If Ron Futcher (Total Cult number one) was a triumph of a football brain over questionable physique, then David Riley was a triumph of hard graft over questionable talent.
Cult Hero: David (Mavis) Riley
Cult qualifications: Bad haircut, no great talent but a hard worker
Time at Vale: 1987-1990
When Riley first joined Vale in 1987, it looked like he could actually be a like-for-like replacement for Andy Jones. Goal machine Jones had departed to Charlton Athletic for £375,000 and £20,000 of that money was spent on Riley, a 27 year-old Nottingham Forest striker.
Riley’s record looked good; he had two goals from twelve appearances for Forest and two decent loan spells (two goals in six games for Darlington and two goals in twelve games for Peterborough). When he scored in his first three Vale games, all looked well…
But Riley was no Jones.
Riley didn’t have Jones’ star appeal. Riley didn’t have a trendy haircut, he had a neat side parting and a thin moustache. Instead of Jones’ powerful physique, Riley was small and lacked pace. Besides, Riley was already 27 years of age and he surely wouldn’t have the sell-on potential that Jones did?
Nevertheless, Riley was judged a reasonable success in his first season, as he finished joint top-scorer with ten goals. But when John Rudge signed Ron Futcher and found that the veteran brought out the best out in Darren Beckford, Riley was out in the cold. John Rudge was sympathetic saying: “he is unlucky not to be in the team.”
At the start of what would be a pivotal season for Vale, it looked like Riley would be viewing from the sidelines. Then fate gave his a chance and he grasped it.
An injury to Paul Atkinson resulted in a gap on Vale’s left. Riley was shunted out there and though he didn’t excel, his sheer graft gradually won over the fans.
Manager John Rudge was obviously impressed, explaining that: “I was desperate for a left-sided player, so I signed Paul Atkinson, but he didn’t last. If David Riley hadn’t responded and dug into that position, I would have had another problem.”
Riley made 46 appearances (scoring three goals) that season but luck was never on his side.
When Rudge was looking to add forward cover in February, Riley had, by then, proved his worth slaving away on the left flank. So, Rudge didn’t move Riley upfront, instead, the very man he’d be brought in to replace, Andy Jones, returned on loan.
Riley also missed out on the chance to celebrate his hard work. As Vale closed on a famous promotion, Riley suffered a broken leg (against Bolton) and missed out on the play-off games and subsequent celebrations.
He may, as many may have thought at the start of the season, have finished the season viewing games on the sidelines; but with his performances on the left, he’d proved a lot of his doubters wrong. He may not have been Vale’s greatest striker and was definitely not Vale’s greatest left winger – but Riley was a team man, a grafter and (to his enormous credit) a promotion winner.
Riley battled back from his broken leg, but with Vale splashing out in the higher division, he was never a first choice again. He moved to Peterborough in 1990 (and in another parallel with Ron Futcher’s cult story, John Rudge managed to make a profit on him).
After dipping into non-league football and a spell in New Zealand, Riley returned to Peterborough and now runs the (terribly named) Klassic Kitchens Company in nearby Yaxley.
He also coaches the under-15s team at Peterborough United’s academy; no doubt making those teenagers understand the benefits of hard work… it’s something he knows plenty about!
Sources: Official Peterborough Utd website, Wikipedia, Up the Posh, Peterborough Utd database, Jeff Kent’s Promotion Chronicle 1988