Les Strong’s lifelong friend and Stoke City supporter of 52 years, Jeff Lee, gives us the lowdown on his club ahead of our trip to the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.
Stoke have been something of a draw specialist this season; what have you made of your campaign so far?
With the new players that have come in, I still don’t think we’ve found our best way of playing yet. I don’t think Charlie Adam has fitted in properly as I don’t think the manager knows exactly where to play him. But we’re playing alright – we’ve played a lot of the top sides and done well against them. This season was the first time we’ve gone to Chelsea and actually had a go at them rather than parking the bus. Although we’re down the bottom at the moment, I think we’re doing okay.
You may not have won many games but, as always, you’re proving difficult to beat. That resilience seems to have become a trademark of Stoke’s in recent years?
I think we’re slowing changing our style of play. Not everything is long ball and long throws anymore so it’s not quite the same. With people like Charlie Adam, Steven N’Zonzi and Glenn Whelan in the side, we’re tending to pass the ball a bit more so it’s not quite as bad as before, especially away from home - the first few seasons we were hopeless to be honest! It’s changing slowly but I think under Tony Pulis we’ll always be direct, but there’s a little bit more subtlety to it as well now.
How do you think both Stoke and Fulham will fare come the end of the season?
I think we’ll be alright, I think we’ll finish 12th or 14th, something like that. I think Fulham will definitely be in the top 10. They look really good and I think Dimitar Berbatov was a brilliant signing.
So is Berbatov the man you’ll fear the most on Saturday?
I think he’s brilliant. I watched Fulham on Sunday against Sunderland and I thought when he dropped deep he just ran the game. Fulham didn’t look like they only had 10 men.
And likewise, which Stoke players should we be wary of?
N’Zonzi is our best player at the moment, in my opinion. He picks the ball up in front of the back four and he never gives it away. He always finds a Stoke player which is something we don’t normally do. He was unlucky not to score in our last game at West Ham United too when he hit the bar with a great strike. He’s made a big difference. Matthew Etherington is also starting to get back to where he was in terms of form and I think he’ll be a danger as well.
What’s the best and worst thing about a trip to the Britannia?
It’s a good atmosphere, although it’s not quite as good as it used to be; we’re getting more fickle I think. Because we’ve been in the division for five years now, people are beginning to take it for granted. I suppose the worst thing is that it’s up high and it’s cold! Also, it’s not the easiest place to get to. It’s not like the old ground which you could walk to from anywhere in Stoke.
Where would you recommend Fulham fans go to grab a pint before the game?
If they haven’t got colours on then the place we go is the White Star in Stoke itself. It says no away fans but if they haven’t got colours on then they’ll be alright. You don’t get any problems in there, it’s no trouble. If they have got their Fulham colours on then they can get met at the station by police who direct away fans to either the Student Union bar or the Terrace. The Glebe is alright too; if you come off the train and walk towards Stoke, it’s by the town hall so you can’t really miss it. You won’t get any problems in there either.
Being a close friend of Fulham legend Les Strong, does that mean you’ve got some affection for the Whites?
I have got a soft spot for Fulham because I’ve known Les since I was two! I used to go and watch him sometimes, when Stoke weren’t playing.
You must have some decent Les Strong anecdotes having known each other for that long?
When we were kids we always used to play football in the flats where we lived, although I maintain he wasn’t the best player out of all of us! There were a few lads who used to be able to take the ball round everyone and score hundreds of goals. My old man always used to say that out of all of us, Strongy would be the only one who makes it as he’s the best player and everyone would disagree and say he’s rubbish!
A more recent story would be the time he made me miss a Stoke v Fulham game! It was a couple of years ago when it snowed and I rang him up to ask if Fulham were going to make it. He said it would definitely get called off so I gave it a miss and then of course it went ahead! We won that one 3-2 as well so, as you can imagine, I wasn’t best pleased with him for that!
How do you see Saturday’s match going?
I’d go for a score draw. We normally do alright against you at home but you’ve got players that can hurt teams. Also, you weren’t very good away from home but that’s actually improving as well, so I think a draw.