts champion.
Pejic once played on with a broken leg against Wolves, only accepting he’d broken it when he got back to the dressing room and couldn’t walk.
TOMMY McLAREN (Port Vale 1967-77)
Cult hero who played in nine different positions. McLaren wasn’t scared of anybody, but seemed to take a particular dislike to Wrexham players during Vale’s infamous battles with the North Wales club in the 1970s.
His Vale team-mate Ray Williams recalls: “The rumour was that Wrexham’s Mickey Thomas would be on the treatment table in the build up to playing Vale because he didn’t fancy facing Tommy McLaren.
“I remember one game where Tommy clattered Wrexham centre-half Bob Scott.
“That started fun and games, including an argument between Colin Tartt and Wrexham’s Arfon Griffiths in the tunnel.
“All hell broke loose then as Tommy McLaren and Bob Scott carried on their feud.
“One of their players, who was suspended, jumped down from the directors’ box to join in.
“I was first off the pitch and sat on my own in the dressing room for ages thinking ‘where the hell is everybody?’
EDDIE CLAMP (Stoke City 1962-64)
Clamp’s team-mate Jimmy McIlroy once recalled the midfielder playing in Stoke’s victory at Chelsea in May 1963.
He said: “Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris took Stan Matthews down in the early stages with one of his more humane tackles. He hit Stan just below the waist.
“Eddie Clamp was Stan’s minder. He had met Harris the previous season when Eddie had been at Arsenal.
“Harris had been up to his antics then and Eddie had hit him with a tackle which put Chopper in North London General Hospital.
“Eddie held a finger up at Chopper and said, ‘do that again and you will be heading back to that place they took you the last time we met’.
“Harris never touched Stan again all game!”
BILLY CATON (Stoke City 1947-49)
Inside forward and long-throw expert, the Rory Delap of his day.
Rory Delap had it easy. Caton’s manager Bob McGrory wanted the long throws so accurate that they could bounce off the crossbar for players coming into the area.
Mind you, Caton had survived worse than the fearsome McGrory.
During the war he was captured by the Germans and, after an attempt to swim to freedom failed, he eventually escaped by hiding in the back of a vehicle.
HARRY MEAKIN (Stoke City 1945-1950)
Some players come back from broken legs, but not many come back from the dead.
Simon Lowe’s book “Potters at War” recalls how, in 1945, ‘Stoke’s players had mourned the death in action of gunner Harry Meakin, so were understandably wide-eyed when he reported for pre-season training – complete with a military medal’.
Reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated.
Meakin was a full-back, but being able to play in midfield would be the least of his surprises.
BOB NEWTON (Port Vale 1982-83)
No-nonsense striker who would warm up for a game by removing his false teeth and gurning in the mirror.
He liked nothing better than scaring opponents, as team-mate Phil Sproson recalls.
“Before a game at Bristol City John Rudge told us their keeper wasn’t great from high balls into the box... that was all the invitation Bob needed.
“When we won our first corner, he stood on the keeper, and I mean literally stood on him.
“I can see Bob now telling the keeper ‘You are going to drop this, and then I’m going to kick you over the bar’.
“The keeper flapped like a seagull for the rest of the game.”