The Guardian: Port Vale

The Guardian: Port Vale

OVF was number 15 in the Guardian’s Football Fanzine section and this feature was published on Wednesday 25th April 2001.

No 15. Port Vale

Rob Fielding, the editor of www.onevalefan.co.uk, wants us to know all about Port Vale. Which might explain why he’s written this.

Why are Port Vale different?

Millwall may have first rights to “No-one likes us” – perhaps Port Vale fans should adapt a song to “No-one knows where we are”.

Port Vale are one of the few clubs with no geographical reference in their name, and the origins of said name are still unclear to this day. Some say the club was founded in Port Vale house, whilst other stories maintain that the club was founded on Port Vale canal wharf in Staffordshire. Whichever story is correct, Port Vale were founded in 1876 as near neighbours of Stoke City and the Vale Park ground is situated in Burslem – one of the Northern towns in the conurbation of Stoke-On-Trent.

The high point

We’re still enjoying the celebrations after becoming the first winners of the LDV Trophy. It may not sound much if you’re a Manchester United fan, but it was a fabulous day out at the Millennium stadium capped by a dramatic late Vale comeback to secure a 2-1 win over Brentford.

Looking back a little further, the splendidly entitled “Iron Curtain” side of 1954 set a league record for least goals conceded as they powered to the top of the Third Division North and also became the first Third Division side since the war to reach the FA Cup semi-finals.

The low point

It was pretty bad when I first started supporting the Valiants in 1979. The club had just survived being re-elected to the Fourth Division after finishing 92nd in the Football League.

How’s it going at the moment?

On the pitch, manager Brian Horton has worked a minor miracle in the second half of the season. With massive debts, he was forced to slash the squad size and offload senior players. But with a handful of experienced campaigners and unproven youngsters, he has taken us from the relegation zone to mid-table security with a run that has seen just one defeat in 20 games and a club-record-equalling six successive away wins.

However, cup commitments and a bog-like pitch have resulted in a massive fixture backlog. Our tiny squad has to play six games in the next 11 days. How would you like to do that, Mr Houllier?

Off the pitch, things are much worse. Without going into details, it is fair to say that chairman WT Bell has been controversial and is not the most popular man in Burslem right now. Fans are being urged to support the Valiants 2001 campaign which is trying to buy him out and establish a fan-orientated club organised along the lines of Bournemouth or Lincoln. It is a campaign that [url]www.onevalefan.co.uk[/url] fully backs.

The last fixture

Brentford 1, Port Vale 2. That was nice!

The next fixture

Bristol Rovers v Port Vale – we need just one more win to absolutely guarantee safety. This may be the game we get it in.

Sore point

It has to be the board. Clueless, amateur, pathetic and ridiculous are some of the nicer things the site’s messageboard has had to say about them.

The manager

Former 70s Vale player Brian Horton had a difficult task when he replaced the legendary John Rudge. The LDV Trophy win and the recent run will have done much to dispel fans’ doubts.

The chairman

Oh dear, oh dear. I think I’ve said enough about him already.

Rivals

We do have problems with the Stoke-on-Trent branch of Iceland. Stoke City were recently taken over by an Icelandic consortium and are currently aiming for a play-off place. The local derbies are always, erm, passionate affairs, with Vale coming out on top this season thanks to two league draws and a victory in the LDV Vans tie. Yes, we do have lot to be grateful to LDV for.

The kit

The club ditched our traditional black shorts last season. Apparently, a director thought an all-white kit made us look like Real Madrid. We may have looked like the Champions League winners, but this wasn’t reflected on the pitch as the season ended in a disastrous relegation to the Second Division.

Players rated

Brian Horton has brought in a crop of youngsters this season. Reliable goalkeeper Mark Goodlad and skilful midfielder Marc Bridge-Wilkinson are already tipped for the top, but personally I feel that 19-year-old striker Stephen Brooker has all the attributes to go right to the very top. At just £15,000 from Watford, his signing was an absolute steal.

Old boys

Vale fans are usually loyal to their more high-profile sales of recent years. Vale old boys include Steve “he should play for England” Guppy at Leicester and Ian “he used to drive a fork lift” Taylor at Aston Villa. Probably the most revered former Valiant was the now-retired Robbie Earle, who was recently voted the best Vale player of all time.

Players hated

Former Stoke striker Mark Stein is probably not the most popular player to visit Vale Park after some penalty antics in a local derby. Swindon defender Sol Davis also deserves all the stick he will get, after nearly ending Michael Walsh’s career with a truly awful tackle.

Vale Park

Originally built in the 50s as (I kid you not) the new “Wembley of the North”. Unsurprisingly, the club ran out of money before the dream could be realised. The scale of the original idea can still be seen today, thanks to the huge running track that circles the pitch.

Currently, the ground is almost complete. But just like in the 50s, the club has once more run out of money before it could complete the hugely over-ambitious new Lorne Street stand. The half a stand that has been built so far has cost something like £5m and put the club into massive debt in the process.

We could have funded a whole new ground with that amount of money!

Atmosphere

Vale crowds are not renowned for their noise with the honourable exception of our recent trip to Cardiff.

Links

The official club site www.port-vale.co.uk is (unlike some official sites) run by a genuine fan and there is a good relationship between the respective Vale websites. The popular Vale fanzine The Vale Park Beano can be read on www.onevalefan.co.uk whilst Derek, I’m Gutted can be purchased at most games.

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