Tony Waddington – Stoke City Legend

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In this extract from the upcoming ebook covering Football Legends , PS Football takes a look at one of the most important figures in the history of the Potters, Tony Waddington.

tony-waddington

“Football is the working man’s ballet”

Born on the 9th of November 1924, Tony Waddington was, and some would say remains, Stoke City’s greatest ever Manager.

Waddington began his playing career as an amateur at Manchester United where he played number of games at wing-half before leaving to become a radio operator in the Navy during World War II. He served on the HMS Hound, a minesweeper and was involved in the D-Day landings.

Upon finishing his stint in the armed forces he was told that he would be unable to have a career in football due to a knee injury but despite this he continued to play with distinction, racking up an impressive 200 appearances for Crewe Alexandra. When he eventually hung up his boots he went in to coaching, joining Stoke City in 1952 as a young coach before being promoted to assistant manager in 1957.

The club was in free fall at the time and he took over the top job three years later. Arresting the slump was his first priority, he set about making the team as defensively sound as possible, putting together a backline that would become known as the Waddington Wall. The slide was halted and Stoke just about managed to avoid relegation, finishing three points above the drop.

Looking back it’s interesting to see the parallels between Waddingtons time in charge and what Stoke City are trying to achieve now. He had built a solid, hard to beat team, but now he needed to add some flair. If he was going to give the club any chance at promotion and bring the fans back  to the Victoria Ground, something had to be done. Then, as now, a big transfer brought a buzz to the club. Stanley Matthews, then aged 46, was brought back to the club for a token fee of 3,000 pounds. The iconic winger had begun his career at the Potters in 1932 before moving on the Blackpool, but his return sparked a change in the club. Generally regarded as the best player in the world at one point, fans began to fill the ground again with 35,000 showing up for his first game back at the Victoria.

Promotion was achieved the following season, 1962/63 and Waddington set about signing the players he would need to keep them in the division. He broke the clubs transfer record, bringing in Peter Dobing from Manchester City and also signed John Ritchie from Kettering Town, the young striker easily making the move up from non-league, he would go on the become the clubs record goalscorer. Safety was achieved and they also managed to get to a League Cup final, these were exciting times and they would soon get better.

Over the next few years, Waddington was able to capitalise on their new found status as a top club and he brought in World Cup winners Gordon Banks and George Estham, Jimmy Greenhoff, (the best English player never to play for England), and another returning legend, John Ritchie, joined up to help Stoke reach two consecutive FA Cup finals in 70/71 and 71/72. Sadly they lost both but that second season saw the club lift their first and really only major trophy, as they beat Chelsea 2-1 in the League Cup final.

Victory in the cup took Stoke to Europe and gave the club even more weight in the transfer market, another World Cup winner in Geoff Hurst was brought in and the team had eyes on the ultimate prize, a League title.

They came close a number of times but just when it seemed as though they might be able to take that next step, disaster struck. In January 1976, a severe storm hit Stoke-upon-Trent, the Victoria Ground was badly damaged and the roof of the Butler Stand collapsed. Costs to repair the stadium soared and the ambitious club were forced to sell of their most prized assets, their players, to pay for it.

Forced to field an inexperienced side the next season, Stoke City were relegated. Tony Warrington left the club after an incredible 25 years service. He returned as an associate director in 1991 and remained in that position until his death in 1994.

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