Ron Futcher was an explosive mix of mood swings, supreme skill and bad haircuts. He is a worthy entrant to our Cult hall of fame.
Cult Hero: Ronald (Ron) Futcher (Futch)
Cult qualifications: Bad haircut, bad temper, fantastic skill, completely unpredictable
Time at Vale: 1988-1990
When John Rudge started to pursue the signing of Ronald (‘Ron’) Futcher at the start of the 1988-1989 season, it hardly set fans’ pulses racing.
Rudge had already been unsuccessful in trying to sign Andy Jones (a reported £180,000 bid being rejected by Charlton), Andy Saville (a then club record £70,000 and an improved £150,000 bid were both rejected), Marc North, Wayne Biggins, Imre Varadi, Keith Bertschin and John Pearson.
Futcher was next to be targeted – but after all the other enquiries, it seemed to be a mere consolation signing, a desperation transfer. After all, Futcher was 32 and a ‘journeyman’ who rarely stayed at any club for more than a season or two. He hardly seemed to be the signing to fire Vale up the table.
His actual signing, in many ways, reflected Futcher’s ‘single-minded’ personality. Having agreed a contract with Mansfield Town, he promptly failed to turn up to complete the paperwork and opted for a better deal at Vale Park.
He signed for the Valiants on the 1st August for £35,000.
However, despite the doubts, the Futcher signing was another Rudge masterstroke. He may have been a bizarre sight as a footballer – a bald pate but with a mullet haircut on the sides and back. possessing no pace and walking through most of the match, but Futcher crucially had one priceless asset: a footballer’s brain.
His strike partner Darren Beckford was in many ways the polar opposite. He boasted the sharp haircut and physical attributes to succeed, but up till now his goal return had been disappointing. Rudge’s decision to pair the physical youth with the brainy veteran was a masterstroke. The pair contributed 42 goals as Vale were promoted to the second division. Futcher’s brain complemented Beckford’s brawn perfectly.
So far, so good… but why does Futcher earn cult status?
In many ways, it boils down to the veteran’s personality…
Futcher was capable of moments of genius, in a game against Cardiff in September, Futcher volleyed in from fully forty yards.
But this skill was tempered by a famous short fuse that was always likely to be set off.
Futcher’s temper certainly did that during the play-off game with Bristol Rovers at Bath’s Twerton Park. The Rovers side were incensed when Futcher brought a man down with Rovers manager Gerry Francis telling TV cameras “It was an out and out nut!”
So, it was the ultimate soap opera of supreme skill mixed with extreme stupidity that made Futcher such a compelling sight and a worthy entrant to our Cults section.
His exit was typical Futcher.
After losing his place in 1990, he ‘forced the issue’ and was transferred to Burnley for £65,000. The £30,000 profit that John Rudge acquired on the now veteran Futcher was remarkable in itself. But, leaving that aside, in a two year spell Futcher had helped provide the finishing touches to Darren Beckford’s striking skills and played a key part in a promotion campaign.
It was a remarkable achievement from a player that, had things turned out differently in summer 1988, may never have joined the club in the first place.
Note: Rob Fielding is grateful for the “Back to where we once belonged: the Port Vale promotion chronicle by Jeff Kent”, which provided much background information for this article.