When Stoke City first arrived in the Premier League, under Tony Pulis, Arsenal were the sophisticated passing side the Potters wanted to beat the most. In doing so, they turned into one of the teams Arsenal wanted to face the least.
And somewhere along the way, perhaps one of the strangest fan quirks in the entirety of football was born: Stoke fans who boo Aaron Ramsey every time he touches the ball.
Every so often, football includes those moments that remind you just how dangerous bad tackles can be. Whether they have intent to cause harm or not isn’t really the point when it comes to their horrific consequences. In reality, legs don’t stay intact because there was no malice. Physics doesn’t care if you’re ‘not that kind of player’.
One of those moments happened at the Britannia Stadium in February 2010.
As Ramsey poked the ball past Ryan Shawcross – and crucially, just after he’d planted his foot onto the ground again – the Stoke defender’s lunge caught the Welshman square on the shin, breaking his leg in multiple places. The reactions of the players around the incident tell you all you need to know. The results of that challenge were was sickening.
Since then, that moment has almost become the defining one of the Welsh international’s career. It may have been seven long years ago, but since then, Ramsey’s career has been about whether or not he could shrug it off.
It’s still talked about. And by some Stoke fans, too. Last season, it made the headlines once again as Arsenal traveled to the Britannia and Ramsey was booed when he touched the ball, as well as singing some fairly inhumane songs about the injury, too.
It’s unclear where the animosity comes from. After the injury, Ramsey’s first public comments thanked the medical staff from both teams for their help, as well as well-wishing fans and Stoke midfielder Glenn Whelan, who was first on the scene to try to help and comfort the injured player. What the statement didn’t mention, however, was Shawcross, who had allegedly apologised to the Welshman.
That was reported, somehow, as a ‘snub’ – one of those great footballing cliches – and the accusation may have stuck. After all, it’s probably going beyond the call of duty to publicly praise a guy who broke your leg last week.
Even if that were the case, it’s quite incredible that anyone should be the subject of abuse for not publicly accepting an apology. It just goes to show how football is often sealed off from the rest of reality.
This weekend, Arsenal – and Ramsey – will return to the scene of the crime, as it were. The Britannia Stadium. To face Stoke in a game which could well define their push for the top four and Champions League football once again next season.
That means overcoming Mark Hughes’ side. And even if the Potters have lost some of their physical edge in favour of growing into a team who play more attractive football, the visit of Arsene Wenger and his team might not require too much extra motivation, even for a set of players who currently find themselves marooned in mid-table with nothing else to play for.
It’s a familiar situation around the Britannia, for a club who have finished in ninth place in each of the last three seasons, and are only two points behind the same position yet again this time around. They’ve finished between ninth and 14th every year since 2009, their first season in the Premier League. Maybe when you’re safe from relegation but unable to challenge for Europe, it’s unsurprising that the boos and chants begin.
So do some Stoke fans really hate Ramsey so much that they’ll boo him again this weekend? Or are those fans just so bored by their own side’s mediocrity that they prefer to indulge in something so callous and inhumane rather than watch their team play?