Once more aboard HMS Pisstheleague. Captain: We are back on the water, Number One. 1st Mate: But why are we sailing to Stoke? It is about as far from the sea as you can get in the Championship, Sir. Captain: That may be true, Number One, but Stoke has a strong maritime history. The captain of the Titanic came from Stoke. In fact there is a good local brewery there called the Titanic Brewery. You should visit when we arrive. I had their fine Titanic ale the last time I was there. However, when I asked the barman if it was called that because it went down well he just looked at me, Number One. 1st Mate: You should have asked for ice with it, sir. Captain: Perhaps I should have. Next time, maybe. If you want to learn about Stoke you should read Arnold Bennett. He will tell you all you need to know about the five towns, except that there are six: Burslem (home of Port Vale), Tunstall, Hanley, Longton, Stoke and Fenton. Bennett couldn’t count. He has an omelette named after him. It has fish in it. Another link with the sea. 1st Mate: I docked in New Zealand once, Capt’n; in the port of Nelson, which is next door to Stoke. I see what you mean about maritime history – dead ships, dead fish and dead sailors all linked, and at the Grand Stoke Hotel in Belgium you can order spiced cod, or you used to be able to. Don’t know about that since January 1st. Captain: So you see why we need to sail there, Number One? We go up the Grand Union Canal till we get to the Trent, then we turn to port and head into Stoke. Easy. We can dock by the Hanford waste recycling depot. Some of our wet hammock brigade think that we should leave Deeney and Gray there but I’m not sure that we can recycle them. Anyway, according to the map, from there we walk through Sideway and get to Bet365. I wonder what you call someone from Sideway, Number One? A Sidewayite, a Sidewayer? 1st mate: No Sir, they are called Jurados. I thought that Stoke played at the Victoria Ground, Sir. Captain: You are showing your age, Number One. They left there in 1997. A good job too, because the locals called it ‘The Vic’ and, as we all know, there is only one Vic. They left Stoke to go to somewhere closer to Fenton. Some locals don’t like that. Fenton would be a better name for the team because it wouldn’t get confused with all the other Stokes around the world. There is one in Belgium, which is called Stoké and which seems to be a field. I can’t imagine why the Belgians would call a field Stoké. 1st Mate: Why not call their team Sideway, Sir? Captain: Fenton have a reputation for route one football, Number One. Calling the team Sideway would be against the law. They like the ball to be so high that they have been accused of cryptorchidism. We will need to practice orchiopexy – that is our back line will need to, NOT our medical team; please god, not our medical team. 1st Mate: I don’t understand, Captain. Captain: Look it up, Number One. To be fair to Fenton, they do seem to be trying to change their style. They scored a couple of well worked goals at the Vic this season. We scored interesting goals. The Stoke Sentinel’s headline after that game was “Watford Nat Lofthouse their way past Stoke City”. When playing for England Nat Lofthouse used to complain about the Stoke winger, Stanley Matthews. Apparently Matthews always crossed the ball so that the laces in the ball were what Lofthouse had to make contact with when heading. Stoke have also had good goalkeepers in the past. Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton are the best known but Ben Foster was at Stoke before Manchester United bought him. They then loaned him to us before he had played for United. He won’t be playing, of course, even if he is the go to pro. Now we have Daniel. Let’s hope he is as good at stopping Stoke/Fenton from scoring as he is at stopping Sierralta. I wonder if Daniel will play against Millwall? I won’t state the obvious, Number One, even though you are not a religious man. 1st Mate: So how do you think the crew will react, sir? Captain: The crew seem happier after last night’s game, Number One. Hammocks seem to be drying out. They seem to like the roofing nails chap. He should be used to the cold of the north. Question is, how will the likes of João Pedro react to a cold Friday night in Stoke? Trying to get across the Sideway intersection in January is nothing like shimmying down the Copacabana. Unlike the Copacabana you don’t get songs about Stoke. Well you do but you only want to hear them once. 1st Mate: I’m still worried about sailing there, Captain. We are not good when we do that. What about the draft of this ship? Will we be able to get all the way? Captain: I certainly can, Number One, but that is why I am a Captain. It is my job to get all the way, even if it means picking up this ship and running with it. We must be sure not to go too far, though. The Trent will take us on to Northwich, a place that has gone down in history as a graveyard for our sister ship Pissthecup. That was a disaster worse than the Manchester one. You are right to be nervous, though, Number One. We must make sure that Stoke replay their role in the Titanic. Stoke are drawing too many games for their liking. They drew against Rotherham yesterday. There were six goals in that game. In their previous ten games there were only eleven goals. We can’t win away. We need to show that when we are sailing away we can do the business in a foreign port, even if that port has a bizarre name like Bet365. 1st Mate: They flood the midfield, don’t they, Cap’n? We don’t. Captain: True, Number One, but their star striker, Tyrese Campbell, is injured. Their wet hammock brigade are bemoaning their lack of strike force. They have won just once in their last eleven games. They have names we remember, though. James McLean likes playing us and Joe Allen is just coming back from injury. They also have Sam Vokes, John Obi Mikel, who is older than Deeney, and Tom Ince, who used to be good and was at Blackpool with Craig Cathcart. 1st Mate: I still don’t like it, Cap’n. This contest has a draw written all over it. We can’t win away and they draw all the time. Our ship will run aground and they will flood the midships. Xisco will be dancing on the touchline to no avail. Our strike force will have been rejected by the recycling depot. We need a horn pipe to pipe the Horns home but no-one knows how to play. We will wallow in the turgid silt of the Trent. Captain: Enough of that Number One or I will set a hideous monster from the deep onto you. That will give you something to worry about. If it is all too much for you then go on a scenic tour of Stoke’s architectural brilliance. As you can see, we are not that bad, Number One. This ship sails in the cold and the wet. This ship will come home with three points. The bed of the Trent will scrape off all our barnacles and give us something to eat on the way home.