Gone But Not Forgotten | Graham Kavanagh
Has there ever been a Stoke player that has split the fans as much as Graham Kavanagh? It’s doubtful, though Daryl Russell comes close!!
We signed ‘Kav’ from Middlesbrough for £250,000 in 1996 after a short loan spell with us.
He was the centre midfielder we needed and he made 41 appearances during that first season, scoring four goals including the final goal at the Victoria Ground vs our favourite opponents…yes, WBA!!
In his second season with Stoke, he also had the honour of scoring our first goal at the Britannia in a League Cup match against Rochdale. However, it wasn’t a good season for him or us, as we were relegated to the third tier, despite his 10 goals from midfield.
In our first season at this lowly level, he top-scored with 13 goals but we failed to mount a sustained promotion challenge under highly rated yet disappointing manager Brian Little who had created a shambles of a side.
Then, as the Icelandic’s came in the following season, he was partnered by ball-winner midfielder James O’Connor and the two linked up fairly well. Kav bagged 10 goals that season but it ended badly after losing in that eventful play-off game vs Gillingham which I still have nightmares about now! Referee Rob Styles probably has arousing dreams about it, mind! Kav followed Clive Clarke in getting an early bath after an angry fracas surrounded him & Gillingham’s Andy Hessenthaler. He furiously protested his innocence but it made no difference- he was off and we were down to nine men. We lost 3-0 after extra-time but it was a horrible night.
Kav came back though to play and score in the Football League Trophy final as we beat Bristol City 2-1 at Wembley the following year. He was again a regular in 2000-2001 season but we once again failed in the play-offs, this time to Walsall.
Overall he made 244 appearances for Stoke over five seasons, scoring a decent 45 goals from midfield before we quadrupled our money on him and sold him to Cardiff City for £1M. I’m not sure whether he wanted to go as there were so many conflicting stories being branded about, but many now say he didn’t want to leave and returned as a pariah.
He was about as popular as Peter Andre but if truth be told, the board at the time were desperate to sell, as we found out with my favourite player Peter Thorne being sold not long after, once again to bloody Cardiff. Rumours now suggest that Thorne couldn’t get out of the door quick enough yet returned a hero.
In Kav’s first season at Cardiff, he scored goals for fun and was well-liked by all. Stoke then met them in the play-offs and we lost the first leg 2–1 at home which did not bode well travelling to the notoriously hostile Ninian Park knowing we needed to win. After 90 minutes the match was 0–0 and with Cardiff preparing their celebrations, James O’Connor scored. What made it funnier for us Stokies was that his shot rolled under Kavanagh’s legs which were as open as wide as the Channel Tunnel. Stoke then completed a dramatic victory with O’Connor’s shot deflecting in off Souleymane Oulare’s bum to shatter Kav’s dreams but which sent us Stokies as wild as Kyle Lighbourne’s shooting!
So why did he split fans views? Well many say he would look brilliant for 20 minutes, then you’d wonder where he’d gone? Many said he could cross a ball as well as David Beckham? He obviously had ability but perhaps never really made the most of it? Also for some reason sections of the crowd would go into paroxysms of breathless anticipation whenever Stoke got a free kick around the box. Then without fail Kav would either smack it into the wall or row z. And yet, against all weight of evidence, there still seemed to be this belief that he was the next thing to Roberto Carlos!!
In hindsight, it was perhaps because Stoke was mostly a shower for a few years; a plethora of disinterested journeymen and utterly diabolical “footballers” such as Paul Stewart, David Oldfield & Ben Petty yet we knew Kav had got the ability to do something special.
Over the years, I’ve heard him compared to Jamie Redknapp (without the looks, talent or injury problems), Ray Wilkins (a player good on the ball yet rather slow and sluggish), Father Ted (a priest in an Irish sitcom on Channel 4) and an owl (due to his smooth grey hair). But I was a fan of him and was disappointed to see him go.
Graham Kavanagh, gone but not forgotten!!
This article by Daniel Scattergood first appeared in our monthly Stoke Loud & Proud magazine.
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