That Stoke City Partnership

Ok. Let’s be honest with one another. The news about a “Long Term Strategic Partnership” with Stoke City came somewhat out of the blue. It’s also one that from immediate reaction, from the British fan base at least, is hard to reconcile.

Andreas Rettig has said St. Pauli aim to gain from “Stoke City’s global scouting operations.” A fair gain for us. Especially with the potential to bring in emerging talent for season long boosts to the squad.

FCSP also hope to gain from Stoke City’s experience in youth development. This is where I had cause to scoff on my Eccles Cake. When you go through a list of graduates it’s more a list of “never really reached their full potential”. The only real exception and one more familiar to our Scottish friends would be Kris Commons, and if I wasn’t being overly critical and making use of my Goalkeepers Union card, Ben Foster.

Outside of those players you have maybe 50 international caps total. A team with ambitions of Bundesliga, we should be targeting higher than that. However, with Ewald at the helm of this deal, someone will no doubt tell me that we can only gain. I remain unconvinced, and dubious that we are going to exceptionally gain from a mid to bottom table Premiership side prone to buying journeymen as opposed to developing youth.

Furthermore, in terms of styles of play. Stoke? Fucking Stoke? I suffer from insomnia. Quite severe insomnia. There are two things on this planet that are guaranteed to fix it: Alan Shearer as a pundit and Stoke’s “highlights” on Match of the Day. Highlights being a loose term. What are we going to learn? How to stick 8 men behind the ball and hoof it up to a lanky git with the balance of a giraffe? We watched that in the Ründrucken last season and by Christmas we were staring 3. Liga in the face. Or aggression? Let’s talk about Ryan Shawcross’ 57 cards. Stoke’s style of play can best be described as archaic.

Now, before I move onto Stoke’s side of the deal, I feel the need to add a caveat: I bear no personal animosity other than it having the coldest away section since the old South Stand at Bloomfield Road. All of the following is based on an evening’s research and 25 years of going to football in Britain.

On the reverse, Stoke City’s CEO, Tony Scholes, has said that alongside the football benefits he hopes his club can tap into and learn from FCSP’s international reputation. I hope Tony has been given a copy of “Pirates Punks and Politics”. You cannot force that reputation. It was DIY, it was natural. It was about FCSP being a safe space for fans and the community to watch the game.

For all we complain about the commercialisation of the club, it’s attitude to the G20, with Ewald joining the protest, a public statement of support for protesters, and even providing them with a bed for the night, the soul is still there, driving the wheel of our pirate ship. Our product is our soul. I am not saying Stoke lack a soul, but it isn’t a unique one. It might be to its fans, but there is a reason a second division German side had a better average attendance than a Premiership side last season by 2,000 a week.

Stoke cannot fabricate that culture just by asking us what we do. What we do is us.

British football is largely incompatible with the FCSP model. It’s main audience is the “Yer da” or the Prawn Sandwich crowd. For those not familiar with Twitter insult “Yer Da” it refers to the Baby Boomers to the early 70s born white male. The sort seen on Question Time asking why Brexit hasn’t happened yet and thinks a joke about “kicking her” when the dishwasher breaks is still (or ever has been) acceptable. This is clearly incompatible with FCSP and everything we stand for.

The Stoke Sentinel ran an article on the partnership. The first comment on their Facebook page was from a lovely chap who said “we don’t want nothing to do with these lefty fukwits!”

Now, grammar and double negative aside, this was many a British FCSP fan’s initial fear about the deal. It’s horrible to pigeon hole an entire fan base on the back of a couple of knuckle dragging reactions, but this is exactly the attitude we travel to FCSP to avoid.

The British game has come a long way since the terraces rained down bananas at John Barnes, but the crowd that were young then are still influential.

There is one shining light in this negativity aimed towards Stoke: their Chairman. Peter Coates is actually alright. He believes in using the Premiership’s recent windfall to reduce ticket prices for the everyday fan and is outwardly facing a socialist. He owns the club he grew up loving and has invested a significant amount of money in Stoke City in an attempt to make them self sufficient.

Ultimately my reservations around the deal are down to the reasons I stopped bothering with top flight football in Britain, and to not really understanding what both party hopes to obtain in the long run. Stoke have no cult for us to help them sell, and little footballing prowess for us learn from. I hope I am proved wrong, but like Under Armour, I just struggle to see any real long term benefit to FCSP.