Writer: Ryan Kalisz
Date:Saturday July 16 2011
As you may have noticed, we have a new Co-Editor! Say hello to Tom Mckeon; a very passionate Stoke fan and writer. I decided to engage in a Q&A session with him as a welcoming present so that we can all get to know Tom and how he thinks. So here are the important questions that everyone wants to know the answer too… oh alright just me really…
RYAN KALISZ: Hello Tom and welcome to the Vital Stoke team! First of all let`s start off with your earliest memories of Stoke City; I know my very first match against Norwich was extremely exciting and adrenaline pumping (despite the dreary display), but what was your first match like?
TOM MCKEON: Hi Ryan and cheers! I can`t really remember much from my first Stoke match, all I can recall was us scoring late on to equalise in a game against Sheffield United at the Brit, doing a bit of research it was in 1996 so I was only four! I went with my Dad and Uncle and I was pretty oblivious to the whole occasion apart from when the goal went in and a random bloke picked my 6 ft 1 uncle up off the ground. Safe to say I was introduced to the Stokie spirit very early on in my life but at that age I was still getting to grips with all the rules - I thought a corner was a goal, we`d probably win every game by some margin if that was the case!
I soon discovered that supporting a football team was a lot more than watching the footy on show, the togetherness of the fans and being with 12,000 (25,000 now)people who share the same passion as you along with the sheer tribal nature of it just got me madly addicted. When I really got hooked was the Icelandic days, I had about 4 years of enjoyable Saturdays with my Dad at the Brit which I really enjoyed but at around the age of 8 I became completely obsessed. Many people laugh(or used to as it may now be) when I say I`m a Stoke fan. What they don`t understand is that there isn`t a better team to support in the world, we`re a proper club. It sickens me to the pit of my stomach seeing lads in top 4 shirts around Stoke, they could all be great blokes but I still hate them regardless! Supporting and growing up with a football club is a great thing and whilst you`ll always get the 'haha, Stoke are crap` remark, people who haven`t grown up supporting their club in my opinion only scratch the surface of what football is all about and that`s why, contrary to many, I really don`t mind Port Vale at all and I hope they do well(Not too well, mind). Our success in recent years means more and more younger people from in and around Stoke are becoming supporters and that`s massively important - it`s refreshing to see so many kids out in Stoke shirts when 4 or 5 years ago it would`ve been a Man United shirt, it shows our progress as a club.
RK: What is your favourite moment throughout the time you`ve supported the Potters?
TM: There`ve been many, I`ve been pretty fortunate in that I`ve seen a lot of success at Stoke, we`ve never been relegated in my lifetime. In the promotion season we had some amazing moments, Coventry away was epic - we all thought our dream was over but Ric weaved his magic and Lawrence stole it late on, Fuller`s goal against Wolves was also very, very special and Big Mama`s winner in the 95th minute in our first ever Premiership home game is right up there.
I`d say the best moment though was Aston Villa away in our first Premiership season. 2-0 down with 2 minutes to go, we were getting a lot of stick from the Villa fans throughout the game, and we were so poor on our travels a comeback looked impossible. Shawcross scored and we ironically jumped for joy thinking it would obviously only be a consolation. In fact, I mentioned to my mate (who actually believed we may get another) that I would commit a rather horrifying and painful act on myself if we were to score, because there was no chance of us scoring 2 goals in 2 minutes. Only seconds later, Whelan scored a cracking volley and after that it feels like a blur but one I know I will never forget; fully grown lads falling down several steps, banging their heads on the ground and getting back up again due to sheer adrenaline. I was in ecstasy for a good 10 minutes and I had a headache for a few days after it as well as feeling really shaky, I felt drunk on the coach ride home and I hadn`t touched a drop of alcohol! Hull and West Brom away in the first season were magic matches where the mentals were unbelievable, being with your mates and 2,500+ Stokies and going absolutely nuts when you score away from home is an amazing feeling. Beattie`s finish was right in front of my view and our end just erupted. Man City away in the cup when Fuller scored from the Delap throw-in was brilliant as well.
So, Whelan`s goal away at Villa comes marginally ahead of Sidibe`s winner in our first top flight home game (We seem to like playing Villa), closely followed by West Brom and Hull away. We also had some lovely moments in the championship such as Marcus Halls last-minute volley against Derby and Cresswell`s scrambled winner against Norwich. Let`s not forget that famous night in Cardiff, I was one of many Stokies who were sat huddled up next to the radio when Jimmy O`Connor`s shot deflected off Sulley Oulare`s backside and into the back of the net to send us through to the Division Two play-off final, the stuff of legend!
RK: So the 'horrifying and painful act` involved a flight of stairs? Maybe throwing yourself into a lift and going down that way would have been slightly less painful? Having said that, shame of you for underestimating the mighty Potters! Anyway, who is your favourite player; past, present or both?
TM: Ricardo Fuller, by a country mile. I don`t believe there`s been a more exciting Stoke player than him, certainly apart from the likes of Hudson and Sir Stan. I could go on and on about the bloke, in fact I probably will if you let me write 2,000 words about him in a later feature! Shawcross and Lawrence follow in 2nd and 3rd in how they`ve pushed the club on, Shawcross was a ridiculous buy who ate the Championship alive and Lawrence was a fantastic footballer at that level, he had as good a season as you`ll see anyone have in the that league, ever. Gerry Taggart, Peter Thorne and Bjarni Gudjonssen were all worshipped by me at the time, not forgetting Peter Hoekstra, I still don`t understand how we managed to sign him, he could bamboozle defences by not even touching the ball. I think if Huth continues to play like he has been for another 18 months he`ll be on everyone`s favourite list. He`s an absolute colossus of a centre back and when you see centre backs changing hands for £20 million plus nowadays it only emphasises what an amazing buy he was for what, £ 5 million? T`riffic.
RK: Let`s just look at you for a second (and not at the bottom of a flight of stairs); Can you give us a description of yourself?
TM: No, I can`t! This is actually pretty hard, I`d say I`m a pretty normal (I think I am anyway) 19 year old lad who`s easy going. I`m currently studying Journalism at Staffordshire University and I`m also particularly good looking but I don`t want to be seen as shallow so I won`t go any further. You can call me Tom Mckeon 'The Brand`, but again I don`t want to be seen as having a big ego so I`ll leave it at that.
RK: Obviously being a man after my own red-and-white blood pumping heart, Stoke City, football and writing are your biggest passions. And if you are anything like me, you won`t be anywhere near normal at all! But what else interests you that you occupy your time with?
TM: Well, that`s a good question! I`m a certified Hot-air balloon license holder so that`s a big interest of mine… I joke, I joke. Hmm, interests. I love Tennis and used to play it a lot so I suppose I can count that as one, music`s a big interest of mine as well, maybe when Pixie Lott asks me out I`ll snub my chosen career and become a pop-star (I told you I was normal). I would say gaming as I spend way too much time on my ps3 but that makes me sound like a bit of a geek, so I`ll stop there.
RK: I`m waiting on Cheryl Cole, but that doesn`t look like it`s going to happen now. The rate I`m going, I`ll have to see what Rooney`s bit-on-the-side is up to these days. Next question; (and this is for my own personal amusement) what is the most embarrassing thing you have ever done?
TM: This must be a two way thing surely!? Come on Ryan! Hmm, tough one. I`ve done a few embarrassing things but they will stay between me and my mates and the people who were there at the time, I`m sorry. I`ve rarely been embarrassed though, probably because I`m not aware of what I`m doing at the time! Perhaps you`d care to discuss the antics of your recent holiday?
RK: Erm… perhaps I shall keep the stories of my holiday antics locked up in a big box and buried under a place nobody locally will go to (Vale Park). But if I must, I`ll let you in on the worst PE lesson of my life…
First of all let me tell you about the PE teacher, so you can have that in the back of your mind; he was a knob. He was the type of person who aspired to be a sports coach for a famous team and failed dramatically when he got a job coaching a group of nose picking nine year olds. So ultimately we were the ones to feel the force of his overenthusiastic competitiveness due to his disappointing career. Obviously I`m not going to name names, for the PE teacher`s sake, but at least you now know Mr. Gale.
Anyway, one day after trudging back from yet another exhausting PE lesson, I wandered into the changing rooms and started to get showered and changed for my next lesson. Now I was a slow dresser (I still am), and so people had already left before I got to my last item of clothing; my trousers. The thing was, they were nowhere to be seen! I couldn`t believe it, I started to panic and searched everywhere but it seemed that Arsene Wenger had more chance of finding a trophy. Now Mr. Gale, *cough*, the PE teacher had a rule about slow dressers; if you weren`t dressed by a certain time, he`d count down 10 seconds out loud, then barge in and chuck you outside regardless of any excuse. So you imagine the heart-attack I was having when I heard the inside door swing open from round the corner, and the bellowing and haunting rendition of a talking timer, as I stood in the changing room helplessly hunting for my trousers. Especially as there are windows to classrooms quite near to the outside door, and they would be full because it was the start of the next lesson.
Before I knew it, time was up and my luck was out, and as feared but slightly expected, I was chucked outside. So there`s poor 9 year-old me, standing outside in a shirt, tie, black shoes, socks pulled half way up my shins, with my skinny legs and briefs on show. It only took one window-gazing kid to catch a glimpse of me before the whole class chuckled at my expense. Then next door`s classroom would wonder what`s so funny and then spot me outside as well, and so on and so on. The only thing I could think of, in the time of desperation, was to put my skimpy kiddies shorts back on, and walk round for the rest of the day like a complete and utter tool.
To this day I am convinced some hilarious joker stole them. They were never found since… der der deeeeeer…
Ok back to Stoke; most fans were pleased with the performance and finish last season, but despite the magnificent cup run, the minorities were strangely disappointed with the final league positioning. What is your overview of last season`s success?
TM: It was an outstanding season, but yes it did end rather disappointedly. I don`t think we showed the world what Stoke are all about in the Cup final and we were either tired or overawed by the occasion which I suppose was completely understandable. The Premiership season couldn`t have gone any better but the last day against Wigan was flat, the whole squad looked knackered and finishing 9th would have been fitting, in the end it was an anti-climax but when you take a step back and look at everything we achieved last season we will struggle to match it.
I think Pennant was a revelation and made a massive difference in carrying the ball for us, you can see why he was being touted as England`s next big thing at the age of 16 and why Arsenal paid such a hefty price for him. He seems to be discovering that form and we`re lucky to have him here, hopefully for many years yet. Having signed Wilson for centre mid, I can`t say I expected him to play full back but he`s done really well there, not only does he have quality on the ball but he puts himself about and he was a very good investment. This was also the year we saw Asmir Begovic really grasp the bull by the horns and make that number 1 spot his own, Sorenson didn`t do much wrong but Begovic was terrific in many games saving us many points; at the age of 24 we`ve got one hell of a talent on our hands and I just hope we`ll hang on to him in the long run.
RK: The only way is up hey? We`ve passed the supposed three year Premier League establishment plan that Tony conjured up. What`s next for Stoke?
TM: Similar really, just continuing what we`re doing. I think the three year plan was to literally just finish 17th and scrape as many points together to stay up - I don`t believe there was anything in it other than that. Fortunately, or unfortunately for Pulis depending which way you see it, he`s already pushed the club on in terms of league position. I get the feeling that he wanted to turn Stoke into a cup challenging mid-table team who may play in Europe eventually, but that`s happened quicker than any of us would have expected. So yeah, just continuing to build on what we already have. In an ideal world I`d want to see younger players coming through but it`s still very hard persuading top youngsters to join us. We need to work on the academy but it looks like plans are afoot so hopefully in the long term we`ll see local lads with genuine quality getting a chance, something we all want to see!
RK: Absolutly agreed. I would like to see more local youth breaking into the first team. Andy Wilkinson has been a prime example of the local talent by showing his commitment and passion for football, and most importantly, playing for Stoke. It seems that Ryan Shotton is one for the future too, and I`m especially encouraged by his long-throw trait. It goes to show there are quality options on the door step and it`s something that definitely needs investing in more. This brings me on nicely to my next question; who should we be buying, and who should we be selling?
TM: The buying is really tough, we could be here for a while! Money aside, I don`t envy Tone`s position. There will be many fans who won`t be happy with the likes of Jerome and Cole. Apparently, Cole`s turned us down which is disappointing, whether he will join later on in the window remains to be seen. Cole is no world beater but there aren`t many proven Premiership strikers available for £6 million like him, and Jerome clearly has potential as he scored 11 goals in the Premiership the season before last. We`d all love a Danny Sturridge, Danny Welbeck or Asamoah Gyan to join us for £12 million but realistically that just isn`t going to happen and I think it`s very unfair in expecting such a quality of player. We might have the finances in place but we`re still unfashionable in Premiership terms and we`ll always struggle to shake that tag off.
Stoke are like that girlfriend of your mate`s who you think is actually quite nice and you congratulate him, saying " You`ve done well there pal", but when she splits up with him and asks you out it`s a swift "No thanks, love". To put it simply, players may admire what we`re doing but I`m not sure we`re big enough or fashionable enough to persuade the likes of Sturridge that his future lies at Stoke. Unless we stick him on 75k a week, that is - but I don`t think that`s the right way to go about it. If I could choose, the dream window would be Liam Ridgewell, Bolton`s Matty Taylor, Danny Sturridge, Kevin Doyle, a good full back(I have no idea who that would be) , West Ham`s Jack Collison and a Tiote style foreign midfielder - but it`s a dream for a reason and we`ll be lucky if one or two of them sign. I was going to say Asamoah Gyan but he`s beyond even my dreams. Realistically, I`d be happy with Ridgewell, Taylor, Cole, Jerome plus maybe Keith Fahey, just someone with genuine ability on the ball in the middle of the park really. Our business will mostly be done by finding gems of relegated clubs every year, although we did sign Kenwyne Jones, however I think most Sunderland fans will admit his time had run out there. I was underwhelmed with some of his performances but you can`t fault his goal-scoring record at this level and given his age it was a big coup for us.
It`s alright saying we should be signing better players than Carlton Cole, but who would improve us and be realistic? The players who will improve on what we already have (Walters and Jones are two good premiership strikers) are highly sought after and highly unlikely, I hope I`m wrong and a big-named player signs for us though! Even swooping for an outstanding Championship striker with age on his side would set us back £6 million plus, take Reading`s Shane long for example.
The selling is easy! The likes of Tonge, Pugh and Andrew Davies need to move on now, I still think Soares has the raw ability though so I`d keep him and Pugh rarely lets us down so I wouldn`t mind if he was here next year but we do need better quality in depth and that`s where a player like Matty Taylor would come in! If Etherington or Pennant gets injured we`ll struggle so it`s vital we have able back up.
As much as we`re engrossed in the comings and goings, I also think we have to make sure we keep hold of our prized assets. Huth, Shawcross and Begovic are crucial to the club going forward, I trust they`ll all be here for a while yet but it doesn`t stop us worrying.
It`ll be our toughest window yet, no doubt about that. In order to genuinely improve the first 11 we`re going to have to get some very good footballers in and that means fishing in the same pond as bigger clubs. I feel our best option this year will be to try and find gems abroad, we`ve seen Tiote`s success at Newcastle so if we`re to really improve we`re going to have to take a risk on a player of a similar playing background to him. You can`t blame Pulis for keeping it safe though given our progression over the last few years, we have a solid system which works.
RK: Can I just say; nice analogy with the 'mate`s girlfriend` bit! Finally, pretend you are the infamous Paddy Power and make a prediction for our finish next season please!
TM: I think we`ll carry on from next season but I definitely think it will be our toughest season yet, just staying up would be fine but we`ll probably finish around 12th, it would be great to get in to the top 10 but looking at the top 7 or 8 clubs that section may always be closed off to us. As for the Europa League, I`ll be honest with you I don`t have a clue how all the stages work but I think we`ll ruffle a few feathers and do well IF we qualify, but we`ve been handed a really tough draw in Hadjuk Split and to get through we`ll have to be at our best, especially away from home. It`s all good though and we`re all really looking forward to next season aren`t we?!
RK: Absolutely ecstatic about the new season!!! I can`t wait for my football fix and the Brit and beyond to feed my addiction. Thank you for that Tom, and I look forward to more banter with you, and I`m sure that our fans are looking forward to seeing more of your articles!
Date:Saturday July 16 2011
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