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Stoke aim to make a noise on European return

Stoke City FC play their first European tie since 1974 when they host HNK Hajduk Split on Thursday hoping that the loudest supporters in the Premier League can help roar them to glory.

Matthew Etherington (centre) celebrates in front of England's noisiest supporters
Matthew Etherington (centre) celebrates in front of England's noisiest supporters ©Getty Images

When Stoke City FC last hosted European visitors in September 1974, the Osmonds' 'Love Me For A Reason' was top of the UK charts, men were wearing platform heels and vogueish football fans were tying scarves around their wrists.

Fashions have changed somewhat in the intervening 37 years but when UEFA Europa League rivals HNK Hajduk Split visit the Britannia Stadium on Thursday night, they might discover one thing that has not – namely Stoke's ability to make life difficult for visitors from the continent.

The club from the Potteries region – so-called for its centuries-old tradition of ceramic production – may have played only two previous home games in Europe, during a brief dalliance with the UEFA Cup in the 1970s, but they earned creditable results at their old Victoria Ground.

In the 1972/73 first round, a Stoke side fresh from winning their only major honour, the English League Cup, beat 1. FC Kaiserslautern 3-1, with one of their goals coming from England's 1966 FIFA World Cup hero Geoff Hurst; two years later, meanwhile, they held AFC Ajax 1-1 thanks to a late Dennis Smith equaliser.

Both ties were lost in the subsequent away legs though winger Matthew Etherington hardly needs a history lesson to know the importance of a good home showing to Stoke's prospects. "We have to win at home if we are to progress – whether it be one goal or two, or whatever," the 29-year-old said. "Hajduk are a very, very good side and I know how difficult it will be to go there next week. The last thing we want is to have to go there needing to win."

It should help Sir Stanley Matthews' old club that in the Britannia Stadium they have one of the Premier League's noisiest arenas. A study in 2008/09 – Stoke's first season back in the top tier after 23 years – found their fans to be the loudest in the division. Whatever the merits of that claim, Stoke certainly enjoy their home comforts – ten of last term's 13 league wins came at the Britannia and only five of their 18 defeats.

Tony Pulis, their Welsh manager, and Peter Coates, their wealthy owner and a boyhood fan, have together built a team that earned Stoke a first FA Cup final appearance last May. Although they lost 1-0 to Manchester City FC, their presence in the final was enough to secure a ticket to Europe for a side that finished 13th in the league.

With the long throw of Rory Delap, Stoke have earned a reputation for no-frills football but Pulis can call on talented wingers Etherington and Jermaine Pennant – who played in the 2007 UEFA Champions League final with Liverpool FC – and, moreover, has other players with considerable European experience in goalkeeper Thomas Sørensen and centre-backs Robert Huth and Jonathan Woodgate.

Captain Ryan Shawcross, anticipates an evening to remember on Thursday. "It's going to be an incredibly special occasion. It's the first time in almost 40 years that the club have been in Europe and it will be the first ever competitive European game to be played at the Britannia Stadium," he said. The 70s have long gone but Hajduk will certainly come and feel the noise.