Despite being unbeaten in September, Stoke City have new owners and a new manager. Penny Stanley tells us why
September was a surreal month for Stoke fans. The team didn’t lose a single league match, earning an award for Gary Megson (Mr Third Choice Manager when he was appointed just two months previously). Kyle Lightbourne, a £500,000 flop throughout the previous 18 months, suddenly looked like a contender for player of the season.
However, the most surprising news of all was that talks were going on between the club and potential new buyers. Many fans had assumed it would be a cold Tuesday night in hell before Keith Humphreys and Peter Coates relinquished their positions as chairman and vice-chairman of the board.
In the past few years, first Coates then Humphreys showed they could meet with triumph and disaster and treat them both by selling a player to balance the books. In the short term this policy seemed to facilitate the move to the Britannia Stadium. Long term it transformed Stoke into an average Second Division side.
Recently, an increasing number of supporters have shown their intolerance by staying away from home fixtures. Others chose to protest in different ways, including a group called Save Our Stoke. SOS pressed for investment in the club and communication with supporters. At the start of this season, both of those seemed unattainable. It was therefore a defining moment in our lives to hear of interest in a takeover of the club by an Icelandic consortium. The fact that we heard about it via the media in Iceland rather than through Stoke City came as no surprise.
It was the former Iceland national team manager, Gudjon Thordarsson, who came up with the idea of taking over Stoke after visiting the city several times last season to keep tabs on defender Larus Sigurdsson. Thordarsson saw the potential in both the new stadium and the fan base. When he discovered that the club was looking for investors, Thordarsson began to put together the consortium that has now taken control.
The new chairmen is 34-year-old Gunnar Thor Gislason. As well as boasting an MBA, he appears to have substantial management and investment experience with family businesses in Iceland. Other directors include Elfar Adalsteinsson and Asgeir Sigurvinsson. The local press in Stoke tried to print something interesting about Adalsteinsson but could only come up with his involvement in “one of the most prestigious seafood processing companies in Iceland”.
Sigurvinsson, however, was a professional footballer for 17 years and was Germany’s player of the year in 1984. For the past two years he has been technical advisor to the Iceland national team, as well as having a scouting position with Stuttgart.
The other two directors, unsurprisingly, are still Coates and Humphreys. Many supporters are bitter that these two have not left, but their reduced shareholding means they are unlikely to influence matters much any more. We seem set to be stuck with them for many years to come, however, as their penultimate act before relinquishing power was to vote themselves on to the board for life.
Their final deed was to issue 550,000 new shares, to be sold at £1 each. Hopefully these will be offered to ordinary supporters – this would certainly help to rebuild the relationship between the board and the crowd. Some fans claim they will never return to the Britannia Stadium now anyway. Any love they had for the club died over the past couple of dire seasons. A few people will continue their boycott while Coates and Humphreys are still around.
Meanwhile just about everyone felt sorry to lose Gary Megson – his four months as manager saw the team finally playing with a bit of pride. But investment is more important to Stoke than sentiment. The debts and the overdraft are being dealt with and after 21 months it looks like we’re going to be buying a new player or two. Hands up if you can guess what nationality they’ll be.
From WSC 155 January 2000. What was happening this month