After securing promotion to Division One, Stoke City part company with manager Gudjon Thordarson. Penny Stanley asks why and finds an answer
“It’s typical of Stoke,” the man said. “Only they could sack their manager five days after winning the play-offs.”“Thordarson messed up,” came the reply. “Didn’t he realise a club like Stoke are meant to underachieve every year?”
Gudjon Thordarson was sacked days before his contract ran out. He’d been offered a five-year deal when he signed in November 1999, but that was trimmed a year ago. This season he had to get promotion. And with our terrible play-off record – one win in eight games – he had to get us up automatically.
January began with us on top of the table. Then the injuries began. Our players broke bones in their feet months before it became fashionable. Peter Handyside and Brynjar Gunnarsson did it in the same game. Handyside recovered, then broke another bone while playing with his daughter. But the most serious injury was the blood clot Souleymane Oulare developed a few days after his first game for Stoke. He’ll never fly economy class again.
By now it was obvious Gudjon was not getting on well with the board. He complained publicly about the lack of funds available for new players. But he was adamant Stoke were going up, even as we slipped into the play-off zone. People began to have sympathy for him, although there were still some who could not forgive or forget his tactical errors of the previous season, nor his negative approach to the Cup match against Everton.
Not many thought we’d get past the play-off semis, especially after losing the first leg at home. But Stoke are always full of surprises and we managed a 2-0 win at Ninian Park. On his first appearance since developing DVT, Oulare deflected in the winner off his backside.
It seemed the board had been right to sell Peter Thorne and Graham Kavanagh to Cardiff months earlier, but Gudjon still complained about Thorne being sold without his permission, and that none of the fee was made available to him. Days before the play-off final he hinted other clubs were interested in him.
Not even victory at the Millennium Stadium could rebuild the relationship. After the game, chairman Gunnar Gislason said: “We need to look at who’s the best man to manage the club.” Then, at the homecoming party, Gudjon gave what in hindsight was a farewell speech. Immediately after his departure was announced, some fans started a campaign to reinstate him. This seems unlikely to succeed.
The irony is that Gudjon himself brought the Icelandic investors together to take over the club. He fell out with them because they couldn’t agree how much should be spent on footballers and their salaries. His sacking came on the same day Bradford went into administration as a result of overspending on wages. Maybe our board have got it right.
From WSC 185 July 2002. What was happening this month