Our fourth Vale cult hero is one of the Valiants’ scariest, most intimidating and unpredictable characters of all-time…
Name: Bob (Bob) Hazel
Cult qualifications: intimidating presence, split-personality, unpredictable, funny
Time at Vale: 1986-1989
“A lot of people told me never to take Bob Hazel, but I did and he did an exceptionally good job. Bob has done a tremendous job for us. He may not be the easiest of players to handle but I have a lot of respect for him and he is the best leader on the pitch. Unfortunately, his departure ended up a bit sour.”
– John Rudge
When Rudge signed the controversial defender in December 1986, many observers thought he had taken leave of his senses. For his first game, Vale struggled to find a strip to match his bulk, but Rudge’s gamble was rewarded by a run of six games without a defeat. Defensive partner Phil Sproson was delighted with the new signing saying: “[Hazel] would not accept defeat and it rubbed off on other players.”
It’s probably best to examine his cult credentials one at a time…
Was Hazel intimidating?
In the famous 1988 Spurs FA Cup upset, Clive Allen was playing for Spurs. Hazel told Sproson: “I’ll get into his first and go straight through him, then you cut in half next.” The duo did this in the opening minutes and after Sproson’s challenge, Allen landed next to Hazel. The burly defender loomed over the England International and told him “You’re going to get that for the next eighty-five minutes.” According to Sproson, Allen went “as white as a sheet and hardly had a kick of the ball” for the rest of the game.
Did Hazel have a split-personality?
Phil Sproson again: “To meet Bob Hazel off the pitch, he was such a gentleman; he’d always be reading the right papers and checking his shares. But come Saturday, he turned into an absolute wild man.”
Was he unpredictable?
Sproson tells how Vale played a night match against Doncaster and one of the players racially abused Hazel. Bob said “Right, I’m going to have you” A few minutes later, he slapped Bob across the face and Bob stopped playing and proceeded to chase him down the wing. Eventually Paul Smith managed to stop him. “I’ve never seen him [Hazel] run so fast, I’ve never seen anything like it” commented Sproson. *
* Editor’s note: I was at that game and I can confirm it was probably the most bizarre sight I have ever witnessed at a Vale game
Was he funny?
How about this tale from Andy Clayton from Jeff Kent’s Port Vale Tales book… “My son was Vale’s mascot and when he went into the dressing room to meet the side, Bob Hazel, the captain began growling “Grrrr!” along with the rest of the players.” Hazel, as captain, had instructed the team to do this when first meeting the mascot just to “wind them up” before they did their best to make the youngster feel welcome.
Hazel played 100 games for the club and his career sadly ended through injury at the same time as partner Phil Sproson. It is an indication of their worth that it cost the club £270,000 to buy Dean Glover and Gary West to replace them.
Hazel is now a Birmingham-based Sports Prevention Manager working to help rehabilitate young offenders through sport. He may never have tamed his own wild ways on the pitch, so he’s certainly got plenty of wild tales to share with them!
Sources: Port Vale Tales, Port Vale Promotion Chronicle 1988-1989, both Jeff Kent, Birmingham Express and Star
Editorial note: We believe that the correct spelling of Bob’s surname is ‘Hazel’ although in many other publications he is referred to as ‘Hazell’