Who remembers Kyle Lightbourne? He was a forward who we signed in in February 1998, a terrible time for the club! Lou Macari had left us at the end of the previous season and was replaced by Chic Bates who struggled to get the results needed. Later in the season, he was replaced by Chris Kamara who not only sold Andy Griffin, probably our star player at the time, but managed just 1 win and he was eventually replaced with Alan Durban for the last few games. However, the damage was done, and after a 5–2 defeat against Manchester City on the final day saw the inevitable happen and Stoke were relegated as were Man City despite their big win.
Kyle was signed in February 1998 for £500,000, a then club record. Some say Chris Kamara signed him, some say Jez Moxey signed him, but whoever it was had high hopes for him, as this was a player signed from Coventry, a team then in The Premiership! He had moved to Coventry from Walsall, a club where he was held in very high esteem. This was because he had scored lots of goals for them and we needed someone to do the same for us!
However, Kyle didn’t get off to the best of starts with us as he had some kind of unknown illness and managed just 2 goals in 13 games, as we suffered relegation from the First Division. It was an awful time, and the club was in a mess.
The following season (1998-99) saw Stoke enter a hopeful bright new era as we moved to The Britannia Stadium, but it wasn’t quite to plan, as we were now in the third tier of English football with heavy debts of around £5 million and no manager. However, we were all surprised yet pleased when Chairman Keith Humphreys appointed former Aston Villa manager Brian Little. Suddenly, optimism was raised and we had a great start to the season, winning the first 6 games and as we approached November time, it seemed a matter of when and not if Stoke would gain promotion. However, our form tailored away and we didn’t get the results expected. Chief Executive Jez Moxey was under pressure as our financial situation was poor, results weren’t great and false promises had been made. Kyle Lightbourne, like many other players struggled, managing just 8 goals and the club finished 8th place, missing out on the play-offs.
The following season (1999–2000) saw Gary Megson in charge but he was eventually replaced by Gudjon Thordason as the Icelandic Revolution came into play. Kyle scored 10 goals in 52 appearances as Stoke reached the play-offs where we were beaten by Gillingham. He was a partner for Peter Thorne, but whereas Thorney scored goals for fun, Kyle didn’t which was a big disappointment as he had scored so many goals for Walsall at that level! We did reach the 2000 Football League Trophy Final (Autoglass Trophy as we know it) at Wembley with Kyle playing as we beat Bristol City 2–1 and we went into the following season with high hopes.
Season 2000-01 saw Gudjon Thordason still as our Manager, but Kyle found himself behind the likes of Thorney, Rikki Dadason & Andy Cooke and he scored a mere 5 goals in 28 appearances. In the latter part of the season he spent spells on loan at Swindon Town and Cardiff City and his Stoke career was coming to an end. This was best for everyone, but still Stoke missed out on promotion, as we were beaten by one of Kyle’s former teams Walsall, 4-2 in the play-offs.
The following season (2001-02), saw Kyle gone as he was released on a free. Gudjon was still in charge, but the pressure was on. His job was made harder by us selling both fans favourites Graham Kavanagh and Peter Thorne. Gudjon went and signed various players, many foreign but we got to see the likes of Peter Hoekstra’s skill and flair and goals came from the likes of Chris Iwelumo! Stoke improved with such signings and despite missing out on automatic promotion, we beat Brentford in the play-off final.
As for Kyle, well after a brief spell in Sweden, he signed for Macclesfield Town, a team in Division Three. He was a player who Stoke fans perhaps didn’t get to see the best of, unlike his time at Walsall. However, looking back it can’t have been easy for many Stoke players, as that 4 or 5-year spell wasn’t easy for anyone including us supporters! Kyle Lightbourne, gone but not forgotten!!