Potters hero Denis invited to kick off village festivities
FORTY-FIVE years since lining up against the village football team, Stoke City legend Denis Smith is back in Ipstones to switch on the village's Christmas lights.
"It is that long ago since I was last in Ipstones, I'd be surprised if they had lights, never mind Christmas lights," admitted Denis, who is making his way to the Moorlands on Friday, November 28.
Thousands of people flock to Ipstones each year to witness the display, involving street entertainers and more than 70 market stalls along Church Lane – which is closed to traffic for three hours. This time, organisers are delighted that they have managed to secure Denis, who became a hero to thousands of Stoke fans during the club's 1970s heyday, to perform the switch-on.
Denis's 493-game spell with the Potters also 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.
Despite the knocks, the 60-year-old says he can still remember the times, before he signed for Stoke, when he travelled over the hills to Ipstones as a schoolboy.
"It must be four and half decades since I went up to the village playing football as a youth," he said.
"I used to travel all around the Moorlands playing for various Potteries sides when I was around 14 or 15 years old, so it holds a lot fond memories. They were great times. Now, it is a real honour to be asked to switch on the Christmas lights. How could I say no?"
In previous years, celebrities who have flicked the switch include darts champ Phil Taylor and both of Robbie Williams' parents. In 2007, it was Denis's 1972 League Cup-winning teammate Terry Conroy who had the honour.
Denis joked: "It's funny that I should be following in TC's footsteps. I've been carrying him for his whole career – I'm amazed that he managed to do anything on his own!"
These days, Denis works as a match day delegate for the Premier League, travelling around the north west.
He said: "It's a great job. I'm still very lucky that I get paid to watch the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool. I'd like to be asked to go to the Britannia Stadium more often but I guess I'm too biased." He has also found time to write his autobiography, Just One Of Seven, which was published last Friday.
"I'm having a tremendous time with the book and I've got a incredibly busy diary at the moment.
"Luckily, Ipstones lights fell on the only free Friday I have got this side of the new year and I'm thoroughly looking forward to it."
Geoff Wakefield, of St Leonard's Avenue, Ipstones, who helps organise the event, said they were delighted to sign up Denis for the big switch-on.
He added: "In local football circles he is the biggest celebrity going; a real hero. I'm a Port Vale fan but watching Denis still brought me a lot of pleasure. In recent years, you realise just how much of a hard man he really was.
"This is the 11th year since old Vale and Stoke bosses John Rudge and Brian Little joined forces to switch on the first Ipstones Christmas lights and now we're probably the biggest winter show in the Moorlands.
"It gives the village a tremendous night out, on our doorstep. We all get our relatives and friends over here, because we're so proud of what we have done."