Well known in England for their vocal support, Stoke City FC fans had something else to cheer as they welcomed the UEFA Europa League Truck Tour ahead of their round of 32 opener against Valencia CF.
After visiting six countries during the group stage, the UEFA Europa League Truck Tour, organised by UEFA in conjunction with adidas, returned this week with a visit to Stoke-on-Trent, where hordes of fans, decked in red and white, embraced displays of captivating memorabilia from past contests in the competition: signed shirts from participating teams, and the competition's official match ball.
Here in Stoke, in the English midlands, local identity and pride, once synonymous with a thriving ceramic industry, are now channelled through the football club, embarking on their first European campaign since 1972.
Formed in 1863, the Potters are one of 12 founding members of the Football League. They have produced some of England's finest exponents of the game – none more celebrated than Sir Stanley Matthews, whose statue outside the stadium is a constant reminder of an illustrious history; past glories manager Tony Pulis is striving to rekindle.
It was not long before fans were emulating the 'Wizard of Dribble' as they competed on the adidas Predator Pass Tool – showcasing both speed and ability by striking the ball against lighted panels. Another main attraction inside the truck was the video game corner, where supporters pitted their skills against each other in the latest Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 game, while those favouring the real thing cast an eye over highlights from last season's competition.
The Grab Your Ticket competition was also a resounding hit, with fans scrambling around a booth in the hope of catching an elusive prize ticket among a whirl of others bearing the UEFA Europa League emblem. Mark Holland, a lucky winner of an official match ball and a Stoke fan for more than 30 years, said: "It's fantastic to have the tradition, history and excitement of UEFA football back at Stoke. Five years ago, you wouldn't have believed that we would be in the last 32 of the Europa League, playing one of Spain's top clubs."
A variety of prizes were handed out, including adidas UEFA Europa League caps, UEFA Respect T-shirts, UEFA Europa League match balls and mini-balls, home club jerseys, pins, stickers and supporter guides.
Next week, the travelling roadshow will be at the Arena AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, for the round of 32 second leg between FC Schalke 04 and FC Viktoria Plzeň on 23 February – and will feature a special appearance by the UEFA Europa League trophy.
Further dates will be announced in due course. The truck will also be present in Bucharest in the days building up to the UEFA Europa League final at the National Arena on Wednesday 9 May.
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