Welcome to Paul Sergeant who has earned the right to be our second super fan. Here’s his story :-
Born on 11 September 1961 and brought up in Meir I used to walk to the Victoria Ground (when it was safe to do so as a kid) to save my bus fare and buy a programme. My neighbour took me to my first ever ‘live’ game v Motherwell in the Texaco Cup in September 1971. Under the floodlights the pitch was glowing, we won 4-1 and I was hooked. Even as a 10 year old I used to take myself to the game and sit on that little white wall in front of the Butler Street Stand wrapped up in my fake Parker (we couldn’t afford the real thing). I was there when we smashed Arsenal 5-0 with the game captured by the Match of the Day cameras and TC scoring what I still consider to be the Goal of the Season and was there when we beat those cheating sods from Leeds 3-2 coming from two goals down to end their unbeaten run. Denis (another Meir boy) rose like a salmon and ‘bang’ the game was ours.
Occasionally I used to take my sister to game and we’d stand in the Stoke End. To pay my way I used to wash cars and do a paper round. I bought my own season ticket in the Butler Street for about the next four seasons and when I was about 15 I got a job as a programme seller at the Victoria Ground. My commission was ½p per programme plus a ticket to the game in the Boothen End. I used to stand on the away supporters car park next to the bridge by the canal. It could be a bit nerve wracking as a youngster but nobody ever said making money was easy and it was good business because no one else wanted to do it and an away supporters money is just as good as anyone else’s. I remember being robbed of my programmes and money belt by Blackburn fans and then being tossed into the canal for good measure so it was certainly character building. I also recall the chaos and confusion on the day of the FA Cup 3rd round tie against Blyth Spartans. It was a 3 o’clock kick off on a Saturday afternoon but called off around about kick off time with most people already in the ground. I didn’t mind because I’d sold out of programmes on the Saturday and it meant I had another go a couple of days later on a night I know we’d all like to forget.
Banksy was my boyhood hero and I was devastated when he had his car smash. I remember thinking that I was sure he was good enough to play with one eye but it was not to be. John Farmer was a great understudy though and I never really understood why he didn’t make it at Stoke before we bought Shilton.
Fast forward a few decades and I now live in Melbourne having been on an incredible journey since leaving school with a couple of O Levels and a CSE. I never did make it to college or university but chose to work for a living. My first job was at a slaughterhouse before moving to Tuscan China in Longton as a labourer. I was made redundant Christmas week in 1980 – thank you Tuscan China, it changed my life although I didn’t realise it at the time because I swear that if I hadn’t been made redundant I’d still be there now. After 6 months on the dole I got a summer job as a cleaner at Alton Towers starting on Charlie & Di’s Royal Wedding Day of 29 July 1981. I left 4 years later as the Public Catering Manager and went on the road which included working at the Stoke Garden Festival in 1986. I took a huge leap of faith to join Wembley in 1988 as their Junior Assistant Merchandising Manager and by June 1991 I was promoted to Commercial Director 3 months before my 30th birthday. I took charge of Wembley Stadium & Arena in about ’95 and was the man responsible for Wembley at Euro ’96, an amazing experience and a long way from Tuscan China!!! I left the debacle that was the ‘new’ Wembley in 2000 and spent a year doing freelance work before going on to become the CEO of The Millennium Stadium for 3½ years before moving to Australia in 2007. Having been in charge of venues in Brisbane and then Sydney I became CEO of Etihad Stadium in October 2012. I’ve had wonderful support along the journey from family, friends and work colleagues, many of whom are now close friends. They played key roles over the highs and lows of my development over the journey and certainly played their part in me being awarded an OBE in 2006, being named the International Venue Manager of the year on 5 occasions and becoming the first Ambassador of London on the back of the huge success of Euro ’96.
Turning to Australia, Melbourne’s proving to be an awesome place to live. It’s sports mad and full of wonderful restaurants. Most importantly, there’s a Stoke Supporters Club Melbourne branch. AFL dominates this City but football (I struggle to call it soccer) is getting stronger and stronger. We have two A-League teams in Melbourne, Melbourne City, recently acquired by Manchester City and Melbourne Victory. We host the 5 biggest Victory games each season and they average just under 30,000 a game. My Stadium, Etihad Stadium also has 5 AFL teams that call it home plus a Big Bash team. It’s a busy place. Now Stoke has a link with Melbourne through new signing Peter Skapetis. I’ve not seen him play but those who know him tell me he’s a talented forward that has some mongrel in him which won’t go amiss at The Britannia.
Aside from work, I’m fortunate enough to have a wonderful family with my Australian wife Chris and two children, Bo (11) and Coco (5). We enjoy the wonderful lifestyle Australia has to offer but I never forget my roots, keep in touch with my brother Jim and sister Donna on a regular basis and visit the UK (and Stoke once or twice a year and try to take in a Stoke game if timing permits). One thing I have done since living here is learn to cook oatcakes. I’m still perfecting the art but they are coming on a treat.
Paul Sergeant O.B.E.