Talking Stoke City with… Alfa 9

Alfa 9
Alfa 9… Port Vale 0

It’s crunch time for Tony Pulis and Stoke City – at least it was when Football Burp spoke to Alfa 9 singer/guitarist Phil Mason on the eve of the Potters’ probable safety-clinching 1-0 win over Norwich City.

Relegation fears may have subsided but discontent remains rife amongst the Britannia faithful, so this was an opportune time to speak to the Stoke-supporting front man of a band whose recent Gone to Ground album delighted us with its West Coast harmonies and beaming melodies. Feast your ears on this choice cut…

Stoke look just about safe, bus is that enough?

This weekend will be the big decider: if we can get three points against Norwich, I think we’ll be sorted. It would be dicing with death if we’re relying on beating Sunderland, Southampton or Spurs to stay up, especially away to Sunderland because they’ve been given a new lease of life by Paolo Di Canio.

Are you still behind Tony Pulis?

It’s difficult one because he’s been so good for the club and the city in getting us to the Premier League and keeping us there, but it’s getting to the point where he’s maybe taken things a little bit too far. It may be time for him to move on.

Who would you like to see replace him?

That’s difficult too. Sometimes it’s a case of “better the devil you know”. I think the fans are split right down the middle about whether they’d like him to stay or go. It might be wishful thinking but I’d like to see someone like Di Matteo who plays good football. A lot of people have got disheartened by the style of football – even if we were mid table…you know, do we really want to watch that again? There’s no guile. I don’t think it’s the position in the league as much as the style of play that’s disillusioned some fans.

Does it stick in the throat that he didn’t make more out of players like Jermaine Pennant, Tuncay and Eidur Gudjohnsen?

Yes, that’s been one of the main criticisms: he buys these players , you think “great”, then they just vanish into the ether and no one knows why. There’s been Wilson Palacios as well, even Michael Owen – I know he’s a little bit past it now but, come on, it’s Michael Owen. There’s a bit of a mystery as to why these players come to Stoke, they manage to play four or five games and then they vanish.

Pennant’s a prime example – he was fantastic when he first came. We had Pennant on the right and Etherington on the left bombing down the wing, getting crosses in. Pennant was looking different class, then all of a sudden something happened backstage and we never see him again.

Could you name your player and goal of the season?

Well, we’re struggling for goal of the season! Maybe Peter Crouch’s goal against QPR last week because it relieved so much pressure. I know it was only a tap in but it was so important to score the first goal – you could feel the relief.

As for player of the season, I’d go for Steven N’Zonzi. He looks like one of those midfielders who can get the ball down and pick a pass out, although I don’t think he’s really had the opportunity to pick a pass out because we’ve been playing one up front. I think he’d come on more if we go back to 4-4-2.

What would you say has been the biggest disappointment of the season?

I think it’s got to be the league position. We were looking a solid side for the first half of the season but everything seemed to go downhill after Christmas. Every year we spend a bit more money and you think “these players will take us further on” but this year looks like being the lowest position we’ve had.

Something must have gone wrong since Christmas – I don’t know if it was the talk of Asmir Begovich going to Manchester United or Chelsea, but things haven’t been quite the same since that January transfer window.

It’s my fault – I loaded my Fantasy team with Stoke defenders back when you were keeping all those clean sheets, and since then you’ve collapsed completely.

That’s always the case, isn’t it? I had one transfer last week, put a Manchester City player in and they lost 3-1.

Do you manage to get to the Britannia much?

I go when I can but it’s tricky because of the band. Also three of us from the band play football on Saturdays when we can, at a local amateur level. I’m a striker, one of the other lads is a midfielder and the other one’s a centre half, so we’re like the spine of a team!

If you had to select a five-a-side team from all the Stoke players you’ve ever seen, who would you pick?

Begovich – he’s such a class goalkeeper. If it wasn’t for him we’d be in even more trouble at the moment. At the back I’d have Robert Huth because he epitomises the spirit that we hope carries on at Stoke. He’s the Berlin wall at the back. I’ll go for Carl Beeston in midfield and Mark Stein up front. Stein’s there for his goal against Stockport at Wembley for the 1992 Autoglass Trohpy final, and for his finishing ability. We could do with Mark Stein now.

On the other hand, I like Ricardo Fuller – he’s had his critics but I’ve seen him do the kind of things on a football pitch that you see top level players doing. Making something out of nothing. He was a great player for Stoke.

Phil Mason, thank you.

Alfa 9 - Gone to Ground

Gone to Ground is out now on Blown Up Records. For more information, please visit the official Alfa 9 website.