Unlike most soccer fans, I can’t really remember my first Stoke game. My first clear memory of watching Stoke was against Middlesbrough at Vale Park, and then having a season ticket in 1977 in the Butler Street Stand. Relegation, inevitably, soon followed.
So, basically, I was introduced to the Potters after a visit to our strange, unfriendly rivals and then being forced to sit in probably the only roofless stand in Britain at that time, and watch us get relegated. But I am grateful that my old man grasped my eight-year old hand all those years ago and walked me to those turnstiles.
Dads are the drummers of families. They do lots of unseen work that needs doing; they rarely get the adoration they deserve; more often than not they’re at the back and unnoticed, often steering the ship in the right direction. They have a quiet, unassuming style all of their own, and rarely let anyone down. And the worst haircut of the group. Probably.
My father was Peter William Bunn. For eighteen months or so now I have had the stomach-churning task of writing or talking about him in a different tense.
That’s because sadly my dad passed away on November 24, 2012, just an hour after watching the club he worshiped, Stoke City, beat Fulham 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium. That he did so at exactly 5.59pm, just as Radio Stoke’s Praise and Grumble was finishing, isn’t just ironic. It’s fate. Talking about Stoke City was one of life’s joys for dad and he loved wobbling his head at, and listening to, the post-match radio phone-in. Because that’s what blokes do best. We are excellent at talking about putting the world right. That obviously includes going five in midfield when you’re one-down or picking a nice, safe away pub when taking your little lad with you to the game.
It’s also fate, not irony, that dad was aged 72 when he died. It simply couldn’t be any other number for a Stokie, could it? The year (19)72 was the one when we won our only trophy in over 151 years of trying.
Add onto the fact that he went quickly, and relatively painlessly, to sleep on the shoulder of his very best mate, Terry (my uncle, who was driving), and that they were in the car within a Greenhoff volley or Sir Stan mazy dribble of the Victoria Ground, simply makes me smile. Perhaps I’m looking for fate when there’s simply none there? But whilst soccer is never “more than life or death,” it gives me huge comfort that he passed away on such a seamlessly brilliant Stoke City Saturday afternoon.
The analogy with Nigel Gleghorn was given careful thought. Gleghorn played in the early-mid 90’s at Stoke, and was a player my father admired – a flashback to players who loved their soccer. He had a wand of a left foot, and always seemed grateful to be playing the working man’s ballet and to be playing for our club. He also scored a most memorable goal in front of me and my father – no, not our second at Vale Park that sealed a vital derby win or against Plymouth at the Victoria Ground to seal the deal on promotion in 1993.