The 2021/22 campaign will bring up the 50th anniversary of a significant milestone in the history of Stoke City, with 4 March 2022 marking exactly half a century since they claimed their only major trophy to date.
A look at the decade as a whole makes the Potters’ triumph stand out even further. Five Clubs with trophy-winning traditions - Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest - dominated the period between 1970 and 1980 when it came to the League Cup, each winning the competition twice.
The exception, of course, were Stoke who, in winning the competition at Wembley Stadium in 1972 before a crowd of 97,852, achieved the biggest triumph in their history. They almost didn’t make it to Wembley, though, with their Semi-Final against West Ham - which began on this day 50 years ago - one of the best in League Cup history.
Three games couldn’t separate them – it took two dramatic penalty shoot-outs to do so. If the world’s top keeper, Gordon Banks, was the hero of the second game at Upton Park, the world’s top defender, Bobby Moore, almost upstaged him in the fourth. Playing as a goalkeeper following injury to Hammers number one Bobby Ferguson, he saved a penalty in the decider at Old Trafford… only for the rebound to be turned in.
For Stoke, it capped an incredible 11-game march to the Final. Coupled with their route to the FA Cup Semi-Final in the same season, their campaign would span 71 games in total, but victory over the Hammers had given them a first-ever trip to Wembley, and left them on the brink of silverware.
In a run stretching back 100 years, the Potters had never been to the National Stadium, and never won a trophy, but that all changed and they seemed destined to go on to beat the favourites, Chelsea, who had come through an exciting Semi-Final of their own. George Eastham, in his 36th year, was called out of retirement from South Africa and scored what proved to be the winner as the Potters won 2-1 on the day. “The old man has done it!” exclaimed Brian Moore on commentary.
The very next day, the streets of Stoke-on-Trent were filled with a quarter of a million people, who welcomed their heroes home for an open-top bus tour. In his 12th year as manager, Tony Waddington had moulded his team into one capable of winning trophies and, with a little more luck, the haul could have been much greater. Banks was still Stoke's and England's number one when a car crash just seven months after the trophy triumph cost him both the sight in his right eye and, eventually, his professional career.
The League Cup-winning side of ’72 are revered in the Potteries to this day and, 50 years on, will undoubtedly be celebrated by those associated with the club when this most special of anniversaries rolls around.