David Proudlove's
critique of the built environment of Stoke-on-Trent


‘Father, Son and Football’

for Trevor Proudlove, 29th November 1943-13th December 2007

I sit here writing, basking in the glow of yet another Stoke City victory over the Baggies of West Bromwich, leaving Stoke sitting nicely in mid-table of the Premiership. And it isn’t even Christmas yet.

It feels great being able to say that; it’s great for the club, and it’s great for the city of Stoke-on-Trent. The Potters’ progress over the past twelve months has been staggering, and has led to a packed and rocking Britannia Stadium.



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The Britannia Stadium

The Britannia Stadium
The Britannia Stadium

The Britannia Stadium has of course been Stoke City’s home since 1997, following the move from the club’s traditional home, the Victoria Ground.

At the time it was considered to be a wise move for the club: the Victoria Ground was old and dated; the club hadn’t invested seriously in their home since the 1970s, and was under pressure to do something in response to the Taylor Report which followed the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. The majority of the Stoke support recognised the club’s situation, and there was a positive response to the proposed move, and it was also considered that the redevelopment of the club’s former home would kick-start the regeneration of Stoke Town Centre.

The Britannia Stadium is of course now one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks, sitting in a prominent hillside location alongside the new A50, and next door to the municipal incinerator (surely a metaphor for some of Stoke’s performances in their time at the stadium?). There were ambitions for the stadium to be even more prominent: there was an idea to site the stadium at the summit of a large mound, and the City Council’s leader at the time, Ted Smith, was a huge fan of the concept, stating “I want ‘em to see it from t’M6”. Artist’s impressions of the new stadium were impressive, and whether or not you are a fan of the architecture (it has been described as the very best in East German design!), the stadium is a great local landmark, and it is particularly impressive when lit up for evening games, giving the impression of a huge cauldron of light, the venue of some great human ritual, which I suppose it is.

There has been criticism of the stadium from supporters though: some have questioned the atmosphere when compared with the Victoria Ground  and suggested that this is due to having to sit as opposed to stand (I have too, but I have a feeling that that has had more to do with performances on the pitch more than anything else). The elements have proved challenging at times (Stoke have had a game postponed here due to strong winds).

The biggest criticism though has been the ability to access and leave the stadium: this continues to be a big problem, and the fundamental reason behind this is the stadium’s location on what is, in effect, a giant out-of-town business park. It is designed for the car, and your options to get there are very limited. Compare this to the old Victoria Ground where you could get there on foot, by bus, or even by train. However, there is no doubt that the facilities enjoyed are much better. For example, the toilets at the back of the Boothen End at the Victoria Ground were the only toilets that I know of that had a deep end and a shallow end.

Aerial view of Stoke City’s former home
Aerial view of Stoke City’s former home

Stoke City’s move to the Britannia Stadium proved extremely controversial, engineered by Stoke-on-Trent Regeneration Ltd – the Joint Venture company between the City Council and St Modwen – who were leading the reclamation and redevelopment of the former Hem Heath Colliery.

The original concept was for the stadium to be a ‘community stadium’, which as well as being the home of Stoke City, would also be the venue for community events and rock concerts.
This led to accusations of the City Council favouring Stoke City over the city’s other football club, Port Vale, and it is a row that still rumbles on even now: one of Peter Coates’ first priorities on his return to Stoke City was for him to ensure that Stoke City gained full control of the stadium, and struck a deal to purchase the City Council’s stake in the stadium for £4.5million.
This was considered to be less than the stake was worth, but given that there was no one else likely to make such an offer, the City Council accepted the club’s bid, and immediately promised to invest the proceeds in the ‘regeneration of Stoke Town Centre’, something that the club’s move to Trentham Lakes was intended to do ten years earlier: indeed, the Victoria Ground continues to operate as a vacant wasteland, and a monument to our city’s decline.


Both the Britannia Stadium and the Victoria Ground have a very special place in my heart, but there is something missing and that something is my dad. As with many boys, it was dad that introduced me to my football, and Stoke City Football Club.

When I was young, I started to notice that dad would disappear for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, and when I asked mum where he went, the reply that I got was simply “Stoke”. Dad promised me that when I was big enough, he would take me along too, and dad always kept his promises: on the evening of 28th October 1981, I went to watch Stoke play Manchester City in the second leg of the League Cup 2nd Round. I was fascinated as Stoke played beneath the floodlights, and though I don’t remember precise details, I know that Stoke won the game 2-0, but went out on penalties having lost the first leg 2-0.

After the game, dad made another promise: to take me to Wembley one day to watch Stoke. It was another promise he kept; it was just a pity it only arose following a relegation to the old Third Division! And that was it, I was hooked and obediently followed dad down to the Victoria Ground for much joy and equal pain, and great memories.

The Victoria Ground  The Victoria Ground
The Victoria Ground

And what memories!
The two of us being slung out of the house by mum on Boxing Days to watch Stoke while she enjoyed the telly. The fantastic 4-4 draw with Luton Town, and the cross that got Mark Chamberlain in the England squad. Mad Mickey Thomas and Sammy Mac running a midfield that helped Stoke play their best football since the early 70s, including a 4-0 demolition of a great Watford team managed by future England manager Graham Taylor, and including future England internationals John Barnes and Luther Blissett.

The Great Escape of the 1983-84 season followed by the awful 1984-85 Holocaust. The 6-2 and 7-2 maulings of Leeds United in successive seasons. The lows of the Alan Ball era, and the highs of the Lou Macari era. The dreadful first season at the Britannia Stadium, a season that started with such high hopes (we should have known better: our ‘big’ summer signing was Paul Stewart), but descended into farce following the 7-0 thrashing by Birmingham City and the near-riot that followed. The Icelandic takeover and eventual promotion under Gudjon Thordarson. The return of Tony Pulis and Peter Coates, and the return to the Big Time, and Rory’s Rockets.

Calling all Potters - off to the match
Sid Kirkham

Football and Stoke City provided dad and me with a unique father and son bond, a bond that will always be there even now dad has gone. It is a bond that whilst is unique, is also common: a close friend of mine has always had a strained relationship with his father, but the one thing they do share is their love of Preston North End. Stephen Foster’s excellent book ‘She Stood There Laughing’ is less about Stoke City’s 2002-03 season than it is about his relationship with his son.

The last Stoke game that dad went to with me was a home game against Hull City towards the end of the season before last; the first game that I shall be attending this season will be the home game against Hull City. On 29th November, dad’s birthday.  And while I am looking forward to the game, and I know that I’ll enjoy it, it just won’t be the same: my dad won’t be there with me.

My dad gave me a lot, and taught me a lot. He taught me the difference between right and wrong. He taught me to live for today. He gave me a sense of humour. And he gave me a love of football and Stoke City, and whenever Stoke play, I think about him.
I’ve never warmed to the Britannia Stadium the way I did the Victoria Ground, and dad no longer being around doesn’t help; maybe its because the Victoria Ground is where the bond with dad is rooted, and would explain the immense sadness I feel when I see the Victoria Ground now in its current state: empty and abandoned alongside the D Road, still and quiet, as if a circus has left town.

But the Britannia Stadium is home, and as long as Stoke City play their football there, I will follow. And when I’m there, I’ll think about my dad.


David Proudlove     29 November 2008

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