I was standing in the upper tier of The Shed End, Stamford Bridge on Sunday evening when it happened. Surrounded by 3,000 Stoke fans, I applauded off our courageous, lion-hearted but beaten team, as our FA cup rollercoaster finally came to a halt at the hands of an excellent and industrial Chelsea side. It wasn't even a particularly good performance in all fairness either, Stoke were poor in many areas of the park, but still, they left the pitch, with their heads held justifiably high, as FA Cup quarter finalists.
As the applause swirled around me, I swear the sparse clouds parted and a ray of sunlight hit me, and I could at last see what Tony Pulis was building at our famous old club. It was more likely a full day's drinking in The Capital than divine intervention, but either way, it was there in all it's glory, the work in progress that is Stoke City Football Club. Tony Pulis and Peter Coates have often been quoted on their three year plan for our club, which will see us cement our place as an established Premier League side. It's easy in the current world of oil rich sheikhs and sugar daddies to get sucked into the 'instant success' line of thinking and want. A world in which an obscene amount of money is being thrown at clubs, yet in which we continue to progress. For all the ridiculous money spent at Manchester City, they will still finish this season with the same amount of Silverware as Stoke.
The situation at Stoke brings to mind the fable of the two blokes building their houses. Whilst Man City build their foundations on sand, that will collapse and take the club with it, as is happening at Portsmouth, Stoke continue to graft and build their foundations upon solid rock. Its an old cliche that is spouted all too often, but you really have got to look at where we were as little as 4 years ago. The job that Peter Coates and Tony Pulis took on is nothing short of colossal. It's no less a mountain than the plastic surgeon faced with having to turn Susan Boyle into Megan Fox. It might have a 1% chance of ever succeeding, but when you throw in the fact that this body has still got to function, breathe and exist whilst the work is carried out, it makes odds of John Terry being invited to Wayne Bridge's next birthday party look more favourable.
And that's what's happening at Stoke. Pulis and Coates have gone out to build a football club that can not only hold it's own in the greatest league in the world, but continually progress. They've also been very clever about it too. For every Tommy Sorenson and Abdoulaye Faye who have been brought in to do a job in the short term, there's a Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth and Asmir Begovic who are the future of this club. If each of these individuals realises their potential then we already have in our fold the beginning of a world class team, which may be together for the next 7-8 years at least.
The capture of Huth's Middlesbrough team mate Tuncay was also an ingenious move by Pulis, and a necessity in the vision that is our future. Fans can argue about where he should/ shouldn't be playing, but in truth, where or even how Tuncay plays is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Stoke's signing of Tuncay was more than the adding of a great footballer to our side. It was a sign of intent. It was a message to every other possible target out there that we mean business, and that if a big name such as the Turkish Captain was willing to come to us, then we must be going places. It's like the moment that the buffet is uncovered at a party. No matter how hungry you are or how much you fancy it, you don't really want to be the first one up there. As soon as your Uncle Len goes up, the floodgates open and everyone's up there. And that's what Tuncay's capture has meant to this club. Whether he stays or goes this Summer, we'll be seen with a bit more glamour and creditability for having lured him here in the first place.
As well as trying to persuade Tuncay to stay this Summer, Tony Pulis will be up against his toughest task yet in trying to keep our 'jewel in the crown' that is Ryan Shawcross. Fabio Capello has himself added to our master plan, by finally calling up the young centre half. It's another resounding message to the footballing world that we are finally becoming a force in English football, that if you come to Stoke, you'll be doing your international chances no harm at all. And Stoke should thank Mr Capello for sticking to his ethos that if a player is good enough, it doesn't matter who he plays for, he'll be selected. The only downside being that Ryan has been thrust into the limelight like never before, which will make Pulis' job of keeping Ryan a Stoke player, all the more difficult.
It's a job he must succeed at though. Ryan is instrumental to everything that this club will eventually become. He's a future England captain. Compare the last week or so of the lives of Ryan Shawcross and former captain John Terry. Both have been thrust into the pages of every national newspaper all week, and both vilified in some quarters. One of these men has issued an apology for his actions (despite it being an accident) and kept his head down, continuing to learn all that he can from those who have offered their advice and support. The other decided to perform an interview on national television, topless but for his captain's armband, in what looked to be an incredible assault at the manager of his national side. After the conduct of both of these centre halves in the past week or so, I'd be a lot more confident that Stoke's young lion will be representing his country in South Africa, than Chelsea's despicable reprobate.
Leaving Stamford Bridge yesterday there was no real sense of disappointment at not reaching a Wembley semi-final that you'd expect. Every Stoke fan seemed to wear the same smile. The smile of pride and belief that if we can reach an FA Cup quarter final during our metamorphosis stage, then maybe, just maybe we're destined for great things once the plan has been realised. The future is most certainly bright. If we continue to enjoy days like yesterday, and beat the likes of Arsenal, Man City and Tottenham, whilst the 'Work in Progress' sign is swinging, imagine what we will have become by the time the 'Open for Business' sign is displayed...