Chef Ivan is Stoked up at last

When Stoke City were promoted to the Premier League last week that could hardly have registered in the psyche of many football lovers in Cayman.

But there was at least one tenuous Caribbean link because a Stoke City fan who plied his trade as a chef for 10 years in Jamaica, was celebrating like mad back in Stoke.

Ivan Silk left the Courtleigh Hotel last year to return to his family home in Stoke, a town in middle England, to follow his team’s fortunes in their quest to join the Premiership elite.

That came last Sunday when Stoke ground out a drab 0-0 draw at home to Leicester City which clinched the runners-up spot in the Championship on the last day of the season.

Third-placed Hull City, the only team who could have denied Stoke, were beaten 1-0 at Ipswich Town.

West Bromwich Albion, were champions on 81 points, two more than Stoke.

While Albion are no strangers to Premier League campaigns in recent seasons, Stoke are now looking forward to their first one among the elite since 1985 and the $100 million windfall that promotion guarantees.

The contrast in emotions could hardly have been greater as the 0-0 draw sent Leicester City down to League One, the third tier in English football for the first time.

A premature pitch invasion by jubilant Stoke fans delayed the final few minutes at the Britannia Stadium, before the final whistle sparked wild scenes of celebration.

It was one of the happiest occasions of Silk’s years of following The Potters. It was so memorable for many reasons.

‘Having arrived home, I was just in time for the beginning of the season and started to attend the matches and realised I was in for a fine display of Championship football,’ he says.

‘A minority of the fans were not behind Stoke manager Tony Pullis and made their voices heard with abusive comments and gestures.

‘Having witnessed their achievements and their ride up the table there was a positive feeling buzzing around the Britannia stadium.’

Stoke’s key striker was Jamaican international Ricardo Fuller who became a consistent threat up front and scored the most important goals.

After an indifferent start, by January Stoke were aiming high in the Championship league and they drew Newcastle United in the third round of the FA cup at home. It was a 0-0 draw before a sell out crowd.

A replay a few weeks later saw 3,000 Stokies make the trip to the North East on a freezing Wednesday night.

‘I decided to take up a special offer from the club inviting Stoke fans to fly up with the team on a special charter flight,’ says Silk, 39.

‘This included a tour of St. James’ Park, a three-course dinner, and of course tickets to the game. We lost 4-1 but didn’t really care because we all had a great day out.

‘I will never forget this Geordie (Newcastle fan) sarcastically saying to me outside, ‘enjoy your long journey home’ (as well as other things). I can’t repeat what happened next!’

Other highlights for Silk were trips to Crystal Palace, Blackpool and Preston.

‘It was great bumping into old faces that I used to go to the matches with at the old Victoria ground before they demolished it in 1997.

‘It’s a shame the stadium moved from the city centre to the outskirts of Stoke. It will never be the same I have a lot of great – and bad – memories from the Victoria ground.

‘I’m sure all football fans can appreciate the nervous state of Stoke fans as the season was drawing to a close. The tension was building to breaking point, with a handful of games to go.

‘The top of the division was constantly changing hands with West Brom Bristol City, Watford and Stoke all vying for the top spot to enter the streets paved with gold of the Premiership.

‘All of a sudden, Hull City started to get a last minute burst of energy and make a positive attack on a automatic promotion place and scare the living daylights out of everyone.

‘A few games left and it was still open, anything could happen and we pulled it off with a not-so-convincing 2-1 away win at
Coventry which put us right back in it.

‘The message from the Stoke football club was to ‘believe’ and to rally around the team. At the end it came down to the last game of the season against Leicester. That was fantastic.

‘Another sentimental moment for me was seeing several Jamaican flags around the stadium, recognition of Fuller’s performances.

‘Certain Stoke fans have egg on their faces. I hope they never forget what they had just witnessed.

‘As for next season, I can honestly say we won’t become the next whipping boys of the Premiership. We have learned from mistakes made by others. It’s just a case of spending our good fortune wisely in the market.

Sadly, for Silk, he must return to work as following his favourite team drained all his resources. He is looking for another chef’s job in the English-speaking Caribbean, ideally Jamaica or even Grand Cayman.

‘I need to find a job. I have invested quite a lot of money into Stoke this season and it’s about time I need to focus on what’s more important in life than football and that is to make a living.

‘As much as would like to spend another year or so in my beloved home town of Stoke-on-Trent and watch Premiership football
next season, I have a little Caribbean blood in my
veins and I’m kinda pining to be reunited somewhere over there…doesn’t really matter where.’