They’ve been there before and they're vying to get back, Stoke City’s owners are doing everything they can off the pitch to take the Potters back to the Premier League.
Who can forget the days of Ricardo Fuller, Peter Crouch, Jonathan Walters, Robert Huth, Asmir Begovic, Ryan Shawcross, and long-throw specialist Rory Delap, kicking it about at what was once called the ‘Britannia Stadium’. There was Bojan, Shaqiri, and Arnautovic too - Stoke have had many memorable players in the last decade.
Their time in the Premier League and ten years of top-flight football came to an end with relegation to the Championship in 2018. Despite a late surge looking to survive, Stoke finished 19th with 33 points and dropped down to the second division where they have remained since.
Life in the Championship hasn’t been exhilarating either. The Potters have flirted with the relegation zone on several occasions throughout each season, but have been able to secure reasonable bottom-half table finishes in the teens each time.
This season has brought new hope for the fans with numerous signings made throughout the summer and a completely different side taking shape. However, through some misfortune through injuries and an inconsistent start the Potters sit 21st with just ten points.
Only a few points adrift of the play-off places, frustrations have grown from many regarding manager Alex Neil. But, as the Scotsman’s injured players return to action, an important run of games approach. Many question the tactics and choice of starting players, and this is something only Neil and his staff can decide. But, away from the pitch things are forever moving forward, with the latest plans for a fan-zone revealed this week.
Owned by the Coates family and the founders of betting giants Bet365, Peter and John Coates act as joint-chairman’s at the club. Peter Coates - born in Goldenhill, Stoke-on-Trent - is the youngest of 14 children and signed for his boyhood club Stoke City as an amateur in the 1950’s, but was never good enough to make it big time at the club. Playing for local non-league sides Goldenhill Wanderers and Kidsgrove Athletic, the now 85-year-old stopped playing football at the age of 23.
As Wikipedia writes: “Bet365 was founded in 2000 in a portakabin in Stoke-on-Trent by the Coates family, led by his (John Coates’) daughter Denise.”
Adding: “Bet365 has grown into one of the world's largest online gambling companies, with its reported figures to March 2010 showing amounts wagered on sports at £5.4 billion, revenues of £358 million, and an operating profit of £104 million.”
Peter Coates holds the position of chairman of the betting giants while Denise, the joint chief executive, continues to run bet365 with her brother, John.
And, the Stoke owners have pumped a lot of their cash into their club, significantly, in ample amounts over the recent year.
Announcing this week via their website: “Potters’ Fan Zone Plans Revealed.”
“Stoke City have revealed plans for a high quality fan zone at the bet365 Stadium, with a planning application now submitted to Stoke-on-Trent City Council. The planned new facility, which is estimated for completion around the start of the 24/25 season, signifies the latest major investment in the Club’s five-year development programme at the stadium and training ground."
Club vice-chairman Richard Smith said: “It has been a long-held ambition of the Club to construct a fan zone, primarily to enhance the matchday experience at the bet365 Stadium."
“During the past 12 months we have commenced the process of designing a high quality facility for Stoke City supporters, for which we are now in a position to submit our application for planning."
"Despite rising production costs causing the Club’s scheduled programme of infrastructure investments to increase significantly, there remains a steadfast commitment to fulfil our ambitions and make our facilities as good as they can be.”
Some fans took to social media joking that it will be the perfect place to hang out during half time as the team find themselves down at the break, or when they’ve seen enough on the other hand. However, on the whole the plans were received well.
Fanzones in this capacity can be seen at top-flight clubs like Liverpool or fellow-midlands side Wolves, and Stoke will hope for theirs to be a success. It’s all part of the wider project of improving all facilities at the club which has seen huge backing financially from the owners.
An initiative regarding away game travel which started back in 2013 still continues today, and is one to be admired and applauded by all. Stoke announced their commitment to providing complimentary coach travel to away supporters would continue on this season. In an effort to manage the expenses associated with attending football matches, Stoke initiated this program in the summer of 2013, and thanks to the support of their owners, it has continued to be implemented ever since.
Promotion to the top-flight in 2008 first brought a £5m redevelopment of their training ground based in Trent Vale which the club used to rent from Michelin. The building opened in time for the 2010/11 season, and is now utilised by all sides representing the club, ranging from junior to senior levels, encompassing boys, men, and women. But, consequently, space is currently limited.
Plans have been unveiled for significant upgrades to their training facilities at Clayton Wood, and the club is currently engaging with neighbouring residents. This development entails the construction of a modern two-story building exclusively for the men's team, replacing the current grass area utilised for warm-ups. Simultaneously, the existing building, which is intended to have an additional floor for a parents' lounge, will be used by the academy and women.
In recent years the club have upgraded catering facilities, refurbished bars and lounges including the players’. Ricardo’s bar was introduced as well as new toilet facilities adding to media areas being improved and much more.
More than 8,400 new seats were installed in the Franklyn Stand, bringing the seating in line with the rest of the stadium which was upgraded over the course of 2016 and 2017. And, as the club said in February 2022 when the five-year plan was revealed: “The work represents the largest infrastructure project carried out by the Club since the construction of the South East Corner Stand.”
Off the pitch Stoke are getting Premier League ready, and the owners continue to emphasise their ambition to return to the top-flight of English football. Through the training facility development and refurbishments for the benefits of fan experience, the club is on the up. All that remains is for the team on the pitch to do the same and climb the Championship table to where they strive to be. Praised by many for their support - the Stoke faithful are desperate to see their side back at the top - and with everything and everyone pulling in the right direction, surely they’ll be back at the pinnacle of English football in the near future.