Mark Hughes was a bit surprised that Stoke City fans gathered at the city’s railway station on Saturday night to lambast both him and his team after a 5.1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley.
“When I was a young man I had better things to do on a Saturday night than trainspotting or lambasting, to be honest. Apart from that, I was surprised to see so many people, especially when you consider that we haven’t won in London for 16 games now. I haven’t seen so many red and white scarves since Sunderland last won a match – in the mid-1970s I think it was.”
When asked about fan loyalty he was equally incredulous.
“What is the matter with these people? Why would you get up early; travel all the way down there on a dirty, crowded train; get ripped off by the hot dog sellers inside and outside the ground and on the pitch, then repeat the process just to get back to Stoke? That is still resonating. Sometimes you need a reality check. These people need to look in the mirror – not just the one, obviously, as that would lead to even more overcrowding – but they need to reflect on what it is they’re doing, week in and week out. Sometimes my players turn up and more often they don’t. I think our fans could learn a lot from that.”
Prompted for a reaction to news that the angry fans had to be locked on the train while his players disembarked, he showed off his appreciation for British (or possibly European) engineering.
“We pressed the panic button, but I can understand it – some people won’t like you or your teams, your picks, your substitutions; some don’t like your hair or the way you speak. Sometimes you just have to lock yourself away and work things out quietly. I think that’s what these very loud people were doing on Saturday.”
Reminded that they were accusing Stoke players of not being fit to wear their shirts, Hughes was quick to assess the situation and showed his innate ability to change things when things are apparently going nowhere.
“I heard what they said and, yes, we certainly are suffering some knocks and other imaginary injuries, so I can see why the shirts are looking a bit creased at times. Footballers tend to hunch over each other when decisions are going against them, though all I try and do is to get them to stand up straight and keep out of arguments – just like I did when Everton gave me a free transfer to join Blackburn Rovers.”
On team selection, Hughes was unrepentant.
“We scored two good goals. Ryan Shawcross may have aimed in the wrong direction for their first but it’s not easy when all these people are yelling in your ear, singing songs about Delilah and the like. I’ve never liked Tom Jones, to be fair: how can you possibly trust anybody from South Wales or Austria? Marko Arnautovic hasn’t exactly set the world alight at West Ham, has he? Oh… Give me the old Racecourse Ground any day. Besides, Ryan more than made up for his self-abuse when he gave us a platform to build on, ten minutes from the end.”
Reminded that Stoke were five goals down at that point, Hughes then illustrated the insight that has made him one of the great football managers.
“Mathematics don’t really come into it – it’s all about effort and commitment, and I thought we really frightened the ball boys in the first half.”
Asked whether Stoke were now in a relegation fight, Hughes showed that he too watches Match of the Day.
“Let’s not forget that Paul Clement manages Swansea with a permanent frown, and David Moyes is bursting bubbles at the London Stadium. If Wilfried Zaha gets injured, opposition players won’t have anyone else to foul, so I suppose that gives Palace the best chance of survival.
As for Stoke, who in their right mind would travel all the way up here to get beaten, let alone all the way back again? We have a phrase to describe our progress – which we often use as a little motivational aid out on the playing ground: ‘points failure.’”