Feeling Nostalgic? - Peter Hoekstra

  I thought I’d take advantage of the relative calm of the early summer to write a new sort of article, looking back at one of the best players ever to have pulled on a Stoke City shirt, Peter Hoekstra.

  Eight years ago, in 2001, the club was going through one of the darkest spells of its recent history. Our Icelandic consortium, with their chosen manager Gudjon Thordarson in place, had taken control two years earlier, and, with the side languishing in the third tier of English football, were showing no signs of delivering on their promises of Premier League football within five years. Our squad was composed mostly of British journeymen and Scandanavian favourites of the board, and with repeated play-off heartbreak and attendances dwindling we seemed to be going nowhere fast.

Thordarson, now manager of Crewe, was under pressure to succeed

  That considered, when we were rumoured to be close to signing a 28 year old Dutch international winger from Ajax, the words “too good to be true” were among the first on the lips of the Stoke fans. The deal went through though, the player, Hoekstra, joining on a three year contract for an undisclosed fee. Even then though, few could have known how good a signing he would turn out to be.

  With seemingly endless supplies of tricks to beat his man to call upon, Hoekstra, a true old fashioned winger, immediately won the hearts of the Stoke fans with his dazzling displays on the left flank. Occasionally, I felt sorry for the poor right-backs of Rotherham, Grismby or whoever we were playing that week as they had to face up to his skill and pace, but usually it was just a joy to watch. Almost as entertaining were the attempts, and inevitable failures, of Bjarni Gudjonsson, the manager’s son and our regular right-winger, to replicate hiss moves. Hoekstra’s rangy 6′3” frame made his impeccable control over the ball and quick feet all the more amazing, and you can only wonder just how good he could have been if he was more in the Lionel Messi mould, of more typical stature for a winger.

Enough to give any lower league full-back nightmares

  A mainstay in the PFA team of the season throughout his time at Stoke, Hoekstra’s goalscoring was also good. His record of twelve goals in 87 games for the club, almost one in seven, was admirable for a winger, and he particularly seemed to hit top form whenever Reading came to town. Something about playing them clearly made him rise to the occasion, as he consistently played beyond even his own usually high standards against them, scoring a hat-trick against them in December 2003 with a performance that can only be described as a masterclass. His goals that day served to outline his diverse qualities as a player, his first showing his pace, as he broke free of the Reading defence, rounded Marcus Hahnemann and scored with his wrong foot, his second showing his ability to produce something special as he sent a thunderous strike past the ‘keeper, and his third typifying his style and finesse, as he put away a beautifully chipped penalty, which he had won.

  -  he can be seen giving Reading a footballing lesson here.

  Over the years, we have seen so many Stoke wingers with skill and pace, but no crossing ability. This was not the case with Hoekstra, as he brought the complete package, his assist-making probably better even than his goalscoring. In lower league football, we are used to seeing corners hopefully launched into the box, but Hoekstra’s were a far more precise science, as he consistently executed the kind of crosses, laden with whip and curl, that strikers love and defenders hate. Though time has doubtless exaggerated my memories, I’m sure he used to hit corners that visibly turned at near right angles when nearing the danger area.

  Towards the end of his time at Stoke, the knee and ankle injuries which had bothered him for much of his career began to become a problem, limiting the number of matches he was able to play to approximately half. It was with great hope that I would get to the ground early on matchdays to watch the players warming up, desperate to see Hoekstra amongst them. Such was my desire to see him play, I swear I once convinced myself that Wayne Thomas, who anyone familiar with the Stoke side at the time will know is hardly likely to be hotly tipped to win a Hoekstra look-a-like contest, was the Dutchman. I was watching from a distance admittedly.

Separated at birth? Hardly

  Two years ago, as the club celebrated the tenth anniversary of its move to the Britannia Stadium, Hoekstra won the vote they ran for the best player ever to play there, possibly as much as Abdoulaye Faye won this year’s player of the season award. There really was no contest. I’d go as far as saying he’s the best player we’ve had since the relative glory days of the early 70s. Last December Hoekstra returned to the scene of his many triumphs to watch Stoke play Fulham, and, though the mind-numbingly dull goalless draw must have been an affront to his style of play, he received a hero’s welcome from the crowd. He wrote a piece in the programme that day, admitting he was never fully fit at Stoke, which makes me wonder just how good he would have been if he was.

  Forced to retire in 2004, aged just 31, it seemed a great shame for football to lose him, but now, he’s coaching junior sides at one of his former clubs, Groningen, and who can rule out a return to Stoke as manager in a decade or two?

3 Responses to “Feeling Nostalgic? - Peter Hoekstra”

  1. Lakeland Potter Says:

    Brings back some memories does that article! I’ve seen the vid before, of course, but it isn’t one I will ever get tired of watching.

    I think you are a bit hard on Bjarni though. He wasn’t in Hooky’s class, of course, but he did usually have more assists for the season so he wasn’t bad - one of the better players in an admittedly third tier side.

    One of things which convinced me that the Icelanders had taken us as far as they could, was Gunnar’s comment after promotion that he thought the promotion side needed very little strengthening as it was good enough to make the step up. I suppose he was the only man in the stadium not feeling nervous before that last day of the season when we played Reading and results elsewhere meant that Ade’s goal was just the icing on the cake and not the factor which kept us up!

  2. Steven Goran Eriksson Says:

    Even from the point of view of someone who had never previously heard of this guy, this article is very readable and highly interesting. You do convey your feelings for Hoekstra very well indeed, with your reminiscences allowing a greater insight into the reader’s understanding.

    I think this could turn into quite a good idea for a theme of articles. It’s similar in a sense to Matt’s best player ever theme, but different enough to be enjoyable.

    Two mistakes that I spotted: In the paragraph before the video, you say ‘describes’ when it should be ‘described’, and in the paragraph after the video, you say “I’m sure I he used”.

    Good to see you’ve got the video working again, and all in all, this a very impressive article.

  3. I*T*P*L Says:

    Thanks both.

    Lakeland - Yes, perhaps I am being harsh on Bjarni, but it only serves to highlight how good Hoekstra was. When you think about how far we’ve come under Coates it’s amazing how negative we all felt when he first bought back. Really it’s been the best possible thing for the club. You’re very right when you say we had come as far as we could under Gislason and co. I think the attendances say a lot. Just 11,200 for that gave against Reading.

    Steven - I’m glad you like the idea, I was a bit stuck for something to write about so I considered doing something like Matt’s, but I thought this way would be better. It’s funny with the video, at first it didn’t work, so I gave up really, and just pasted the url, not through “add media” and wrote - he can be seen giving Reading a footballing lessen here, expecting people to follow the link to youtube, but when I checked it it had worked. So I know how to work the videos now! I’ll fix the mistakes.

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