Saturday, 14 January 2012

Ultimate Stoke FC Recall: Phil Heath

Phil 'Steady' Heath was one of those footballers that every fan of every club would be proud of, a local born lad, who played for and supported his local team.

The tricky, fast paced winger had a distinguished career for the Potters after coming through the youth system. After Stoke he moved to Oxford United and eventually finished his playing career turning out for Aylesbury United in 1994.

We managed to track down Phil via twitter and as part of our new recall section of ex-Stoke City players we put several questions to him:

You came through the youth system at Stoke and made your debut in the 1982-83 season, can you remember who this was against and how were you feeling on the day of the match?

I made my debut in the very last home game of the 82-83 season coming on as a substitute against Coventry. I can remember coming on quite early in the match and the game seemed to whizz by. I didn't have time to feel nervous because I got a call Saturday morning saying to report to the ground for the afternoon and not to travel with the youth team for that mornings match. I expected just to be 13th man so was quite shocked when the manager Richie Barker said that I was the sub that day.

My full debut came away at Southampton in the 83-84 season where I came up against Mick Mills that day. On my full home debut I got the equalizing goal against Everton in a 1-1 draw.

Was your position always as a winger or when you played for the youth team did you play any other position?

I played both as a winger and centre forward in my youth days; in fact I was quite like Ian Painter who played in both positions. In many youth games both Ian and I would play up front, we didn't have much height but we had a lot of pace that centre halves used to hate. When we got the ball down on the deck, playing it in between the full back and centre halves we were a quite unstoppable partnership.

During your years at Stoke the club when through a somewhat turbulent era, including narrowly avoiding relegation on the final day of the 83-84 season, followed by a disastrous following season with only 3 wins. Mick Mills was drafted in during the 1985-86 era and although he had alot of critics he did steady the boat at Stoke, what were your memories of him as a manager and was he the best manager you ever played under?

With regards to the 84-85 season it was a case of throwing to many youngsters in at the deep end too quickly. I think the senior pros became dejected early on after the miraculous escape the previous season and didn't give us youngsters the support that we needed. The training was a shambles that year which didn't help in the slightest. From a personal point of view I came out of the season with some strong performances against the likes of Mills, Perryman, Neal, Gidman playing in 34 games that year.

When Mick Mills arrived the following year he did a great job in steadying the ship under extreme financial pressures. Mick came in at left back and instantly gave my game a great lift with his vision and experience. It was this 2 year period where I played my best football for Stoke, Mick gave me the confidence and belief that I could become a top player. Sadly he had to retire and then I struggled to get a partnership going with new left backs.

What was the best Stoke game out of your 200+ appearances and why?

The best game from a personal point of view was Oldham away in 85; I was on fire that day and scored the best goal of my career running from the half way line beating about 5 players (probably only 3)! and walking it around the goal keeper. From a team’s point a view it was a tossup between the Man U 2-1 home win in 84 or the Leeds 7-2 thrashing at home in 86, both memorable games and victories.

There has always been talk that table topping Everton were interesting in signing you, was there any substance in this and if so do you regret not signing for them?

Everton apparently did come in for me at the end of the 85-86 season. They made a bid of £150,000 for either me or Neil Adams, Mick Mills made the decision at that time, wisely or unwisely to sell Neil and to keep me. It was the era of no agents and I was none the wiser, there was no question of putting in for a transfer I was a local boy playing for my local club and at that time was really enjoying it.

What are your thoughts how Stoke City are currently doing and do you get down to the Britannia stadium to watch them?

I'm really pleased to see Stoke doing so well at the moment and be back to the position where I first joined them in the early 80's. I go up to watch them about a dozen times a year and have followed them to the Wembley trips, Tel Aviv and am going out to Spain to the Valencia game shortly. I'm an active member of SCOBA, Stoke City Old Boys Association where several times a year the old boys meet up to watch games, put on functions and raise money for local charities or any Stoke or Vale ex pros who are in need of financial support.

After Stoke you played for the likes of Oxford, Cardiff and Aldershot, what was the highlight of your football career?

The highlight of my career was always playing for Stoke, being born in Longton and to go on to play for your home club was always the ultimate.

Do you have any regrets during your playing career? And if so what?

Looking back now the only regret I have was not having the chance of joining Everton, at the time they were the champions of England and I feel that I would have gone to the next stage of my development playing and training with such a squad of talented players.

Recently we have seen Paul Scholes coming out of retirement because he apparently missed the game, how did you feel when you retired and did you miss playing, indeed do you still miss playing?

I retired from the game at the early age of 28, at the time I had no regrets, I was young and had started a business that needed my full time attention. It was not till some time later when I was about 37 that I started playing again and missed the game. I took my coaching badges getting my UEFA 'B' badge, played a bit of non league and veterans football, even today at 47 I still turn out for Oxford United veterans which I thoroughly enjoy.

Who was the best player you ever played with or against and why?

The best player I played with for me personally was Mick Mills he helped to develop my game so much, another team mate was Mark Chamberlain he had two or three seasons where he produced some stunning performances. The best player I played against was Chris Waddle, he ran the whole show when we came up against him (he also had a nice mullet)!

Finally what are you upto nowadays? Are you still involved in football?

Today I run 2 successful businesses, one is an import/distributor business where we import china ceramics, distribute them to garden centres and department stores in Britain. The other is a china and cookware store in Bourton on the Water in the Cotswolds. I have recently just finished coaching The Oxford Universities Football team and now spend my time watching the game and attending SCOBA functions.

Follow Us: @ultimatestokefc

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Long And Winding Road To Liverpool

So this Saturday the mighty Potters take the short trip up the M6/M62 to Liverpool. In our 3 seasons in the Premier league at Anfield we have 1 draw and 2 defeats, with 0 goals been scored by the Potters.

This report takes a light hearted look at Liverpool and what the away fan should expect upon arrival in the city enclosed by the River Mersey.

There are still arguments as to the origin of the city's name, Liverpool. Some people believe the terminology originates from the words large pool while others are adamant its from the different plants and birds (the flying type!), those such as the famous Liver bird.

For those Stokies making the trip up to Liverpool, we suggest getting the train they run regularly from Crewe. Upon arrival into Lime Street Station, you exit onto Lime Street itself where you are met by the stunning view of St Georges Hall dating back to 1794.

Of course Liverpool is made by the people, and these lot provide lots of entertainment. Most refer to them as scousers, even Liverpudlians call themselves scousers. They are the butt of endless jokes and digs, seen as hard nosed and really dont like those Manc's along the M62. There own language is no different to our old Potteries dialect and they are proud to use it.

We suggest first port of call is the Crown Hotel Pub to the left of Lime Street, here you can grab yourself a quick 'bevvy' (beer), and get chatting to some 'auld baigs' (older women!). Once you have had a few bevvy's there we suggest you cross the road and nip into the Wetherspoons by St Johns bus station, always rammed on a Saturday and provides great 'scran' (food!). You can get well and truly 'bevvied' (drunk) in there and if you fancy any 'jargged' (fake/knock off) clothing then just head into St Johns precinct opposite!

After the Weatherspoons, we suggest you head for the Ship and Mitre on Dale Street, a fantastic old mans pub serving quality real ale, its about a 10 minute stroll but well worth it. When you are ready you can 'go ed' (get going) and jump a taxi to the match alternatively if you have a good pair of 'drabs on' (trainers) then it is a brisk couple of mile walk up Scotland Road.

There will be many sites in Liverpool and the 'to do' thing for scouse girls is walk around town with their hair in rollers, some with pyjamas on doing shopping and the must have is the famous scouse brow (a ludicrous looking drawn on eyebrow!), although we do admit scouse women are stunning, although a lot of these, who have orange tans hang around places like the Newz bar trying to sleep with celebs, in Liverpool they are referred to as 'slaperazzi'.

In the taxi to the ground, if you see any over weight people they you can shout out the window and call them 'fat waps', although they will probably tell you to 'do one' (go away!)

Hopefully the Potters can continue their great form of late and pick up 3 points. So have a great time, get bevvied up, watch the bizzies and dont act like a better beaut!


Michael Uchebo - One For The Future Or The New Demba Ba?!

So it was confirmed yesterday that Michael Uchebo, the 6ft 8.5 inch Nigerian born striker was finally at the Potteries for a trial and chat with mananger Tony Pulis. Uchebo is out of contract at the end of the season with his current club VVV Venlo, a team that play in the dutch Eredivisie.

Have we heard of VVV Venlo before? Well in 2010 they did sign a 1 year old baby, Baerk Van Der Meij for a scoring a hat trick in that youtube video that went viral worldwide ( for that he was rewarded a ten year contract!

So we wanted to find out more about Michael Uchebo, the man dubbed the new Peter Crouch, although his goal scoring record is nothing to write home about, 37 played, 5 scored.

So I put some questions to Hans Huijis the Chairman of the official VVV Venlo supporters club. He are his responses:

So tell me about VVV Venlo are they are successful dutch club?

VVV-Venlo is club wich was founded in 1903. It is a club which is located in Venlo, in the south-east of Holland. Venlo is a small city of about 100,000 inhabitants. VVV-Venlo play at Seacon stadion -de Koel- with a capacity of about 8,000 spectators.

VVV is playing at the highest level now for the third season in a row. The were promoted to the "eredivisie" (Dutch Premier League) after their second championship (1993 and 2009) in the dutch first division. The years before have been both successfull and less success full as well. Before 2006-2007 they played in the first division for 13 years and finished in last place once. First division in Holland has no relegation those days so they stayed up.

VVV have had some successful years. They won the cup in 1959 and had several chances to qualify for the Uefa cup. But they never succeeded. They also won some legendary matches against Ajax and Feyenoord (search at youtube for "VVV-Ajax sneeuw". a legendary match on a pitch loaded with snow and a 3-0 victory).
Now up at the highest level since 2009 but still a modest club and they trying to grow. They are planning to build a new stadium for about 17,500 spectators wich should be ready by the start of season 2014-2015. Till then expectations are not to big. Try to stay up. It doesn't matter how, just stay up! The best way at this moment is to buy cheap (foreign) talents and give them a chanche to play in the eredivisie. One example is Keisuke Honda, a Japanese star, who started his European career in Venlo. An other name is Ahmed Muse, recently sold to CSKA Moscow (like Honda).

What are the fans general thoughts on Michael Uchebo?

We hope to sell Michael asap! His contract ends at the end of this season, so this is the only possible way to earn a bit of money on this guy.

What are Uchebo's best skills and qualities?
He's strong and can make beautiful moves in small spaces. Sometimes he's very clumsy (I guess because of his long legs) but sometimes it looks very clumsy and then he manages to get out of the situation in a beautiful way. He needs assists to score goals. I think he needs to be a bit more patient and he needs a bit of good luck to get into really good form. And, of course, teammates who make him a better player!

Will his departure be a big loss for VVV Venlo?

No, I don't think so. Because of the money aspect. £1 million is a huge amount of money for modest club VVV and they will be able to get new players for less money (and hopefully sell them in future). VVV does also have another Nigerian striker, Uche Nwofor, who is even a bigger talent. We hope he will get his chance!

Do you think Uchebo has the ability or the promise to make it at the highest level in the Premier League?

That is very difficult to say. At first I would say "no". But we've only see him play with these teammates. Stoke is a diffent team, with different players who will probably make Michael a better player. So he might make it at this level. He is also a young player. He is not very experienced so give him a chance.
What will VVV Venlo do with the transfer fee, are they a selling club or would they reinvest for new players?

Like I said before: Reinvest in new players. First goal is to reinvest in players so that we stay up, second goal is to invest in players and make a profit out of that.

Finally what are Venlo fans' thought on Stoke City Football Club? Do they get much coverage over in the Netherlands?
In the south east of Holland I think there aren't a lot of people who really know Stoke (including myself). Off course they know Stoke because of the possible transfer of Michael Uchebo but I doubt if they know Stoke plays European football in the Uefa league. There is some coverage of the Uefa league on pay tv with not to many viewers so Stoke doesn't get much airtime. However, it is increasing since they reached the Uefa league!