Howard Kendall who died earlier this month played a pivotal role in getting Stoke promoted back to the First Division in 1978-9 season. He was an inspirational figure in midfield in possibly one of the most underrated Stoke’s squads of the last half century. I saw him play often in that season and there were a number of vintage performances. He was ably assisted in midfield by players such as Irvine and Richardson in a very cohesive unit in a creative and hard running team.
In a crucial game as Stoke closed in on a promotion spot there was certain edginess when they entertained Newcastle. My father always insisted that we go into the Stoke End I don’t know whether that was cussedness or cheapness that led him to do this. This day was memorable because we had been helping Labour out in the General Election and we arrived at the game with rolls of “Vote Labour” stickers. In conversation with some of the visiting fans who expressed an interest in supporting Labour we ended up handing out stickers to the Geordies who were sticking them to the lapels of their coats.
The match report read “City struggle to hit target” It seems that Stoke were on top for most of the game pressurising Newcastle’s defence but could not make their approach work play. Busby in an early move beat three players and in an exchange with Richardson shot wide. In another move Busby over enthusiastically shot into the Newcastle supporters. At the other end Withe headed wide from a cross from Nicholson. The crowd were getting behind Stoke as the importance of a win in gaining promotion was appreciated by all supporters. The closest Stoke got to scoring was in the closing minutes of the first half was when Suggett cleared their goal line. Neither side were giving much away.
In the second half a first time shot from Kendall was headed on by Randall and a subsequent weak shot by Scott did not trouble the keeper.
Stoke were showing signs of nervousness as the second half progressed. They did get the ball in the net in the 62 minute when a fine move between Kendall and Irvine was ended by Richardson but the goal was ruled off side.
Jones in Stoke’s goal saved well from Withe and increasingly the 23,000 crowd urged the Stoke team on aware that time was running. A claim for a penalty was waved away by the Ref when Scott was bought down.
Garth Crooks who replaced Busby with 5 minutes to go added more dash to the attack. He was bought down on the edge of the box with seconds left. The subsequent free kick by Doyle, another experienced player important to Stoke’s promotion campaign, was blocked by a wall of Newcastle players and the game ended.
When a player dies, particularly a player like Kendall who was unstinting in his efforts for whatever team he was playing or managing I reflect. It does make me think back to a time when players were in their prime with an air of invincibility.
I am aware that it is a poem about a different sport , but it does convey that sense of endeavour and remembrance of times past that ultimately connects all great Sportsmen and supporters as well as mourning their loss.
For the field is full of shades as I near a shadowy coast, And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost, And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host As the run stealers flicker to and fro, To and fro: O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago !