Posted by knypestoke on August 8, 2009
If Stoke City was ever to open their own Football Museum, then the mud stained shorts of Souleymane Oulare would surely hang, frame mounted for public view. Starved of silverware in the Potteries, the Guinean’s lucky pants could just as plausibly merit a place in the trophy cabinet next to the clunky Autowindscreen Shield.
Back in September 2001, Gudjon Thordarson’s Potters were paying the price of a fourth consecutive season in the Second Division. Midfielder Graham Kavanagh had already gone to promotion rivals Cardiff City, while come September the club had the humiliation of top scorer Peter Thorne packing his bags and also heading down to South Wales; Bluebirds boss Alan Cork forking out close to two million for the former Swindon man.
Supporters took the kick in the teeth, knowing full well a similar fee would not be spent on a replacement. Sammy Koejoe, Milton Coimbra and Gary McSwegan all fell short as trialists through a baron autumn while a three month loan bid for Watford’s Heidar Helguson also came to nothing. Rumours of Lee Mills, Danny Cadamarteri and Clive Mendonca joining the club, typically, transpired to be little more than paper talk.
Christmas had arrived before Thorne’s mystery replacement joined up with the squad. A two week veil of secrecy was lifted at the end of December when African Equatorial Guinea striker Souleymane Oulare put pen to paper. ‘Stoke get their Soul Man’ a typical headline from the time.
Originally tipped off to Gudjon by Oulare’s Las Palmas team-mate, Thordur Gudjonsson, who just happened to be our manager’s eldest son, City had been patient, watching from the sidelines as both SV Hamburg and Southampton ran their own rule over, and then rejected, our potential hero in waiting.
Not exactly a household name in England, Oulare had, nevertheless, forged a reputation in the Belgian top flight with Racing Genk, finishing top scorer while also winning their player of the year award. It was in Belgium where he partnered Branko Strupar; the latter would later go on to star in The Premiership for Derby County. Souleymane took a different path, joining Fenerbache for £3 million in 1999 before eventually finding his way to the Spanish league with Las Palmas. What should have been natural progression amongst Europe’s elite soon became an injury hell for the powerful striker, triggering a series of events that would see the Guinean International making a move to the English Second Division.
The customary building up of match fitness came next, topped off with a goal against Grimsby Town in the Avon Insurance League. Oulare’s first team debut came soon after when he had a second half run-out in a frustrating draw at Northampton Town, a far cry from scoring goals against Malaga and Celta Vigo.
Thordarson described his new man as a mish-mash of Emile Heskey and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. This was welcome news to a forward line shy of pace and overcrowded with several target men. Oulare had the potential to make all the difference. Three days after the Northampton game the same player, Gudjon’s Soul Man, was fighting for his life in hospital.
Originally struck down with chest pains and breathing difficulties, the seriousness of the matter came to light in the days that followed. Souleymane was diagnosed with a blood clot on his lung, a condition better known as DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis). The potentially life threatening illness was heavily connected with flying. Supporters put two and two together and our foreign star was effectively ruled out for the season.
Stoke stuttered unconvincingly into the play-offs, Oulare replaced with a couple of canny loan signings, Deon Burton and Arnar Gunnlaugsson. Not many were too hopeful; in fact we were dreading it, when paired up with a Lennie Lawrence’s phoenix-like Cardiff City over two legs. A nasty feud had developed between the two clubs, the departures of Thorne and Kavanagh just two sore points of a rivalry that threatened with the Welsh side overtaking even Port Vale in the hate stakes.
Cardiff took a two nil lead at the Britannia Stadium before ex Bluebird Deon Burton reduced the deficit towards the end of the first leg. The second encounter at Ninian Park simply was do-or-die. Thordarson, often lambasted for his defensive formations in these kinds of games, threw caution to the wind and went with a three man attack of Chris Iwelumo, Deon Burton and Arnar Gunnlaugsson. The big surprise on the night, however, was one Souleymane Oulare, on the road to recovery, taking up a place on the bench.
With the game nil-nil and Stoke chasing a single goal that would trigger extra time, Thordarson threw on Oulare with twenty minutes remaining. He didn’t make an instant impression and he wasn’t involved in what followed next. Ninian Park was silenced in the final minute when James O’Connor fired home from inside the box as the ball, in fairytale fashion, nutmegged Kavanagh on route to the bottom corner.
Boosted, Stoke took advantage in extra time. With five minutes to go O’Connor stood over a free-kick just outside the area. Not exactly renowned for our ability in such a position, the Irishman clipped a predictable shot which was heading, all ends up, in the direction of the goalkeeper. Step forward Souleymane Oulare, or in this case, Souleymane Oulare’s arse. The ball cannoned off of the Guinean’s beautiful backside, wrong-footing the ‘keeper and flew into the back of the net.
The play-off final against Brentford was a non-event, an anti climax with a return to Division One sown up by half time. Oulare spent the day warming up in front of our supporters, an unused substitute. We clapped and bowed as he jogged, bemused, up and down the touchline throughout the first half. Souleymane never played again and was released by new manager Steve Cotterill at the start of the following season; popular opinion had it down to high wages and a lingering doubt over his match fitness.
No starts, two substitute appearances and a destiny defining goal (off of his derriere) Not exactly Sir Stan or Gordon Banks, OBE. Stoke City legends of the new millennium have, so far, been of the cult variety only.
Now, whatever happened to those shorts?