The oldest 'new' arena on our list, Stoke-on-Trent's Britannia Stadium was built in 1997, during one of the tougher economic periods in the city's history. The creation of the Potters' new home primarily arose from widely called-for changes to attitudes in ground design as raised by the Taylor Report, shortly after the Hillsborough disaster of 1989.
As such, the Staffordshire club's relocation was not specifically created as a wider regeneration project – it was for the future success of the club itself. As it turned out, the decision would bring exactly that – but not without a rocky ride along the way.
Things may not look good on the outset for Stoke, though this is only because regeneration took place slowly from the end of the 1990s, when the city found itself in a slump due to the closure of its three core primary industries. The Britannia Stadium was not built for the purpose of regeneration, but it has come to embody (and support) the fighting spirit of the city.
- Regeneration: Visible regeneration of the city is only just coming together now after small-scale projects in the 2000s; much focus has gone into business and trade; ambitious projects are planned, but not signed off.
- Employment: Hit a major downturn as the Britannia Stadium was completed; has since steadily recovered as more private businesses have established themselves, and grown to meet new demand.
- House prices: Surprisingly resilient through thick and thin; huge provision of terraced housing perhaps restricting prices climbing higher; hundreds of new homes recently built or promised for the future.
- Football team: No-frills football that continues to bring success; ground investment paused in favour of improving the team itself; ambitious plans for the future.
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THE GRAND VISION
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Stoke's incredible history has left it with a much-storied past, though one that casts numerous shadows over the city as it looks to emerge from a particularly tough recession – a slump that followed a city-specific downturn in the 1990s that was fuelled by industrial closures.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council's vision for 2030 is to transform the city into a place that "offers prosperity and quality of life by design for the people who live and work here". It's no surprise that the local authority sees the community as self-sufficient – as the home of pottery, mining and steel, the area is known for its hard-working attitude in highly-skilled industries, and it's this culture that it continues to tap into, nearly 20 years after all of the major players in these sectors closed their doors.
Stoke's regeneration directorate has drawn on the investment of countless stakeholders across public, private and voluntary backgrounds in order to deliver a strategy that would "revitalise the city", "repositioning [the] area both to the outside world and in the hearts and minds of people who live here".
Ongoing disputes over HS2
However, one roadblock that has already caused friction between the local and national Government is the HS2 high-speed rail plan's omission of Stoke-on-Trent (not to be confused with Stoke Mandeville, which does feature on proposals). The council had published a "comprehensive and compelling business case" that positioned Stoke, in their minds, as "the natural choice" for Whitehall's top brass – though it did not succeed (yet, at least), and nearby Crewe was chosen as a preferred stop-off.
A new stadium to end an old era
While Stoke's focus on regeneration is intense in the current climate, it was not always that way. In fact, the construction of the Britannia Stadium – a symbol of a sports team reborn, if nothing else – came at a time when job numbers were plummeting, council investment was low, and private-sector firms were only starting to explore the true benefits of an area of skilled workers facing low employment levels.
In fact, unlike later developments in Doncaster and Swansea, the new football stadium wasn't even part of a wider decision to improve the quality of facilities in the ST4 postcode; its creation arose from a distant tragic memory in the history of football, which necessitated a whole new approach to the sport. Just 20 years later, it proved to be one of the best decisions Stoke City FC were forced to make.
MAKING THE MOVE
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The Victoria Ground now
Much like Doncaster's Belle Vue and Swansea' Vetch Field – and despite all three sites offering prime development land for larger-scale projects in retail and housing – the fields that were left behind by the Victoria Ground still lie empty. Regeneration specialist, St Mowden, had bought the site for £2 million in 1997, but nothing has been built on the field, even after the developer lodged an application to construct 113 homes on the site in 2012.
Mike Herbert, St Mowden's regional director, pointed to the recession of 2007-08 as the main reason for the lack of development. He said: "The problem with the Victoria Ground is that inner urban sites can be more difficult and we had issues over potential flooding.
"We hope the economy will be strong enough to improve and to justify development on that site. It is very disappointing that the site hasn't come forward. In 2007 the market changed dramatically and many developments came to a dead stop. It's very frustrating. The Victoria is one of few fortunately where nothing is happening but we are trying."
Raising the roof, dropping the team
Concerns about the Victoria Ground's suitability for Stoke City first arose in 1976 after high winds hit the city and tore the roof off the Butler Street stand. Although it was fixed, it cost the club dearly. Tony Waddington's team "was broken up and the best players sold in order to pay for repairs as the club's insurance policy did not cover the damage", and this "eventually led to the worst period in the club's history".
Even former players still see the roof tragedy as something sabotaging success that could have been had much earlier than when Stoke eventually gained through promotion to the Premier League. "We should have won the league title in 1974/75 and if we had, then Stoke City would have become a permanent fixture in the First Division, I'm sure of it," said legendary Stoke striker Terry Conroy (333 appearances, 67 goals), who later worked the PA at Potters games until 2008.
He continued: "We'd have been able to attract even better players to join our already stellar squad and Tony Waddington's status and job would have been secure. He'd have been the Alex Ferguson of Stoke City."
"Lakeside offers us marketing and sponsorship opportunities we just [didn't have]. John [Ryan, then-chairman] can't keep putting £1 million into the club every year of his life, but if we keep getting results to put us on the map, the stadium will be full and start to take the burden off him."
However, plans for a full-scale £5 million redevelopment were dropped in the 1996-97 season when Stoke City's board announced their plans for a new ground. This came two years after Middlesbrough's Ayresome Park was replaced by the Riverside Stadium, and Sunderland's Roker Park was scheduled for demolition as the new Stadium of Light neared completion.
Both of these new arenas in the north east were influenced by the Taylor Report's call for modernisation, neither were accompanied by wider developments, and both sat close to the rivers that ran through the places they served. The Britannia Stadium would follow their lead, and end a then-league-record 119 years at the Victoria Ground for the Potters.
Stoke finish as they started – this time with a win
Much like Doncaster and Swansea, the last-ever game at Stoke's old ground was triumphant – and an incredible coincidence, too. Nearly 110 years after the Victoria Ground opened its doors in Stoke's first game against West Bromwich Albion in 1888 (a 2-0 loss for the Potters), the final league game at the Victoria Ground on May 4th, 1997 again hosted the Baggies.
This time it was Stoke who came out top, getting a 2-1 send-off victory "on an emotional day for 22,500 supporters". Technically, the last game ever at the Victoria Ground was a friendly against Coventry City the following summer – though only because the Britannia Stadium was agonisingly close to completion. Luckily, by the time the 1997-98 season rolled in, it was ready – though the team weren't.
THE NEW STADIUM
With a scheduled construction time of under one year, the Britannia Stadium was largely funded by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, and subsidised by two major funders: the Football Trust, which donated a grant of £3,000,000, and Leek-based Britannia Building Society, which gave its name to the new development in exchange for a ten-year sponsorship deal worth £1,300,000 just prior to the stadium's official opening in August 1997.
Within the first few months of development, a skeletal steel superstructure was created; a process which would become a common means of quickly building other new stadiums that followed in the Britannia's footsteps, such as Reading's Madejski Stadium (1998) and Doncaster Rovers' Keepmoat Stadium (2006).
Around ten months later, the former site of Stafford No 2 Colliery was transformed into the new arena, finally making use of the abandoned coal mine site long after it closed in 1969.
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Britannia Stadium: planning application
- Early 1996
- Final plans submitted:
- July 1996
- August 27th, 1997 (League Cup match)
- First game:
- August 30th, 1997
- Britannia Stadium, Stanley Matthews Way, Stoke-on-Trent, England, ST4 4EG
- Cost of development:
- £14.7 million
- Built by:
- The Miller Partnership, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Stoke-on-Trent Regeneration Ltd
Assets within stadium:
- Conference and banqueting suites
- Club store
Assets built alongside stadium:
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From completion to competition
Fan feelings about the completion
While there were many great memories at the old stadium – not least because it had been home to the Potters for well over 100 years – many fans agreed that the Victoria Ground had firmly served its purpose and it was time to move on. Angela Smith, chair of Stoke City Football Club Supporters Council, was keen to underline this. She explained: "The old stadium was old and simply couldn’t be expanded enough because it was in the middle of the town. It was past its sell-by date; it just needed to be changed."
Both immediately and in the long-term, the stadium proved its value to fans. She continued: "The atmosphere which we had in the old stadium, which we felt would be hard to replicate, has been matched extremely well by the Britannia. The bonus is that there are far more car parking facilities and plenty more places to eat and drink at the stadium and its surroundings, so it's been an excellent transition."
While the Potters and their fans are now very much settled in their new surroundings, there was a glaring issue among many in its early days: actually getting there. The regeneration of football in Stoke did not, apparently, extend to its road network; plans only accounted for adjustments to a single access road from the A50, forcing many fans coming from the centre of Stoke or motorway to overshoot the stadium by over one mile to a roundabout, before doubling back on themselves.
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The life and times of Pottermus
To distract the fans arriving late as a result of the poor road layout – even though this is not the actual reason he was created – an all-new asset was unveiled to coincide with the opening of the Britannia Stadium. The first-ever club mascot, Pottermus, and later his partner Pottermiss, were hippos in Stoke City kits.
In the ill-fated first season at the Britannia gave Pottermus his first (dubious) honour: the portly cheerleader came second in a man-of-the-match vote twice (against Huddersfield and Tranmere), and as Stoke were relegated, the hippo came seventh in the player of the season vote.
Other notable incidents in the roly-poly funster's early days, as noted by Stoke City Miscellany, include Pottermus "being booked for encroaching onto the pitch during a match, being knocked flying during a Graham Kavanagh goal celebration, and stealing the head of an opposing mascot before running the length of the pitch in celebration holding the trophy aloft".
Celebrating a new home with a loss
Fresh from the sacking of manager Lou Macari at the end of the previous season – which was still a bone of contention among fans over the way it was handled by the club – Stoke City didn't benefit from first-match luck, losing 2-1 to Swindon Town. While it proved to be a bit of a blip as far as the first half of the season went, the 1997-98 campaign would later be best forgotten by fans.
Stoke has been home to a number of huge industries in its long and storied history, though it is defined by its potteries, which were instrumental in the development of the six towns that went on to create the polycentric city that we know today. However, with globalisation comes competition, and the Staffordshire ceramic powerhouse was unable to compete, resulting in a large-scale, slow downturn that resulted in thousands of job losses.
Nonetheless, Stoke's manufacturing workforce remained diverse, and continued to support the development of the city well into the 20th century. But with the UK's primary industries closing en masse since the 1970s, how much is left for the people of Stoke?
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There were three traditional industries in Stoke leading up to the 20th century: pottery, coal mining and steel production. Despite being over 40 miles from its nearest coastline – the Mersey Estuary, at Ellesmere Port – Stoke was supported by its extensive local canal network, specifically the Trent and Mersey Canal, which connected Stoke, Fenton, Newcastle-under-Lyme and other nearby towns with Liverpool's famous river at Frodsham.
However, the heydays of primary industry and canal transportation are long gone. Has Stoke-on-Trent found alternatives to the thousands of jobs these provided since the council prioritised the creation of the Potters' new stadium in 1997?
Employment in Stoke
People in full or part-time employment in Stoke, 1995-2014
- STO #:
- People employed in Stoke
- STO %:
- Percentage of town in employment
- WM %:
- Percentage of West Midlands in employment
- UK %:
- Percentage of UK in employment
|Year||STO #||STO %||Y - H %||UK %|
- Data from the Office for National Statistics/Nomis.
- Data prior to 2004 is limited, so percentage of employed is not available during this period.
- Blue cells mark the opening of the Keepmoat Stadium.
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Recovery: 17 years and still waiting
Official statistics tell a sad story for Stoke: in the 17 years since the stadium was built, job numbers in the city are not even at the same level – they're still down by nearly 4,000. For a place that continues to (slowly) grow its population in line with the rest of the nation, its job prospects do not, on the face of it, look positive at all.
Particularly hard to overlook is the catastrophic fall of 16,000 jobs between 1997 and 1998. In the same season the squad dropped from Division One into Division Two, thousands of people were dropped from their roles in once-key businesses across the city.
The end of coal mining in the area finally came in 1998 with the closures of Hem Heath and Silverdale. Meanwhile, Royal Doulton closed two factories. Wedgwood and other big-name companies in Staffordshire would follow suit soon after. A couple of years later, Corus closed the Shelton steel works, in a move seen by many as the official end to wide-scale manufacturing in Stoke, aside from Michelin's tyre plant (which itself had reduced staff numbers from 1980s highs of 9,000 to just 1,200).
Resilience and more in the face of recession (2007-present)
One thing that seems quite apparent, however, is the strength that Stoke-on-Trent demonstrated during the economic downturn of 2007-08. As a city that relied heavily on manufacturing, its own individual slump in the mid-to-late 90s seemed to prepare it for the global financial crisis quite well. However, while jobs fell by no more than 4,000 from their temporary high in 2007, the recovery from this has been nothing more than a slow and steady rise to over 110,000.
The council proudly revealed in 2014 that Stoke-on-Trent was "one of the fastest-improving cities in the UK in a series of independent reports analysing the nation's economic recovery". Chartered accountant UHY Hacker Young had claimed that Stoke-on-Trent's economy grew more rapidly than almost every other area in the country since the recession – third-best, in fact – "recording a 13.5% increase in its economic contribution to the UK since 2008, compared to the national average of just 2.3% over the same period".
Meanwhile, the 2014 Duport Business Confidence Report found that 1,530 new firms had been established in the city during 2013, the city’s highest-ever increase on record. Westminster think-tank Centre for Cities ranked Stoke-on-Trent fourth in a table of 64 UK cities for job creation.
“More impressive still is the fact that we have achieved all of this during a time of unprecedented government cuts in public spending," said Stoke-on-Trent City Council leader Mohammed Pervez. "We may be witnessing a nationwide return to prosperity, but these reports show that our city is actually in the driving seat of economic expansion, with our foot firmly on the throttle."
Private sector builds on public foundations
Despite the fact the city's largest employer remains to be Stoke-on-Trent City Council, and the hospital has 7,000 people keeping it running on a day-to-day basis, many private companies continue to support job availability in the area – adapting to modern times and tastes. Gambling firm Bet365 is the largest of these, and employs over 2,100 people in the area.
Like Doncaster and Swansea, Stoke is also a popular area for distribution centres; Co-operative Pharmacy and Sainsbury's operate large warehouses near the city, while Premier Foods and Vodafone also have large presences in North Staffordshire. With more eyes on Stoke since the Potters' promotion in 2008, business interests in the area only stand to grow.
Downturn, upturn (2007-present)
Much of Stoke-on-Trent's housing is terraced, which has long anchored the prices to quite a low level for the area – something to be expected from an area where jobs were highly-skilled yet low in pay. Terraced housing dominates the areas around the train station and between the site of the former Victoria Ground and City's new home down the road.
However, ST4 as a postcode continues to offer the highest-priced housing in all of Stoke-on-Trent – underlining that the area may still offer a real draw to those looking to move for work, or indeed stay in the city.
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House sales and prices in Stoke, 1995-2015 (provided by Home.co.uk)
|Year||ST4 average||Stoke average||England average|
- Data from Home.co.uk
- "ST4" is the postcode that the Britannia Stadium sits within; it also covers Beech, Boothen, Fenton, Hanchurch, Hartshill, Hem Heath, Knowl Wall, Mount Pleasant, Oak Hill, Penkhull, Shelton, Stoke city centre, Trentham and Trent Vale.
- All data reflects sold house prices, not listed house prices.
- All types of housing are factored into the average; Home.co.uk measures detached, semi-detached and terraced housing, as well as flats.
- * denotes incomplete data. 2015 data was sourced in July, so only accounts for properties sold to May 2015.
- Blue cells mark the opening of the Britannia Stadium.
House prices in Stoke
While average house-selling prices were relatively flat in the first four years of the Premier League era in Stoke and ST4, costs truly started to pick up in the years the stadium was built.
- For the ST4 postcode, the difference in average sold house prices between 1997 and 2014 was £71,831 (277%).
- For Stoke as a whole, the difference was £81,939 (283%).
- The average growth in house prices in England during this time was £185,256 (331%).
However, the economic downturn seems to have had a much broader effect on ST4 than the city as a whole, as well as England at large. Between 2007 and 2009, when house prices had largely bottomed-out, ST4's fall is particularly damning – especially when you consider the higher bases that both Stoke and England's house prices were at, making the percentage drop quite eye-opening:
- ST4 house prices dropped by £9,679;
- Stoke house prices fell by £5,194;
- England's average house price decreased by £5,983.
In context, things still look relatively positive for the Britannia Stadium's area. Earlier this year, the Stoke Sentinel extracted local data from a Mouseprice survey into average costs of property across the five constituent postcodes of the polycentric city: ST1, 2, 3, 4 and 6. Even when removing the extremes at the top of the average house price list, one thing was clear: ST4's top 30 streets offered a typical asking price of around £330,000, which was much higher than its four rival postcodes.
All but two came in above the average asking price for a house in England, too (including London) – proving that things may not be all bad for desirability in the city. Furthermore, only one of the 30 cheapest postcodes was an ST4 – Baron Street, which was 22nd. Perhaps the effect of the Britannia Stadium may be more pronounced on house prices than our Home.co.uk figures suggest.
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While there were countless pieces of bad news for the people of Stoke-on-Trent during the formative years of the Premier League era – including the Potters' own capitulation in the squad's first year in the Britannia Stadium – the one thing that has been a relatively constant source of good news over the last 20 years has been Stoke City's performance. With three promotions to counteract their solitary drop since 1992, City only seem to be getting better by the year. Is the best still yet to come?
Team performance of Stoke City, 1992-2015
- Season played
- Average attendance
- POS (LG)
- Club position in English league structure
- POS (#)
- Club numerical position in English league structure (Premier League champion = 1)
- Bold underline
- denotes first full season in the new stadium
|Year||Att||Pos (lg)||Pos (#)|
|1992-93||16,579||1st, Second Division||47|
|1993-94||15,931||10th, First Division||32|
|1994-95||12,910||11th, First Division||33|
|1995-96||12,275||4th, First Division||24|
|1996-97||12,698||12th, First Division||32|
|1997-98||15,025||23rd, First Division||43|
|1998-99||12,732||8th, Second Division||52|
|1999-2000||11,426||6th, Second Division||50|
|2000-01||13,767||5th, Second Division||49|
|2001-02||13,966||5th, Second Division||49|
|2002-03||14,588||21st, First Division||40|
|2003-04||14,425||11th, First Division||31|
|-- League structure renamed --|
|2008-09||27,020||12th, Premier League||12|
|2009-10||27,162||11th, Premier League||11|
|2010-11||26,858||13th, Premier League||13|
|2011-12||27,226||14th, Premier League||14|
|2012-13||26,722||13th, Premier League||13|
|2013-14||26,137||9th, Premier League||9|
|2014-15||27,081||9th, Premier League||9|
Stoke City's rise, fall, rise and rise
Promoted to the second tier in 1992 after winning the all-new Second Division, the club's fortunes appeared to be looking up. It was all down to Lou Macari's excellent leadership in his second year as manager, not to mention the goal-scoring prowess of Mark Stein (with 33 goals over the course of the season). During the campaign, Stoke set a still-held unbeaten record, going 25 league matches without a loss. Finishing mid-table for the next four years – aside from one exciting campaign (ill-fated in the playoffs at the hands of Leicester City) in 1995-96 – Stoke seemed settled in the league.
Celebrating a new home with relegation (1997-98)
Although his playing career and subsequent colour commentary on Soccer Saturday alongside Jeff Stelling have been frequently applauded, Chris Kamara's managerial stint was certainly a black mark on his record – and Stoke City fans were the ones that took the brunt of it in the first season at the new ground.
Manager Chic Bates had a relatively decent start to the season, as the team peaked at sixth after beating Manchester City 1-0 at Maine Road. However, Stoke only won one game in 14, suffering a particularly galling 7-0 home loss to Birmingham City in the process. Kamara tried to improve on this – only repeating the feat himself (14 games, one win, five draws, nine losses), using an "unbelievable" 30 players during this stint. Short-term manager Alan Durban tried to stop the rot, but couldn't; Stoke fell out of the second tier.
Auto Windscreens Shield victory (2000)
While Stoke's attendances dropped to their all-time low in the Premier League era during the 1999-2000 season, there was some comfort to be had from the Auto Windscreens Shield (later the Johnstone's Paint Trophy). Stoke picked up the silverware for the second time in their history (after winning it in 1991-92); under the watchful eye of manager Gudjon Thordarson, Stoke were able to get the all-important winner eight minutes from time against a tenacious Bristol City side, winning 2-1.
Breaking a jinx for another promotion (2001-02)
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Thordarson had one final present to Stoke City fans before his contract was not renewed at the end of the 2001-02 season: promotion back to Division One. After a rocky start, the Potters went on a run of 19 games with just one defeat (a 6-1 loss at Wigan Athletic), hitting the top of the table before sliding back down to fifth – and a third straight season in the playoffs.
After securing the third playoff spot after a 24-win season, Stoke came back in the second leg of the playoff semi-final against Cardiff City, when an extra-time deflected goal "off Souleymane Oulare's backside" sealed the deal. Only Brentford stood in their way, and it's believed that it was an artist, not a footballer, that helped them get past their London opponents.
Stoke City Miscellany describes a "jinx" that was, apparently, affecting the locker room that the Potters were using in the game. "Artist Andrew Vicari helped Stoke to promotion in 2002 by painting a seven-foot high mural on the wall of the south dressing room at the Millennium Stadium," said author Richard Murphy. "The 11 previous sides occupying the dressing room had all lost their matches, and the artist used feng shui to bring some luck to teams using that room. Stoke broke the jinx, beating Brentford 2-0."
Buying the ground
From its early days, the Britannia Stadium was jointly owned by Stoke City FC, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, and Stoke-on-Trent Regeneration Ltd (part of St Mowden). However, unlike Doncaster and Swansea, this council safety net was removed by December 2007 – during their promotion campaign – when the Potters announced that a deal had been agreed to buy the remaining shares in the stadium from for £6 million, handing them full ownership of their arena.
Third promotion, 2007-08
Premier League ambitions were finally realised in "one of the tightest and most dramatic Championship seasons" Stoke had ever been involved with. Having missed out on the playoffs in the previous campaign, Stoke were far from favourites for automatic promotion – especially after a lacklustre start to the season, which found them in tenth place by late November.
Stoke would then take flight; only one loss was recorded in 17 games, catapulting City into first place as well as a dogfight with Bristol City, Watford and West Bromwich Albion. In eight games towards the end of the season, Stoke won only once – so it was just as well the teams around them were not up to scratch, either. Ten points from the final four games sealed the deal – Stoke were confirmed as the Premier League's latest additions after winning against eventual relegation candidates Leicester City in front of a packed Britannia Stadium.
Premier League– and a top-half start (2008-09)
Back at the top for the first time in over 20 years, the Potters went on a spending spree worth £20 million during the summer of 2008; "thanks to the money of the Premier League, [the top flight] was a different world from the one they left in 1985".
With it, they brought in what soon became their trademark style of play – one that has regularly drawn the ire of players, managers, fans and commentators across the country. Combining a "physical approach and the lethal weapon of Rory Delap's long throws" (the latter of which still continues to confound viewers two years since his retirement in 2013), Stoke managed to beat Spurs and Arsenal before Christmas, securing a mid-table finish.
Much of the success was attributed to the fan frenzies at the Britannia; supporters were "recognised as the loudest in the Premier League after registering a recording of 122 decibels", just 3dB short of the level when pain begins (yet still 8dB above a loud rock concert).
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Second-season solidification and a cup final (2009-11)
By finishing in 11th place in the 2009-10 campaign – just three points away from the top half of the table – Stoke became just the second team in the league's history to finish higher in their second season than they did in their first. Much of this was down to further purchases to support the rapidly-expanding side; Robert Huth, Tuncay Sanli, Dean Whitehead and Danny Collins were particularly impactful.
It certainly had its ups and downs, though, as author Murphy highlighted: "There was a very good cup run as the Potters reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup for the first time in 35 years after superb victories over both Arsenal and Manchester City.
"However, their season saw many points of controversy and disharmony as James Beattie fell out with [manager] Tony Pulis over the players' Christmas party, and Dave Kitson and Tuncay both publicly showed their displeasure at being substituted. Things came to a head after a humiliating 7-0 defeat at Chelsea, with Pulis vowing to sort out the dressing room before the new season."
Despite this rollercoaster on and off the field, Stoke made the FA Cup Final that very year, ultimately losing to Manchester City in a close 1-0 defeat in a performance criticised by Mark Lawrenson. He said: "I think what will peeve Stoke other than losing the game is that they didn't show anything like the team we know, who can be extremely competitive and difficult to play against. I think Manchester City won quite comfortably."
Perhaps buoyed by success in the cup competition, the average crowd at the Britannia hit a high in 2011-12, when Stoke endured their worst Premier League performance, finishing 14th. However, much of this was undoubtedly due to the away support the team draws; attendances have been within 1,500 of the stadium's maximum capacity ever since promotion to the top flight, showing that an expansion could definitely bring even greater numbers.
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Making waves (2013-present)
Since then, Stoke have continued to defy critics with consistently great seasons. In the last two full seasons, the Potters have finished in the top half. However, to fans of Premier League rivals and general onlookers alike, the enduring memory of Stoke is also one of its most recent: the 6-1 drubbing of Liverpool in Steven Gerrard's last-ever game for the team.
With it, Stoke registered some pretty incredible feats as a club. According to Opta, it was the first time the team had scored five goals in a top-flight game since November 1982. Other records include: the first time Liverpool had conceded four goals before half-time in a Premier League game; the first time Gerrard had lost a Premier League game by more than four goals; and both Liverpool's biggest loss and Stoke's biggest win in the Premier League.
"Stoke take the first set," said Liverpool Echo sports writer Kristian Walsh after the game, tongue firmly buried in his cheek.
Statistical breakdown (1992/93 – 2014/15)
- Best season:
- 9th (9th), Premier League (tier 1), 2013-14
- Worst season:
- 8th (52nd), Second Division (tier 3), 1998-99
- Promotion to relegation ratio:
- Best pre-stadium attendance:
- 16,579, 1992-93
- Worst pre-stadium attendance:
- 12,275, 1995-96
- Best post-stadium attendance:
- 27,266, 2011-12
- Worst post-stadium attendance:
- 11,426, 1999-2000
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Future stadium plans
UEFA 4-star status
The fact the Britannia Stadium does not hold 30,000 people automatically means it does not have UEFA 4-star status – restricting its ability to host other events that could potentially improve the income and status of the club. Permission was given for the arena's capacity to pass 30,000; the council approved the club's application to fill the south-east corner between the South Stand and Seddon Stand to add 1,750 extra seats. Plans were also tabled to move the giant scoreboard to the north-west corner, where a two-storey television studio would also be created.
However, just a few months later, chief executive Tony Scholes revealed that the plans were on hold for the short-term, raising eyebrows among fans and writers alike. In a report for the Metro, journalist Matt Meir claimed that it was the right thing to do. He said: "It's easy to use the 'if it isn't broke, don't fix it' cliché here, but that is indeed the business plan that Coates and the previous Icelandic consortium have stuck to.
"Right now, the most important thing to Peter Coates is the continued success of his club. With the right infrastructure off the pitch – in the form of the best training facilities and the multi-million pound Academy – the club's future is steady and secure."
Meir followed up ahead of the 2015 season with similar sentiments, following a similar investment not in the stadium, but in the acquisition of Bojan from Barcelona in 2014. "That single investment alone has made Stoke a more interesting and exciting team to watch," he continued. "And, don't forget, each position gained in the league is worth at least an extra £1 million in prize money. For me, size of the club should be decided on the pitch. I know I'd rather be watching someone like Bojan play the 'beautiful game', than admire a stand of 3,000 fans."
Future of the team
Since Tony Pulis, the architect of Stoke's establishment of themselves as a top-tier staple, was replaced by former Manchester United and Chelsea striker Mark Hughes in the summer of 2013, the Welshman has been gradually trying to hone the Potters' style of play into something more aesthetically pleasing.
The result has been some rather eye-catching signings, such as those of Marko Arnautović and former Barcelona striker Bojan Krkić, and some admiring glances from the pundits - not something Stoke fans had been particularly used to. But the summer of 2015 has seen Hughes' ambitions take a giant leap forward.
The ex-Barcelona contingent has been bolstered with Dutch winger Ibrahim Affelay, while compatriot Marco Van Ginkel has arrived on loan to add some creativity in the centre of midfield.
The major coup, however, has been the £12 million acquisition of former Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri. A highly-rated, livewire attacking player of Champions League standard, entering the prime of his career, is now plying his trade at the Britannia. Fans wanting their new star's name on the back of shirts set records in the club shop, and his arrival allied to Hughes' attacking style has made people take notice. Whisper it quietly, but Stoke City are set to become many people's second-favourite team this season.
The Premier League spotlight is shining brightly on the Britannia.
SCROLL TRIGGER SIX FOUR!
Future of Stoke
Little movement on Stanley Matthews Way
As for the future of the ground's surroundings and Stoke on a wider scale, things only really seem to be happening away from the Britannia Stadium. With land primarily dedicated to warehouses and car showrooms, and with a lot of recent work taking place around the shops and parks of Trentham, there looks to be no real movement in the area – especially with the stadium itself putting expansion plans on hold.
Prime real estate regeneration plans
Stoke's ambitions will be realised elsewhere across the city, not least the blockbuster Smithfield development, which promises to completely transform a major part of ST4 into a "dynamic new city-centre business and leisure destination designed for people and the modern occupier". Plans comprise offices, retail, leisure facilities, hotels and parking, and will be centred on a particularly colourful abstract glass-panelled building. Developers believe "Smithfield will provide the crucial link between existing residential, shopping, cultural and heritage areas, bringing the city together into a coherent whole".
Massive housing plans on the Waterside
The City Waterside development is another example of urban neighbourhood development from the council that "draws on the heritage of the area and aims to create a vibrant community in an expanded community where people want to live and work" – and was long referred to as the "flagship" piece of the regeneration puzzle.
However, the initial sales did not go well, leading former mayor Mike Wolfe to brand it a "failure". He said: "It's astonishing. If Renew was a success, how come Redrow Homes […] cannot sell and make a profit on the houses it proposed to build?
"Clearly property is in the doldrums, but you would not expect Redrow to put such a lot of money into a planning application, drawing up designs and then not go through with the development. In doing that, they are saying that Renew is a failure."
Nonetheless, many developments have been built since 2008, or are currently under construction. The list includes Waterside Primary School – on the former Imperial Pottery site – as well as Waters Edge (160 homes, Redrow) and Johnsons Wharf (136 living spaces, Ben Bailey). Caldon Quay and Ivy House Mills are under construction. Keepmoat Ltd also had a major part to play in the redevelopment of the area with the Amphora residential development (71 homes), and worked alongside English Heritage, Urban Splash and Renew North Staffordshire on the project.
University Quarter (UniQ) and Urbivore
Meanwhile, a lot of investment is going into creating "world-class education facilities" in the University Quarter, in order to encourage highly-skilled people and new businesses to the region, in order to "fuel the growth of existing businesses, laying the long-term foundations for economic regeneration across Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire".
And in a move not unlike the initial initiative laid down at Swansea City's former home at Vetch Field, a former golf course is to serve as the base of Urbivore, a "community market garden" that aims to transform disused green space into an "urban agricultural centre". Parkhall Golf Course has been given to the Urbivore Foundation on a 25-year lease; the charity will cultivate fresh produce, extending to the rearing of fish, sheep and chickens for meat and eggs. A home delivery box scheme will support wholesalers in local restaurants, and to local schools and hospitals. Funds will also be "reinvested in community benefit".
SCROLL TRIGGER SIX FOUR!
The gradual rise of heritage tourism – a future for Stoke?
In the 2003 book Heritage Tourism, authors Timothy Dallen and Stephen Boyd highlighted that while Stoke-on-Trent had a lot of cultural assets to showcase, it did not make them attractive enough to draw overnight visitors. In fact, only 4% of people who made the trip to the Staffordshire heartland would stay overnight, and most of these travelled from nearby counties and the wider north-west. Despite this, tourism accounted for nearly 4,000 direct jobs in 1997, and over 1,500 indirect employment opportunities.
In 2011, Stoke's council announced plans to focus on such assets; Spode Creative Village is a perfect example of the direction the council is focusing on. The ten-acre site at the heart of the city centre, owned by the local authority, will aim to fuel "a vibrant creative community", building artist studios, creative workspaces, galleries and exhibition spaces, alongside a number of niche retail outlets.
While the plan was still in formative stages in 2015, it appears this will continue to be a primary focus of the overall drive to get visitors from out of the county – and, indeed, the rest of the country. The redevelopment of Stoke Town alone "has the potential to create 500 jobs over the next five years and attract £25 million in investment", the council believes. It may still only be a small step in the direction of directly targeting tourism, but it lays the foundations for larger projects.
SCROLL TRIGGER SEVEN ONE!
With countless pressures on the Stoke-on-Trent economy over the last 25 years, and the nature of the Britannia Stadium's creation to modernise the wider game of football for the safety of fans, it seems reasonable to conclude that the move from the Victoria Ground has had no truly tangible effect on the regeneration of the city's fortunes other than for the team itself.
However, the council has still got several strong plans in place to counteract what has been a relative stagnation in job numbers and house prices. While many of these are still to leave the ideas stage, this outlook of the local authority is very clear.
Nonetheless, to see Stoke as a city about to enter its true period of regeneration may not have too much truth to it – at least, not in the sense that it has not really done much to modernise the area already. If anything, it's managed to bounce back from the brink of widespread joblessness that would have been catastrophic if it hadn't have been for a concerted effort to counteract it.
Mike Herbert, St Mowden's regional director, explained to the Stoke Sentinel: "Personally, I think North Staffordshire did well. That is not to say it could not have done better, and I am certainly not saying that there isn't much more yet to do. All in all, the Thatcher era and the economy it created forced North Staffordshire to react and it did to a massive extent."
He claimed that if North Staffordshire had stayed where it was before entering the 1980s – mines, potteries, steel mills and all – things would be a lot worse now. The proof of this is in the extraordinary number of factory closures that took hold of the city and its surroundings in the 1990s. He concluded: "Now we must look forward to the future, proactively and realistically. Delivering economic regeneration is ultimately about the art of the possible."
However, the people of Stoke – especially fans of the club – may be quick to remind Herbert that he and his company ought to prove this themselves by finally redeveloping the Victoria Ground site, which has lay dormant for 18 years due to the aforementioned fact the economy is not "strong enough to improve and to justify development on that site". Perhaps the "art of the possible" requires more faith, as well as a trustworthy economy, if Stoke-on-Trent is to rise as successfully as its football team.
SCROLL TRIGGER SEVEN TWO!
NB: Sources documented only by chapter first used
Section one – The grand vision
- Regeneration Projects (Stoke-on-Trent City Council)
- HS2 Stoke Route (Stoke-on-Trent City Council)
- Stoke-on-Trent 'ignored' under HS2 rail route plans (January 28th, 2013 – BBC)
Section two – Making the move
- Developers discuss why old Victoria Ground still lies empty (February 3rd, 2015 – Stoke Sentinel)
- Victoria Ground (Stoke City official website)
- Terry Conroy: ill wind blows Stoke City into the Second Division (August 7th, 2015 – Stoke Sentinel)
- The Hillsborough Stadium Disaster ("Taylor Report") (April 15th, 1989 – Rt Hon Lord Justice Taylor)
Section three – The new stadium
- Stoke City archive: Bring on the hippo! When Pottermus came seventh in player of year vote (March 7th, 2015 – Stoke Sentinel)
- Stoke 1-2 Swindon Town (11 v 11)
Section four – Community effects
- Office for National Statistics/Nomis employment data
- Royal Doulton closes two factories (October 30th, 1997 – This is Staffordshire)
- Regeneration: Mrs Thatcher's legacy to the Potteries (April 12th, 2013 – Stoke Sentinel)
- Factory closures hit heartlands (June 5th, 2000 – Labour Research Department)
- Heritage Tourism by Timothy Dallen and Stephen Boyd , pages 99 to 101 (2003 – via Google Books)
- Stoke-on-Trent spearheads economic recovery (March 2014 - Stoke-on-Trent City Council)
- Home.co.uk housing data
- REVEALED: The 30 most expensive streets in each Stoke-on-Trent postcode (April 9th, 2015 – Stoke Sentinel)
- REVEALED: Stoke-on-Trent's 30 cheapest streets to buy a house (April 8th, 2015 – Stoke Sentinel)
Section five – Team performance
- European Football Statistics
- Stoke City Miscellany
- Decibel (Loudness) Comparison Chart (GC Audio)
- BBC pundits on Man City-Stoke FA Cup final (May 14th, 2011 – BBC Sport)
- Stoke City 6-1 Liverpool FC: Rodgers reign hits new low in final day thrashing (May 24th, 2015 – Liverpool Echo)
Section six – The future
Future of the stadium
- Permission given for Stoke City's Britannia Stadium capacity to pass 30,000 (February 6th, 2013 – Stoke Sentinel)
- Stoke's Britannia Stadium expansion on hold, securing the club’s future (June 30th, 2013 – Metro)
- Why Stoke City should keep all their money on the pitch (January 19th, 2015 – Metro)
Future of SCFC
- Stoke City - transfers (Sky Sports)
- Xherdan Shaqiri 'completes Stoke medical ahead of move from Inter Milan' (August 10th, 2015 – Sky Sports)
- Stoke City now have more Champions League winners than Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal COMBINED (August 11th, 2015 – Daily Mirror)
Future of Stoke
- Stoke Town Regeneration (Stoke-on-Trent City Council)
- Council hiring branding consultant for Stoke creative village (March 3rd, 2015 – Stoke Sentinel)
- Smithfield Stoke (official website)
- City Waterside (Stoke-on-Trent City Council)
- Land at canal-side regeneration project fails to sell (February 27th, 2012 – Stoke Sentinel)
- University Quarter (Stoke-on-Trent City Council)
- Urbivore Project (Stoke-on-Trent City Council)
All information contained within this article is accurate as of August 2015.