Barry Edge, aka ovf’s Aussie Rules, has many fond memories of his time supporting the Valiants in the 1950s. In this memoir he tells us of his favourite Port Vale player and, all importantly, how he spent his pocket money wisely.
My weekly pocket money was 1 shilling and 6 pence. On those Saturdays ‘Vale were playing away from home my mates and I would go to the pictures in Hanley. Sometimes it would be the Palace, once in a while the Odeon. But more often than not it was the ABC. By going to the ABC we would save an extra two pence, and if we walked to Hanley and home again that would be another two pence saved. All up a total saving of nine pence over two weekends. The temptation to spend my savings was always strong, and my sister never gave up the challenge to get me to lend her some of it until pocket money day. But the call of ‘Vale Park was always stronger.
Now the ABC was the place to go if you wanted cheaper admission charges, plus iced lollipops with a chance to win prizes as shown on the lollipop stick, and standing on the stage to receive a little birthday gift if you had celebrated your birthday in the week just gone. Mind you, one of our mates, Billy, had several birthdays each year. But he always made sure there was a different stage announcer before going up to get his little gift – just in case he was recognized.
The ABC (Associated British Cinemas) Minors’ Matinee was always popular. If you were a registered member you would receive a birthday card from J Arthur Rank & ABC Cinemas which entitled you to free admission courtesy of ‘Aunty Andy’. On the ‘card was a picture of a large two tier birthday cake topped with candles. It was surrounded by Snow White and many other Disney cartoon characters. Attached to the cake was a label with the message that the bearer was to be admitted free on Saturday.
Our mate Billy, to the best of my recollection, was not a registered member of the ‘Minors, and never received a birthday card in the mail. But that never stopped him. He would say he’d left his ‘card at home, that he was sorry about that, and it wont happen next year. The usherette would give him a little lecture about his forgetfulness and warned he would be for the high jump should they find out he was being less than truthful.
After the singing of the ABC Minors’ Matinee song it would be onto the stage for the birthday boys and girls, and after receiving their little gifts would join the rest of the ‘Minors in singing happy birthday. Then it was time to watch a range of short comedies eg Laurel and Hardy, cartoons, serials such as Tarzan, and cowboy films. Every week the serials always ended in a cliff-hanger leaving you wondering what would happen next time around. There were cowboys who could sing as well as ride at a racing pace across the prairies, and American Indians with cultured english accents. The bad guys always wore black, the good guys and heroes white (lovely colours). And we would all shout a warning that the bad guy was waiting to ambush the good guy from behind one rock or another. And thankfully, our heroes always saved the damsel in distress from a fate worse than death.
We had a choice of three routes to Vale Park – all converging at Far Green. However, there was only one route home – of that there was never any dispute. Always we went by ‘Shanks’ pony’ – except for the journey from Burslem to Hanley after the game. But whichever route was taken we would inhale the exhaust fumes emitting from the buses of Beckett’s, Proctor’s, Beresford’s, Stonier’s and PMT as they passed us with their cargo of football supporters and other passengers.
At no time did we give any thought as to what those fumes would be doing to our lungs. Nor did it matter much that it was drizzling or pouring down with rain, or that we did not have overcoats to keep ourselves dry. We were mates, and we were going to Vale Park.
The first route would be one of veering off to the right at the bottom of Ivy House and coming into Far Green via Northwood. The second was one of leaving Ivy House half way up and making our way to Far Green along St John Street. The last one was going through the Hanley town centre. After Far Green we would make our way along Chell Street, Hanley Road, High Lane and Hamil Road. The return journey would either be by train or bus. The buses came down Waterloo Road direct into Hanley.
There are no prizes for guessing what we talked about. Yes, that’s right, Port Vale. We all had our favorite player. Ronnie Allen, Tommy Cheadle, Ken Griffiths, Basil Hayward, Ray King, Albert Leake, Reg Potts, Roy Sproson, Stan Turner, and later Harry Poole and Stan Steele. It didn’t matter that they may have previously played for Stoke eg Albert Leake and Reg Potts. Port Vale was home. They just took longer to get there.
Sure, Allan Mullard had played for Walsall, Crewe and Stoke, Dickie Cunliffe was from Wigan, and Ray King from Tyneside. But to us they were Port Vale through and through.
My favorite player? Mine was always ‘Dickie Cunliffe. When at Vale Park I would stand behind and to the right of goal at the Hamil Road end so that I could see Dickie race up the left wing, weaving his magic to taunt the opposition defenses.
My dad was a dedicated fan of both Tommy Cheadle and Roy Sproson. He used to say ‘Nobody will give Port Vale more of themselves as much as they will’. Even when Tommy, during the 1954 FA Cup Semi Final against West Brom, fell backwards as he was following a cross into his own penalty area, and the ball deflected from the back of his head past Ray King and into the net, dad was quick to forgive him saying ‘It’s just one of those unforseen things that seems to happen from time to time’. He also told us that the other ‘Vale followers aroung him at Villa Park nodded their agreement
But why Ronnie Allen you may be asking? One of our mates claimed he was a 1st cousin to him. He told us many times. And, as if to provide incontrovertible evidence, he would invite us into his house and point to the spot on the mantelpiece above the lounge room fireplace where a large family photograph, including Ronnie Allen, could be seen by one and all. Further, he would argue that Ronnie Allen qualified in the favorite player category because he had once played for us.
Then on that day in 1954 Ronnie Allen slotted a penalty against his old club to deny us a place at Wembley and a further slice FA Cup history. After that our ‘mate’ ‘kept mum’ about his favorite player. But he was always our mate – a true blue Valiant.
Anyway, back to the story. As previously stated, whichever route we chose when going to Vale Park it must always converge at Far Green. In fact, most of us were descendents of Far Greeners (my eldest brother would say ‘Fir Grayners’) My mum and dad and eldest brothers lived in Hulton Street before the houses were condemned and they moved to Bucknall in 1939. And when passing through that part of Hanley we reminded each other of the importance of the place in our respective families’ history.
But the Far Green of the 1950s was just as important to us as we made our way to Vale Park. Our multiple birthday mate, Billy, had an aunt living near Hanley Big Pit. He would always call in to say hello and bring back several ’rounds of sandwiches’ saying the same thing every time; “My aunt thinks you’re all clemmed and hopes there’s enough snappin’ to keep you going”. There always was, and wherever she is now, thank you.
Our next stop would be the Burton’s cool drink factory between Far Green and Snyed Green where we would obtain bottles of warm ‘Dandelion and Burdock’. That is, Billy would obtain them for us. Just as it was with his visits to his aunt, we would have to wait out on the pavement whilst he went and said hello to his uncle – husband to the lady of the sandwiches. Sometimes he would score an extra sixpence to buy a bag of ‘gob-stoppers’ from the shop at Holden Bridge – next to the Co-op Dairy.
As we approached High Lane I would cast a thought or two towards Smallthorne, more particularly Northwest Terrace, where my mum had lived the first twenty or so years of her life. Later, when she lived in Far Green with dad and my two eldest brothers it was along Chell Street, Hanley Road and part of High Lane that mum would walk and take my brothers in a pram to see Grandma McMahon in Smallthorne.
Yes, she was a true blue Smallthorne/Burslem girl and, although she was not demonstrative in showing her football feelings, was Port Vale through and through. She didn’t have much time for Stoke followers. It was her considered opinion that they did not know how to behave at a football match.
Earlier I mentioned that on those Saturdays ‘Vale were playing away from home my mates and I would go to the pictures in Hanley. When telling mum and dad we had been to the ‘pictures’ at the Palace, mum would always reminisce about that other Palace in Smallthorne. She would affectionately refer to it as the ‘Smallthorne Scratch’ saying it was built when she was 13 years old – the same year she started work in 1914 for a company named Gibson in Moorland Road. My dad always referred to the Smallthorne Palace as ‘the flea pit’.
Where was I? Ah yes, next stop Vale Park and the terraces of Hamil Road.
It was neither by chance nor coincidence that some of our dads were also standing in the Hamil Road end of the ground. Even though there was no requirement for us to stand near them, it was not an opportunity for us to ‘act daft’. Our behavior was on show, even though our dads pretended otherwise, with misdemeanors being dealt with later at home.
There was one game where several ‘Vale followers got verbally carried away resulting in our dads calling for us to stand with them and away from the ‘silly sods’ – as it was put. So there I was, standing with my dad when the last three goals went past Stockport County, a game we won 7-0.
So, if the ‘Lads won, then the day was doubly enjoyable. But whether we won, drew or lost it did not dampen our spirits or journey to and from Vale Park.
The homeward journey was always direct from Burslem to Hanley, either by train or bus. But the bus was always the best option because its terminus in Hanley was closer to Bucknall New Road.
It’s confession time. Yes it is. I was present once, on the train from Burslem to Hanley, when wanton football vandalism brought disgrace to its cargo of youthful Valiants. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but before anyone could do anything to stop the behavior two light globes had been carefully removed from the carriage bayonets and thrown out of the window onto the rail tracks. Several of the adults in the carriage chastened us and expressed their collective hope that our parents would find out and deal with us accordingly. Also, with our several apologies falling on deaf ears, we were reminded that when wearing the ‘black and white’ we had a responsibility to uphold the good name of the Port Vale Football Club.
Word of the incident somehow filtered through to our respective parents. My dad expressed his disappointed for my being caught up in the episode. But my mum’s silent displeasure stung the most. Later, I was quietly reminded by her that it was unbecoming to behave ‘like some of those Stoke supporters’.
After that our little band of true blue Valiants avoided the train trip to Hanley.
Moving on. Our first stop in Hanley would be opposite the old markets, and across the road from Webberleys bookstore. There we would stop at a sweet shop near the corner of Old Hall and Stafford Streets where a veritable feast of chocolates and toffees awaited. Such as: Bassetts liquorice allsorts, Mars bars, Rowntrees gums and penny chews. There were boiled sweets of humbugs, pear drops, barley sugar, glacier mints and butterscotch plus packets of sherbet with a liquorice straw. And on the shelves behind the shopkeeper we could see the packaged assortments of Sharps, Mackintosh, Cadbury, Nestlé, Callard & Bowser and many more. Also available was the local delight of NonSuch toffee. If you had a head cold you could buy Victory lozenges to clear the nasal passages. Quite simply you would be intoxicated with the many and varied sweet smells that surrounded you and, in the words of Saunders and French, it was ‘Absolutely Fabulous’.
It was in that sweet shop that we spent some of our fortnightly savings. But whatever we purchased was put away for later. Well, most of it. Next stop was at the top of Ivy House in Bucknall New Road – opposite one of the famous Wright’s Pie Shops – for fish & chips, mussy peas and lots of vinegar.
By the time we had reached the bottom of Ivy House, and near the top of Limekiln bank, our fish and chips etc would have been well and truly consumed and it was time, without standing on ceremony, to get stuck into the sweets. We thought we were the ‘bee’s knees’.
Then it would be Bucknall and home. But before going our separate ways we would remind each other of our next outing via Far Green, dandelion & burdock, Vale Park, fish & chips & mushy peas, and sweets.
See you later…
April 19, 2001