Stoke & Staffordshire

Stoke City fans savour first FA Cup final

Stoke City are appearing in an FA Cup final for the first time in the club's long history and their fans are savouring the occasion.

A total of 86 official supporters coaches arrived at Wembley for the match against Manchester City.

Ex-Stoke legend Denis Smith said the final had been "148 years in the waiting" and it would be "an emotional day if Stoke can lift the trophy".

Supporters from all around the world have made the trip to England. Among them is Kevin Palin, who is originally from Talke Pits, Staffordshire, but emigrated to Australia in the 1970s.

Image caption Stoke City fan Joanna Halfpenny, 31, was dressed up for the occasion

"I'm very emotional and I think my son handles it better than me," he said.

"Even though I live in Australia, I always think about Stoke. I'm going to reminisce and show my son where I came from."

John Hulme, who has been a fan for 60 years, lives near Brisbane and watches many of the games on the internet.

He came back before the semi-final and planned to stay until after the final because he was so confident of beating Bolton.

Guy Harvey, who flew in on Friday from Chicago, in the United States, said: "My son Dylan, he's a new Stoke supporter.

"He's the same age about when we started in 1970, so I think that's really great."

Cyclist Stephen Burton took three days to travel along canal towpaths from Cheadle, camping along the way.

Image caption Stoke fans showed their support outside Wembley

He said: "I stayed in a luxury hotel last night after a long bath and it's just lovely. It's just unbelievable, the atmosphere and everything."

It would seem putting on the team strip was not enough for Gareth Hughes. His family travelled in their Potters-mobile - named after the football club's nickname - emblazoned with Stoke City colours and the club badge.

Earlier, Stoke chairman Peter Coates said victory would mean a lot for the area.

"It gets out into the [Staffordshire] Moorlands and into Cheshire and into Shropshire, as well as the city itself, and of course our neighbours Newcastle," he said.

"We're all one and the same aren't we?

"It'll be a great, great day if we do it."

The biggest game in the football club's history was expected to bring tens of millions of pounds into the city's economy. The game is being broadcast in more than 70 countries.

Win or lose against Manchester City, Stoke have qualified to play in the Europa League next season, the club's first European fixture for nearly 40 years.

The FA Cup final will be one of the last games for Stoke's kit lady, Winnie Hudson, who has decided to retire after working for the club for 25 years.

She will be at Wembley to lay out the kit - and has the job of keeping manager Tony Pulis's lucky baseball cap safe.

Football fans are notoriously superstitious. Comedian Nick Hancock, a Stoke City fan, has had his hair cut in the week before every round of the FA Cup at the same barber's shop in Newcastle-under-Lyme. This week was no exception.

And, if the Potters do win the final, a victory parade has been pencilled in for 18 May.

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