Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
Most modern-day English football grounds relocated from industrial town centres to city-limit trading estates are surrounded by fast-food chains and faceless retail outfits. Stoke City may have moved in 1997 from the Victoria Ground after 119 years, but look around the bet365 Stadium, stuck out by a windswept junction of A-roads way south of town, and you’ll find Stanley Matthews Way, Gordon Banks Drive and George Eastham Avenue.
This club, the second-oldest professional one in England, passed its 150th anniversary in 2013 with a trophy cabinet that contained one League Cup (1972), a Watney Cup, five Bass Charity Vases and sundry Staffordshire Senior Cups from the pre-Matthews era. Yet Stoke are a club of such resounding tradition and illustrious names that it somehow hardly matters – unless you happen to be a Stoke fan, of course.
Stoke-on-Trent, in fact, is not really a town at all, but a string of separate communities that developed with pottery, canals and coal mining. With Stoke-upon-Trent as the centre, these became Stoke-on-Trent in 1910, bestowed city status in 1925 – so Stoke Ramblers became Stoke City in 1928. Stoke-upon-Trent assumed this central role, not Hanley or Burslem, because that’s where the railway station was.
Burslem, in fact, is where you’ll find Port Vale FC – there is no place in the modern-day atlas called Port Vale. The world’s most famous Valiant, singer Robbie Williams, will have celebrated the club’s promotion to Division One in 2013.
Representing separate communities when their clubs were founded, Stoke and Port Vale have played the Potteries derby since 1887. The two did not meet in the league until 1920, and further encounters took place in short bursts as each ascended or descended the four divisions.
From 1957, no derbies were played until 1989, by which time this area of North Staffordshire had a serious hooligan problem. Geographically, Port Vale fans come from north of Stoke-on-Trent, Stoke’s from south of town, which is where the Victoria Ground was, near the Trent.
The last derby was in 2002. Sir Stanley Matthews himself, born in Hanley near Burslem, grew up a Port Vale fan. It was his father who accepted an offer of £1 a week from long-term Stoke manager Tom Mather for his son to start as a 15-year-old office boy. Matthews went on to play for Stoke until after his 50th birthday and lived long enough to open the new Britannia (later bet365) Stadium.
His ashes are buried beneath the centre-circle. During his entire career, he only scored once against Port Vale: his very first goal for Stoke, as a teenager, in 1933.
Arriving in town, local transport and tips
Four airports – Manchester, East Midlands, Birmingham and Liverpool – are all within 40-55 miles (64km-88km) of Stoke-on-Trent. The only one with an easy, direct train link to Stoke-on-Trent (every 1-2hrs, 1hr journey time) is Birmingham, with Birmingham International station accessible from the terminal by a free Air-Rail Link monorail. From Manchester Airport and Liverpool Lime Street, change at Manchester Piccadilly or Crewe (every 30mins-1hr, 1hr 15-30mins overall journey time). From East Midlands, take the skylink bus to Long Eaton (£3.50, every 20-30mins, 20min journey time) then the hourly train to Stoke-on-Trent (1hr journey time).
Stoke-based City Cabs (01782 844 4444) charge £55-£70 for transfers to/from each of the four.
Stoke-on-Trent train station is in the centre of Stoke-upon-Trent. The bus station is in Hanley, further north. Information on local buses can be found online. Those arriving by train can add a £3.20 PlusBus supplement to their fare and use services by the three main bus providers – Arriva, First and D&G – all day. There’s a taxi rank to your left as you exit Stoke-on-Trent station.
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for football fans
Traditional pubs cluster around the centre of Stoke-upon-Trent, a short walk from the station. The best place to watch the game is the Liquor Vaults, formerly The Talbot (119 Church Street), a corner pub set in an age-old building, where pool games are observed by a framed image of Bobby Moore and a Matthews-era Stoke line-up. Old regulars knowledgeably comment on the match action. Alongside, the Crafty Lion appeals to a younger crowd, with TV sport, drinks deals and DJs. Nearby, The Wheatsheaf dates back 200 years, and also shows matches, as does Ye Olde Bull and Bush.
Credible candidate for best pub in town, The White Star was the main town-centre outlet for Burslem’s Titanic brewery, decoratively themed after the maritime disaster. Sadly, the brewery pulled out at the end of June 2021, and the pub’s future isn’t certain.
The other candidate is The Glebe, a grand pub that predates the Victorian era, faithfully renovated by the Joules brewery. It’s halfway between the station and town centre. Inside, it’s a work of art.
On the other side of Stoke station, near Staffordshire University, The Terrace offers TV sport, pool and a beer garden. For a more rustic experience, The Beehive sits atop Honeywall, a steep stroll from Church Street but provides local ales and buses to the ground on match days.
The main hub of pubs and bars in Hanley is around the shopping centre. Here you can see games at The Auctioneer and the Market Tavern, while The Reginald Mitchell offers the usual Wetherspoons deals. Nearby, The Albion dates back to 1902.
Pubs in the centre of Burslem are all suitable for Port Vale, pre- or post-match.
Between Burslem and Stoke-on-Trent, the award-winning Holy Inadequate is worth the trek out to Etruria for its discerning range of ales and friendly welcome.
Venturing further out, the Greyhound Inn, Penkhull, is a classic pub of the roaring-fire, home-cooked food type, with regularly rotating cask ales. Once a yeoman’s house in the 1500s, it’s about a mile west of Stoke-on-Trent station.
Where to stay
The best hotels for the grounds and around town
Facing the bet365 Stadium, its lobby bar handy pre- and post-match, the Holiday Inn Express Stoke-On-Trent serves business travellers to Trentham Lakes, families heading for Alton Towers and, of course, football fans. WiFi, power showers and 32-inch flat-screen TVs facilitate everyone’s stay. The other nearby option, the Plough Motel on Campbell Road 15 minutes from the ground, closed in 2018 and is still awaiting new owners.
A five-minute walk from Vale Park, the historic George Hotel on Swan Square in the heart of Burslem was also put on the market in 2021. Also in Port Vale territory, just north of Vale Park in Tunstall, the Victoria Guest House is a lovely find, an affordable and well kept B&B set in an old pub run by welcoming couple Mandy and Mick. Bus 3 connects with Burslem and Hanley from the nearby roundabout.
Right opposite Stoke-on-Trent station, the North Stafford Hotel is also conveniently located. In Hanley, the former Quality Hotel on Trinity Street is now the Best Western Stoke on Trent, an old railway hotel with a pool and sauna, near the bus station an easy hop from Stoke station. A couple of hundred yards along Etruria Road, the Premier Inn Stoke-on-Trent (Hanley) is the most centrally located of the two in the area.