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Meet the man who has done something we all dream of................

If you are a Stokie (part 1)

Jag hade tur och kom i kontakt med någon som de flesta Stokies här i Sverige förmodligen inte känner till. Han tillhörde Stoke City på 70-talet och spelade endast 9 matcher i A-laget och gjorde 2 mål. Han var väldigt lovande och omtyckt av publiken, därför blev många Stoke fans (inklusive jag) förvånade när han såldes. Skador tog snabbt slut på hans karriär som fotbollsspelare så vad hände sedan? Och hur var det att vara en ung spelare med så många stjärnor som Jimmy Greenhoff, Alan Hudson osv.?

Här kommer en intervju med John Ruggiero.

 First of all, your name John Salvatore Ruggiero does not appear to be a typical Stoke-on-Trent name; what is your family history?

 My name is Italian. Both my parents are Italian and they came to the UK after the War.

 As far as I can make out, you grew up in the Stoke area, how did you come into contact with Stoke City? Were you a Stoke fan as a child?

 I was born and raised in Stoke. The schools I went to were quite keen on sport and from an early age all I wanted to do was play football. I was always a Stoke fan but I also went to see Port Vale play as my brother supported them. As a schoolboy player I played for Stoke boys, Staffordshire Boys and also reached the last 24 players to be selected for England schoolboys; however I did not make the squad. During this period I had a lot of interest from many clubs to sign me. Blackpool, Leicester City, Derby County, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Coventry City, West Brom and I even had a letter from Arsenal inviting me to go training with them. I nearly signed for Coventry but the very last club to ask me was Stoke City and once this happened I knew where I would go. I could have signed at 15 yrs but I stayed on at school to take my exams so I joined when I was 16 yrs as an apprentice in 1970.  

Is it true that the younger players i.e. apprentices in England had tasks of cleaning the boots and painting etc.?

Yes. Being an apprentice was not very glamorous. We were young footballers but we had to do other things, such as sweeping the ground after a match, rolling the pitch after the match, general cleaning, putting the kit out for the 1st team squad, painting the terraces, doing the laundry. We did clean the boots and we were also asked to wear boots for the 1st team squad to break them in so we got the blisters not the stars of the team.  

Can you remember how much money you were first paid, and just how did it go about when wages were discussed in those days? No agents I presume then.

As an apprentice I was paid £14 a week I think but we also got an extra £6 to give to our parents as board money. When I signed as a professional I got £22 a week. As I got older I would get a regular increase but it was nothing much I think in my last year 1977 I was getting £60 basic pay but you could get more with playing and so sometimes I would get around £120 a week on a good week with a win. There were no agents and you were lucky to get a wage rise.  

How many teams did Stoke have at the time; was it youth team, reserve team and first team, and how did your career develop?

Stoke had many teams in my day. 1st team, reserve team, A team and B team. A & B were youth teams. I started in the A team and worked up to the reserves and in 1977 managed to get in the 1st team.

What about Tony Waddington or was he only involved in the first team?

Tony Waddington was a great manager I think this is common knowledge to all Stoke Fans. He was very close to his 1st team squad and as a young player you did not get many opportunities to get close to him. I’m sure he was very interested in your progress and I am grateful that he eventually picked me for the 1st team. He must have thought I was good enough. 

You would have played in the reserves for a couple of years. Were these games taking seriously by all players, or did some just go through the motions?

In my time the reserve team was a very important team and the league we played in was very competitive. A lot of the reserve teams included big players who were not in the 1st team and also players coming back from injury. We played every Saturday and at all the big stadiums, such as Old Trafford, Anfield, Elland Road, Hillsborough, Goodison Park and many more. It was great for the young players but you always hoped to make the first team at some point.  

Today we hear of players’ diets and special training routines; how was it in your day?

We didn’t know anything about diets; in fact looking back now it is hard to believe what we were eating and drinking. We used to eat big steaks before a game and drink a lot of fizzy drinks. Before a game we would all be sitting waiting to go out onto the pitch and somebody would enter the room with a whisky bottle, he would invite everybody to take a mouthful. This was supposed to calm the nerves, I’m sure some players had more than a mouthful !!. Training was pretty basic compared to today. We did a lot of running to get stamina and also used weights to build muscle. Yes we did have lots of time with the ball and that was always the most enjoyable. We had a small Gym at Stoke built into the Stand we used to play about 8 aside and it was really competitive how people never got seriously hurt I will never know, we used to kick lumps off each other, but the skill levels was also high and we learned how to make space and keep the ball. Before a big game the 1st team would always play the reserves in a training match. It was always taken seriously as the reserves would want to prove they were as good as the 1st team. I remember one game and Geoff Hurst was in the reserves and he must have been dropped from the 1st team. To prove a point he scored 4 goals and we won 5 – 0.

At Stoke at that time were some wonderful players: Hudson, Greenhoff and Pejic to name a few; were they helpful to the younger players like yourself, or did they see you as a threat? Any special memories of certain players?

During the early to mid 70s Stoke had a great set of players. They were all friendly towards the young lads and I do not think they ever felt threatened. We respected them too much. It was a real dream for me to have players like Gordon Banks, Geoff Hurst, Alan Hudson, Peter Shilton and many more being part of your life. Tony Waddington loved his team and he always went for experience, so the younger players found it really hard to make the 1st team. However I have to say that a few younger players did well such as Alan Dodd, Sean Haselgrave, Stewart Jump, Ian Moores and Garth Crooks. If I had to pick a favourite player it would be Jimmy Greenhoff followed by Alan Hudson, but they were all great players.

Who were your friends in the Stoke squad around this time?

When I first signed for Stoke I was very friendly with Ian Moores and Dave Goodwin as we all signed professional at the same time. Sadly Ian passed away but I recently played golf with Dave. The reserves had players like Terry Lees, George Jackson and Dave Hughes and they were all good mates. I also got on well with Steve Waddington who was the son of Tony and Garth Crooks. Players like Terry Conroy and John Mahoney were really friendly and always had a word of advice for you. Another player who I really liked was Alan Dodd he was a much underrated player and would have played for England at a bigger club. I was also very close to Alan A’Court who was the 1st team coach. Alan died recently but he took me on a football holiday to Zambia in 1971 where I actually played for a team in Zambia called Ndola, which was a great experience.

After the Butler Street Stand blew down in 1976, Stoke found themselves in financial trouble and many players left. Did you and the other younger players see this as your chance?

At the time I did not think to hard about it. OK the stand blew down but I did not think it would have such a massive impact on the club. Then of course players started to leave, Hudson, Pejic, Greenhoff. Shilton etc. Yes it did give me and others a better chance but to be honest we would all have rather kept the players.

Can you tell us about your debut?

My debut was against Manchester City at the Victoria Ground in 1977. I had waited so long for this chance and I was desperate to do well for myself and the team. There were 27.000 fans at the game and Man City were top of the league at the time. I played as a centre forward and was up against England defenders Watson and Doyle.  We lost 2-0 and were outplayed and I had a very average game. I could have scored late in the game which may have helped me stay in the team but it was very much of a letdown for me. The next match was West Ham away and I did not get selected so it was very hard to take. Mr Waddington did not really explain why but I suppose I knew I had let myself down so I did not feel like I could have complained much. 

Waddington left and Eastham took over. However, Stoke were on a slide. One encouraging aspect was, in my opinion, your breakthrough into the first team. Even if the team was struggling, you must have been happy how things were going for yourself?

Although everybody was in shock that Mr Waddington had left we knew that there was still a lot of ability in the team to succeed in the 1st Division. George Eastham was a legend at the club and had the respect of the players. George fixed me up playing for Cape Town City in South Africa for a season and I did well winning the league and cup in 1975. I knew that George liked me as a player so I felt that this could be good for me when he took over the team. He had already played me in a friendly match against Stockport which was a showcase for the return of George Best from America. Whilst Best, Hudson and Greenhoff were doing their party tricks I was quietly having a good game and it was clear that I was ready for another chance. Me on the same pitch as George Best that was something I never dreamed of !! My next game was against Liverpool at the Victoria Ground with 30,000 fans it was the Easter period of 1977 and the league was very tight so we needed to get a good result. This time I played in midfield and the next 90 minutes was my best of all time. We drew the game 0 – 0  I would like to think I was the man of the match and George spoke very highly of me after the game to the press. The Liverpool team included Kevin Keegan, Ray Kennedy, Ray Clemence and many other big names. The following week Liverpool won their first Champions League Cup so that’s how good they were.

You scored a couple of goals, I think?

After the Liverpool game I was on a high, I really thought I’d made the big time and would be a first team player at Stoke for years to come. On the following Monday we played Leeds at home and won 2 – 0. Leeds were a massive club at that time and I played really well.   I played nearly all the games left that season and was pretty consistent in all of the games. We played at Coventry and lost 5 – 2 but I managed to score both Stoke goals which again was very pleasing for me. We were mid table at Easter but then went on a bad run as we were drawing all our home games. I was just enjoying my time and never really thought about relegation

However, Stoke went down after losing at Aston Villa, what was the mood of the squad at that time?

I played at Villa and we needed to win to stay up but we lost 2-0 I think that Andy Gray scored a penalty. The mood must have been very low at that time but I did not personally feel too dejected as I knew that the following season I could really make an impression in the team. I remember when we got back to the Victoria Ground that night George asked Garth and myself into his office. He told us that as young players not to get to down hearted about getting relegated but to come back next season and do well.  

Del 2 komer imorgon

2011-04-25 09:53:00


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