]I have started to write a part auto biography/ part social history of Stoke from 1960 to 2000/ part memoir of going to Stoke City during this time. I have written about 15,000 words in the last 3 weeks with the hope of getting it published for the Stoke Literary Festival next June. The initial title for it is "At the Stoke End"- my Father used to insist that we stood their at games in the 60s and 70s.
This morning I have done a section on early 1985- about 1900 words. I would be interested in comments about the season of doom- 1984-5. I am an occasional poster on Oatcake. Its written from a slightly left wing perspective although I try to be honest in it. Anyway, its a tale of Miners, the Mitch and Barry Siddall. Its not been edited yet- that job comes later
The match report in “the Guardian” could have been gloomier about Stoke’s chances of avoiding relegation. It was a Third Round FA Cup replay against Luton played at a wintry Victoria Ground. If Stoke had beaten fellow strugglers Luton there was an enticing prospect of a home tie against Wolves. Any prospect of that swiftly evaporated as the Bedfordshire club dominated the game and were 3 up they out fought and outplayed the Potters who again performed haplessly in front of an increasingly despondent crowd. The Potters did pull back 2 before the final whistle, but again overall it was a wretched show. Perhaps Second Division football was not such a bad idea as Stoke could re group and be back in the top flight after a season of rebuilding some supporters mused? Certainly City were in a very bad way in the opening months of 1985. The Manager Bill Asprey had been taken ill and was advised by doctors to take it easy- an impossible request given Stoke’s predicament firmly anchored at the bottom of the division. Their best player Mark Chamberlain wanted away, Alan Hudson was a shadow of the player he was a decade before and their strike force of Bertschin and Painter were not up to the job. The club’s financial position was perilous. They were unable to raise the money to buy Paul Barron a keeper from West Brom and as a consequence of the weather they were unable to play at home for several weeks and therefore denied gate receipts. Even the antics of the Directors seem questionable and I was told by a friend who worked at the local hospital that one of the Directors Sandy Clubb a gynaecologist used to signal the end of each procedure by blowing on a whistle.
The report in "the Guardian" also painted a gloomy picture not only of the club, but also of the wider problems in the area’s economy. In early January major job losses were announced at Michelin Tyre factory with a third of the work force facing redundancy. Over 2,000 jobs went at the Stoke site which bore the brunt of the job losses in Michelin’s UK based factories. There were major losses in the car and lorry tyre making departments. The engineering unit was hit as well. There was also be an impact on companies that serviced the Stoke works. It was calculated that another 1500 jobs could be threatened as a consequence of Michelins lower purchasing from local suppliers. And to quickly prove the accuracy of this forecast a small engineering company in Stoke declared 6 redundancies as a consequence of Michelin’s mass redundancies. One of the local MPs John Forrester felt the news was the worst economic news to hit the area since the end of the Second World War. Another MP Mark Fisher believed that Stoke had been scarified to protect jobs in Burnley and Dundee. A local correspondent, Mr Sheldon of Talke Pits “The greatest culprit is the good old British public. How many of own foreign cars, how many foreign vans are there and how many foreign Lorries? The tyres fitted are manufactured in the country of origin of the vehicle” to the Sentinel in the days that followed apportioned blame to all but had particularly sharp words for the British public. Economists predicted that the impact on local unemployment would be dire with a further 1.2% jump in the local figure already standing at 24,000 claimants or 12% of the total workforce. A delegation from the City and Staffordshire County Council went down to London to see Norman Lamont the Minister responsible for economic regeneration in a bid to get special area status and therefore be in receipt of further Government help, but none was forthcoming.
Nationally in January there were 3.2 million unemployed. The Thatcherite Revolution of major job losses in traditional British industries continued unabated, but coupled with the job losses from Michelin was the continuing year long struggle between the Miners and the Government over the future of the mining industry. In Stoke the miners resolve was eroding with 500 going back to work in January. In the following month Ian McGregor the head of the Coal Board made a private visit to Hem Heath Colliery to thank staff for their efforts. The dispute had its victims and the Sentinel carried the trial of a number of miners charged with arson at a coach company in Trentham in which coaches carrying working miners were torched. The miners on trial denied responsibility but miners Patton, Lowe , Bannister and Jones were found guilty and received custodial sentences. A relative of one of the jailed men claimed the verdict was political.
One item from the time that caught my eye which was carried by the Sentinel was the allegation that the phones of trade unionists were bugged by members of the security forces. Although the story referred to an earlier dispute in 1977 involving striking Fire Fighters the account struck a note with me and we were convinced that my father’s telephone, leading local trade unionists was being bugged at the time. The Post Office Engineering Union of which my Father was the local Branch Secretary were assisting the NUM and providing them with funds. I continued helping out in a modest way by helping with food collections in Hanley and also in Bath when I was visiting a mate. In Bath we used to collect for food for the families of South Welsh Miners outside a Supermarket and I recall an encounter with a Welsh Miner and a disdainful upper class shopper who was opposed to the strike and protested so. It was the time of “Brideshead Revisited the Evelyn Waugh novel being televised which bought to the public attention the languidly effete aristocrat Sebastian Flyte and his teddy bear Aloysius. The Welsh miner responded with “Go back to your teddy bear, Sebastian”. It is also true to say back in Stoke that there was a great deal of opposition to the City Council backing the Strike with people refusing to pay their rates in protest. Earlier in the Strike I went with the Secretary of Stoke Labour Party Andrew Dobrascczyc to sit in on a Radio Stoke discussion over the merits of the Strike. The comments in the question and answer session we received were universally hostile to the Strike and the Council’s response.
But it was a time to quote Jimmy Porter of “Look back in Anger” fame “of big brave causes”. Not only the Miners Strike, but also Nuclear Disarmament and Greenham Common and South Africa the Sentinel carried an interview with a young woman I briefly dated at the time Carole Burgess who had been involved with the Methodist Church in Pietermaritzburg and reported on the injustice of Apartheid. This reality did not impress itself on Tory MPs like the Winterton’s who remained cheer leaders for the hideous regime. But of course for people on the left and as a City Councillor I saw myself the consequences of the actions of the Tory Government. There was a rapid rise in evictions- up by 200- as interest rates remained very high at 15% and even Government measures to assist the young unemployed were largely pointless. The Sentinel recorded that 40% of all people who completed their Youth Training Scheme placements ended back on the dole. Still there were occasions for the quirky to break out even in times of stress and storm. It was the time of Sinclair’s C5 a Safety Officer from the City Council was shown sitting in one. I only ever saw one C5 in the streets of the Potteries. One was gamely trying to get up Hartshill bank on one occasion. There was also the case of the very angry Don Nibblet of Middlewich whose wife let him and he decided to retaliate by taking a digger to his £50,000 four bedroom house demolishing it in the space of a few hours.
My memories of the time are also coloured by my own situation. I was also unemployed and desperately seeking work and I was prepared to travel anywhere to get it. In late January I was short listed for a job as a researcher with a Council in Scotland. The interview was in Kirkintilloch, I was informed by Charlie McLaren a fellow Councillor and a striking miner that it was a “dry town”. I also went down to Lambeth to be interviewed for a job with the local Council, one of the interviewers entering my responses into a large ledger and one that I was really keen to land a job with Staffordshire Housing Association at Campbell Place in Stoke I invested a great deal of energy and time in this application, but again they all came to nought.
And of course there was the inexorable down ward spiral that was Stoke City Football Club. The losses kept coming, Liverpool toyed with them after taking a 2-0 lead at Anfield. At Roker Park Alan Hudson was sent off as the Potters slumped to a 1-0 defeat. But there were always the past and the Football Club and the City drew some comfort from a nostalgic welcome to Sir Stan who celebrated his 70th birthday in February. I returned to the Victoria Ground to take my usual place on the terracing with fellow Councillor from Fenton John McCready as we saw Stoke entertain Spurs on March 2nd. John used to have a certain routine which always involved going to the bookies in Stoke before we adjourned to the Staff of Life for a few pints usually engaging in a little gallows humour at Stoke’s increasing plight. I think someone had said I had “Celtic thumbs” which John thought might help Stoke’s leaky defence. It didn’t, and we witnessed some comic goal keeping from Siddall who sliced a long hopeful ball from Hoddle into the path of Garth Crooks the former Stoke striker who slotted the winner home. One man, his stoicism finally broken yelled out and in the manner of Terry Thomas “You’re a shower and absolute shower Stoke”.
The Miner’s Strike determination was deteriorating with 3,544 miners returning to work in February further talks got nowhere and on Sunday 3rd March the end of the strike was declared. It was the Annual General Meeting of Stoke South Constituency Labour Party and the news was read out by Councillor Doris Robinson. Joe Willis local leader of the NUM was reported in the local press as saying he was pig sick at the failure of the Miners to win. The strike had lasted 12 months and the damage done great. Over 10,000 had been arrested during the Strike. Civil Liberties had been undermined in many of the Mining Communities with freedom of movement in key areas like Nottinghamshire severally curtailed. There had been acts of violence perpetrated by both sides and the relationship between the governed and the Government poisoned for many years to come. There was also the connection between the working and striking miners to be addressed. One of the Striking Miners Wives Doreen Bailey whose husband had been on Strike at Holditch Colliery believed it was an impossible task “how can they work together in harmony”.
The Sentinel Editorial after the Strike tried to sound a placatory note “Coal Mining in Britain is still a great industry with a great workforce and resources. There is no reason with goodwill why it should not have a great future”.