Ground improvements announced
18 November ~ The news earlier this week that Stoke City were looking at expanding the Britannia Stadium's capacity to 30,000 might be more significant than it first appears. It only represents a modest increase of around 2,500 seats but it actually symbolises a little more than that. Since promotion in 2008 crowds at the Brit have held up remarkably well. All those who thought the novelty of Premier League football would wear off have been proved wrong and attendances have averaged steadily around the 27,000 mark for the last four seasons.
In the press release to announce the plans, the club pointed out that last week's gate for the game against QPR was the biggest of the season so far – no mean feat when Manchester City and Arsenal have both visited Stoke since August. This was due, the club said, to the fact that the away club had less fans in the ground, meaning extra Stoke supporters took the seats. They also produced stats to show that 25 per cent of the supporter base is now aged under-21 (a rise from 15 per cent in 2008) and said they would use the new seats to satisfy demand in this sector.
The club as a whole deserves tremendous credit for this. They have worked tirelessly in the last ten years to make Stoke City a real part of its community and, in doing so, have ridded us of the worst excesses of the lunatic fringe that blighted the Potters in the 1990s and early 2000s. In addition, while not cheap, they have kept ticket prices relatively affordable (mine is the same price as when we got promoted, for example).
None of this would be possible without success on the pitch, which is the real significance of the announcement this week. Chairman Peter Coates has always been quite vocal on the subject, insisting that the ground was getting no bigger until City were an established Premier League club. It seems that in his mind we are now able to call ourselves just that.
There has been little this season to suggest relegation. Tony Pulis's men don't win many but they don't lose many either. They have an excellent defensive record but the other side to that coin is that they barely score.
The Potters do just enough to keep away from trouble and make sure the club continues to evolve slowly. In many ways the proposed ground development sums up nicely Stoke City in the era of Pulis and Coates. Outwardly it seems slow but this is how they do things. On the pitch this season there is no long throw but the football hasn't improved much.
Occasionally supporters get exasperated but most are prepared to accept being boring in return for Premier League football and senior management, in the boardroom and in the dugout, which tries to do its best for the club. In this context, the filling in of one corner of the ground might not seem a lot but in the world of Stoke City, it represents a pretty radical decision. Andy Thorley